Part 6 - Babbitt Audiobook by Sinclair Lewis (Chs 29-34)


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Transcript:
CHAPTER XXIX
I THE assurance of Tanis Judique's friendship
fortified Babbitt's self-approval. At the Athletic Club he became
experimental.
Though Vergil Gunch was silent, the others at the Roughnecks' Table came to accept
Babbitt as having, for no visible reason, "turned crank."
They argued windily with him, and he was cocky, and enjoyed the spectacle of his
interesting martyrdom. He even praised Seneca Doane.
Professor Pumphrey said that was carrying a joke too far; but Babbitt argued, "No!
Fact! I tell you he's got one of the keenest
intellects in the country.
Why, Lord Wycombe said that--" "Oh, who the hell is Lord Wycombe?
What you always lugging him in for? You been touting him for the last six
weeks!" protested Orville Jones.
"George ordered him from Sears-Roebuck. You can get those English high-muckamucks
by mail for two bucks apiece," suggested Sidney Finkelstein.
"That's all right now!
Lord Wycombe, he's one of the biggest intellects in English political life.
As I was saying: Of course I'm conservative myself, but I appreciate a guy like Senny
Doane because--"
Vergil Gunch interrupted harshly, "I wonder if you are so conservative?
I find I can manage to run my own business without any skunks and reds like Doane in
it!"
The grimness of Gunch's voice, the hardness of his jaw, disconcerted Babbitt, but he
recovered and went on till they looked bored, then irritated, then as doubtful as
Gunch.
II He thought of Tanis always.
With a stir he remembered her every aspect. His arms yearned for her.
"I've found her!
I've dreamed of her all these years and now I've found her!" he exulted.
He met her at the movies in the morning; he drove out to her flat in the late afternoon
or on evenings when he was believed to be at the Elks.
He knew her financial affairs and advised her about them, while she lamented her
feminine ignorance, and praised his masterfulness, and proved to know much more
about bonds than he did.
They had remembrances, and laughter over old times.
Once they quarreled, and he raged that she was as "bossy" as his wife and far more
whining when he was inattentive.
But that passed safely. Their high hour was a tramp on a ringing
December afternoon, through snow-drifted meadows down to the icy Chaloosa River.
She was exotic in an astrachan cap and a short beaver coat; she slid on the ice and
shouted, and he panted after her, rotund with laughter....
Myra Babbitt never slid on the ice.
He was afraid that they would be seen together.
In Zenith it is impossible to lunch with a neighbor's wife without the fact being
known, before nightfall, in every house in your circle.
But Tanis was beautifully discreet.
However appealingly she might turn to him when they were alone, she was gravely
detached when they were abroad, and he hoped that she would be taken for a client.
Orville Jones once saw them emerging from a movie theater, and Babbitt bumbled, "Let me
make you 'quainted with Mrs. Judique. Now here's a lady who knows the right
broker to come to, Orvy!"
Mr. Jones, though he was a man censorious of morals and of laundry machinery, seemed
satisfied.
His predominant fear--not from any especial fondness for her but from the habit of
propriety--was that his wife would learn of the affair.
He was certain that she knew nothing specific about Tanis, but he was also
certain that she suspected something indefinite.
For years she had been bored by anything more affectionate than a farewell kiss, yet
she was hurt by any slackening in his irritable periodic interest, and now he had
no interest; rather, a revulsion.
He was completely faithful--to Tanis.
He was distressed by the sight of his wife's slack plumpness, by her puffs and
billows of flesh, by the tattered petticoat which she was always meaning and always
forgetting to throw away.
But he was aware that she, so long attuned to him, caught all his repulsions.
He elaborately, heavily, jocularly tried to check them.
He couldn't.
They had a tolerable Christmas. Kenneth Escott was there, admittedly
engaged to Verona. Mrs. Babbitt was tearful and called Kenneth
her new son.
Babbitt was worried about Ted, because he had ceased complaining of the State
University and become suspiciously acquiescent.
He wondered what the boy was planning, and was too shy to ask.
Himself, Babbitt slipped away on Christmas afternoon to take his present, a silver
cigarette-box, to Tanis.
When he returned Mrs. Babbitt asked, much too innocently, "Did you go out for a
little fresh air?" "Yes, just lil drive," he mumbled.
After New Year's his wife proposed, "I heard from my sister to-day, George.
She isn't well. I think perhaps I ought to go stay with her
for a few weeks."
Now, Mrs. Babbitt was not accustomed to leave home during the winter except on
violently demanding occasions, and only the summer before, she had been gone for weeks.
Nor was Babbitt one of the detachable husbands who take separations casually He
liked to have her there; she looked after his clothes; she knew how his steak ought
to be cooked; and her clucking made him feel secure.
But he could not drum up even a dutiful "Oh, she doesn't really need you, does
she?"
While he tried to look regretful, while he felt that his wife was watching him, he was
filled with exultant visions of Tanis. "Do you think I'd better go?" she said
sharply.
"You've got to decide, honey; I can't." She turned away, sighing, and his forehead
was damp.
Till she went, four days later, she was curiously still, he cumbrously
affectionate. Her train left at noon.
As he saw it grow small beyond the train- shed he longed to hurry to Tanis.
"No, by golly, I won't do that!" he vowed. "I won't go near her for a week!"
But he was at her flat at four.
III
He who had once controlled or seemed to control his life in a progress
unimpassioned but diligent and sane was for that fortnight borne on a current of desire
and very bad whisky and all the
complications of new acquaintances, those furious new intimates who demand so much
more attention than old friends. Each morning he gloomily recognized his
idiocies of the evening before.
With his head throbbing, his tongue and lips stinging from cigarettes, he
incredulously counted the number of drinks he had taken, and groaned, "I got to quit!"
He had ceased saying, "I WILL quit!" for however resolute he might be at dawn, he
could not, for a single evening, check his drift.
He had met Tanis's friends; he had, with the ardent haste of the Midnight People,
who drink and dance and rattle and are ever afraid to be silent, been adopted as a
member of her group, which they called "The Bunch."
He first met them after a day when he had worked particularly hard and when he hoped
to be quiet with Tanis and slowly sip her admiration.
From down the hall he could hear shrieks and the grind of a phonograph.
As Tanis opened the door he saw fantastic figures dancing in a haze of cigarette
smoke.
The tables and chairs were against the wall.
"Oh, isn't this dandy!" she gabbled at him. "Carrie Nork had the loveliest idea.
She decided it was time for a party, and she 'phoned the Bunch and told 'em to
gather round....George, this is Carrie." "Carrie" was, in the less desirable aspects
of both, at once matronly and spinsterish.
She was perhaps forty; her hair was an unconvincing ash-blond; and if her chest
was flat, her hips were ponderous. She greeted Babbitt with a giggling
"Welcome to our little midst!
Tanis says you're a real sport." He was apparently expected to dance, to be
boyish and gay with Carrie, and he did his unforgiving best.
He towed her about the room, bumping into other couples, into the radiator, into
chair-legs cunningly ambushed.
As he danced he surveyed the rest of the Bunch: A thin young woman who looked
capable, conceited, and sarcastic. Another woman whom he could never quite
remember.
Three overdressed and slightly effeminate young men--soda-fountain clerks, or at
least born for that profession. A man of his own age, immovable, self-
satisfied, resentful of Babbitt's presence.
When he had finished his dutiful dance Tanis took him aside and begged, "Dear,
wouldn't you like to do something for me? I'm all out of booze, and the Bunch want to
celebrate.
Couldn't you just skip down to Healey Hanson's and get some?"
"Sure," he said, trying not to sound sullen.
"I'll tell you: I'll get Minnie Sonntag to drive down with you."
Tanis was pointing to the thin, sarcastic young woman.
Miss Sonntag greeted him with an astringent "How d'you do, Mr. Babbitt.
Tanis tells me you're a very prominent man, and I'm honored by being allowed to drive
with you.
Of course I'm not accustomed to associating with society people like you, so I don't
know how to act in such exalted circles!" Thus Miss Sonntag talked all the way down
to Healey Hanson's.
To her jibes he wanted to reply "Oh, go to the devil!" but he never quite nerved
himself to that reasonable comment. He was resenting the existence of the whole
Bunch.
He had heard Tanis speak of "darling Carrie" and "Min Sonntag--she's so clever--
you'll adore her," but they had never been real to him.
He had pictured Tanis as living in a rose- tinted vacuum, waiting for him, free of all
the complications of a Floral Heights. When they returned he had to endure the
patronage of the young soda-clerks.
They were as damply friendly as Miss Sonntag was dryly hostile.
They called him "Old Georgie" and shouted, "Come on now, sport; shake a leg"...boys in
belted coats, pimply boys, as young as Ted and as flabby as chorus-men, but powerful
to dance and to mind the phonograph and smoke cigarettes and patronize Tanis.
He tried to be one of them; he cried "Good work, Pete!" but his voice creaked.
Tanis apparently enjoyed the companionship of the dancing darlings; she bridled to
their bland flirtation and casually kissed them at the end of each dance.
Babbitt hated her, for the moment.
He saw her as middle-aged. He studied the wrinkles in the softness of
her throat, the slack flesh beneath her chin.
The taut muscles of her youth were loose and drooping.
Between dances she sat in the largest chair, waving her cigarette, summoning her
callow admirers to come and talk to her.
("She thinks she's a blooming queen!" growled Babbitt.)
She chanted to Miss Sonntag, "Isn't my little studio sweet?"
("Studio, rats!
It's a plain old-maid-and-chow-dog flat! Oh, God, I wish I was home!
I wonder if I can't make a getaway now?")
His vision grew blurred, however, as he applied himself to Healey Hanson's raw but
vigorous whisky. He blended with the Bunch.
He began to rejoice that Carrie Nork and Pete, the most nearly intelligent of the
nimble youths, seemed to like him; and it was enormously important to win over the
surly older man, who proved to be a railway clerk named Fulton Bemis.
The conversation of the Bunch was exclamatory, high-colored, full of
references to people whom Babbitt did not know.
Apparently they thought very comfortably of themselves.
They were the Bunch, wise and beautiful and amusing; they were Bohemians and urbanites,
accustomed to all the luxuries of Zenith: dance-halls, movie-theaters, and
roadhouses; and in a cynical superiority to
people who were "slow" or "tightwad" they cackled:
"Oh, Pete, did I tell you what that dub of a cashier said when I came in late
yesterday?
Oh, it was per-fect-ly priceless!" "Oh, but wasn't T. D. stewed!
Say, he was simply ossified! What did Gladys say to him?"
"Think of the nerve of Bob Bickerstaff trying to get us to come to his house!
Say, the nerve of him! Can you beat it for nerve?
Some nerve I call it!"
"Did you notice how Dotty was dancing? Gee, wasn't she the limit!"
Babbitt was to be heard sonorously agreeing with the once-hated Miss Minnie Sonntag
that persons who let a night go by without dancing to jazz music were crabs, pikers,
and poor fish; and he roared "You bet!"
when Mrs. Carrie Nork gurgled, "Don't you love to sit on the floor?
It's so Bohemian!" He began to think extremely well of the
Bunch.
When he mentioned his friends Sir Gerald Doak, Lord Wycombe, William Washington
Eathorne, and Chum Frink, he was proud of their condescending interest.
He got so thoroughly into the jocund spirit that he didn't much mind seeing Tanis
drooping against the shoulder of the youngest and milkiest of the young men, and
he himself desired to hold Carrie Nork's
pulpy hand, and dropped it only because Tanis looked angry.
When he went home, at two, he was fully a member of the Bunch, and all the week
thereafter he was bound by the exceedingly straitened conventions, the exceedingly
wearing demands, of their life of pleasure and freedom.
He had to go to their parties; he was involved in the agitation when everybody
telephoned to everybody else that she hadn't meant what she'd said when she'd
said that, and anyway, why was Pete going around saying she'd said it?
Never was a Family more insistent on learning one another's movements than were
the Bunch.
All of them volubly knew, or indignantly desired to know, where all the others had
been every minute of the week.
Babbitt found himself explaining to Carrie or Fulton Bemis just what he had been doing
that he should not have joined them till ten o'clock, and apologizing for having
gone to dinner with a business acquaintance.
Every member of the Bunch was expected to telephone to every other member at least
once a week.
"Why haven't you called me up?" Babbitt was asked accusingly, not only by
Tanis and Carrie but presently by new ancient friends, Jennie and Capitolina and
Toots.
If for a moment he had seen Tanis as withering and sentimental, he lost that
impression at Carrie Nork's dance. Mrs. Nork had a large house and a small
husband.
To her party came all of the Bunch, perhaps thirty-five of them when they were
completely mobilized.
Babbitt, under the name of "Old Georgie," was now a pioneer of the Bunch, since each
month it changed half its membership and he who could recall the prehistoric days of a
fortnight ago, before Mrs. Absolom, the
food-demonstrator, had gone to Indianapolis, and Mac had "got sore at"
Minnie, was a venerable leader and able to condescend to new Petes and Minnies and
Gladyses.
At Carrie's, Tanis did not have to work at being hostess.
She was dignified and sure, a clear fine figure in the black chiffon frock he had
always loved; and in the wider spaces of that ugly house Babbitt was able to sit
quietly with her.
He repented of his first revulsion, mooned at her feet, and happily drove her home.
Next day he bought a violent yellow tie, to make himself young for her.
He knew, a little sadly, that he could not make himself beautiful; he beheld himself
as heavy, hinting of fatness, but he danced, he dressed, he chattered, to be as
young as she was...as young as she seemed to be.
IV
As all converts, whether to a religion, love, or gardening, find as by magic that
though hitherto these hobbies have not seemed to exist, now the whole world is
filled with their fury, so, once he was
converted to dissipation, Babbitt discovered agreeable opportunities for it
everywhere. He had a new view of his sporting neighbor,
Sam Doppelbrau.
The Doppelbraus were respectable people, industrious people, prosperous people,
whose ideal of happiness was an eternal cabaret.
Their life was dominated by suburban bacchanalia of alcohol, nicotine, gasoline,
and kisses.
They and their set worked capably all the week, and all week looked forward to
Saturday night, when they would, as they expressed it, "throw a party;" and the
thrown party grew noisier and noisier up to
Sunday dawn, and usually included an extremely rapid motor expedition to nowhere
in particular.
One evening when Tanis was at the theater, Babbitt found himself being lively with the
Doppelbraus, pledging friendship with men whom he had for years privily denounced to
Mrs. Babbitt as a "rotten bunch of tin-
horns that I wouldn't go out with, rot if they were the last people on earth."
That evening he had sulkily come home and poked about in front of the house, chipping
off the walk the ice-clots, like fossil footprints, made by the steps of passers-by
during the recent snow.
Howard Littlefield came up snuffling. "Still a widower, George?"
"Yump. Cold again to-night."
"What do you hear from the wife?"
"She's feeling fine, but her sister is still pretty sick."
"Say, better come in and have dinner with us to-night, George."
"Oh--oh, thanks.
Have to go out." Suddenly he could not endure Littlefield's
recitals of the more interesting statistics about totally uninteresting problems.
He scraped at the walk and grunted.
Sam Doppelbrau appeared. "Evenin', Babbitt.
Working hard?" "Yuh, lil exercise."
"Cold enough for you to-night?"
"Well, just about." "Still a widower?"
"Uh-huh."
"Say, Babbitt, while she's away--I know you don't care much for booze-fights, but the
Missus and I'd be awfully glad if you could come in some night.
Think you could stand a good cocktail for once?"
"Stand it? Young fella, I bet old Uncle George can mix
the best cocktail in these United States!"
"Hurray! That's the way to talk!
Look here: There's some folks coming to the house to-night, Louetta Swanson and some
other live ones, and I'm going to open up a bottle of pre-war gin, and maybe we'll
dance a while.
Why don't you drop in and jazz it up a little, just for a change?"
"Well--What time they coming?" He was at Sam Doppelbrau's at nine.
It was the third time he had entered the house.
By ten he was calling Mr. Doppelbrau "Sam, old hoss."
At eleven they all drove out to the Old Farm Inn.
Babbitt sat in the back of Doppelbrau's car with Louetta Swanson.
Once he had timorously tried to make love to her.
Now he did not try; he merely made love; and Louetta dropped her head on his
shoulder, told him what a nagger Eddie was, and accepted Babbitt as a decent and well-
trained libertine.
With the assistance of Tanis's Bunch, the Doppelbraus, and other companions in
forgetfulness, there was not an evening for two weeks when he did not return home late
and shaky.
With his other faculties blurred he yet had the motorist's gift of being able to drive
when he could scarce walk; of slowing down at corners and allowing for approaching
cars.
He came wambling into the house. If Verona and Kenneth Escott were about, he
got past them with a hasty greeting, horribly aware of their level young
glances, and hid himself up-stairs.
He found when he came into the warm house that he was hazier than he had believed.
His head whirled. He dared not lie down.
He tried to soak out the alcohol in a hot bath.
For the moment his head was clearer but when he moved about the bathroom his
calculations of distance were wrong, so that he dragged down the towels, and
knocked over the soap-dish with a clatter
which, he feared, would betray him to the children.
Chilly in his dressing-gown he tried to read the evening paper.
He could follow every word; he seemed to take in the sense of things; but a minute
afterward he could not have told what he had been reading.
When he went to bed his brain flew in circles, and he hastily sat up, struggling
for self-control.
At last he was able to lie still, feeling only a little sick and dizzy--and
enormously ashamed. To hide his "condition" from his own
children!
To have danced and shouted with people whom he despised!
To have said foolish things, sung idiotic songs, tried to kiss silly girls!
Incredulously he remembered that he had by his roaring familiarity with them laid
himself open to the patronizing of youths whom he would have kicked out of his
office; that by dancing too ardently he had
exposed himself to rebukes from the rattiest of withering women.
As it came relentlessly back to him he snarled, "I hate myself!
God how I hate myself!"
But, he raged, "I'm through! No more!
Had enough, plenty!"
He was even surer about it the morning after, when he was trying to be grave and
paternal with his daughters at breakfast. At noontime he was less sure.
He did not deny that he had been a fool; he saw it almost as clearly as at midnight;
but anything, he struggled, was better than going back to a life of barren heartiness.
At four he wanted a drink.
He kept a whisky flask in his desk now, and after two minutes of battle he had his
drink.
Three drinks later he began to see the Bunch as tender and amusing friends, and by
six he was with them...and the tale was to be told all over.
Each morning his head ached a little less.
A bad head for drinks had been his safeguard, but the safeguard was crumbling.
Presently he could be drunk at dawn, yet not feel particularly wretched in his
conscience--or in his stomach--when he awoke at eight.
No regret, no desire to escape the toil of keeping up with the arduous merriment of
the Bunch, was so great as his feeling of social inferiority when he failed to keep
up.
To be the "livest" of them was as much his ambition now as it had been to excel at
making money, at playing golf, at motor- driving, at oratory, at climbing to the
McKelvey set.
But occasionally he failed. He found that Pete and the other young men
considered the Bunch too austerely polite and the Carrie who merely kissed behind
doors too embarrassingly monogamic.
As Babbitt sneaked from Floral Heights down to the Bunch, so the young gallants sneaked
from the proprieties of the Bunch off to "times" with bouncing young women whom they
picked up in department stores and at hotel coatrooms.
Once Babbitt tried to accompany them.
There was a motor car, a bottle of whisky, and for him a grubby shrieking cash-girl
from Parcher and Stein's. He sat beside her and worried.
He was apparently expected to "jolly her along," but when she sang out, "Hey, leggo,
quit crushing me cootie-garage," he did not quite know how to go on.
They sat in the back room of a saloon, and Babbitt had a headache, was confused by
their new slang looked at them benevolently, wanted to go home, and had a
drink--a good many drinks.
Two evenings after, Fulton Bemis, the surly older man of the Bunch, took Babbitt aside
and grunted, "Look here, it's none of my business, and God knows I always lap up my
share of the hootch, but don't you think you better watch yourself?
You're one of these enthusiastic chumps that always overdo things.
D' you realize you're throwing in the booze as fast as you can, and you eat one
cigarette right after another? Better cut it out for a while."
Babbitt tearfully said that good old Fult was a prince, and yes, he certainly would
cut it out, and thereafter he lighted a cigarette and took a drink and had a
terrific quarrel with Tanis when she caught him being affectionate with Carrie Nork.
Next morning he hated himself that he should have sunk into a position where a
fifteenth-rater like Fulton Bemis could rebuke him.
He perceived that, since he was making love to every woman possible, Tanis was no
longer his one pure star, and he wondered whether she had ever been anything more to
him than A Woman.
And if Bemis had spoken to him, were other people talking about him?
He suspiciously watched the men at the Athletic Club that noon.
It seemed to him that they were uneasy.
They had been talking about him then? He was angry.
He became belligerent.
He not only defended Seneca Doane but even made fun of the Y. M. C. A, Vergil Gunch
was rather brief in his answers. Afterward Babbitt was not angry.
He was afraid.
He did not go to the next lunch of the Boosters' Club but hid in a cheap
restaurant, and, while he munched a ham- and-egg sandwich and sipped coffee from a
cup on the arm of his chair, he worried.
Four days later, when the Bunch were having one of their best parties, Babbitt drove
them to the skating-rink which had been laid out on the Chaloosa River.
After a thaw the streets had frozen in smooth ice.
Down those wide endless streets the wind rattled between the rows of wooden houses,
and the whole Bellevue district seemed a frontier town.
Even with skid chains on all four wheels, Babbitt was afraid of sliding, and when he
came to the long slide of a hill he crawled down, both brakes on.
Slewing round a corner came a less cautious car.
It skidded, it almost raked them with its rear fenders.
In relief at their escape the Bunch--Tanis, Minnie Sonntag, Pete, Fulton Bemis--shouted
"Oh, baby," and waved their hands to the agitated other driver.
Then Babbitt saw Professor Pumphrey laboriously crawling up hill, afoot,
Staring owlishly at the revelers.
He was sure that Pumphrey recognized him and saw Tanis kiss him as she crowed,
"You're such a good driver!"
At lunch next day he probed Pumphrey with "Out last night with my brother and some
friends of his. Gosh, what driving!
Slippery 's glass.
Thought I saw you hiking up the Bellevue Avenue Hill."
"No, I wasn't--I didn't see you," said Pumphrey, hastily, rather guiltily.
Perhaps two days afterward Babbitt took Tanis to lunch at the Hotel Thornleigh.
She who had seemed well content to wait for him at her flat had begun to hint with
melancholy smiles that he must think but little of her if he never introduced her to
his friends, if he was unwilling to be seen with her except at the movies.
He thought of taking her to the "ladies' annex" of the Athletic Club, but that was
too dangerous.
He would have to introduce her and, oh, people might misunderstand and--He
compromised on the Thornleigh.
She was unusually smart, all in black: small black tricorne hat, short black
caracul coat, loose and swinging, and austere high-necked black velvet frock at a
time when most street costumes were like evening gowns.
Perhaps she was too smart.
Every one in the gold and oak restaurant of the Thornleigh was staring at her as
Babbitt followed her to a table.
He uneasily hoped that the head-waiter would give them a discreet place behind a
pillar, but they were stationed on the center aisle.
Tanis seemed not to notice her admirers; she smiled at Babbitt with a lavish "Oh,
isn't this nice! What a peppy-looking orchestra!"
Babbitt had difficulty in being lavish in return, for two tables away he saw Vergil
Gunch.
All through the meal Gunch watched them, while Babbitt watched himself being watched
and lugubriously tried to keep from spoiling Tanis's gaiety.
"I felt like a spree to-day," she rippled.
"I love the Thornleigh, don't you? It's so live and yet so--so refined."
He made talk about the Thornleigh, the service, the food, the people he recognized
in the restaurant, all but Vergil Gunch.
There did not seem to be anything else to talk of.
He smiled conscientiously at her fluttering jests; he agreed with her that Minnie
Sonntag was "so hard to get along with," and young Pete "such a silly lazy kid,
really just no good at all."
But he himself had nothing to say. He considered telling her his worries about
Gunch, but--"oh, gosh, it was too much work to go into the whole thing and explain
about Verg and everything."
He was relieved when he put Tanis on a trolley; he was cheerful in the familiar
simplicities of his office. At four o'clock Vergil Gunch called on him.
Babbitt was agitated, but Gunch began in a friendly way:
"How's the boy? Say, some of us are getting up a scheme
we'd kind of like to have you come in on."
"Fine, Verg. Shoot."
"You know during the war we had the Undesirable Element, the Reds and walking
delegates and just the plain common grouches, dead to rights, and so did we for
quite a while after the war, but folks
forget about the danger and that gives these cranks a chance to begin working
underground again, especially a lot of these parlor socialists.
Well, it's up to the folks that do a little sound thinking to make a conscious effort
to keep bucking these fellows.
Some guy back East has organized a society called the Good Citizens' League for just
that purpose.
Of course the Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion and so on do a fine work in
keeping the decent people in the saddle, but they're devoted to so many other causes
that they can't attend to this one problem properly.
But the Good Citizens' League, the G. C. L., they stick right to it.
Oh, the G. C. L. has to have some other ostensible purposes--frinstance here in
Zenith I think it ought to support the park-extension project and the City
Planning Committee--and then, too, it
should have a social aspect, being made up of the best people--have dances and so on,
especially as one of the best ways it can put the kibosh on cranks is to apply this
social boycott business to folks big enough so you can't reach 'em otherwise.
Then if that don't work, the G. C. L. can finally send a little delegation around to
inform folks that get too flip that they got to conform to decent standards and quit
shooting off their mouths so free.
Don't it sound like the organization could do a great work?
We've already got some of the strongest men in town, and of course we want you in.
How about it?"
Babbitt was uncomfortable. He felt a compulsion back to all the
standards he had so vaguely yet so desperately been fleeing.
He fumbled:
"I suppose you'd especially light on fellows like Seneca Doane and try to make
'em--" "You bet your sweet life we would!
Look here, old Georgie: I've never for one moment believed you meant it when you've
defended Doane, and the strikers and so on, at the Club.
I knew you were simply kidding those poor galoots like Sid Finkelstein....
At least I certainly hope you were kidding!"
"Oh, well--sure--Course you might say--" Babbitt was conscious of how feeble he
sounded, conscious of Gunch's mature and relentless eye.
"Gosh, you know where I stand!
I'm no labor agitator! I'm a business man, first, last, and all
the time!
But--but honestly, I don't think Doane means so badly, and you got to remember
he's an old friend of mine."
"George, when it comes right down to a struggle between decency and the security
of our homes on the one hand, and red ruin and those lazy dogs plotting for free beer
on the other, you got to give up even old friendships.
'He that is not with me is against me.'" "Ye-es, I suppose--"
"How about it?
Going to join us in the Good Citizens' League?"
"I'll have to think it over, Verg." "All right, just as you say."
Babbitt was relieved to be let off so easily, but Gunch went on: "George, I don't
know what's come over you; none of us do; and we've talked a lot about you.
For a while we figured out you'd been upset by what happened to poor Riesling, and we
forgave you for any fool thing you said, but that's old stuff now, George, and we
can't make out what's got into you.
Personally, I've always defended you, but I must say it's getting too much for me.
All the boys at the Athletic Club and the Boosters' are sore, the way you go on
deliberately touting Doane and his bunch of hell-hounds, and talking about being
liberal--which means being wishy-washy--and
even saying this preacher guy Ingram isn't a professional free-love artist.
And then the way you been carrying on personally!
Joe Pumphrey says he saw you out the other night with a gang of totties, all stewed to
the gills, and here to-day coming right into the Thornleigh with a--well, she may
be all right and a perfect lady, but she
certainly did look like a pretty gay skirt for a fellow with his wife out of town to
be taking to lunch. Didn't look well.
What the devil has come over you, George?"
"Strikes me there's a lot of fellows that know more about my personal business than I
do myself!"
"Now don't go getting sore at me because I come out flatfooted like a friend and say
what I think instead of tattling behind your back, the way a whole lot of 'em do.
I tell you George, you got a position in the community, and the community expects
you to live up to it. And--Better think over joining the Good
Citizens' League.
See you about it later." He was gone.
That evening Babbitt dined alone.
He saw all the Clan of Good Fellows peering through the restaurant window, spying on
him.
Fear sat beside him, and he told himself that to-night he would not go to Tanis's
flat; and he did not go...till late.
>
CHAPTER XXX
I THE summer before, Mrs. Babbitt's letters
had crackled with desire to return to Zenith.
Now they said nothing of returning, but a wistful "I suppose everything is going on
all right without me" among her dry chronicles of weather and sicknesses hinted
to Babbitt that he hadn't been very urgent about her coming.
He worried it: "If she were here, and I went on raising
cain like I been doing, she'd have a fit.
I got to get hold of myself. I got to learn to play around and yet not
make a fool of myself. I can do it, too, if folks like Verg Gunch
'll let me alone, and Myra 'll stay away.
But--poor kid, she sounds lonely. Lord, I don't want to hurt her!"
Impulsively he wrote that they missed her, and her next letter said happily that she
was coming home.
He persuaded himself that he was eager to see her.
He bought roses for the house, he ordered squab for dinner, he had the car cleaned
and polished.
All the way home from the station with her he was adequate in his accounts of Ted's
success in basket-ball at the university, but before they reached Floral Heights
there was nothing more to say, and already
he felt the force of her stolidity, wondered whether he could remain a good
husband and still sneak out of the house this evening for half an hour with the
Bunch.
When he had housed the car he blundered upstairs, into the familiar talcum-scented
warmth of her presence, blaring, "Help you unpack your bag?"
"No, I can do it."
Slowly she turned, holding up a small box, and slowly she said, "I brought you a
present, just a new cigar-case. I don't know if you'd care to have it--"
She was the lonely girl, the brown appealing Myra Thompson, whom he had
married, and he almost wept for pity as he kissed her and besought, "Oh, honey, honey,
CARE to have it?
Of course I do! I'm awful proud you brought it to me.
And I needed a new case badly." He wondered how he would get rid of the
case he had bought the week before.
"And you really are glad to see me back?" "Why, you poor kiddy, what you been
worrying about?" "Well, you didn't seem to miss me very
much."
By the time he had finished his stint of lying they were firmly bound again.
By ten that evening it seemed improbable that she had ever been away.
There was but one difference: the problem of remaining a respectable husband, a
Floral Heights husband, yet seeing Tanis and the Bunch with frequency.
He had promised to telephone to Tanis that evening, and now it was melodramatically
impossible.
He prowled about the telephone, impulsively thrusting out a hand to lift the receiver,
but never quite daring to risk it.
Nor could he find a reason for slipping down to the drug store on Smith Street,
with its telephone-booth.
He was laden with responsibility till he threw it off with the speculation: "Why the
deuce should I fret so about not being able to 'phone Tanis?
She can get along without me.
I don't owe her anything. She's a fine girl, but I've given her just
as much as she has me....Oh, damn these women and the way they get you all tied up
in complications!"
II
For a week he was attentive to his wife, took her to the theater, to dinner at the
Littlefields'; then the old weary dodging and shifting began and at least two
evenings a week he spent with the Bunch.
He still made pretense of going to the Elks and to committee-meetings but less and less
did he trouble to have his excuses interesting, less and less did she affect
to believe them.
He was certain that she knew he was associating with what Floral Heights called
"a sporty crowd," yet neither of them acknowledged it.
In matrimonial geography the distance between the first mute recognition of a
break and the admission thereof is as great as the distance between the first naive
faith and the first doubting.
As he began to drift away he also began to see her as a human being, to like and
dislike her instead of accepting her as a comparatively movable part of the
furniture, and he compassionated that
husband-and-wife relation which, in twenty- five years of married life, had become a
separate and real entity.
He recalled their high lights the summer vacation in Virginia meadows under the blue
wall of the mountains; their motor tour through Ohio, and the exploration of
Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus; the
birth of Verona; their building of this new house, planned to comfort them through a
happy old age--chokingly they had said that it might be the last home either of them
would ever have.
Yet his most softening remembrance of these dear moments did not keep him from barking
at dinner, "Yep, going out f' few hours. Don't sit up for me."
He did not dare now to come home drunk, and though he rejoiced in his return to high
morality and spoke with gravity to Pete and Fulton Bemis about their drinking, he
prickled at Myra's unexpressed criticisms
and sulkily meditated that a "fellow couldn't ever learn to handle himself if he
was always bossed by a lot of women." He no longer wondered if Tanis wasn't a bit
worn and sentimental.
In contrast to the complacent Myra he saw her as swift and air-borne and radiant, a
fire-spirit tenderly stooping to the hearth, and however pitifully he brooded on
his wife, he longed to be with Tanis.
Then Mrs. Babbitt tore the decent cloak from her unhappiness and the astounded male
discovered that she was having a small determined rebellion of her own.
III They were beside the fireless fire-place,
in the evening.
"Georgie," she said, "you haven't given me the list of your household expenses while I
was away." "No, I--Haven't made it out yet."
Very affably: "Gosh, we must try to keep down expenses this year."
"That's so. I don't know where all the money goes to.
I try to economize, but it just seems to evaporate."
"I suppose I oughtn't to spend so much on cigars.
Don't know but what I'll cut down my smoking, maybe cut it out entirely.
I was thinking of a good way to do it, the other day: start on these cubeb cigarettes,
and they'd kind of disgust me with smoking."
"Oh, I do wish you would!
It isn't that I care, but honestly, George, it is so bad for you to smoke so much.
Don't you think you could reduce the amount?
And George--I notice now, when you come home from these lodges and all, that
sometimes you smell of whisky.
Dearie, you know I don't worry so much about the moral side of it, but you have a
weak stomach and you can't stand all this drinking."
"Weak stomach, hell!
I guess I can carry my booze about as well as most folks!"
"Well, I do think you ought to be careful. Don't you see, dear, I don't want you to
get sick."
"Sick rats! I'm not a baby!
I guess I ain't going to get sick just because maybe once a week I shoot a
highball!
That's the trouble with women. They always exaggerate so."
"George, I don't think you ought to talk that way when I'm just speaking for your
own good."
"I know, but gosh all fishhooks, that's the trouble with women!
They're always criticizing and commenting and bringing things up, and then they say
it's 'for your own good'!"
"Why, George, that's not a nice way to talk, to answer me so short."
"Well, I didn't mean to answer short, but gosh, talking as if I was a kindergarten
brat, not able to tote one highball without calling for the St. Mary's ambulance!
A fine idea you must have of me!"
"Oh, it isn't that; it's just--I don't want to see you get sick and--My, I didn't know
it was so late! Don't forget to give me those household
accounts for the time while I was away."
"Oh, thunder, what's the use of taking the trouble to make 'em out now?
Let's just skip 'em for that period."
"Why, George Babbitt, in all the years we've been married we've never failed to
keep a complete account of every penny we've spent!"
"No. Maybe that's the trouble with us."
"What in the world do you mean?"
"Oh, I don't mean anything, only--Sometimes I get so darn sick and tired of all this
routine and the accounting at the office and expenses at home and fussing and
stewing and fretting and wearing myself out
worrying over a lot of junk that doesn't really mean a doggone thing, and being so
careful and--Good Lord, what do you think I'm made for?
I could have been a darn good orator, and here I fuss and fret and worry--"
"Don't you suppose I ever get tired of fussing?
I get so bored with ordering three meals a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a
year, and ruining my eyes over that horrid sewing-machine, and looking after your
clothes and Rone's and Ted's and Tinka's
and everybody's, and the laundry, and darning socks, and going down to the Piggly
Wiggly to market, and bringing my basket home to save money on the cash-and-carry
and--EVERYTHING!"
"Well, gosh," with a certain astonishment, "I suppose maybe you do!
But talk about--Here I have to be in the office every single day, while you can go
out all afternoon and see folks and visit with the neighbors and do any blinkin'
thing you want to!"
"Yes, and a fine lot of good that does me! Just talking over the same old things with
the same old crowd, while you have all sorts of interesting people coming in to
see you at the office."
"Interesting!
Cranky old dames that want to know why I haven't rented their dear precious homes
for about seven times their value, and bunch of old crabs panning the everlasting
daylights out of me because they don't
receive every cent of their rentals by three G.M. on the second of the month!
Sure! Interesting!
Just as interesting as the small pox!"
"Now, George, I will not have you shouting at me that way!"
"Well, it gets my goat the way women figure out that a man doesn't do a darn thing but
sit on his chair and have lovey-dovey conferences with a lot of classy dames and
give 'em the glad eye!"
"I guess you manage to give them a glad enough eye when they do come in."
"What do you mean? Mean I'm chasing flappers?"
"I should hope not--at your age!"
"Now you look here! You may not believe it--Of course all you
see is fat little Georgie Babbitt. Sure!
Handy man around the house!
Fixes the furnace when the furnace-man doesn't show up, and pays the bills, but
dull, awful dull!
Well, you may not believe it, but there's some women that think old George Babbitt
isn't such a bad scout!
They think he's not so bad-looking, not so bad that it hurts anyway, and he's got a
pretty good line of guff, and some even think he shakes a darn wicked Walkover at
dancing!"
"Yes." She spoke slowly.
"I haven't much doubt that when I'm away you manage to find people who properly
appreciate you."
"Well, I just mean--" he protested, with a sound of denial.
Then he was angered into semi-honesty. "You bet I do!
I find plenty of folks, and doggone nice ones, that don't think I'm a weak-stomached
baby!" "That's exactly what I was saying!
You can run around with anybody you please, but I'm supposed to sit here and wait for
you.
You have the chance to get all sorts of culture and everything, and I just stay
home--"
"Well, gosh almighty, there's nothing to prevent your reading books and going to
lectures and all that junk, is there?" "George, I told you, I won't have you
shouting at me like that!
I don't know what's come over you. You never used to speak to me in this
cranky way."
"I didn't mean to sound cranky, but gosh, it certainly makes me sore to get the blame
because you don't keep up with things." "I'm going to!
Will you help me?"
"Sure. Anything I can do to help you in the
culture-grabbing line--yours to oblige, G. F. Babbitt."
"Very well then, I want you to go to Mrs. Mudge's New Thought meeting with me, next
Sunday afternoon." "Mrs. Who's which?"
"Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge.
The field-lecturer for the American New Thought League.
She's going to speak on 'Cultivating the Sun Spirit' before the League of the Higher
Illumination, at the Thornleigh."
"Oh, punk! New Thought!
Hashed thought with a poached egg! 'Cultivating the--' It sounds like 'Why is
a mouse when it spins?'
That's a fine spiel for a good Presbyterian to be going to, when you can hear Doc
Drew!"
"Reverend Drew is a scholar and a pulpit orator and all that, but he hasn't got the
Inner Ferment, as Mrs. Mudge calls it; he hasn't any inspiration for the New Era.
Women need inspiration now.
So I want you to come, as you promised."
IV
The Zenith branch of the League of the Higher Illumination met in the smaller
ballroom at the Hotel Thornleigh, a refined apartment with pale green walls and plaster
wreaths of roses, refined parquet flooring, and ultra-refined frail gilt chairs.
Here were gathered sixty-five women and ten men.
Most of the men slouched in their chairs and wriggled, while their wives sat rigidly
at attention, but two of them--red-necked, meaty men--were as respectably devout as
their wives.
They were newly rich contractors who, having bought houses, motors, hand-painted
pictures, and gentlemanliness, were now buying a refined ready-made philosophy.
It had been a toss-up with them whether to buy New Thought, Christian Science, or a
good standard high-church model of Episcopalianism.
In the flesh, Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge fell somewhat short of a prophetic aspect.
She was pony-built and plump, with the face of a haughty Pekingese, a button of a nose,
and arms so short that, despite her most indignant endeavors, she could not clasp
her hands in front of her as she sat on the platform waiting.
Her frock of taffeta and green velvet, with three strings of glass beads, and large
folding eye-glasses dangling from a black ribbon, was a triumph of refinement.
Mrs. Mudge was introduced by the president of the League of the Higher Illumination,
an oldish young woman with a yearning voice, white spats, and a mustache.
She said that Mrs. Mudge would now make it plain to the simplest intellect how the Sun
Spirit could be cultivated, and they who had been thinking about cultivating one
would do well to treasure Mrs. Mudge's
words, because even Zenith (and everybody knew that Zenith stood in the van of
spiritual and New Thought progress) didn't often have the opportunity to sit at the
feet of such an inspiring Optimist and
Metaphysical Seer as Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge, who had lived the Life of Wider
Usefulness through Concentration, and in the Silence found those Secrets of Mental
Control and the Inner Key which were
immediately going to transform and bring Peace, Power, and Prosperity to the unhappy
nations; and so, friends, would they for this precious gem-studded hour forget the
Illusions of the Seeming Real, and in the
actualization of the deep-lying Veritas pass, along with Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge,
to the Realm Beautiful.
If Mrs. Mudge was rather pudgier than one would like one's swamis, yogis, seers, and
initiates, yet her voice had the real professional note.
It was refined and optimistic; it was overpoweringly calm; it flowed on
relentlessly, without one comma, till Babbitt was hypnotized.
Her favorite word was "always," which she pronounced olllllle-ways.
Her principal gesture was a pontifical but thoroughly ladylike blessing with two
stubby fingers.
She explained about this matter of Spiritual Saturation:
"There are those--"
Of "those" she made a linked sweetness long drawn out; a far-off delicate call in a
twilight minor. It chastely rebuked the restless husbands,
yet brought them a message of healing.
"There are those who have seen the rim and outer seeming of the logos there are those
who have glimpsed and in enthusiasm possessed themselves of some segment and
portion of the Logos there are those who
thus flicked but not penetrated and radioactivated by the Dynamis go always to
and fro assertative that they possess and are possessed of the Logos and the
Metaphysikos but this word I bring you this
concept I enlarge that those that are not utter are not even inceptive and that
holiness is in its definitive essence always always always whole-iness and--"
It proved that the Essence of the Sun Spirit was Truth, but its Aura and
Effluxion were Cheerfulness:
"Face always the day with the dawn-laugh with the enthusiasm of the initiate who
perceives that all works together in the revolutions of the Wheel and who answers
the strictures of the Soured Souls of the Destructionists with a Glad Affirmation--"
It went on for about an hour and seven minutes.
At the end Mrs. Mudge spoke with more vigor and punctuation:
"Now let me suggest to all of you the advantages of the Theosophical and
Pantheistic Oriental Reading Circle, which I represent.
Our object is to unite all the manifestations of the New Era into one
cohesive whole--New Thought, Christian Science, Theosophy, Vedanta, Bahaism, and
the other sparks from the one New Light.
The subscription is but ten dollars a year, and for this mere pittance the members
receive not only the monthly magazine, Pearls of Healing, but the privilege of
sending right to the president, our revered
Mother Dobbs, any questions regarding spiritual progress, matrimonial problems,
health and well-being questions, financial difficulties, and--"
They listened to her with adoring attention.
They looked genteel. They looked ironed-out.
They coughed politely, and crossed their legs with quietness, and in expensive linen
handkerchiefs they blew their noses with a delicacy altogether optimistic and refined.
As for Babbitt, he sat and suffered.
When they were blessedly out in the air again, when they drove home through a wind
smelling of snow and honest sun, he dared not speak.
They had been too near to quarreling, these days.
Mrs. Babbitt forced it: "Did you enjoy Mrs. Mudge's talk?"
"Well I--What did you get out of it?"
"Oh, it starts a person thinking. It gets you out of a routine of ordinary
thoughts."
"Well, I'll hand it to Opal she isn't ordinary, but gosh--Honest, did that stuff
mean anything to you?"
"Of course I'm not trained in metaphysics, and there was lots I couldn't quite grasp,
but I did feel it was inspiring. And she speaks so readily.
I do think you ought to have got something out of it."
"Well, I didn't! I swear, I was simply astonished, the way
those women lapped it up!
Why the dickens they want to put in their time listening to all that blaa when they--
" "It's certainly better for them than going
to roadhouses and smoking and drinking!"
"I don't know whether it is or not! Personally I don't see a whole lot of
difference.
In both cases they're trying to get away from themselves--most everybody is, these
days, I guess.
And I'd certainly get a whole lot more out of hoofing it in a good lively dance, even
in some dive, than sitting looking as if my collar was too tight, and feeling too
scared to spit, and listening to Opal chewing her words."
"I'm sure you do! You're very fond of dives.
No doubt you saw a lot of them while I was away!"
"Look here!
You been doing a hell of a lot of insinuating and hinting around lately, as
if I were leading a double life or something, and I'm damn sick of it, and I
don't want to hear anything more about it!"
"Why, George Babbitt! Do you realize what you're saying?
Why, George, in all our years together you've never talked to me like that!"
"It's about time then!"
"Lately you've been getting worse and worse, and now, finally, you're cursing and
swearing at me and shouting at me, and your voice so ugly and hateful--I just shudder!"
"Oh, rats, quit exaggerating!
I wasn't shouting, or swearing either." "I wish you could hear your own voice!
Maybe you don't realize how it sounds. But even so--You never used to talk like
that.
You simply COULDN'T talk this way if something dreadful hadn't happened to you."
His mind was hard. With amazement he found that he wasn't
particularly sorry.
It was only with an effort that he made himself more agreeable: "Well, gosh, I
didn't mean to get sore."
"George, do you realize that we can't go on like this, getting farther and farther
apart, and you ruder and ruder to me? I just don't know what's going to happen."
He had a moment's pity for her bewilderment; he thought of how many deep
and tender things would be hurt if they really "couldn't go on like this."
But his pity was impersonal, and he was wondering, "Wouldn't it maybe be a good
thing if--Not a divorce and all that, o' course, but kind of a little more
independence?"
While she looked at him pleadingly he drove on in a dreadful silence.
>
CHAPTER XXXI
I
WHEN he was away from her, while he kicked about the garage and swept the snow off the
running-board and examined a cracked hose- connection, he repented, he was alarmed and
astonished that he could have flared out at
his wife, and thought fondly how much more lasting she was than the flighty Bunch.
He went in to mumble that he was "sorry, didn't mean to be grouchy," and to inquire
as to her interest in movies.
But in the darkness of the movie theater he brooded that he'd "gone and tied himself up
to Myra all over again." He had some satisfaction in taking it out
on Tanis Judique.
"Hang Tanis anyway! Why'd she gone and got him into these mix-
ups and made him all jumpy and nervous and cranky?
Too many complications!
Cut 'em out!" He wanted peace.
For ten days he did not see Tanis nor telephone to her, and instantly she put
upon him the compulsion which he hated.
When he had stayed away from her for five days, hourly taking pride in his
resoluteness and hourly picturing how greatly Tanis must miss him, Miss McGoun
reported, "Mrs. Judique on the 'phone.
Like t' speak t' you 'bout some repairs." Tanis was quick and quiet:
"Mr. Babbitt? Oh, George, this is Tanis.
I haven't seen you for weeks--days, anyway.
You aren't sick, are you?" "No, just been terribly rushed.
I, uh, I think there'll be a big revival of building this year.
Got to, uh, got to work hard."
"Of course, my man! I want you to.
You know I'm terribly ambitious for you; much more than I am for myself.
I just don't want you to forget poor Tanis.
Will you call me up soon?" "Sure!
Sure! You bet!"
"Please do.
I sha'n't call you again." He meditated, "Poor kid!...But gosh, she
oughtn't to 'phone me at the office....
She's a wonder--sympathy 'ambitious for me.'...But gosh, I won't be made and
compelled to call her up till I get ready. Darn these women, the way they make
demands!
It'll be one long old time before I see her!...But gosh, I'd like to see her to-
night--sweet little thing.... Oh, cut that, son!
Now you've broken away, be wise!"
She did not telephone again, nor he, but after five more days she wrote to him:
Have I offended you? You must know, dear, I didn't mean to.
I'm so lonely and I need somebody to cheer me up.
Why didn't you come to the nice party we had at Carrie's last evening I remember she
invited you.
Can't you come around here to-morrow Thur evening?
I shall be alone and hope to see you. His reflections were numerous:
"Doggone it, why can't she let me alone?
Why can't women ever learn a fellow hates to be bulldozed?
And they always take advantage of you by yelling how lonely they are.
"Now that isn't nice of you, young fella.
She's a fine, square, straight girl, and she does get lonely.
She writes a swell hand. Nice-looking stationery.
Plain.
Refined. I guess I'll have to go see her.
Well, thank God, I got till to-morrow night free of her, anyway.
"She's nice but--Hang it, I won't be MADE to do things!
I'm not married to her. No, nor by golly going to be!
"Oh, rats, I suppose I better go see her."
II Thursday, the to-morrow of Tanis's note,
was full of emotional crises.
At the Roughnecks' Table at the club, Verg Gunch talked of the Good Citizens' League
and (it seemed to Babbitt) deliberately left him out of the invitations to join.
Old Mat Penniman, the general utility man at Babbitt's office, had Troubles, and came
in to groan about them: his oldest boy was "no good," his wife was sick, and he had
quarreled with his brother-in-law.
Conrad Lyte also had Troubles, and since Lyte was one of his best clients, Babbitt
had to listen to them.
Mr. Lyte, it appeared, was suffering from a peculiarly interesting neuralgia, and the
garage had overcharged him.
When Babbitt came home, everybody had Troubles: his wife was simultaneously
thinking about discharging the impudent new maid, and worried lest the maid leave; and
Tinka desired to denounce her teacher.
"Oh, quit fussing!" Babbitt fussed.
"You never hear me whining about my Troubles, and yet if you had to run a real-
estate office--Why, to-day I found Miss Bannigan was two days behind with her
accounts, and I pinched my finger in my
desk, and Lyte was in and just as unreasonable as ever."
He was so vexed that after dinner, when it was time for a tactful escape to Tanis, he
merely grumped to his wife, "Got to go out.
Be back by eleven, should think." "Oh! You're going out again?"
"Again! What do you mean 'again'!
Haven't hardly been out of the house for a week!"
"Are you--are you going to the Elks?" "Nope.
Got to see some people."
Though this time he heard his own voice and knew that it was curt, though she was
looking at him with wide-eyed reproach, he stumped into the hall, jerked on his ulster
and furlined gloves, and went out to start the car.
He was relieved to find Tanis cheerful, unreproachful, and brilliant in a frock of
brown net over gold tissue.
"You poor man, having to come out on a night like this!
It's terribly cold. Don't you think a small highball would be
nice?"
"Now, by golly, there's a woman with savvy! I think we could more or less stand a
highball if it wasn't too long a one--not over a foot tall!"
He kissed her with careless heartiness, he forgot the compulsion of her demands, he
stretched in a large chair and felt that he had beautifully come home.
He was suddenly loquacious; he told her what a noble and misunderstood man he was,
and how superior to Pete, Fulton Bemis, and the other men of their acquaintance; and
she, bending forward, chin in charming hand, brightly agreed.
But when he forced himself to ask, "Well, honey, how's things with YOU," she took his
duty-question seriously, and he discovered that she too had Troubles:
"Oh, all right but--I did get so angry with Carrie.
She told Minnie that I told her that Minnie was an awful tightwad, and Minnie told me
Carrie had told her, and of course I told her I hadn't said anything of the kind, and
then Carrie found Minnie had told me, and
she was simply furious because Minnie had told me, and of course I was just boiling
because Carrie had told her I'd told her, and then we all met up at Fulton's--his
wife is away--thank heavens!--oh, there's
the dandiest floor in his house to dance on--and we were all of us simply furious at
each other and--Oh, I do hate that kind of a mix-up, don't you?
I mean--it's so lacking in refinement, but- -And Mother wants to come and stay with me
for a whole month, and of course I do love her, I suppose I do, but honestly, she'll
cramp my style something dreadful--she
never can learn not to comment, and she always wants to know where I'm going when I
go out evenings, and if I lie to her she always spies around and ferrets around and
finds out where I've been, and then she
looks like Patience on a Monument till I could just scream.
And oh, I MUST tell you--You know I never talk about myself; I just hate people who
do, don't you?
But--I feel so stupid to-night, and I know I must be boring you with all this but--
What would you do about Mother?" He gave her facile masculine advice.
She was to put off her mother's stay.
She was to tell Carrie to go to the deuce. For these valuable revelations she thanked
him, and they ambled into the familiar gossip of the Bunch.
Of what a sentimental fool was Carrie.
Of what a lazy brat was Pete.
Of how nice Fulton Bemis could be--"course lots of people think he's a regular old
grouch when they meet him because he doesn't give 'em the glad hand the first
crack out of the box, but when they get to know him, he's a corker."
But as they had gone conscientiously through each of these analyses before, the
conversation staggered.
Babbitt tried to be intellectual and deal with General Topics.
He said some thoroughly sound things about Disarmament, and broad-mindedness and
liberalism; but it seemed to him that General Topics interested Tanis only when
she could apply them to Pete, Carrie, or themselves.
He was distressingly conscious of their silence.
He tried to stir her into chattering again, but silence rose like a gray presence and
hovered between them. "I, uh--" he labored.
"It strikes me--it strikes me that unemployment is lessening."
"Maybe Pete will get a decent job, then." Silence.
Desperately he essayed, "What's the trouble, old honey?
You seem kind of quiet to-night." "Am I?
Oh, I'm not.
But--do you really care whether I am or not?"
"Care? Sure!
Course I do!"
"Do you really?" She swooped on him, sat on the arm of his
chair. He hated the emotional drain of having to
appear fond of her.
He stroked her hand, smiled up at her dutifully, and sank back.
"George, I wonder if you really like me at all?"
"Course I do, silly."
"Do you really, precious? Do you care a bit?"
"Why certainly! You don't suppose I'd be here if I didn't!"
"Now see here, young man, I won't have you speaking to me in that huffy way!"
"I didn't mean to sound huffy.
I just--" In injured and rather childish tones: "Gosh almighty, it makes me tired
the way everybody says I sound huffy when I just talk natural!
Do they expect me to sing it or something?"
"Who do you mean by 'everybody'? How many other ladies have you been
consoling?" "Look here now, I won't have this hinting!"
Humbly: "I know, dear.
I was only teasing. I know it didn't mean to talk huffy--it was
just tired. Forgive bad Tanis.
But say you love me, say it!"
"I love you.... Course I do."
"Yes, you do!" cynically. "Oh, darling, I don't mean to be rude but--
I get so lonely.
I feel so useless. Nobody needs me, nothing I can do for
anybody. And you know, dear, I'm so active--I could
be if there was something to do.
And I am young, aren't I! I'm not an old thing!
I'm not old and stupid, am I?" He had to assure her.
She stroked his hair, and he had to look pleased under that touch, the more
demanding in its beguiling softness. He was impatient.
He wanted to flee out to a hard, sure, unemotional man-world.
Through her delicate and caressing fingers she may have caught something of his
shrugging distaste.
She left him--he was for the moment buoyantly relieved--she dragged a footstool
to his feet and sat looking beseechingly up at him.
But as in many men the cringing of a dog, the flinching of a frightened child, rouse
not pity but a surprised and jerky cruelty, so her humility only annoyed him.
And he saw her now as middle-aged, as beginning to be old.
Even while he detested his own thoughts, they rode him.
She was old, he winced.
Old! He noted how the soft flesh was creasing
into webby folds beneath her chin, below her eyes, at the base of her wrists.
A patch of her throat had a minute roughness like the crumbs from a rubber
eraser. Old!
She was younger in years than himself, yet it was sickening to have her yearning up at
him with rolling great eyes--as if, he shuddered, his own aunt were making love to
him.
He fretted inwardly, "I'm through with this asinine fooling around.
I'm going to cut her out.
She's a darn decent nice woman, and I don't want to hurt her, but it'll hurt a lot less
to cut her right out, like a good clean surgical operation."
He was on his feet.
He was speaking urgently. By every rule of self-esteem, he had to
prove to her, and to himself, that it was her fault.
"I suppose maybe I'm kind of out of sorts to-night, but honest, honey, when I stayed
away for a while to catch up on work and everything and figure out where I was at,
you ought to have been cannier and waited till I came back.
Can't you see, dear, when you MADE me come, I--being about an average bull-headed
chump--my tendency was to resist?
Listen, dear, I'm going now--" "Not for a while, precious!
No!" "Yep. Right now.
And then sometime we'll see about the future."
"What do you mean, dear, 'about the future'?
Have I done something I oughtn't to?
Oh, I'm so dreadfully sorry!" He resolutely put his hands behind him.
"Not a thing, God bless you, not a thing. You're as good as they make 'em.
But it's just--Good Lord, do you realize I've got things to do in the world?
I've got a business to attend to and, you might not believe it, but I've got a wife
and kids that I'm awful fond of!"
Then only during the murder he was committing was he able to feel nobly
virtuous.
"I want us to be friends but, gosh, I can't go on this way feeling I got to come up
here every so often--"
"Oh, darling, darling, and I've always told you, so carefully, that you were absolutely
free.
I just wanted you to come around when you were tired and wanted to talk to me, or
when you could enjoy our parties--" She was so reasonable, she was so gently
right!
It took him an hour to make his escape, with nothing settled and everything
horribly settled. In a barren freedom of icy Northern wind he
sighed, "Thank God that's over!
Poor Tanis, poor darling decent Tanis! But it is over.
Absolute! I'm free!"
>
CHAPTER XXXII
I HIS wife was up when he came in.
"Did you have a good time?" she sniffed. "I did not.
I had a rotten time!
Anything else I got to explain?" "George, how can you speak like--Oh, I
don't know what's come over you!" "Good Lord, there's nothing come over me!
Why do you look for trouble all the time?"
He was warning himself, "Careful! Stop being so disagreeable.
Course she feels it, being left alone here all evening."
But he forgot his warning as she went on:
"Why do you go out and see all sorts of strange people?
I suppose you'll say you've been to another committee-meeting this evening!"
"Nope.
I've been calling on a woman. We sat by the fire and kidded each other
and had a whale of a good time, if you want to know!"
"Well--From the way you say it, I suppose it's my fault you went there!
I probably sent you!" "You did!"
"Well, upon my word--"
"You hate 'strange people' as you call 'em. If you had your way, I'd be as much of an
old stick-in-the-mud as Howard Littlefield.
You never want to have anybody with any git to 'em at the house; you want a bunch of
old stiffs that sit around and gas about the weather.
You're doing your level best to make me old.
Well, let me tell you, I'm not going to have--"
Overwhelmed she bent to his unprecedented tirade, and in answer she mourned:
"Oh, dearest, I don't think that's true. I don't mean to make you old, I know.
Perhaps you're partly right.
Perhaps I am slow about getting acquainted with new people.
But when you think of all the dear good times we have, and the supper-parties and
the movies and all--"
With true masculine wiles he not only convinced himself that she had injured him
but, by the loudness of his voice and the brutality of his attack, he convinced her
also, and presently he had her apologizing
for his having spent the evening with Tanis.
He went up to bed well pleased, not only the master but the martyr of the household.
For a distasteful moment after he had lain down he wondered if he had been altogether
just. "Ought to be ashamed, bullying her.
Maybe there is her side to things.
Maybe she hasn't had such a bloomin' hectic time herself.
But I don't care! Good for her to get waked up a little.
And I'm going to keep free.
Of her and Tanis and the fellows at the club and everybody.
I'm going to run my own life!"
II In this mood he was particularly
objectionable at the Boosters' Club lunch next day.
They were addressed by a congressman who had just returned from an exhaustive three-
months study of the finances, ethnology, political systems, linguistic divisions,
mineral resources, and agriculture of
Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, and
Bulgaria.
He told them all about those subjects, together with three funny stories about
European misconceptions of America and some spirited words on the necessity of keeping
ignorant foreigners out of America.
"Say, that was a mighty informative talk. Real he-stuff," said Sidney Finkelstein.
But the disaffected Babbitt grumbled, "Four-flusher!
Bunch of hot air!
And what's the matter with the immigrants? Gosh, they aren't all ignorant, and I got a
hunch we're all descended from immigrants ourselves."
"Oh, you make me tired!" said Mr. Finkelstein.
Babbitt was aware that Dr. A. I. Dilling was sternly listening from across the
table.
Dr. Dilling was one of the most important men in the Boosters'.
He was not a physician but a surgeon, a more romantic and sounding occupation.
He was an intense large man with a boiling of black hair and a thick black mustache.
The newspapers often chronicled his operations; he was professor of surgery in
the State University; he went to dinner at the very best houses on Royal Ridge; and he
was said to be worth several hundred thousand dollars.
It was dismaying to Babbitt to have such a person glower at him.
He hastily praised the congressman's wit, to Sidney Finkelstein, but for Dr.
Dilling's benefit.
III That afternoon three men shouldered into
Babbitt's office with the air of a Vigilante committee in frontier days.
They were large, resolute, big-jawed men, and they were all high lords in the land of
Zenith--Dr. Dilling the surgeon, Charles McKelvey the contractor, and, most
dismaying of all, the white-bearded Colonel
Rutherford Snow, owner of the Advocate- Times.
In their whelming presence Babbitt felt small and insignificant.
"Well, well, great pleasure, have chairs, what c'n I do for you?" he babbled.
They neither sat nor offered observations on the weather.
"Babbitt," said Colonel Snow, "we've come from the Good Citizens' League.
We've decided we want you to join. Vergil Gunch says you don't care to, but I
think we can show you a new light.
The League is going to combine with the Chamber of Commerce in a campaign for the
Open Shop, so it's time for you to put your name down."
In his embarrassment Babbitt could not recall his reasons for not wishing to join
the League, if indeed he had ever definitely known them, but he was
passionately certain that he did not wish
to join, and at the thought of their forcing him he felt a stirring of anger
against even these princes of commerce. "Sorry, Colonel, have to think it over a
little," he mumbled.
McKelvey snarled, "That means you're not going to join, George?"
Something black and unfamiliar and ferocious spoke from Babbitt: "Now, you
look here, Charley!
I'm damned if I'm going to be bullied into joining anything, not even by you plutes!"
"We're not bullying anybody," Dr. Dilling began, but Colonel Snow thrust him aside
with, "Certainly we are!
We don't mind a little bullying, if it's necessary.
Babbitt, the G.C.L. has been talking about you a good deal.
You're supposed to be a sensible, clean, responsible man; you always have been; but
here lately, for God knows what reason, I hear from all sorts of sources that you're
running around with a loose crowd, and
what's a whole lot worse, you've actually been advocating and supporting some of the
most dangerous elements in town, like this fellow Doane."
"Colonel, that strikes me as my private business."
"Possibly, but we want to have an understanding.
You've stood in, you and your father-in- law, with some of the most substantial and
forward-looking interests in town, like my friends of the Street Traction Company, and
my papers have given you a lot of boosts.
Well, you can't expect the decent citizens to go on aiding you if you intend to side
with precisely the people who are trying to undermine us."
Babbitt was frightened, but he had an agonized instinct that if he yielded in
this he would yield in everything. He protested:
"You're exaggerating, Colonel.
I believe in being broad-minded and liberal, but, of course, I'm just as much
agin the cranks and blatherskites and labor unions and so on as you are.
But fact is, I belong to so many organizations now that I can't do 'em
justice, and I want to think it over before I decide about coming into the G.C.L."
Colonel Snow condescended, "Oh, no, I'm not exaggerating!
Why the doctor here heard you cussing out and defaming one of the finest types of
Republican congressmen, just this noon!
And you have entirely the wrong idea about 'thinking over joining.'
We're not begging you to join the G.C.L.-- we're permitting you to join.
I'm not sure, my boy, but what if you put it off it'll be too late.
I'm not sure we'll want you then. Better think quick--better think quick!"
The three Vigilantes, formidable in their righteousness, stared at him in a taut
silence. Babbitt waited through.
He thought nothing at all, he merely waited, while in his echoing head buzzed,
"I don't want to join--I don't want to join--I don't want to."
"All right.
Sorry for you!" said Colonel Snow, and the three men abruptly turned their beefy
backs.
IV As Babbitt went out to his car that evening
he saw Vergil Gunch coming down the block. He raised his hand in salutation, but Gunch
ignored it and crossed the street.
He was certain that Gunch had seen him. He drove home in sharp discomfort.
His wife attacked at once: "Georgie dear, Muriel Frink was in this afternoon, and she
says that Chum says the committee of this Good Citizens' League especially asked you
to join and you wouldn't.
Don't you think it would be better? You know all the nicest people belong, and
the League stands for--" "I know what the League stands for!
It stands for the suppression of free speech and free thought and everything
else!
I don't propose to be bullied and rushed into joining anything, and it isn't a
question of whether it's a good league or a bad league or what the hell kind of a
league it is; it's just a question of my refusing to be told I got to--"
"But dear, if you don't join, people might criticize you."
"Let 'em criticize!"
"But I mean NICE people!" "Rats, I--Matter of fact, this whole League
is just a fad.
It's like all these other organizations that start off with such a rush and let on
they're going to change the whole works, and pretty soon they peter out and
everybody forgets all about 'em!"
"But if it's THE fad now, don't you think you--"
"No, I don't! Oh, Myra, please quit nagging me about it.
I'm sick of hearing about the confounded G.C.L.
I almost wish I'd joined it when Verg first came around, and got it over.
And maybe I'd 've come in to-day if the committee hadn't tried to bullyrag me, but,
by God, as long as I'm a free-born independent American cit--"
"Now, George, you're talking exactly like the German furnace-man."
"Oh, I am, am I! Then, I won't talk at all!"
He longed, that evening, to see Tanis Judique, to be strengthened by her
sympathy.
When all the family were up-stairs he got as far as telephoning to her apartment-
house, but he was agitated about it and when the janitor answered he blurted, "Nev'
mind--I'll call later," and hung up the receiver.
V If Babbitt had not been certain about
Vergil Gunch's avoiding him, there could be little doubt about William Washington
Eathorne, next morning.
When Babbitt was driving down to the office he overtook Eathorne's car, with the great
banker sitting in anemic solemnity behind his chauffeur.
Babbitt waved and cried, "Mornin'!"
Eathorne looked at him deliberately, hesitated, and gave him a nod more
contemptuous than a direct cut. Babbitt's partner and father-in-law came in
at ten:
"George, what's this I hear about some song and dance you gave Colonel Snow about not
wanting to join the G.C.L.? What the dickens you trying to do?
Wreck the firm?
You don't suppose these Big Guns will stand your bucking them and springing all this
'liberal' poppycock you been getting off lately, do you?"
"Oh, rats, Henry T., you been reading bum fiction.
There ain't any such a thing as these plots to keep folks from being liberal.
This is a free country.
A man can do anything he wants to." "Course th' ain't any plots.
Who said they was?
Only if folks get an idea you're scatter- brained and unstable, you don't suppose
they'll want to do business with you, do you?
One little rumor about your being a crank would do more to ruin this business than
all the plots and stuff that these fool story-writers could think up in a month of
Sundays."
That afternoon, when the old reliable Conrad Lyte, the merry miser, Conrad Lyte,
appeared, and Babbitt suggested his buying a parcel of land in the new residential
section of Dorchester, Lyte said hastily,
too hastily, "No, no, don't want to go into anything new just now."
A week later Babbitt learned, through Henry Thompson, that the officials of the Street
Traction Company were planning another real-estate coup, and that Sanders, Torrey
and Wing, not the Babbitt-Thompson Company, were to handle it for them.
"I figure that Jake Offutt is kind of leery about the way folks are talking about you.
Of course Jake is a rock-ribbed old die- hard, and he probably advised the Traction
fellows to get some other broker. George, you got to do something!" trembled
Thompson.
And, in a rush, Babbitt agreed.
All nonsense the way people misjudged him, but still--He determined to join the Good
Citizens' League the next time he was asked, and in furious resignation he
waited.
He wasn't asked. They ignored him.
He did not have the courage to go to the League and beg in, and he took refuge in a
shaky boast that he had "gotten away with bucking the whole city.
Nobody could dictate to him how he was going to think and act!"
He was jarred as by nothing else when the paragon of stenographers, Miss McGoun,
suddenly left him, though her reasons were excellent--she needed a rest, her sister
was sick, she might not do any more work for six months.
He was uncomfortable with her successor, Miss Havstad.
What Miss Havstad's given name was, no one in the office ever knew.
It seemed improbable that she had a given name, a lover, a powder-puff, or a
digestion.
She was so impersonal, this slight, pale, industrious Swede, that it was vulgar to
think of her as going to an ordinary home to eat hash.
She was a perfectly oiled and enameled machine, and she ought, each evening, to
have been dusted off and shut in her desk beside her too-slim, too-frail pencil
points.
She took dictation swiftly, her typing was perfect, but Babbitt became jumpy when he
tried to work with her.
She made him feel puffy, and at his best- beloved daily jokes she looked gently
inquiring. He longed for Miss McGoun's return, and
thought of writing to her.
Then he heard that Miss McGoun had, a week after leaving him, gone over to his
dangerous competitors, Sanders, Torrey and Wing.
He was not merely annoyed; he was frightened.
"Why did she quit, then?" he worried. "Did she have a hunch my business is going
on the rocks?
And it was Sanders got the Street Traction deal.
Rats--sinking ship!" Gray fear loomed always by him now.
He watched Fritz Weilinger, the young salesman, and wondered if he too would
leave. Daily he fancied slights.
He noted that he was not asked to speak at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner.
When Orville Jones gave a large poker party and he was not invited, he was certain that
he had been snubbed.
He was afraid to go to lunch at the Athletic Club, and afraid not to go.
He believed that he was spied on; that when he left the table they whispered about him.
Everywhere he heard the rustling whispers: in the offices of clients, in the bank when
he made a deposit, in his own office, in his own home.
Interminably he wondered what They were saying of him.
All day long in imaginary conversations he caught them marveling, "Babbitt?
Why, say, he's a regular anarchist!
You got to admire the fellow for his nerve, the way he turned liberal and, by golly,
just absolutely runs his life to suit himself, but say, he's dangerous, that's
what he is, and he's got to be shown up."
He was so twitchy that when he rounded a corner and chanced on two acquaintances
talking--whispering--his heart leaped, and he stalked by like an embarrassed
schoolboy.
When he saw his neighbors Howard Littlefield and Orville Jones together, he
peered at them, went indoors to escape their spying, and was miserably certain
that they had been whispering--plotting-- whispering.
Through all his fear ran defiance. He felt stubborn.
Sometimes he decided that he had been a very devil of a fellow, as bold as Seneca
Doane; sometimes he planned to call on Doane and tell him what a revolutionist he
was, and never got beyond the planning.
But just as often, when he heard the soft whispers enveloping him he wailed, "Good
Lord, what have I done?
Just played with the Bunch, and called down Clarence Drum about being such a high-and-
mighty sodger. Never catch ME criticizing people and
trying to make them accept MY ideas!"
He could not stand the strain. Before long he admitted that he would like
to flee back to the security of conformity, provided there was a decent and creditable
way to return.
But, stubbornly, he would not be forced back; he would not, he swore, "eat dirt."
Only in spirited engagements with his wife did these turbulent fears rise to the
surface.
She complained that he seemed nervous, that she couldn't understand why he did not want
to "drop in at the Littlefields'" for the evening.
He tried, but he could not express to her the nebulous facts of his rebellion and
punishment. And, with Paul and Tanis lost, he had no
one to whom he could talk.
"Good Lord, Tinka is the only real friend I have, these days," he sighed, and he clung
to the child, played floor-games with her all evening.
He considered going to see Paul in prison, but, though he had a pale curt note from
him every week, he thought of Paul as dead. It was Tanis for whom he was longing.
"I thought I was so smart and independent, cutting Tanis out, and I need her, Lord how
I need her!" he raged. "Myra simply can't understand.
All she sees in life is getting along by being just like other folks.
But Tanis, she'd tell me I was all right." Then he broke, and one evening, late, he
did run to Tanis.
He had not dared to hope for it, but she was in, and alone.
Only she wasn't Tanis. She was a courteous, brow-lifting, ice-
armored woman who looked like Tanis.
She said, "Yes, George, what is it?" in even and uninterested tones, and he crept
away, whipped. His first comfort was from Ted and Eunice
Littlefield.
They danced in one evening when Ted was home from the university, and Ted chuckled,
"What's this I hear from Euny, dad? She says her dad says you raised Cain by
boosting old Seneca Doane.
Hot dog! Give 'em fits!
Stir 'em up! This old burg is asleep!"
Eunice plumped down on Babbitt's lap, kissed him, nestled her bobbed hair against
his chin, and crowed; "I think you're lots nicer than Howard.
Why is it," confidentially, "that Howard is such an old grouch?
The man has a good heart, and honestly, he's awfully bright, but he never will
learn to step on the gas, after all the training I've given him.
Don't you think we could do something with him, dearest?"
"Why, Eunice, that isn't a nice way to speak of your papa," Babbitt observed, in
the best Floral Heights manner, but he was happy for the first time in weeks.
He pictured himself as the veteran liberal strengthened by the loyalty of the young
generation. They went out to rifle the ice-box.
Babbitt gloated, "If your mother caught us at this, we'd certainly get our come-
uppance!" and Eunice became maternal, scrambled a terrifying number of eggs for
them, kissed Babbitt on the ear, and in the
voice of a brooding abbess marveled, "It beats the devil why feminists like me still
go on nursing these men!"
Thus stimulated, Babbitt was reckless when he encountered Sheldon Smeeth, educational
director of the Y.M.C.A. and choir-leader of the Chatham Road Church.
With one of his damp hands Smeeth imprisoned Babbitt's thick paw while he
chanted, "Brother Babbitt, we haven't seen you at church very often lately.
I know you're busy with a multitude of details, but you mustn't forget your dear
friends at the old church home."
Babbitt shook off the affectionate clasp-- Sheldy liked to hold hands for a long time-
-and snarled, "Well, I guess you fellows can run the show without me.
Sorry, Smeeth; got to beat it.
G'day."
But afterward he winced, "If that white worm had the nerve to try to drag me back
to the Old Church Home, then the holy outfit must have been doing a lot of
talking about me, too."
He heard them whispering--whispering--Dr. John Jennison Drew, Cholmondeley Frink,
even William Washington Eathorne.
The independence seeped out of him and he walked the streets alone, afraid of men's
cynical eyes and the incessant hiss of whispering.
>
CHAPTER XXXIII
I HE tried to explain to his wife, as they
prepared for bed, how objectionable was Sheldon Smeeth, but all her answer was, "He
has such a beautiful voice--so spiritual.
I don't think you ought to speak of him like that just because you can't appreciate
music!"
He saw her then as a stranger; he stared bleakly at this plump and fussy woman with
the broad bare arms, and wondered how she had ever come here.
In his chilly cot, turning from aching side to side, he pondered of Tanis.
"He'd been a fool to lose her. He had to have somebody he could really
talk to.
He'd--oh, he'd BUST if he went on stewing about things by himself.
And Myra, useless to expect her to understand.
Well, rats, no use dodging the issue.
Darn shame for two married people to drift apart after all these years; darn rotten
shame; but nothing could bring them together now, as long as he refused to let
Zenith bully him into taking orders--and he
was by golly not going to let anybody bully him into anything, or wheedle him or coax
him either!"
He woke at three, roused by a passing motor, and struggled out of bed for a drink
of water. As he passed through the bedroom he heard
his wife groan.
His resentment was night-blurred; he was solicitous in inquiring, "What's the
trouble, hon?" "I've got--such a pain down here in my
side--oh, it's just--it tears at me."
"Bad indigestion? Shall I get you some bicarb?"
"Don't think--that would help.
I felt funny last evening and yesterday, and then--oh!--it passed away and I got to
sleep and--That auto woke me up." Her voice was laboring like a ship in a
storm.
He was alarmed. "I better call the doctor."
"No, no! It'll go away.
But maybe you might get me an ice-bag."
He stalked to the bathroom for the ice-bag, down to the kitchen for ice.
He felt dramatic in this late-night expedition, but as he gouged the chunk of
ice with the dagger-like pick he was cool, steady, mature; and the old friendliness
was in his voice as he patted the ice-bag
into place on her groin, rumbling, "There, there, that'll be better now."
He retired to bed, but he did not sleep. He heard her groan again.
Instantly he was up, soothing her, "Still pretty bad, honey?"
"Yes, it just gripes me, and I can't get to sleep."
Her voice was faint.
He knew her dread of doctors' verdicts and he did not inform her, but he creaked down-
stairs, telephoned to Dr. Earl Patten, and waited, shivering, trying with fuzzy eyes
to read a magazine, till he heard the doctor's car.
The doctor was youngish and professionally breezy.
He came in as though it were sunny noontime.
"Well, George, little trouble, eh?
How is she now?" he said busily as, with tremendous and rather irritating
cheerfulness, he tossed his coat on a chair and warmed his hands at a radiator.
He took charge of the house.
Babbitt felt ousted and unimportant as he followed the doctor up to the bedroom, and
it was the doctor who chuckled, "Oh, just little stomach-ache" when Verona peeped
through her door, begging, "What is it, Dad, what is it?"
To Mrs. Babbitt the doctor said with amiable belligerence, after his
examination, "Kind of a bad old pain, eh?
I'll give you something to make you sleep, and I think you'll feel better in the
morning. I'll come in right after breakfast."
But to Babbitt, lying in wait in the lower hall, the doctor sighed, "I don't like the
feeling there in her belly. There's some rigidity and some
inflammation.
She's never had her appendix out has she? Um.
Well, no use worrying. I'll be here first thing in the morning,
and meantime she'll get some rest.
I've given her a hypo. Good night."
Then was Babbitt caught up in the black tempest.
Instantly all the indignations which had been dominating him and the spiritual
dramas through which he had struggled became pallid and absurd before the ancient
and overwhelming realities, the standard
and traditional realities, of sickness and menacing death, the long night, and the
thousand steadfast implications of married life.
He crept back to her.
As she drowsed away in the tropic languor of morphia, he sat on the edge of her bed,
holding her hand, and for the first time in many weeks her hand abode trustfully in
his.
He draped himself grotesquely in his toweling bathrobe and a pink and white
couch-cover, and sat lumpishly in a wing- chair.
The bedroom was uncanny in its half-light, which turned the curtains to lurking
robbers, the dressing-table to a turreted castle.
It smelled of cosmetics, of linen, of sleep.
He napped and woke, napped and woke, a hundred times.
He heard her move and sigh in slumber; he wondered if there wasn't some officious
brisk thing he could do for her, and before he could quite form the thought he was
asleep, racked and aching.
The night was infinite.
When dawn came and the waiting seemed at an end, he fell asleep, and was vexed to have
been caught off his guard, to have been aroused by Verona's entrance and her
agitated "Oh, what is it, Dad?"
His wife was awake, her face sallow and lifeless in the morning light, but now he
did not compare her with Tanis; she was not merely A Woman, to be contrasted with other
women, but his own self, and though he
might criticize her and nag her, it was only as he might criticize and nag himself,
interestedly, unpatronizingly, without the expectation of changing--or any real desire
to change--the eternal essence.
With Verona he sounded fatherly again, and firm.
He consoled Tinka, who satisfactorily pointed the excitement of the hour by
wailing.
He ordered early breakfast, and wanted to look at the newspaper, and felt somehow
heroic and useful in not looking at it.
But there were still crawling and totally unheroic hours of waiting before Dr. Patten
returned. "Don't see much change," said Patten.
"I'll be back about eleven, and if you don't mind, I think I'll bring in some
other world-famous pill-pedler for consultation, just to be on the safe side.
Now George, there's nothing you can do.
I'll have Verona keep the ice-bag filled-- might as well leave that on, I guess--and
you, you better beat it to the office instead of standing around her looking as
if you were the patient.
The nerve of husbands! Lot more neurotic than the women!
They always have to horn in and get all the credit for feeling bad when their wives are
ailing.
Now have another nice cup of coffee and git!"
Under this derision Babbitt became more matter-of-fact.
He drove to the office, tried to dictate letters, tried to telephone and, before the
call was answered, forgot to whom he was telephoning.
At a quarter after ten he returned home.
As he left the down-town traffic and sped up the car, his face was as grimly creased
as the mask of tragedy. His wife greeted him with surprise.
"Why did you come back, dear?
I think I feel a little better. I told Verona to skip off to her office.
Was it wicked of me to go and get sick?" He knew that she wanted petting, and she
got it, joyously.
They were curiously happy when he heard Dr. Patten's car in front.
He looked out of the window. He was frightened.
With Patten was an impatient man with turbulent black hair and a hussar mustache-
-Dr. A. I. Dilling, the surgeon. Babbitt sputtered with anxiety, tried to
conceal it, and hurried down to the door.
Dr. Patten was profusely casual: "Don't want to worry you, old man, but I thought
it might be a good stunt to have Dr. Dilling examine her."
He gestured toward Dilling as toward a master.
Dilling nodded in his curtest manner and strode up-stairs Babbitt tramped the
living-room in agony.
Except for his wife's confinements there had never been a major operation in the
family, and to him surgery was at once a miracle and an abomination of fear.
But when Dilling and Patten came down again he knew that everything was all right, and
he wanted to laugh, for the two doctors were exactly like the bearded physicians in
a musical comedy, both of them rubbing
their hands and looking foolishly sagacious.
Dr. Dilling spoke: "I'm sorry, old man, but it's acute
appendicitis.
We ought to operate. Of course you must decide, but there's no
question as to what has to be done." Babbitt did not get all the force of it.
He mumbled, "Well I suppose we could get her ready in a couple o' days.
Probably Ted ought to come down from the university, just in case anything
happened."
Dr. Dilling growled, "Nope. If you don't want peritonitis to set in,
we'll have to operate right away. I must advise it strongly.
If you say go ahead, I'll 'phone for the St. Mary's ambulance at once, and we'll
have her on the table in three-quarters of an hour."
"I--I Of course, I suppose you know what-- But great God, man, I can't get her clothes
ready and everything in two seconds, you know!
And in her state, so wrought-up and weak--"
"Just throw her hair-brush and comb and tooth-brush in a bag; that's all she'll
need for a day or two," said Dr. Dilling, and went to the telephone.
Babbitt galloped desperately up-stairs.
He sent the frightened Tinka out of the room.
He said gaily to his wife, "Well, old thing, the doc thinks maybe we better have
a little operation and get it over.
Just take a few minutes--not half as serious as a confinement--and you'll be all
right in a jiffy." She gripped his hand till the fingers
ached.
She said patiently, like a cowed child, "I'm afraid--to go into the dark, all
alone!" Maturity was wiped from her eyes; they were
pleading and terrified.
"Will you stay with me? Darling, you don't have to go to the office
now, do you? Could you just go down to the hospital with
me?
Could you come see me this evening--if everything's all right?
You won't have to go out this evening, will you?"
He was on his knees by the bed.
While she feebly ruffled his hair, he sobbed, he kissed the lawn of her sleeve,
and swore, "Old honey, I love you more than anything in the world!
I've kind of been worried by business and everything, but that's all over now, and
I'm back again." "Are you really?
George, I was thinking, lying here, maybe it would be a good thing if I just WENT.
I was wondering if anybody really needed me.
Or wanted me.
I was wondering what was the use of my living.
I've been getting so stupid and ugly--" "Why, you old humbug!
Fishing for compliments when I ought to be packing your bag!
Me, sure, I'm young and handsome and a regular village cut-up and--" He could not
go on.
He sobbed again; and in muttered incoherencies they found each other.
As he packed, his brain was curiously clear and swift.
He'd have no more wild evenings, he realized.
He admitted that he would regret them.
A little grimly he perceived that this had been his last despairing fling before the
paralyzed contentment of middle-age. Well, and he grinned impishly, "it was one
doggone good party while it lasted!"
And--how much was the operation going to cost?
"I ought to have fought that out with Dilling.
But no, damn it, I don't care how much it costs!"
The motor ambulance was at the door.
Even in his grief the Babbitt who admired all technical excellences was interested in
the kindly skill with which the attendants slid Mrs. Babbitt upon a stretcher and
carried her down-stairs.
The ambulance was a huge, suave, varnished, white thing.
Mrs. Babbitt moaned, "It frightens me. It's just like a hearse, just like being
put in a hearse.
I want you to stay with me." "I'll be right up front with the driver,"
Babbitt promised. "No, I want you to stay inside with me."
To the attendants: "Can't he be inside?"
"Sure, ma'am, you bet. There's a fine little camp-stool in there,"
the older attendant said, with professional pride.
He sat beside her in that traveling cabin with its cot, its stool, its active little
electric radiator, and its quite unexplained calendar, displaying a girl
eating cherries, and the name of an enterprising grocer.
But as he flung out his hand in hopeless cheerfulness it touched the radiator, and
he squealed:
"Ouch! Jesus!"
"Why, George Babbitt, I won't have you cursing and swearing and blaspheming!"
"I know, awful sorry but--Gosh all fish- hooks, look how I burned my hand!
Gee whiz, it hurts! It hurts like the mischief!
Why, that damn radiator is hot as--it's hot as--it's hotter 'n the hinges of Hades!
Look! You can see the mark!"
So, as they drove up to St. Mary's Hospital, with the nurses already laying
out the instruments for an operation to save her life, it was she who consoled him
and kissed the place to make it well, and
though he tried to be gruff and mature, he yielded to her and was glad to be babied.
The ambulance whirled under the hooded carriage-entrance of the hospital, and
instantly he was reduced to a zero in the nightmare succession of cork-floored halls,
endless doors open on old women sitting up
in bed, an elevator, the anesthetizing room, a young interne contemptuous of
husbands.
He was permitted to kiss his wife; he saw a thin dark nurse fit the cone over her mouth
and nose; he stiffened at a sweet and treacherous odor; then he was driven out,
and on a high stool in a laboratory he sat
dazed, longing to see her once again, to insist that he had always loved her, had
never for a second loved anybody else or looked at anybody else.
In the laboratory he was conscious only of a decayed object preserved in a bottle of
yellowing alcohol. It made him very sick, but he could not
take his eyes from it.
He was more aware of it than of waiting. His mind floated in abeyance, coming back
always to that horrible bottle.
To escape it he opened the door to the right, hoping to find a sane and business-
like office.
He realized that he was looking into the operating-room; in one glance he took in
Dr. Dilling, strange in white gown and bandaged head, bending over the steel table
with its screws and wheels, then nurses
holding basins and cotton sponges, and a swathed thing, just a lifeless chin and a
mound of white in the midst of which was a square of sallow flesh with a gash a little
bloody at the edges, protruding from the
gash a cluster of forceps like clinging parasites.
He shut the door with haste.
It may be that his frightened repentance of the night and morning had not eaten in, but
this dehumanizing interment of her who had been so pathetically human shook him
utterly, and as he crouched again on the
high stool in the laboratory he swore faith to his wife...to Zenith...to business
efficiency...to the Boosters' Club...to every faith of the Clan of Good Fellows.
Then a nurse was soothing, "All over!
Perfect success! She'll come out fine!
She'll be out from under the anesthetic soon, and you can see her."
He found her on a curious tilted bed, her face an unwholesome yellow but her purple
lips moving slightly. Then only did he really believe that she
was alive.
She was muttering. He bent, and heard her sighing, "Hard get
real maple syrup for pancakes."
He laughed inexhaustibly; he beamed on the nurse and proudly confided, "Think of her
talking about maple syrup! By golly, I'm going to go and order a
hundred gallons of it, right from Vermont!"
II She was out of the hospital in seventeen
days.
He went to see her each afternoon, and in their long talks they drifted back to
intimacy.
Once he hinted something of his relations to Tanis and the Bunch, and she was
inflated by the view that a Wicked Woman had captivated her poor George.
If once he had doubted his neighbors and the supreme charm of the Good Fellows, he
was convinced now.
You didn't, he noted, "see Seneca Doane coming around with any flowers or dropping
in to chat with the Missus," but Mrs. Howard Littlefield brought to the hospital
her priceless wine jelly (flavored with
real wine); Orville Jones spent hours in picking out the kind of novels Mrs. Babbitt
liked--nice love stories about New York millionaries and Wyoming cowpunchers;
Louetta Swanson knitted a pink bed-jacket;
Sidney Finkelstein and his merry brown-eyed flapper of a wife selected the prettiest
nightgown in all the stock of Parcher and Stein.
All his friends ceased whispering about him, suspecting him.
At the Athletic Club they asked after her daily.
Club members whose names he did not know stopped him to inquire, "How's your good
lady getting on?"
Babbitt felt that he was swinging from bleak uplands down into the rich warm air
of a valley pleasant with cottages. One noon Vergil Gunch suggested, "You
planning to be at the hospital about six?
The wife and I thought we'd drop in." They did drop in.
Gunch was so humorous that Mrs. Babbitt said he must "stop making her laugh because
honestly it was hurting her incision."
As they passed down the hall Gunch demanded amiably, "George, old scout, you were
soreheaded about something, here a while back.
I don't know why, and it's none of my business.
But you seem to be feeling all hunky-dory again, and why don't you come join us in
the Good Citizens' League, old man?
We have some corking times together, and we need your advice."
Then did Babbitt, almost tearful with joy at being coaxed instead of bullied, at
being permitted to stop fighting, at being able to desert without injuring his opinion
of himself, cease utterly to be a domestic revolutionist.
He patted Gunch's shoulder, and next day he became a member of the Good Citizens'
League.
Within two weeks no one in the League was more violent regarding the wickedness of
Seneca Doane, the crimes of labor unions, the perils of immigration, and the delights
of golf, morality, and bank-accounts than was George F. Babbitt.
>
CHAPTER XXXIV
I
THE Good Citizens' League had spread through the country, but nowhere was it so
effective and well esteemed as in cities of the type of Zenith, commercial cities of a
few hundred thousand inhabitants, most of
which--though not all--lay inland, against a background of cornfields and mines and of
small towns which depended upon them for mortgage-loans, table-manners, art, social
philosophy and millinery.
To the League belonged most of the prosperous citizens of Zenith.
They were not all of the kind who called themselves "Regular Guys."
Besides these hearty fellows, these salesmen of prosperity, there were the
aristocrats, that is, the men who were richer or had been rich for more
generations: the presidents of banks and of
factories, the land-owners, the corporation lawyers, the fashionable doctors, and the
few young-old men who worked not at all but, reluctantly remaining in Zenith,
collected luster-ware and first editions as though they were back in Paris.
All of them agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of
them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did
demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary.
In this they were like the ruling-class of any other country, particularly of Great
Britain, but they differed in being more vigorous and in actually trying to produce
the accepted standards which all classes,
everywhere, desire, but usually despair of realizing.
The longest struggle of the Good Citizens' League was against the Open Shop--which was
secretly a struggle against all union labor.
Accompanying it was an Americanization Movement, with evening classes in English
and history and economics, and daily articles in the newspapers, so that newly
arrived foreigners might learn that the true-blue and one hundred per cent.
American way of settling labor-troubles was for workmen to trust and love their
employers.
The League was more than generous in approving other organizations which agreed
with its aims.
It helped the Y.M.C.A. to raise a two- hundred-thousand-dollar fund for a new
building.
Babbitt, Vergil Gunch, Sidney Finkelstein, and even Charles McKelvey told the
spectators at movie theaters how great an influence for manly Christianity the "good
old Y." had been in their own lives; and
the hoar and mighty Colonel Rutherford Snow, owner of the Advocate-Times, was
photographed clasping the hand of Sheldon Smeeth of the Y.M.C.A.
It is true that afterward, when Smeeth lisped, "You must come to one of our
prayer-meetings," the ferocious Colonel bellowed, "What the hell would I do that
for?
I've got a bar of my own," but this did not appear in the public prints.
The League was of value to the American Legion at a time when certain of the lesser
and looser newspapers were criticizing that organization of veterans of the Great War.
One evening a number of young men raided the Zenith Socialist Headquarters, burned
its records, beat the office staff, and agreeably dumped desks out of the window.
All of the newspapers save the Advocate- Times and the Evening Advocate attributed
this valuable but perhaps hasty direct- action to the American Legion.
Then a flying squadron from the Good Citizens' League called on the unfair
papers and explained that no ex-soldier could possibly do such a thing, and the
editors saw the light, and retained their advertising.
When Zenith's lone Conscientious Objector came home from prison and was righteously
run out of town, the newspapers referred to the perpetrators as an "unidentified mob."
II
In all the activities and triumphs of the Good Citizens' League Babbitt took part,
and completely won back to self-respect, placidity, and the affection of his
friends.
But he began to protest, "Gosh, I've done my share in cleaning up the city.
I want to tend to business. Think I'll just kind of slacken up on this
G.C.L. stuff now."
He had returned to the church as he had returned to the Boosters' Club.
He had even endured the lavish greeting which Sheldon Smeeth gave him.
He was worried lest during his late discontent he had imperiled his salvation.
He was not quite sure there was a Heaven to be attained, but Dr. John Jennison Drew
said there was, and Babbitt was not going to take a chance.
One evening when he was walking past Dr. Drew's parsonage he impulsively went in and
found the pastor in his study.
"Jus' minute--getting 'phone call," said Dr. Drew in businesslike tones, then,
aggressively, to the telephone: "'Lo--'lo! This Berkey and Hannis?
Reverend Drew speaking.
Where the dickens is the proof for next Sunday's calendar?
Huh? Y' ought to have it here.
Well, I can't help it if they're ALL sick!
I got to have it to-night. Get an A.D.T. boy and shoot it up here
quick." He turned, without slackening his
briskness.
"Well, Brother Babbitt, what c'n I do for you?"
"I just wanted to ask--Tell you how it is, dominie: Here a while ago I guess I got
kind of slack.
Took a few drinks and so on. What I wanted to ask is: How is it if a
fellow cuts that all out and comes back to his senses?
Does it sort of, well, you might say, does it score against him in the long run?"
The Reverend Dr. Drew was suddenly interested.
"And, uh, brother--the other things, too?
Women?" "No, practically, you might say,
practically not at all." "Don't hesitate to tell me, brother!
That's what I'm here for.
Been going on joy-rides? Squeezing girls in cars?"
The reverend eyes glistened. "No--no--"
"Well, I'll tell you.
I've got a deputation from the Don't Make Prohibition a Joke Association coming to
see me in a quarter of an hour, and one from the Anti-Birth-Control Union at a
quarter of ten."
He busily glanced at his watch. "But I can take five minutes off and pray
with you. Kneel right down by your chair, brother.
Don't be ashamed to seek the guidance of God."
Babbitt's scalp itched and he longed to flee, but Dr. Drew had already flopped down
beside his desk-chair and his voice had changed from rasping efficiency to an
unctuous familiarity with sin and with the Almighty.
Babbitt also knelt, while Drew gloated:
"O Lord, thou seest our brother here, who has been led astray by manifold
temptations. O Heavenly Father, make his heart to be
pure, as pure as a little child's.
Oh, let him know again the joy of a manly courage to abstain from evil--"
Sheldon Smeeth came frolicking into the study.
At the sight of the two men he smirked, forgivingly patted Babbitt on the shoulder,
and knelt beside him, his arm about him, while he authorized Dr. Drew's imprecations
with moans of "Yes, Lord!
Help our brother, Lord!"
Though he was trying to keep his eyes closed, Babbitt squinted between his
fingers and saw the pastor glance at his watch as he concluded with a triumphant,
"And let him never be afraid to come to Us
for counsel and tender care, and let him know that the church can lead him as a
little lamb."
Dr. Drew sprang up, rolled his eyes in the general direction of Heaven, chucked his
watch into his pocket, and demanded, "Has the deputation come yet, Sheldy?"
"Yep, right outside," Sheldy answered, with equal liveliness; then, caressingly, to
Babbitt, "Brother, if it would help, I'd love to go into the next room and pray with
you while Dr. Drew is receiving the
brothers from the Don't Make Prohibition a Joke Association."
"No--no thanks--can't take the time!" yelped Babbitt, rushing toward the door.
Thereafter he was often seen at the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church, but it is
recorded that he avoided shaking hands with the pastor at the door.
III
If his moral fiber had been so weakened by rebellion that he was not quite dependable
in the more rigorous campaigns of the Good Citizens' League nor quite appreciative of
the church, yet there was no doubt of the
joy with which Babbitt returned to the pleasures of his home and of the Athletic
Club, the Boosters, the Elks. Verona and Kenneth Escott were eventually
and hesitatingly married.
For the wedding Babbitt was dressed as carefully as was Verona; he was crammed
into the morning-coat he wore to teas thrice a year; and with a certain relief,
after Verona and Kenneth had driven away in
a limousine, he returned to the house, removed the morning coat, sat with his
aching feet up on the davenport, and reflected that his wife and he could have
the living-room to themselves now, and not
have to listen to Verona and Kenneth worrying, in a cultured collegiate manner,
about minimum wages and the Drama League.
But even this sinking into peace was less consoling than his return to being one of
the best-loved men in the Boosters' Club.
IV
President Willis Ijams began that Boosters' Club luncheon by standing quiet and staring
at them so unhappily that they feared he was about to announce the death of a
Brother Booster.
He spoke slowly then, and gravely: "Boys, I have something shocking to reveal
to you; something terrible about one of our own members."
Several Boosters, including Babbitt, looked disconcerted.
"A knight of the grip, a trusted friend of mine, recently made a trip up-state, and in
a certain town, where a certain Booster spent his boyhood, he found out something
which can no longer be concealed.
In fact, he discovered the inward nature of a man whom we have accepted as a Real Guy
and as one of us. Gentlemen, I cannot trust my voice to say
it, so I have written it down."
He uncovered a large blackboard and on it, in huge capitals, was the legend:
George Follansbee Babbitt--oh you Folly!
The Boosters cheered, they laughed, they wept, they threw rolls at Babbitt, they
cried, "Speech, speech! Oh you Folly!"
President Ijams continued:
"That, gentlemen, is the awful thing Georgie Babbitt has been concealing all
these years, when we thought he was just plain George F. Now I want you to tell us,
taking it in turn, what you've always supposed the F. stood for."
Flivver, they suggested, and Frog-face and Flathead and Farinaceous and Freezone and
Flapdoodle and Foghorn.
By the joviality of their insults Babbitt knew that he had been taken back to their
hearts, and happily he rose. "Boys, I've got to admit it.
I've never worn a wrist-watch, or parted my name in the middle, but I will confess to
'Follansbee.'
My only justification is that my old dad-- though otherwise he was perfectly sane, and
packed an awful wallop when it came to trimming the City Fellers at checkers--
named me after the family doc, old Dr. Ambrose Follansbee.
I apologize, boys.
In my next what-d'you-call-it I'll see to it that I get named something really
practical--something that sounds swell and yet is good and virile--something, in fact,
like that grand old name so familiar to
every household--that bold and almost overpowering name, Willis Jimjams Ijams!"
He knew by the cheer that he was secure again and popular; he knew that he would no
more endanger his security and popularity by straying from the Clan of Good Fellows.
V Henry Thompson dashed into the office,
clamoring, "George! Big news!
Jake Offutt says the Traction Bunch are dissatisfied with the way Sanders, Torrey
and Wing handled their last deal, and they're willing to dicker with us!"
Babbitt was pleased in the realization that the last scar of his rebellion was healed,
yet as he drove home he was annoyed by such background thoughts as had never weakened
him in his days of belligerent conformity.
He discovered that he actually did not consider the Traction group quite honest.
"Well, he'd carry out one more deal for them, but as soon as it was practicable,
maybe as soon as old Henry Thompson died, he'd break away from all association from
them.
He was forty-eight; in twelve years he'd be sixty; he wanted to leave a clean business
to his grandchildren.
Course there was a lot of money in negotiating for the Traction people, and a
fellow had to look at things in a practical way, only--" He wriggled uncomfortably.
He wanted to tell the Traction group what he thought of them.
"Oh, he couldn't do it, not now. If he offended them this second time, they
would crush him.
But--" He was conscious that his line of progress
seemed confused. He wondered what he would do with his
future.
He was still young; was he through with all adventuring?
He felt that he had been trapped into the very net from which he had with such fury
escaped and, supremest jest of all, been made to rejoice in the trapping.
"They've licked me; licked me to a finish!" he whimpered.
The house was peaceful, that evening, and he enjoyed a game of pinochle with his
wife.
He indignantly told the Tempter that he was content to do things in the good old
fashioned way.
The day after, he went to see the purchasing-agent of the Street Traction
Company and they made plans for the secret purchase of lots along the Evanston Road.
But as he drove to his office he struggled, "I'm going to run things and figure out
things to suit myself--when I retire."
VI Ted had come down from the University for
the week-end.
Though he no longer spoke of mechanical engineering and though he was reticent
about his opinion of his instructors, he seemed no more reconciled to college, and
his chief interest was his wireless telephone set.
On Saturday evening he took Eunice Littlefield to a dance at Devon Woods.
Babbitt had a glimpse of her, bouncing in the seat of the car, brilliant in a scarlet
cloak over a frock of thinnest creamy silk. They two had not returned when the Babbitts
went to bed, at half-past eleven.
At a blurred indefinite time of late night Babbitt was awakened by the ring of the
telephone and gloomily crawled down-stairs. Howard Littlefield was speaking:
"George, Euny isn't back yet.
Is Ted?" "No--at least his door is open--"
"They ought to be home. Eunice said the dance would be over at
midnight.
What's the name of those people where they're going?"
"Why, gosh, tell the truth, I don't know, Howard.
It's some classmate of Ted's, out in Devon Woods.
Don't see what we can do. Wait, I'll skip up and ask Myra if she
knows their name."
Babbitt turned on the light in Ted's room. It was a brown boyish room; disordered
dresser, worn books, a high-school pennant, photographs of basket-ball teams and
baseball teams.
Ted was decidedly not there.
Mrs. Babbitt, awakened, irritably observed that she certainly did not know the name of
Ted's host, that it was late, that Howard Littlefield was but little better than a
born fool, and that she was sleepy.
But she remained awake and worrying while Babbitt, on the sleeping-porch, struggled
back into sleep through the incessant soft rain of her remarks.
It was after dawn when he was aroused by her shaking him and calling "George!
George!" in something like horror. "Wha--wha--what is it?"
"Come here quick and see.
Be quiet!" She led him down the hall to the door of
Ted's room and pushed it gently open.
On the worn brown rug he saw a froth of rose-colored chiffon lingerie; on the
sedate Morris chair a girl's silver slipper.
And on the pillows were two sleepy heads-- Ted's and Eunice's.
Ted woke to grin, and to mutter with unconvincing defiance, "Good morning!
Let me introduce my wife--Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Eunice Littlefield Babbitt,
Esquiress." "Good God!" from Babbitt, and from his wife
a long wailing, "You've gone and--"
"We got married last evening. Wife!
Sit up and say a pretty good morning to mother-in-law."
But Eunice hid her shoulders and her charming wild hair under the pillow.
By nine o'clock the assembly which was gathered about Ted and Eunice in the
living-room included Mr. and Mrs. George Babbitt, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Littlefield,
Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Escott, Mr. and Mrs.
Henry T. Thompson, and Tinka Babbitt, who was the only pleased member of the
inquisition. A crackling shower of phrases filled the
room:
"At their age--" "Ought to be annulled--" "Never heard of such a thing in--" "Fault
of both of them and--" "Keep it out of the papers--" "Ought to be packed off to
school--" "Do something about it at once,
and what I say is--" "Damn good old- fashioned spanking--"
Worst of them all was Verona. "TED!
Some way MUST be found to make you understand how dreadfully SERIOUS this is,
instead of standing AROUND with that silly foolish SMILE on your face!"
He began to revolt.
"Gee whittakers, Rone, you got married yourself, didn't you?"
"That's entirely different." "You bet it is!
They didn't have to work on Eu and me with a chain and tackle to get us to hold
hands!" "Now, young man, we'll have no more
flippancy," old Henry Thompson ordered.
"You listen to me." "You listen to Grandfather!" said Verona.
"Yes, listen to your Grandfather!" said Mrs. Babbitt.
"Ted, you listen to Mr. Thompson!" said Howard Littlefield.
"Oh, for the love o' Mike, I am listening!" Ted shouted.
"But you look here, all of you!
I'm getting sick and tired of being the corpse in this post mortem!
If you want to kill somebody, go kill the preacher that married us!
Why, he stung me five dollars, and all the money I had in the world was six dollars
and two bits. I'm getting just about enough of being
hollered at!"
A new voice, booming, authoritative, dominated the room.
It was Babbitt. "Yuh, there's too darn many putting in
their oar!
Rone, you dry up. Howard and I are still pretty strong, and
able to do our own cussing. Ted, come into the dining-room and we'll
talk this over."
In the dining-room, the door firmly closed, Babbitt walked to his son, put both hands
on his shoulders. "You're more or less right.
They all talk too much.
Now what do you plan to do, old man?" "Gosh, dad, are you really going to be
human?"
"Well, I--Remember one time you called us 'the Babbitt men' and said we ought to
stick together? I want to.
I don't pretend to think this isn't serious.
The way the cards are stacked against a young fellow to-day, I can't say I approve
of early marriages.
But you couldn't have married a better girl than Eunice; and way I figure it,
Littlefield is darn lucky to get a Babbitt for a son-in-law!
But what do you plan to do?
Course you could go right ahead with the U., and when you'd finished--"
"Dad, I can't stand it any more. Maybe it's all right for some fellows.
Maybe I'll want to go back some day.
But me, I want to get into mechanics. I think I'd get to be a good inventor.
There's a fellow that would give me twenty dollars a week in a factory right now."
"Well--" Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old.
"I've always wanted you to have a college degree."
He meditatively stamped across the floor again.
"But I've never--Now, for heaven's sake, don't repeat this to your mother, or she'd
remove what little hair I've got left, but practically, I've never done a single thing
I've wanted to in my whole life!
I don't know 's I've accomplished anything except just get along.
I figure out I've made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods.
Well, maybe you'll carry things on further.
I don't know. But I do get a kind of sneaking pleasure
out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did it.
Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down.
Tell 'em to go to the devil! I'll back you.
Take your factory job, if you want to.
Don't be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith.
Nor of yourself, the way I've been. Go ahead, old man!
The world is yours!"
Arms about each other's shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living-room
and faced the swooping family.
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