Part 2 out of 7
boiler-factory!--and I tried to look away--I can tell you exactly how every
tile looks in the ceiling of that lobby; there's one with brown spots on it
like the face of the devil--and all the time the people there--they were
packed in like sardines--they kept making remarks about us, and Zilla went
right on talking about the little chap, and screeching that 'folks like him
oughtn't to be admitted in a place that's SUPPOSED to be for ladies and
gentlemen,' and 'Paul, will you kindly call the manager, so I can report this
dirty rat?' and--Oof! Maybe I wasn't glad when I could sneak inside and hide
in the dark!
"After twenty-four years of that kind of thing, you don't expect me to fall
down and foam at the mouth when you hint that this sweet, clean, respectable,
moral life isn't all it's cracked up to be, do you? I can't even talk about
it, except to you, because anybody else would think I was yellow. Maybe I am.
Don't care any longer.... Gosh, you've had to stand a lot of whining from me,
first and last, Georgie!"
"Rats, now, Paul, you've never really what you could call whined.
Sometimes--I'm always blowing to Myra and the kids about what a whale of a
realtor I am, and yet sometimes I get a sneaking idea I'm not such a Pierpont
Morgan as I let on to be. But if I ever do help by jollying you along, old
Paulski, I guess maybe Saint Pete may let me in after all!"
"Yuh, you're an old blow-hard, Georgie, you cheerful cut-throat, but you've
certainly kept me going."
"Why don't you divorce Zilla?"
"Why don't I! If I only could! If she'd just give me the chance! You
couldn't hire her to divorce me, no, nor desert me. She's too fond of her
three squares and a few pounds of nut-center chocolates in between. If she'd
only be what they call unfaithful to me! George, I don't want to be too much
of a stinker; back in college I'd 've thought a man who could say that ought
to be shot at sunrise. But honestly, I'd be tickled to death if she'd really
go making love with somebody. Fat chance! Of course she'll flirt with
anything--you know how she holds hands and laughs--that laugh--that horrible
brassy laugh--the way she yaps, 'You naughty man, you better be careful or my
big husband will be after you!'--and the guy looking me over and thinking,
'Why, you cute little thing, you run away now or I'll spank you!' And she'll
let him go just far enough so she gets some excitement out of it and then
she'll begin to do the injured innocent and have a beautiful time wailing, 'I
didn't think you were that kind of a person.' They talk about these
demi-vierges in stories--"
"--but the wise, hard, corseted, old married women like Zilla are worse than
any bobbed-haired girl that ever went boldly out into this-here storm of
life--and kept her umbrella slid up her sleeve! But rats, you know what Zilla
is. How she nags--nags--nags. How she wants everything I can buy her, and a
lot that I can't, and how absolutely unreasonable she is, and when I get sore
and try to have it out with her she plays the Perfect Lady so well that even I
get fooled and get all tangled up in a lot of 'Why did you say's' and 'I
didn't mean's.' I'll tell you, Georgie: You know my tastes are pretty fairly
simple--in the matter of food, at least. Course, as you're always complaining,
I do like decent cigars--not those Flor de Cabagos you're smoking--"
"That's all right now! That's a good two-for. By the way, Paul, did I tell
you I decided to practically cut out smok--"
"Yes you--At the same time, if I can't get what I like, why, I can do without
it. I don't mind sitting down to burnt steak, with canned peaches and store
cake for a thrilling little dessert afterwards, but I do draw the line at
having to sympathize with Zilla because she's so rotten bad-tempered that the
cook has quit, and she's been so busy sitting in a dirty lace negligee all
afternoon, reading about some brave manly Western hero, that she hasn't had
time to do any cooking. You're always talking about 'morals'--meaning
monogamy, I suppose. You've been the rock of ages to me, all right, but you're
essentially a simp. You--"
"Where d' you get that 'simp,' little man? Let me tell you--"
"--love to look earnest and inform the world that it's the 'duty of
responsible business men to be strictly moral, as an example to the
community.' In fact you're so earnest about morality, old Georgie, that I
hate to think how essentially immoral you must be underneath. All right, you
"Wait, wait now! What's--"
"--talk about morals all you want to, old thing, but believe me, if it hadn't
been for you and an occasional evening playing the violin to Terrill
O'Farrell's 'cello, and three or four darling girls that let me forget this
beastly joke they call 'respectable life,' I'd 've killed myself years ago.
"And business! The roofing business! Roofs for cowsheds! Oh, I don't mean I
haven't had a lot of fun out of the Game; out of putting it over on the labor
unions, and seeing a big check coming in, and the business increasing. But
what's the use of it? You know, my business isn't distributing roofing--it's
principally keeping my competitors from distributing roofing. Same with you.
All we do is cut each other's throats and make the public pay for it!"
"Look here now, Paul! You're pretty darn near talking socialism!"
"Oh yes, of course I don't really exactly mean that--I s'pose.
Course--competition--brings out the best--survival of the fittest--but--But I
mean: Take all these fellows we know, the kind right here in the club now,
that seem to be perfectly content with their home-life and their businesses,
and that boost Zenith and the Chamber of Commerce and holler for a million
population. I bet if you could cut into their heads you'd find that one-third
of 'em are sure-enough satisfied with their wives and kids and friends and
their offices; and one-third feel kind of restless but won't admit it; and
one-third are miserable and know it. They hate the whole peppy, boosting,
go-ahead game, and they're bored by their wives and think their families are
fools--at least when they come to forty or forty-five they're bored--and they
hate business, and they'd go--Why do you suppose there's so many 'mysterious'
suicides? Why do you suppose so many Substantial Citizens jumped right into
the war? Think it was all patriotism?"
Babbitt snorted, "What do you expect? Think we were sent into the world to
have a soft time and--what is it?--'float on flowery beds of ease'? Think Man
was just made to be happy?"
"Why not? Though I've never discovered anybody that knew what the deuce Man
really was made for!"
"Well we know--not just in the Bible alone, but it stands to reason--a man who
doesn't buckle down and do his duty, even if it does bore him sometimes, is
nothing but a--well, he's simply a weakling. Mollycoddle, in fact! And what
do you advocate? Come down to cases! If a man is bored by his wife, do you
seriously mean he has a right to chuck her and take a sneak, or even kill
"Good Lord, I don't know what 'rights' a man has! And I don't know the
solution of boredom. If I did, I'd be the one philosopher that had the cure
for living. But I do know that about ten times as many people find their lives
dull, and unnecessarily dull, as ever admit it; and I do believe that if we
busted out and admitted it sometimes, instead of being nice and patient and
loyal for sixty years, and then nice and patient and dead for the rest of
eternity, why, maybe, possibly, we might make life more fun."
They drifted into a maze of speculation. Babbitt was elephantishly uneasy.
Paul was bold, but not quite sure about what he was being bold. Now and then
Babbitt suddenly agreed with Paul in an admission which contradicted all his
defense of duty and Christian patience, and at each admission he had a curious
reckless joy. He said at last:
"Look here, old Paul, you do a lot of talking about kicking things in the
face, but you never kick. Why don't you?"
"Nobody does. Habit too strong. But--Georgie, I've been thinking of one mild
bat--oh, don't worry, old pillar of monogamy; it's highly proper. It seems to
be settled now, isn't it--though of course Zilla keeps rooting for a nice
expensive vacation in New York and Atlantic City, with the bright lights and
the bootlegged cocktails and a bunch of lounge-lizards to dance with--but the
Babbitts and the Rieslings are sure-enough going to Lake Sunasquam, aren't we?
Why couldn't you and I make some excuse--say business in New York--and get up
to Maine four or five days before they do, and just loaf by ourselves and
smoke and cuss and be natural?"
"Great! Great idea!" Babbitt admired.
Not for fourteen years had he taken a holiday without his wife, and neither of
them quite believed they could commit this audacity. Many members of the
Athletic Club did go camping without their wives, but they were officially
dedicated to fishing and hunting, whereas the sacred and unchangeable sports
of Babbitt and Paul Riesling were golfing, motoring, and bridge. For either
the fishermen or the golfers to have changed their habits would have been an
infraction of their self-imposed discipline which would have shocked all
right-thinking and regularized citizens.
Babbitt blustered, "Why don't we just put our foot down and say, 'We're going
on ahead of you, and that's all there is to it!' Nothing criminal in it.
Simply say to Zilla--"
"You don't say anything to Zilla simply. Why, Georgie, she's almost as much
of a moralist as you are, and if I told her the truth she'd believe we were
going to meet some dames in New York. And even Myra--she never nags you, the
way Zilla does, but she'd worry. She'd say, 'Don't you WANT me to go to Maine
with you? I shouldn't dream of going unless you wanted me;' and you'd give in
to save her feelings. Oh, the devil! Let's have a shot at duck-pins."
During the game of duck-pins, a juvenile form of bowling, Paul was silent. As
they came down the steps of the club, not more than half an hour after the
time at which Babbitt had sternly told Miss McGoun he would be back, Paul
sighed, "Look here, old man, oughtn't to talked about Zilla way I did."
"Rats, old man, it lets off steam."
"Oh, I know! After spending all noon sneering at the conventional stuff, I'm
conventional enough to be ashamed of saving my life by busting out with my
"Old Paul, your nerves are kind of on the bum. I'm going to take you away.
I'm going to rig this thing. I'm going to have an important deal in New York
and--and sure, of course!--I'll need you to advise me on the roof of the
building! And the ole deal will fall through, and there'll be nothing for us
but to go on ahead to Maine. I--Paul, when it comes right down to it, I don't
care whether you bust loose or not. I do like having a rep for being one of
the Bunch, but if you ever needed me I'd chuck it and come out for you every
time! Not of course but what you're--course I don't mean you'd ever do
anything that would put--that would put a decent position on the fritz
but--See how I mean? I'm kind of a clumsy old codger, and I need your fine
Eyetalian hand. We--Oh, hell, I can't stand here gassing all day! On the
job! S' long! Don't take any wooden money, Paulibus! See you soon! S'
HE forgot Paul Riesling in an afternoon of not unagreeable details. After a
return to his office, which seemed to have staggered on without him, he drove
a "prospect" out to view a four-flat tenement in the Linton district. He was
inspired by the customer's admiration of the new cigar-lighter. Thrice its
novelty made him use it, and thrice he hurled half-smoked cigarettes from the
car, protesting, "I GOT to quit smoking so blame much!"
Their ample discussion of every detail of the cigar-lighter led them to speak
of electric flat-irons and bed-warmers. Babbitt apologized for being so
shabbily old-fashioned as still to use a hot-water bottle, and he announced
that he would have the sleeping-porch wired at once. He had enormous and
poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical
devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding each new
intricate mechanism--metal lathe, two-jet carburetor, machine gun,
oxyacetylene welder--he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used
it over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated.
The customer joined him in the worship of machinery, and they came buoyantly
up to the tenement and began that examination of plastic slate roof, kalamein
doors, and seven-eighths-inch blind-nailed flooring, began those diplomacies
of hurt surprise and readiness to be persuaded to do something they had
already decided to do, which would some day result in a sale.
On the way back Babbitt picked up his partner and father-in-law, Henry T.
Thompson, at his kitchen-cabinet works, and they drove through South Zenith, a
high-colored, banging, exciting region: new factories of hollow tile with
gigantic wire-glass windows, surly old red-brick factories stained with tar,
high-perched water-tanks, big red trucks like locomotives, and, on a score of
hectic side-tracks, far-wandering freight-cars from the New York Central and
apple orchards, the Great Northern and wheat-plateaus, the Southern Pacific
and orange groves.
They talked to the secretary of the Zenith Foundry Company about an
interesting artistic project--a cast-iron fence for Linden Lane Cemetery.
They drove on to the Zeeco Motor Company and interviewed the sales-manager,
Noel Ryland, about a discount on a Zeeco car for Thompson. Babbitt and Ryland
were fellow-members of the Boosters' Club, and no Booster felt right if he
bought anything from another Booster without receiving a discount. But Henry
Thompson growled, "Oh, t' hell with 'em! I'm not going to crawl around
mooching discounts, not from nobody." It was one of the differences between
Thompson, the old-fashioned, lean Yankee, rugged, traditional, stage type of
American business man, and Babbitt, the plump, smooth, efficient,
up-to-the-minute and otherwise perfected modern. Whenever Thompson twanged,
"Put your John Hancock on that line," Babbitt was as much amused by the
antiquated provincialism as any proper Englishman by any American. He knew
himself to be of a breeding altogether more esthetic and sensitive than
Thompson's. He was a college graduate, he played golf, he often smoked
cigarettes instead of cigars, and when he went to Chicago he took a room with
a private bath. "The whole thing is," he explained to Paul Riesling, "these
old codgers lack the subtlety that you got to have to-day."
This advance in civilization could be carried too far, Babbitt perceived. Noel
Ryland, sales-manager of the Zeeco, was a frivolous graduate of Princeton,
while Babbitt was a sound and standard ware from that great department-store,
the State University. Ryland wore spats, he wrote long letters about City
Planning and Community Singing, and, though he was a Booster, he was known to
carry in his pocket small volumes of poetry in a foreign language. All this
was going too far. Henry Thompson was the extreme of insularity, and Noel
Ryland the extreme of frothiness, while between them, supporting the state,
defending the evangelical churches and domestic brightness and sound business,
were Babbitt and his friends.
With this just estimate of himself--and with the promise of a discount on
Thompson's car--he returned to his office in triumph.
But as he went through the corridor of the Reeves Building he sighed, "Poor
old Paul! I got to--Oh, damn Noel Ryland! Damn Charley McKelvey! Just
because they make more money than I do, they think they're so superior. I
wouldn't be found dead in their stuffy old Union Club! I--Somehow, to-day, I
don't feel like going back to work. Oh well--"
He answered telephone calls, he read the four o'clock mail, he signed his
morning's letters, he talked to a tenant about repairs, he fought with Stanley
Young Graff, the outside salesman, was always hinting that he deserved an
increase of commission, and to-day he complained, "I think I ought to get a
bonus if I put through the Heiler sale. I'm chasing around and working on it
every single evening, almost."
Babbitt frequently remarked to his wife that it was better to "con your
office-help along and keep 'em happy 'stead of jumping on 'em and poking 'em
up--get more work out of 'em that way," but this unexampled lack of
appreciation hurt him, and he turned on Graff:
"Look here, Stan; let's get this clear. You've got an idea somehow that it's
you that do all the selling. Where d' you get that stuff? Where d' you think
you'd be if it wasn't for our capital behind you, and our lists of properties,
and all the prospects we find for you? All you got to do is follow up our tips
and close the deal. The hall-porter could sell Babbitt-Thompson listings! You
say you're engaged to a girl, but have to put in your evenings chasing after
buyers. Well, why the devil shouldn't you? What do you want to do? Sit
around holding her hand? Let me tell you, Stan, if your girl is worth her
salt, she'll be glad to know you're out hustling, making some money to furnish
the home-nest, instead of doing the lovey-dovey. The kind of fellow that kicks
about working overtime, that wants to spend his evenings reading trashy novels
or spooning and exchanging a lot of nonsense and foolishness with some girl,
he ain't the kind of upstanding, energetic young man, with a future--and with
Vision!--that we want here. How about it? What's your Ideal, anyway? Do you
want to make money and be a responsible member of the community, or do you
want to be a loafer, with no Inspiration or Pep?"
Graff was not so amenable to Vision and Ideals as usual. "You bet I want to
make money! That's why I want that bonus! Honest, Mr. Babbitt, I don't want
to get fresh, but this Heiler house is a terror. Nobody'll fall for it. The
flooring is rotten and the walls are full of cracks"
"That's exactly what I mean! To a salesman with a love for his profession,
it's hard problems like that that inspire him to do his best. Besides,
Stan--Matter o' fact, Thompson and I are against bonuses, as a matter of
principle. We like you, and we want to help you so you can get married, but
we can't be unfair to the others on the staff. If we start giving you bonuses,
don't you see we're going to hurt the feeling and be unjust to Penniman and
Laylock? Right's right, and discrimination is unfair, and there ain't going
to be any of it in this office! Don't get the idea, Stan, that because during
the war salesmen were hard to hire, now, when there's a lot of men out of
work, there aren't a slew of bright young fellows that would be glad to step
in and enjoy your opportunities, and not act as if Thompson and I were his
enemies and not do any work except for bonuses. How about it, heh? How about
"Oh--well--gee--of course--" sighed Graff, as he went out, crabwise.
Babbitt did not often squabble with his employees. He liked to like the
people about him; he was dismayed when they did not like him. It was only when
they attacked the sacred purse that he was frightened into fury, but then,
being a man given to oratory and high principles, he enjoyed the sound of his
own vocabulary and the warmth of his own virtue. Today he had so passionately
indulged in self-approval that he wondered whether he had been entirely just:
"After all, Stan isn't a boy any more. Oughtn't to call him so hard. But
rats, got to haul folks over the coals now and then for their own good.
Unpleasant duty, but--I wonder if Stan is sore? What's he saying to McGoun
So chill a wind of hatred blew from the outer office that the normal comfort
of his evening home-going was ruined. He was distressed by losing that
approval of his employees to which an executive is always slave. Ordinarily he
left the office with a thousand enjoyable fussy directions to the effect that
there would undoubtedly be important tasks to-morrow, and Miss McGoun and Miss
Bannigan would do well to be there early, and for heaven's sake remind him to
call up Conrad Lyte soon 's he came in. To-night he departed with feigned and
apologetic liveliness. He was as afraid of his still-faced clerks--of the eyes
focused on him, Miss McGoun staring with head lifted from her typing, Miss
Bannigan looking over her ledger, Mat Penniman craning around at his desk in
the dark alcove, Stanley Graff sullenly expressionless--as a parvenu before
the bleak propriety of his butler. He hated to expose his back to their
laughter, and in his effort to be casually merry he stammered and was
raucously friendly and oozed wretchedly out of the door.
But he forgot his misery when he saw from Smith Street the charms of Floral
Heights; the roofs of red tile and green slate, the shining new sun-parlors,
and the stainless walls.
He stopped to inform Howard Littlefield, his scholarly neighbor, that though
the day had been springlike the evening might be cold. He went in to shout
"Where are you?" at his wife, with no very definite desire to know where she
was. He examined the lawn to see whether the furnace-man had raked it
properly. With some satisfaction and a good deal of discussion of the matter
with Mrs. Babbitt, Ted, and Howard Littlefield, he concluded that the
furnace-man had not raked it properly. He cut two tufts of wild grass with
his wife's largest dressmaking-scissors; he informed Ted that it was all
nonsense having a furnace-man--"big husky fellow like you ought to do all the
work around the house;" and privately he meditated that it was agreeable to
have it known throughout the neighborhood that he was so prosperous that his
son never worked around the house.
He stood on the sleeping-porch and did his day's exercises: arms out sidewise
for two minutes, up for two minutes, while he muttered, "Ought take more
exercise; keep in shape;" then went in to see whether his collar needed
changing before dinner. As usual it apparently did not.
The Lettish-Croat maid, a powerful woman, beat the dinner-gong.
The roast of beef, roasted potatoes, and string beans were excellent this
evening and, after an adequate sketch of the day's progressive weather-states,
his four-hundred-and-fifty-dollar fee, his lunch with Paul Riesling, and the
proven merits of the new cigar-lighter, he was moved to a benign, "Sort o'
thinking about buyin, a new car. Don't believe we'll get one till next year,
but still we might."
Verona, the older daughter, cried, "Oh, Dad, if you do, why don't you get a
sedan? That would be perfectly slick! A closed car is so much more comfy than
an open one."
"Well now, I don't know about that. I kind of like an open car. You get more
fresh air that way."
"Oh, shoot, that's just because you never tried a sedan. Let's get one. It's
got a lot more class," said Ted.
"A closed car does keep the clothes nicer," from Mrs. Babbitt; "You don't get
your hair blown all to pieces," from Verona; "It's a lot sportier," from Ted;
and from Tinka, the youngest, "Oh, let's have a sedan! Mary Ellen's father has
got one." Ted wound up, "Oh, everybody's got a closed car now, except us!"
Babbitt faced them: "I guess you got nothing very terrible to complain about!
Anyway, I don't keep a car just to enable you children to look like
millionaires! And I like an open car, so you can put the top down on summer
evenings and go out for a drive and get some good fresh air. Besides--A
closed car costs more money."
"Aw, gee whiz, if the Doppelbraus can afford a closed car, I guess we can!"
"Humph! I make eight thousand a year to his seven! But I don't blow it all
in and waste it and throw it around, the way he does! Don't believe in this
business of going and spending a whole lot of money to show off and--"
They went, with ardor and some thoroughness, into the matters of streamline
bodies, hill-climbing power, wire wheels, chrome steel, ignition systems, and
body colors. It was much more than a study of transportation. It was an
aspiration for knightly rank. In the city of Zenith, in the barbarous
twentieth century, a family's motor indicated its social rank as precisely as
the grades of the peerage determined the rank of an English family--indeed,
more precisely, considering the opinion of old county families upon newly
created brewery barons and woolen-mill viscounts. The details of precedence
were never officially determined. There was no court to decide whether the
second son of a Pierce Arrow limousine should go in to dinner before the first
son of a Buick roadster, but of their respective social importance there was
no doubt; and where Babbitt as a boy had aspired to the presidency, his son
Ted aspired to a Packard twin-six and an established position in the motored
The favor which Babbitt had won from his family by speaking of a new car
evaporated as they realized that he didn't intend to buy one this year. Ted
lamented, "Oh, punk! The old boat looks as if it'd had fleas and been
scratching its varnish off." Mrs. Babbitt said abstractedly, "Snoway talkcher
father." Babbitt raged, "If you're too much of a high-class gentleman, and you
belong to the bon ton and so on, why, you needn't take the car out this
evening." Ted explained, "I didn't mean--" and dinner dragged on with normal
domestic delight to the inevitable point at which Babbitt protested, "Come,
come now, we can't sit here all evening. Give the girl a chance to clear away
He was fretting, "What a family! I don't know how we all get to scrapping
this way. Like to go off some place and be able to hear myself think.... Paul
... Maine ... Wear old pants, and loaf, and cuss." He said cautiously to his
wife, "I've been in correspondence with a man in New York--wants me to see him
about a real-estate trade--may not come off till summer. Hope it doesn't break
just when we and the Rieslings get ready to go to Maine. Be a shame if we
couldn't make the trip there together. Well, no use worrying now."
Verona escaped, immediately after dinner, with no discussion save an automatic
"Why don't you ever stay home?" from Babbitt.
In the living-room, in a corner of the davenport, Ted settled down to his Home
Study; plain geometry, Cicero, and the agonizing metaphors of Comus.
"I don't see why they give us this old-fashioned junk by Milton and
Shakespeare and Wordsworth and all these has-beens," he protested. "Oh, I
guess I could stand it to see a show by Shakespeare, if they had swell scenery
and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in cold blood and READ 'em--These
teachers--how do they get that way?"
Mrs. Babbitt, darning socks, speculated, "Yes, I wonder why. Of course I don't
want to fly in the face of the professors and everybody, but I do think
there's things in Shakespeare--not that I read him much, but when I was young
the girls used to show me passages that weren't, really, they weren't at all
Babbitt looked up irritably from the comic strips in the Evening Advocate.
They composed his favorite literature and art, these illustrated chronicles in
which Mr. Mutt hit Mr. Jeff with a rotten egg, and Mother corrected Father's
vulgarisms by means of a rolling-pin. With the solemn face of a devotee,
breathing heavily through his open mouth, he plodded nightly through every
picture, and during the rite he detested interruptions. Furthermore, he felt
that on the subject of Shakespeare he wasn't really an authority. Neither the
Advocate-Times, the Evening Advocate, nor the Bulletin of the Zenith Chamber
of Commerce had ever had an editorial on the matter, and until one of them had
spoken he found it hard to form an original opinion. But even at risk of
floundering in strange bogs, he could not keep out of an open controversy.
"I'll tell you why you have to study Shakespeare and those. It's because
they're required for college entrance, and that's all there is to it!
Personally, I don't see myself why they stuck 'em into an up-to-date
high-school system like we have in this state. Be a good deal better if you
took Business English, and learned how to write an ad, or letters that would
pull. But there it is, and there's no tall, argument, or discussion about it!
Trouble with you, Ted, is you always want to do something different! If you're
going to law-school--and you are!--I never had a chance to, but I'll see that
you do--why, you'll want to lay in all the English and Latin you can get."
"Oh punk. I don't see what's the use of law-school--or even finishing high
school. I don't want to go to college 'specially. Honest, there's lot of
fellows that have graduated from colleges that don't begin to make as much
money as fellows that went to work early. Old Shimmy Peters, that teaches
Latin in the High, he's a what-is-it from Columbia and he sits up all night
reading a lot of greasy books and he's always spieling about the 'value of
languages,' and the poor soak doesn't make but eighteen hundred a year, and no
traveling salesman would think of working for that. I know what I'd like to
do. I'd like to be an aviator, or own a corking big garage, or else--a fellow
was telling me about it yesterday--I'd like to be one of these fellows that
the Standard Oil Company sends out to China, and you live in a compound and
don't have to do any work, and you get to see the world and pagodas and the
ocean and everything! And then I could take up correspondence-courses. That's
the real stuff! You don't have to recite to some frosty-faced old dame that's
trying to show off to the principal, and you can study any subject you want
to. Just listen to these! I clipped out the ads of some swell courses."
He snatched from the back of his geometry half a hundred advertisements of
those home-study courses which the energy and foresight of American commerce
have contributed to the science of education. The first displayed the portrait
of a young man with a pure brow, an iron jaw, silk socks, and hair like patent
leather. Standing with one hand in his trousers-pocket and the other extended
with chiding forefinger, he was bewitching an audience of men with gray
beards, paunches, bald heads, and every other sign of wisdom and prosperity.
Above the picture was an inspiring educational symbol--no antiquated lamp or
torch or owl of Minerva, but a row of dollar signs. The text ran:
$ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $
POWER AND PROSPERITY IN PUBLIC SPEAKING
A Yarn Told at the Club
Who do you think I ran into the other evening at the De Luxe Restaurant? Why,
old Freddy Durkee, that used to be a dead or-alive shipping clerk in my old
place--Mr. Mouse-Man we used to laughingly call the dear fellow. One time he
was so timid he was plumb scared of the Super, and never got credit for the
dandy work he did. Him at the De Luxe! And if he wasn't ordering a tony feed
with all the "fixings" from celery to nuts! And instead of being embarrassed
by the waiters, like he used to be at the little dump where we lunched in Old
Lang Syne, he was bossing them around like he was a millionaire!
I cautiously asked him what he was doing. Freddy laughed and said, "Say, old
chum, I guess you're wondering what's come over me. You'll be glad to know I'm
now Assistant Super at the old shop, and right on the High Road to Prosperity
and Domination, and I look forward with confidence to a twelve-cylinder car,
and the wife is making things hum in the best society and the kiddies getting
a first-class education.
WHAT WE TEACH YOU I
How to address your lodge.
How to give toasts.
How to tell dialect stories.
How to propose to a lady.
How to entertain banquets.
How to make convincing selling-talks.
How to build big vocabulary.
How to create a strong personality.
How to become a rational, powerful and original thinker.
How to be a MASTER MAN!
PROF. W. F. PEET
author of the Shortcut Course in Public-Speaking, is easily the foremost
figure in practical literature, psychology & oratory. A graduate of some of
our leading universities, lecturer, extensive traveler, author of books,
poetry, etc., a man with the unique PERSONALITY OF THE MASTER MINDS, he is
ready to give YOU all the secrets of his culture and hammering Force, in a few
easy lessons that will not interfere with other occupations.
"Here's how it happened. I ran across an ad of a course that claimed to teach
people how to talk easily and on their feet, how to answer complaints, how to
lay a proposition before the Boss, how to hit a bank for a loan, how to hold a
big audience spellbound with wit, humor, anecdote, inspiration, etc. It was
compiled by the Master Orator, Prof. Waldo F. Peet. I was skeptical, too, but
I wrote (JUST ON A POSTCARD, with name and address) to the publisher for the
lessons--sent On Trial, money back if you are not absolutely satisfied. There
were eight simple lessons in plain language anybody could understand, and I
studied them just a few hours a night, then started practising on the wife.
Soon found I could talk right up to the Super and get due credit for all the
good work I did. They began to appreciate me and advance me fast, and say, old
doggo, what do you think they're paying me now? $6,500 per year! And say, I
find I can keep a big audience fascinated, speaking on any topic. As a
friend, old boy, I advise you to send for circular (no obligation) and
valuable free Art Picture to:--
SHORTCUT EDUCATIONAL PUB. CO.
Desk WA Sandpit, Iowa.
ARE YOU A 100 PERCENTER OR A 10 PERCENTER?
Babbitt was again without a canon which would enable him to speak with
authority. Nothing in motoring or real estate had indicated what a Solid
Citizen and Regular Fellow ought to think about culture by mail. He began with
"Well--sounds as if it covered the ground. It certainly is a fine thing to be
able to orate. I've sometimes thought I had a little talent that way myself,
and I know darn well that one reason why a fourflushing old back-number like
Chan Mott can get away with it in real estate is just because he can make a
good talk, even when he hasn't got a doggone thing to say! And it certainly is
pretty cute the way they get out all these courses on various topics and
subjects nowadays. I'll tell you, though: No need to blow in a lot of good
money on this stuff when you can get a first-rate course in eloquence and
English and all that right in your own school--and one of the biggest school
buildings in the entire country!"
"That's so," said Mrs. Babbitt comfortably, while Ted complained:
"Yuh, but Dad, they just teach a lot of old junk that isn't any practical
use--except the manual training and typewriting and basketball and
dancing--and in these correspondence-courses, gee, you can get all kinds of
stuff that would come in handy. Say, listen to this one:
'CAN YOU PLAY A MAN'S PART?
'If you are walking with your mother, sister or best girl and some one passes
a slighting remark or uses improper language, won't you be ashamed if you
can't take her part? Well, can you?
'We teach boxing and self-defense by mail. Many pupils have written saying
that after a few lessons they've outboxed bigger and heavier opponents. The
lessons start with simple movements practised before your mirror--holding out
your hand for a coin, the breast-stroke in swimming, etc. Before you realize
it you are striking scientifically, ducking, guarding and feinting, just as if
you had a real opponent before you.'"
"Oh, baby, maybe I wouldn't like that!" Ted chanted. "I'll tell the world!
Gosh, I'd like to take one fellow I know in school that's always shooting off
his mouth, and catch him alone--"
"Nonsense! The idea! Most useless thing I ever heard of!" Babbitt
"Well, just suppose I was walking with Mama or Rone, and somebody passed a
slighting remark or used improper language. What would I do?"
"Why, you'd probably bust the record for the hundred-yard dash!"
"I WOULD not! I'd stand right up to any mucker that passed a slighting remark
on MY sister and I'd show him--"
"Look here, young Dempsey! If I ever catch you fighting I'll whale the
everlasting daylights out of you--and I'll do it without practising holding
out my hand for a coin before the mirror, too!"
"Why, Ted dear," Mrs. Babbitt said placidly, "it's not at all nice, your
talking of fighting this way!"
"Well, gosh almighty, that's a fine way to appreciate--And then suppose I was
walking with YOU, Ma, and somebody passed a slighting remark--"
"Nobody's going to pass no slighting remarks on nobody," Babbitt observed,
"not if they stay home and study their geometry and mind their own affairs
instead of hanging around a lot of poolrooms and soda-fountains and places
where nobody's got any business to be!"
"But gooooooosh, Dad, if they DID!"
Mrs. Babbitt chirped, "Well, if they did, I wouldn't do them the honor of
paying any attention to them! Besides, they never do. You always hear about
these women that get followed and insulted and all, but I don't believe a word
of it, or it's their own fault, the way some women look at a person. I
certainly never 've been insulted by--"
"Aw shoot. Mother, just suppose you WERE sometime! Just SUPPOSE! Can't you
suppose something? Can't you imagine things?"
"Certainly I can imagine things! The idea!"
"Certainly your mother can imagine things--and suppose things! Think you're
the only member of this household that's got an imagination?" Babbitt
demanded. "But what's the use of a lot of supposing? Supposing never gets you
anywhere. No sense supposing when there's a lot of real facts to take into
"Look here, Dad. Suppose--I mean, just--just suppose you were in your office
and some rival real-estate man--"
"--some realtor that you hated came in--"
"I don't hate any realtor."
"But suppose you DID!"
"I don't intend to suppose anything of the kind! There's plenty of fellows in
my profession that stoop and hate their competitors, but if you were a little
older and understood business, instead of always going to the movies and
running around with a lot of fool girls with their dresses up to their knees
and powdered and painted and rouged and God knows what all as if they were
chorus-girls, then you'd know--and you'd suppose--that if there's any one
thing that I stand for in the real-estate circles of Zenith, it is that we
ought to always speak of each other only in the friendliest terms and
institute a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation, and so I certainly can't
suppose and I can't imagine my hating any realtor, not even that dirty,
fourflushing society sneak, Cecil Rountree!"
"And there's no If, And or But about it! But if I WERE going to lambaste
somebody, I wouldn't require any fancy ducks or swimming-strokes before a
mirror, or any of these doodads and flipflops! Suppose you were out some place
and a fellow called you vile names. Think you'd want to box and jump around
like a dancing-master? You'd just lay him out cold (at least I certainly hope
any son of mine would!) and then you'd dust off your hands and go on about
your business, and that's all there is to it, and you aren't going to have any
boxing-lessons by mail, either!"
"Well but--Yes--I just wanted to show how many different kinds of
correspondence-courses there are, instead of all the camembert they teach us
in the High."
"But I thought they taught boxing in the school gymnasium."
"That's different. They stick you up there and some big stiff amuses himself
pounding the stuffin's out of you before you have a chance to learn. Hunka!
Not any! But anyway--Listen to some of these others."
The advertisements were truly philanthropic. One of them bore the rousing
headline: "Money! Money!! Money!!!" The second announced that "Mr. P. R.,
formerly making only eighteen a week in a barber shop, writes to us that since
taking our course he is now pulling down $5,000 as an Osteo-vitalic
Physician;" and the third that "Miss J. L., recently a wrapper in a store, is
now getting Ten Real Dollars a day teaching our Hindu System of Vibratory
Breathing and Mental Control."
Ted had collected fifty or sixty announcements, from annual reference-books,
from Sunday School periodicals, fiction-magazines, and journals of discussion.
One benefactor implored, "Don't be a Wallflower--Be More Popular and Make More
Money--YOU Can Ukulele or Sing Yourself into Society! By the secret
principles of a Newly Discovered System of Music Teaching, any one--man, lady
or child--can, without tiresome exercises, special training or long drawn out
study, and without waste of time, money or energy, learn to play by note,
piano, banjo, cornet, clarinet, saxophone, violin or drum, and learn
The next, under the wistful appeal "Finger Print Detectives Wanted--Big
Incomes!" confided: "YOU red-blooded men and women--this is the PROFESSION
you have been looking for. There's MONEY in it, BIG money, and that rapid
change of scene, that entrancing and compelling interest and fascination,
which your active mind and adventurous spirit crave. Think of being the chief
figure and directing factor in solving strange mysteries and baffling crimes.
This wonderful profession brings you into contact with influential men on the
basis of equality, and often calls upon you to travel everywhere, maybe to
distant lands--all expenses paid. NO SPECIAL EDUCATION REQUIRED."
"Oh, boy! I guess that wins the fire-brick necklace! Wouldn't it be swell to
travel everywhere and nab some famous crook!" whooped Ted.
"Well, I don't think much of that. Doggone likely to get hurt. Still, that
music-study stunt might be pretty fair, though. There's no reason why, if
efficiency-experts put their minds to it the way they have to routing products
in a factory, they couldn't figure out some scheme so a person wouldn't have
to monkey with all this practising and exercises that you get in music."
Babbitt was impressed, and he had a delightful parental feeling that they two,
the men of the family, understood each other.
He listened to the notices of mail-box universities which taught Short-story
Writing and Improving the Memory, Motion-picture-acting and Developing the
Soul-power, Banking and Spanish, Chiropody and Photography, Electrical
Engineering and Window-trimming, Poultry-raising and Chemistry.
"Well--well--" Babbitt sought for adequate expression of his admiration. "I'm
a son of a gun! I knew this correspondence-school business had become a
mighty profitable game--makes suburban real-estate look like two cents!--but I
didn't realize it'd got to be such a reg'lar key-industry! Must rank right up
with groceries and movies. Always figured somebody'd come along with the
brains to not leave education to a lot of bookworms and impractical theorists
but make a big thing out of it. Yes, I can see how a lot of these courses
might interest you. I must ask the fellows at the Athletic if they ever
realized--But same time, Ted, you know how advertisers, I means some
advertisers, exaggerate. I don't know as they'd be able to jam you through
these courses as fast as they claim they can."
"Oh sure, Dad; of course." Ted had the immense and joyful maturity of a boy
who is respectfully listened to by his elders. Babbitt concentrated on him
with grateful affection:
"I can see what an influence these courses might have on the whole educational
works. Course I'd never admit it publicly--fellow like myself, a State U.
graduate, it's only decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost
the Alma Mater--but smatter of fact, there's a whole lot of valuable time lost
even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought in
anybody a cent. I don't know but what maybe these correspondence-courses might
prove to be one of the most important American inventions.
"Trouble with a lot of folks is: they're so blame material; they don't see
the spiritual and mental side of American supremacy; they think that
inventions like the telephone and the areoplane and wireless--no, that was a
Wop invention, but anyway: they think these mechanical improvements are all
that we stand for; whereas to a real thinker, he sees that spiritual and, uh,
dominating movements like Efficiency, and Rotarianism, and Prohibition, and
Democracy are what compose our deepest and truest wealth. And maybe this new
principle in education-at-home may be another--may be another factor. I tell
you, Ted, we've got to have Vision--"
"I think those correspondence-courses are terrible!"
The philosophers gasped. It was Mrs. Babbitt who had made this discord in
their spiritual harmony, and one of Mrs. Babbitt's virtues was that, except
during dinner-parties, when she was transformed into a raging hostess, she
took care of the house and didn't bother the males by thinking. She went on
"It sounds awful to me, the way they coax those poor young folks to think
they're learning something, and nobody 'round to help them and--You two learn
so quick, but me, I always was slow. But just the same--"
Babbitt attended to her: "Nonsense! Get just as much, studying at home. You
don't think a fellow learns any more because he blows in his father's
hard-earned money and sits around in Morris chairs in a swell Harvard
dormitory with pictures and shields and table-covers and those doodads, do
you? I tell you, I'm a college man--I KNOW! There is one objection you might
make though. I certainly do protest against any effort to get a lot of
fellows out of barber shops and factories into the professions. They're too
crowded already, and what'll we do for workmen if all those fellows go and get
Ted was leaning back, smoking a cigarette without reproof. He was, for the
moment, sharing the high thin air of Babbitt's speculation as though he were
Paul Riesling or even Dr. Howard Littlefield. He hinted:
"Well, what do you think then, Dad? Wouldn't it be a good idea if I could go
off to China or some peppy place, and study engineering or something by mail?"
"No, and I'll tell you why, son. I've found out it's a mighty nice thing to
be able to say you're a B.A. Some client that doesn't know what you are and
thinks you're just a plug business man, he gets to shooting off his mouth
about economics or literature or foreign trade conditions, and you just ease
in something like, 'When I was in college--course I got my B.A. in sociology
and all that junk--' Oh, it puts an awful crimp in their style! But there
wouldn't be any class to saying 'I got the degree of Stamp-licker from the
Bezuzus Mail-order University! ' You see--My dad was a pretty good old coot,
but he never had much style to him, and I had to work darn hard to earn my way
through college. Well, it's been worth it, to be able to associate with the
finest gentlemen in Zenith, at the clubs and so on, and I wouldn't want you to
drop out of the gentlemen class--the class that are just as red-blooded as the
Common People but still have power and personality. It would kind of hurt me
if you did that, old man!"
"I know, Dad! Sure! All right. I'll stick to it. Say! Gosh! Gee whiz! I
forgot all about those kids I was going to take to the chorus rehearsal. I'll
have to duck!"
"But you haven't done all your home-work."
"Do it first thing in the morning."
Six times in the past sixty days Babbitt had stormed, "You will not 'do it
first thing in the morning'! You'll do it right now!" but to-night he said,
"Well, better hustle," and his smile was the rare shy radiance he kept for
"Ted's a good boy," he said to Mrs. Babbitt.
"Oh, he is!"
"Who's these girls he's going to pick up? Are they nice decent girls?"
"I don't know. Oh dear, Ted never tells me anything any more. I don't
understand what's come over the children of this generation. I used to have to
tell Papa and Mama everything, but seems like the children to-day have just
slipped away from all control."
"I hope they're decent girls. Course Ted's no longer a kid, and I wouldn't
want him to, uh, get mixed up and everything."
"George: I wonder if you oughtn't to take him aside and tell him
about--Things!" She blushed and lowered her eyes.
"Well, I don't know. Way I figure it, Myra, no sense suggesting a lot of
Things to a boy's mind. Think up enough devilment by himself. But I
wonder--It's kind of a hard question. Wonder what Littlefield thinks about
"Course Papa agrees with you. He says all this--Instruction is--He says
"Oh, he does, does he! Well, let me tell you that whatever Henry T. Thompson
thinks--about morals, I mean, though course you can't beat the old duffer--"
"Why, what a way to talk of Papa!"
"--simply can't beat him at getting in on the ground floor of a deal, but let
me tell you whenever he springs any ideas about higher things and education,
then I know I think just the opposite. You may not regard me as any great
brain-shark, but believe me, I'm a regular college president, compared with
Henry T.! Yes sir, by golly, I'm going to take Ted aside and tell him why I
lead a strictly moral life."
"Oh, will you? When?"
"When? When? What's the use of trying to pin me down to When and Why and
Where and How and When? That's the trouble with women, that's why they don't
make high-class executives; they haven't any sense of diplomacy. When the
proper opportunity and occasion arises so it just comes in natural, why then
I'll have a friendly little talk with him and--and--Was that Tinka hollering
up-stairs? She ought to been asleep, long ago."
He prowled through the living-room, and stood in the sun-parlor, that
glass-walled room of wicker chairs and swinging couch in which they loafed on
Sunday afternoons. Outside only the lights of Doppelbrau's house and the dim
presence of Babbitt's favorite elm broke the softness of April night.
"Good visit with the boy. Getting over feeling cranky, way I did this
morning. And restless. Though, by golly, I will have a few days alone with
Paul in Maine! . . . That devil Zilla! . . . But . . . Ted's all right. Whole
family all right. And good business. Not many fellows make four hundred and
fifty bucks, practically half of a thousand dollars easy as I did to-day!
Maybe when we all get to rowing it's just as much my fault as it is theirs.
Oughtn't to get grouchy like I do. But--Wish I'd been a pioneer, same as my
grand-dad. But then, wouldn't have a house like this. I--Oh, gosh, I DON'T
He thought moodily of Paul Riesling, of their youth together, of the girls
they had known.
When Babbitt had graduated from the State University, twenty-four years ago,
he had intended to be a lawyer. He had been a ponderous debater in college; he
felt that he was an orator; he saw himself becoming governor of the state.
While he read law he worked as a real-estate salesman. He saved money, lived
in a boarding-house, supped on poached egg on hash. The lively Paul Riesling
(who was certainly going off to Europe to study violin, next month or next
year) was his refuge till Paul was bespelled by Zilla Colbeck, who laughed and
danced and drew men after her plump and gaily wagging finger.
Babbitt's evenings were barren then, and he found comfort only in Paul's
second cousin, Myra Thompson, a sleek and gentle girl who showed her capacity
by agreeing with the ardent young Babbitt that of course he was going to be
governor some day. Where Zilla mocked him as a country boy, Myra said
indignantly that he was ever so much solider than the young dandies who had
been born in the great city of Zenith--an ancient settlement in 1897, one
hundred and five years old, with two hundred thousand population, the queen
and wonder of all the state and, to the Catawba boy, George Babbitt, so vast
and thunderous and luxurious that he was flattered to know a girl ennobled by
birth in Zenith.
Of love there was no talk between them. He knew that if he was to study law
he could not marry for years; and Myra was distinctly a Nice Girl--one didn't
kiss her, one didn't "think about her that way at all" unless one was going to
marry her. But she was a dependable companion. She was always ready to go
skating, walking; always content to hear his discourses on the great things he
was going to do, the distressed poor whom he would defend against the Unjust
Rich, the speeches he would make at Banquets, the inexactitudes of popular
thought which he would correct.
One evening when he was weary and soft-minded, he saw that she had been
weeping. She had been left out of a party given by Zilla. Somehow her head
was on his shoulder and he was kissing away the tears--and she raised her head
to say trustingly, "Now that we're engaged, shall we be married soon or shall
Engaged? It was his first hint of it. His affection for this brown tender
woman thing went cold and fearful, but he could not hurt her, could not abuse
her trust. He mumbled something about waiting, and escaped. He walked for an
hour, trying to find a way of telling her that it was a mistake. Often, in
the month after, he got near to telling her, but it was pleasant to have a
girl in his arms, and less and less could he insult her by blurting that he
didn't love her. He himself had no doubt. The evening before his marriage was
an agony, and the morning wild with the desire to flee.
She made him what is known as a Good Wife. She was loyal, industrious, and at
rare times merry. She passed from a feeble disgust at their closer relations
into what promised to be ardent affection, but it drooped into bored routine.
Yet she existed only for him and for the children, and she was as sorry, as
worried as himself, when he gave up the law and trudged on in a rut of listing
"Poor kid, she hasn't had much better time than I have," Babbitt reflected,
standing in the dark sun-parlor. "But--I wish I could 've had a whirl at law
and politics. Seen what I could do. Well--Maybe I've made more money as it
He returned to the living-room but before he settled down he smoothed his
wife's hair, and she glanced up, happy and somewhat surprised.
HE solemnly finished the last copy of the American Magazine, while his wife
sighed, laid away her darning, and looked enviously at the lingerie designs in
a women's magazine. The room was very still.
It was a room which observed the best Floral Heights standards. The gray walls
were divided into artificial paneling by strips of white-enameled pine. From
the Babbitts' former house had come two much-carved rocking-chairs, but the
other chairs were new, very deep and restful, upholstered in blue and
gold-striped velvet. A blue velvet davenport faced the fireplace, and behind
it was a cherrywood table and a tall piano-lamp with a shade of golden silk.
(Two out of every three houses in Floral Heights had before the fireplace a
davenport, a mahogany table real or imitation, and a piano-lamp or a
reading-lamp with a shade of yellow or rose silk.)
On the table was a runner of gold-threaded Chinese fabric, four magazines, a
silver box containing cigarette-crumbs, and three "gift-books"--large,
expensive editions of fairy-tales illustrated by English artists and as yet
unread by any Babbitt save Tinka.
In a corner by the front windows was a large cabinet Victrola. (Eight out of
every nine Floral Heights houses had a cabinet phonograph.)
Among the pictures, hung in the exact center of each gray panel, were a red
and black imitation English hunting-print, an anemic imitation boudoir-print
with a French caption of whose morality Babbitt had always been rather
suspicious, and a "hand-colored" photograph of a Colonial room--rag rug,
maiden spinning, cat demure before a white fireplace. (Nineteen out of every
twenty houses in Floral Heights had either a hunting-print, a Madame Feit la
Toilette print, a colored photograph of a New England house, a photograph of a
Rocky Mountain, or all four.)
It was a room as superior in comfort to the "parlor" of Babbitt's boyhood as
his motor was superior to his father's buggy. Though there was nothing in the
room that was interesting, there was nothing that was offensive. It was as
neat, and as negative, as a block of artificial ice. The fireplace was
unsoftened by downy ashes or by sooty brick; the brass fire-irons were of
immaculate polish; and the grenadier andirons were like samples in a shop,
desolate, unwanted, lifeless things of commerce.
Against the wall was a piano, with another piano-lamp, but no one used it save
Tinka. The hard briskness of the phonograph contented them; their store of
jazz records made them feel wealthy and cultured; and all they knew of
creating music was the nice adjustment of a bamboo needle. The books on the
table were unspotted and laid in rigid parallels; not one corner of the
carpet-rug was curled; and nowhere was there a hockey-stick, a torn
picture-book, an old cap, or a gregarious and disorganizing dog.
At home, Babbitt never read with absorption. He was concentrated enough at
the office but here he crossed his legs and fidgeted. When his story was
interesting he read the best, that is the funniest, paragraphs to his wife;
when it did not hold him he coughed, scratched his ankles and his right ear,
thrust his left thumb into his vest pocket, jingled his silver, whirled the
cigar-cutter and the keys on one end of his watch chain, yawned, rubbed his
nose, and found errands to do. He went upstairs to put on his slippers--his
elegant slippers of seal-brown, shaped like medieval shoes. He brought up an
apple from the barrel which stood by the trunk-closet in the basement.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away," he enlightened Mrs. Babbitt, for quite
the first time in fourteen hours.
"An apple is Nature's best regulator."
"Trouble with women is, they never have sense enough to form regular habits."
"Always nibbling and eating between meals."
"George!" She looked up from her reading. "Did you have a light lunch
to-day, like you were going to? I did!"
This malicious and unprovoked attack astounded him. "Well, maybe it wasn't as
light as--Went to lunch with Paul and didn't have much chance to diet. Oh,
you needn't to grin like a chessy cat! If it wasn't for me watching out and
keeping an eye on our diet--I'm the only member of this family that
appreciates the value of oatmeal for breakfast. I--"
She stooped over her story while he piously sliced and gulped down the apple,
"One thing I've done: cut down my smoking.
"Had kind of a run-in with Graff in the office. He's getting too darn fresh.
I'll stand for a good deal, but once in a while I got to assert my authority,
and I jumped him. 'Stan,' I said--Well, I told him just exactly where he got
"Funny kind of a day. Makes you feel restless.
"Wellllllllll, uh--" That sleepiest sound in the world, the terminal yawn.
Mrs. Babbitt yawned with it, and looked grateful as he droned, "How about
going to bed, eh? Don't suppose Rone and Ted will be in till all hours. Yep,
funny kind of a day; not terribly warm but yet--Gosh, I'd like--Some day I'm
going to take a long motor trip."
"Yes, we'd enjoy that," she yawned.
He looked away from her as he realized that he did not wish to have her go
with him. As he locked doors and tried windows and set the heat regulator so
that the furnace-drafts would open automatically in the morning, he sighed a
little, heavy with a lonely feeling which perplexed and frightened him. So
absent-minded was he that he could not remember which window-catches he had
inspected, and through the darkness, fumbling at unseen perilous chairs, he
crept back to try them all over again. His feet were loud on the steps as he
clumped upstairs at the end of this great and treacherous day of veiled
Before breakfast he always reverted to up-state village boyhood, and shrank
from the complex urban demands of shaving, bathing, deciding whether the
current shirt was clean enough for another day. Whenever he stayed home in the
evening he went to bed early, and thriftily got ahead in those dismal duties.
It was his luxurious custom to shave while sitting snugly in a tubful of hot
water. He may be viewed to-night as a plump, smooth, pink, baldish, podgy
goodman, robbed of the importance of spectacles, squatting in breast-high
water, scraping his lather-smeared cheeks with a safety-razor like a tiny
lawn-mower, and with melancholy dignity clawing through the water to recover a
slippery and active piece of soap.
He was lulled to dreaming by the caressing warmth. The light fell on the inner
surface of the tub in a pattern of delicate wrinkled lines which slipped with
a green sparkle over the curving porcelain as the clear water trembled.
Babbitt lazily watched it; noted that along the silhouette of his legs against
the radiance on the bottom of the tub, the shadows of the air-bubbles clinging
to the hairs were reproduced as strange jungle mosses. He patted the water,
and the reflected light capsized and leaped and volleyed. He was content and
childish. He played. He shaved a swath down the calf of one plump leg.
The drain-pipe was dripping, a dulcet and lively song: drippety drip drip
dribble, drippety drip drip drip. He was enchanted by it. He looked at the
solid tub, the beautiful nickel taps, the tiled walls of the room, and felt
virtuous in the possession of this splendor.
He roused himself and spoke gruffly to his bath-things. "Come here! You've
done enough fooling!" he reproved the treacherous soap, and defied the
scratchy nail-brush with "Oh, you would, would you!" He soaped himself, and
rinsed himself, and austerely rubbed himself; he noted a hole in the Turkish
towel, and meditatively thrust a finger through it, and marched back to the
bedroom, a grave and unbending citizen.
There was a moment of gorgeous abandon, a flash of melodrama such as he found
in traffic-driving, when he laid out a clean collar, discovered that it was
frayed in front, and tore it up with a magnificent yeeeeeing sound.
Most important of all was the preparation of his bed and the sleeping-porch.
It is not known whether he enjoyed his sleeping-porch because of the fresh air
or because it was the standard thing to have a sleeping-porch.
Just as he was an Elk, a Booster, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce,
just as the priests of the Presbyterian Church determined his every religious
belief and the senators who controlled the Republican Party decided in little
smoky rooms in Washington what he should think about disarmament, tariff, and
Germany, so did the large national advertisers fix the surface of his life,
fix what he believed to be his individuality. These standard advertised
wares--toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, instantaneous hot-water
heaters--were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first the signs, then
the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom.
But none of these advertised tokens of financial and social success was more
significant than a sleeping-porch with a sun-parlor below.
The rites of preparing for bed were elaborate and unchanging. The blankets had
to be tucked in at the foot of his cot. (Also, the reason why the maid hadn't
tucked in the blankets had to be discussed with Mrs. Babbitt.) The rag rug was
adjusted so that his bare feet would strike it when he arose in the morning.
The alarm clock was wound. The hot-water bottle was filled and placed
precisely two feet from the bottom of the cot.
These tremendous undertakings yielded to his determination; one by one they
were announced to Mrs. Babbitt and smashed through to accomplishment. At last
his brow cleared, and in his "Gnight!" rang virile power. But there was yet
need of courage. As he sank into sleep, just at the first exquisite
relaxation, the Doppelbrau car came home. He bounced into wakefulness,
lamenting, "Why the devil can't some people never get to bed at a reasonable
hour?" So familiar was he with the process of putting up his own car that he
awaited each step like an able executioner condemned to his own rack.
The car insultingly cheerful on the driveway. The car door opened and banged
shut, then the garage door slid open, grating on the sill, and the car door
again. The motor raced for the climb up into the garage and raced once more,
explosively, before it was shut off. A final opening and slamming of the car
door. Silence then, a horrible silence filled with waiting, till the
leisurely Mr. Doppelbrau had examined the state of his tires and had at last
shut the garage door. Instantly, for Babbitt, a blessed state of oblivion.
At that moment In the city of Zenith, Horace Updike was making love to Lucile
McKelvey in her mauve drawing-room on Royal Ridge, after their return from a
lecture by an eminent English novelist. Updike was Zenith's professional
bachelor; a slim-waisted man of forty-six with an effeminate voice and taste
in flowers, cretonnes, and flappers. Mrs. McKelvey was red-haired, creamy,
discontented, exquisite, rude, and honest. Updike tried his invariable first
maneuver--touching her nervous wrist.
"Don't be an idiot!" she said.
"Do you mind awfully?"
"No! That's what I mind!"
He changed to conversation. He was famous at conversation. He spoke
reasonably of psychoanalysis, Long Island polo, and the Ming platter he had
found in Vancouver. She promised to meet him in Deauville, the coming summer,
"though," she sighed, "it's becoming too dreadfully banal; nothing but
Americans and frowsy English baronesses."
And at that moment in Zenith, a cocaine-runner and a prostitute were drinking
cocktails in Healey Hanson's saloon on Front Street. Since national
prohibition was now in force, and since Zenith was notoriously law-abiding,
they were compelled to keep the cocktails innocent by drinking them out of
tea-cups. The lady threw her cup at the cocaine-runner's head. He worked his
revolver out of the pocket in his sleeve, and casually murdered her.
At that moment in Zenith, two men sat in a laboratory. For thirty-seven hours
now they had been working on a report of their investigations of synthetic
At that moment in Zenith, there was a conference of four union officials as to
whether the twelve thousand coal-miners within a hundred miles of the city
should strike. Of these men one resembled a testy and prosperous grocer, one
a Yankee carpenter, one a soda-clerk, and one a Russian Jewish actor The
Russian Jew quoted Kautsky, Gene Debs, and Abraham Lincoln.
At that moment a G. A. R. veteran was dying. He had come from the Civil War
straight to a farm which, though it was officially within the city-limits of
Zenith, was primitive as the backwoods. He had never ridden in a motor car,
never seen a bath-tub, never read any book save the Bible, McGuffey's readers,
and religious tracts; and he believed that the earth is flat, that the English
are the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and that the United States is a democracy.
At that moment the steel and cement town which composed the factory of the
Pullmore Tractor Company of Zenith was running on night shift to fill an order
of tractors for the Polish army. It hummed like a million bees, glared
through its wide windows like a volcano. Along the high wire fences,
searchlights played on cinder-lined yards, switch-tracks, and armed guards on
At that moment Mike Monday was finishing a meeting. Mr. Monday, the
distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America, had
once been a prize-fighter. Satan had not dealt justly with him. As a
prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated
vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more
profitable. He was about to retire with a fortune. It had been well earned,
for, to quote his last report, "Rev. Mr. Monday, the Prophet with a Punch, has
shown that he is the world's greatest salesman of salvation, and that by
efficient organization the overhead of spiritual regeneration may be kept down
to an unprecedented rock-bottom basis. He has converted over two hundred
thousand lost and priceless souls at an average cost of less than ten dollars
Of the larger cities of the land, only Zenith had hesitated to submit its
vices to Mike Monday and his expert reclamation corps. The more enterprising
organizations of the city had voted to invite him--Mr. George F. Babbitt had
once praised him in a speech at the Boosters' Club. But there was opposition
from certain Episcopalian and Congregationalist ministers, those renegades
whom Mr. Monday so finely called "a bunch of gospel-pushers with dish-water
instead of blood, a gang of squealers that need more dust on the knees of
their pants and more hair on their skinny old chests." This opposition had
been crushed when the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce had reported to a
committee of manufacturers that in every city where he had appeared, Mr.
Monday had turned the minds of workmen from wages and hours to higher things,
and thus averted strikes. He was immediately invited.
An expense fund of forty thousand dollars had been underwritten; out on the
County Fair Grounds a Mike Monday Tabernacle had been erected, to seat fifteen
thousand people. In it the prophet was at this moment concluding his message:
"There's a lot of smart college professors and tea-guzzling slobs in this burg
that say I'm a roughneck and a never-wuzzer and my knowledge of history is
not-yet. Oh, there's a gang of woolly-whiskered book-lice that think they know
more than Almighty God, and prefer a lot of Hun science and smutty German
criticism to the straight and simple Word of God. Oh, there's a swell bunch
of Lizzie boys and lemon-suckers and pie-faces and infidels and beer-bloated
scribblers that love to fire off their filthy mouths and yip that Mike Monday
is vulgar and full of mush. Those pups are saying now that I hog the
gospel-show, that I'm in it for the coin. Well, now listen, folks! I'm going
to give those birds a chance! They can stand right up here and tell me to my
face that I'm a galoot and a liar and a hick! Only if they do--if they
do!--don't faint with surprise if some of those rum-dumm liars get one good
swift poke from Mike, with all the kick of God's Flaming Righteousness behind
the wallop! Well, come on, folks! Who says it? Who says Mike Monday is a
fourflush and a yahoo? Huh? Don't I see anybody standing up? Well, there
you are! Now I guess the folks in this man's town will quit listening to all
this kyoodling from behind the fence; I guess you'll quit listening to the
guys that pan and roast and kick and beef, and vomit out filthy atheism; and
all of you 'll come in, with every grain of pep and reverence you got, and
boost all together for Jesus Christ and his everlasting mercy and tenderness!"
At that moment Seneca Doane, the radical lawyer, and Dr. Kurt Yavitch, the
histologist (whose report on the destruction of epithelial cells under radium
had made the name of Zenith known in Munich, Prague, and Rome), were talking
in Doane's library.
"Zenith's a city with gigantic power--gigantic buildings, gigantic machines,
gigantic transportation," meditated Doane.
"I hate your city. It has standardized all the beauty out of life. It is one
big railroad station--with all the people taking tickets for the best
cemeteries," Dr. Yavitch said placidly.
Doane roused. "I'm hanged if it is! You make me sick, Kurt, with your
perpetual whine about 'standardization.' Don't you suppose any other nation is
'standardized?' Is anything more standardized than England, with every house
that can afford it having the same muffins at the same tea-hour, and every
retired general going to exactly the same evensong at the same gray stone
church with a square tower, and every golfing prig in Harris tweeds saying
'Right you are!' to every other prosperous ass? Yet I love England. And for
standardization--just look at the sidewalk cafes in France and the love-making
"Standardization is excellent, per se. When I buy an Ingersoll watch or a
Ford, I get a better tool for less money, and I know precisely what I'm
getting, and that leaves me more time and energy to be individual in. And--I
remember once in London I saw a picture of an American suburb, in a toothpaste
ad on the back of the Saturday Evening Post--an elm-lined snowy street of
these new houses, Georgian some of 'em, or with low raking roofs and--The kind
of street you'd find here in Zenith, say in Floral Heights. Open. Trees.
Grass. And I was homesick! There's no other country in the world that has
such pleasant houses. And I don't care if they ARE standardized. It's a
"No, what I fight in Zenith is standardization of thought, and, of course, the
traditions of competition. The real villains of the piece are the clean,
kind, industrious Family Men who use every known brand of trickery and cruelty
to insure the prosperity of their cubs. The worst thing about these fellows is
that they're so good and, in their work at least, so intelligent. You can't
hate them properly, and yet their standardized minds are the enemy.
"Then this boosting--Sneakingly I have a notion that Zenith is a better place
to live in than Manchester or Glasgow or Lyons or Berlin or Turin--"
"It is not, and I have lift in most of them," murmured Dr. Yavitch.
"Well, matter of taste. Personally, I prefer a city with a future so unknown
that it excites my imagination. But what I particularly want--"
"You," said Dr. Yavitch, "are a middle-road liberal, and you haven't the
slightest idea what you want. I, being a revolutionist, know exactly what I
want--and what I want now is a drink."
At that moment in Zenith, Jake Offutt, the politician, and Henry T. Thompson
were in conference. Offutt suggested, "The thing to do is to get your fool
son-in-law, Babbitt, to put it over. He's one of these patriotic guys. When
he grabs a piece of property for the gang, he makes it look like we were dyin'
of love for the dear peepul, and I do love to buy respectability--reasonable.
Wonder how long we can keep it up, Hank? We're safe as long as the good
little boys like George Babbitt and all the nice respectable labor-leaders
think you and me are rugged patriots. There's swell pickings for an honest
politician here, Hank: a whole city working to provide cigars and fried
chicken and dry martinis for us, and rallying to our banner with indignation,
oh, fierce indignation, whenever some squealer like this fellow Seneca Doane
comes along! Honest, Hank, a smart codger like me ought to be ashamed of
himself if he didn't milk cattle like them, when they come around mooing for
it! But the Traction gang can't get away with grand larceny like it used to. I
wonder when--Hank, I wish we could fix some way to run this fellow Seneca
Doane out of town. It's him or us!"
At that moment in Zenith, three hundred and forty or fifty thousand Ordinary
People were asleep, a vast unpenetrated shadow. In the slum beyond the
railroad tracks, a young man who for six months had sought work turned on the
gas and killed himself and his wife.
At that moment Lloyd Mallam, the poet, owner of the Hafiz Book Shop, was
finishing a rondeau to show how diverting was life amid the feuds of medieval
Florence, but how dull it was in so obvious a place as Zenith.
And at that moment George F. Babbitt turned ponderously in bed--the last turn,
signifying that he'd had enough of this worried business of falling asleep and
was about it in earnest.
Instantly he was in the magic dream. He was somewhere among unknown people
who laughed at him. He slipped away, ran down the paths of a midnight garden,
and at the gate the fairy child was waiting. Her dear and tranquil hand
caressed his cheek. He was gallant and wise and well-beloved; warm ivory were
her arms; and beyond perilous moors the brave sea glittered.
THE great events of Babbitt's spring were the secret buying of real-estate
options in Linton for certain street-traction officials, before the public
announcement that the Linton Avenue Car Line would be extended, and a dinner
which was, as he rejoiced to his wife, not only "a regular society spread but
a real sure-enough highbrow affair, with some of the keenest intellects and
the brightest bunch of little women in town." It was so absorbing an occasion
that he almost forgot his desire to run off to Maine with Paul Riesling.
Though he had been born in the village of Catawba, Babbitt had risen to that
metropolitan social plane on which hosts have as many as four people at dinner
without planning it for more than an evening or two. But a dinner of twelve,
with flowers from the florist's and all the cut-glass out, staggered even the
For two weeks they studied, debated, and arbitrated the list of guests.
Babbitt marveled, "Of course we're up-to-date ourselves, but still, think of
us entertaining a famous poet like Chum Frink, a fellow that on nothing but a
poem or so every day and just writing a few advertisements pulls down fifteen
thousand berries a year!"
"Yes, and Howard Littlefield. Do you know, the other evening Eunice told me
her papa speaks three languages!" said Mrs. Babbitt.
"Huh! That's nothing! So do I--American, baseball, and poker!"
"I don't think it's nice to be funny about a matter like that. Think how
wonderful it must be to speak three languages, and so useful and--And with
people like that, I don't see why we invite the Orville Joneses."
"Well now, Orville is a mighty up-and-coming fellow!"
"Yes, I know, but--A laundry!"
"I'll admit a laundry hasn't got the class of poetry or real estate, but just
the same, Orvy is mighty deep. Ever start him spieling about gardening? Say,
that fellow can tell you the name of every kind of tree, and some of their
Greek and Latin names too! Besides, we owe the Joneses a dinner. Besides,
gosh, we got to have some boob for audience, when a bunch of hot-air artists
like Frink and Littlefield get going."
"Well, dear--I meant to speak of this--I do think that as host you ought to
sit back and listen, and let your guests have a chance to talk once in a
"Oh, you do, do you! Sure! I talk all the time! And I'm just a business
man--oh sure!--I'm no Ph.D. Iike Littlefield, and no poet, and I haven't
anything to spring! Well, let me tell you, just the other day your darn Chum
Frink comes up to me at the club begging to know what I thought about the
Springfield school-bond issue. And who told him? I did! You bet your life I
told him! Little me! I certainly did! He came up and asked me, and I told
him all about it! You bet! And he was darn glad to listen to me and--Duty as
a host! I guess I know my duty as a host and let me tell you--"
In fact, the Orville Joneses were invited.
On the morning of the dinner, Mrs. Babbitt was restive.
"Now, George, I want you to be sure and be home early tonight. Remember, you
have to dress."
"Uh-huh. I see by the Advocate that the Presbyterian General Assembly has
voted to quit the Interchurch World Movement. That--"
"George! Did you hear what I said? You must be home in time to dress
"Dress? Hell! I'm dressed now! Think I'm going down to the office in my
"I will not have you talking indecently before the children! And you do have
to put on your dinner-jacket!"
"I guess you mean my Tux. I tell you, of all the doggone nonsensical
nuisances that was ever invented--"
Three minutes later, after Babbitt had wailed, "Well, I don't know whether I'm
going to dress or NOT" in a manner which showed that he was going to dress,
the discussion moved on.
"Now, George, you mustn't forget to call in at Vecchia's on the way home and
get the ice cream. Their delivery-wagon is broken down, and I don't want to
trust them to send it by--"
"All right! You told me that before breakfast!"
"Well, I don't want you to forget. I'll be working my head off all day long,
training the girl that's to help with the dinner--"
"All nonsense, anyway, hiring an extra girl for the feed. Matilda could
"--and I have to go out and buy the flowers, and fix them, and set the table,
and order the salted almonds, and look at the chickens, and arrange for the
children to have their supper upstairs and--And I simply must depend on you to
go to Vecchia's for the ice cream."
"All riiiiiight! Gosh, I'm going to get it!"
"All you have to do is to go in and say you want the ice cream that Mrs.
Babbitt ordered yesterday by 'phone, and it will be all ready for you."
At ten-thirty she telephoned to him not to forget the ice cream from
He was surprised and blasted then by a thought. He wondered whether Floral
Heights dinners were worth the hideous toil involved. But he repented the
sacrilege in the excitement of buying the materials for cocktails.
Now this was the manner of obtaining alcohol under the reign of righteousness
He drove from the severe rectangular streets of the modern business center
into the tangled byways of Old Town--jagged blocks filled with sooty
warehouses and lofts; on into The Arbor, once a pleasant orchard but now a
morass of lodging-houses, tenements, and brothels. Exquisite shivers chilled
his spine and stomach, and he looked at every policeman with intense
innocence, as one who loved the law, and admired the Force, and longed to stop
and play with them. He parked his car a block from Healey Hanson's saloon,
worrying, "Well, rats, if anybody did see me, they'd think I was here on
He entered a place curiously like the saloons of ante-prohibition days, with a
long greasy bar with sawdust in front and streaky mirror behind, a pine table
at which a dirty old man dreamed over a glass of something which resembled
whisky, and with two men at the bar, drinking something which resembled beer,
and giving that impression of forming a large crowd which two men always give
in a saloon. The bartender, a tall pale Swede with a diamond in his lilac
scarf, stared at Babbitt as he stalked plumply up to the bar and whispered,
"I'd, uh--Friend of Hanson's sent me here. Like to get some gin."
The bartender gazed down on him in the manner of an outraged bishop. "I guess
you got the wrong place, my friend. We sell nothing but soft drinks here."
He cleaned the bar with a rag which would itself have done with a little
cleaning, and glared across his mechanically moving elbow.
The old dreamer at the table petitioned the bartender, "Say, Oscar, listen."
Oscar did not listen.
"Aw, say, Oscar, listen, will yuh? Say, lis-sen!"
The decayed and drowsy voice of the loafer, the agreeable stink of beer-dregs,
threw a spell of inanition over Babbitt. The bartender moved grimly toward the
crowd of two men. Babbitt followed him as delicately as a cat, and wheedled,
"Say, Oscar, I want to speak to Mr. Hanson."
"Whajuh wanta see him for?"
"I just want to talk to him. Here's my card."
It was a beautiful card, an engraved card, a card in the blackest black and
the sharpest red, announcing that Mr. George F. Babbitt was Estates,
Insurance, Rents. The bartender held it as though it weighed ten pounds, and
read it as though it were a hundred words long. He did not bend from his
episcopal dignity, hut he growled, "I'll see if he's around."
From the back room he brought an immensely old young man, a quiet sharp-eyed
man, in tan silk shirt, checked vest hanging open, and burning brown
trousers--Mr. Healey Hanson. Mr. Hanson said only "Yuh?" but his implacable
and contemptuous eyes queried Babbitt's soul, and he seemed not at all
impressed by the new dark-gray suit for which (as he had admitted to every
acquaintance at the Athletic Club) Babbitt had paid a hundred and twenty-five
"Glad meet you, Mr. Hanson. Say, uh--I'm George Babbitt of the
Babbitt-Thompson Realty Company. I'm a great friend of Jake Offutt's."
"Well, what of it?"
"Say, uh, I'm going to have a party, and Jake told me you'd be able to fix me
up with a little gin." In alarm, in obsequiousness, as Hanson's eyes grew
more bored, "You telephone to Jake about me, if you want to."
Hanson answered by jerking his head to indicate the entrance to the back room,
and strolled away. Babbitt melodramatically crept into an apartment
containing four round tables, eleven chairs, a brewery calendar, and a smell.
He waited. Thrice he saw Healey Hanson saunter through, humming, hands in
pockets, ignoring him.
By this time Babbitt had modified his valiant morning vow, "I won't pay one
cent over seven dollars a quart" to "I might pay ten." On Hanson's next weary
entrance he besought "Could you fix that up?" Hanson scowled, and grated,
"Just a minute--Pete's sake--just a min-ute!" In growing meekness Babbitt went
on waiting till Hanson casually reappeared with a quart of gin--what is
euphemistically known as a quart--in his disdainful long white hands.
"Twelve bucks," he snapped.
"Say, uh, but say, cap'n, Jake thought you'd be able to fix me up for eight or
nine a bottle."
"Nup. Twelve. This is the real stuff, smuggled from Canada. This is none o'
your neutral spirits with a drop of juniper extract," the honest merchant said
virtuously. "Twelve bones--if you want it. Course y' understand I'm just
doing this anyway as a friend of Jake's."
"Sure! Sure! I understand!" Babbitt gratefully held out twelve dollars. He
felt honored by contact with greatness as Hanson yawned, stuffed the bills,
uncounted, into his radiant vest, and swaggered away.
He had a number of titillations out of concealing the gin-bottle under his
coat and out of hiding it in his desk. All afternoon he snorted and chuckled
and gurgled over his ability to "give the Boys a real shot in the arm
to-night." He was, in fact, so exhilarated that he was within a block of his
house before he remembered that there was a certain matter, mentioned by his
wife, of fetching ice cream from Vecchia's. He explained, "Well, darn it--"
and drove back.
Vecchia was not a caterer, he was The Caterer of Zenith. Most coming-out
parties were held in the white and gold ballroom of the Maison Vecchia; at all
nice teas the guests recognized the five kinds of Vecchia sandwiches and the
seven kinds of Vecchia cakes; and all really smart dinners ended, as on a
resolving chord, in Vecchia Neapolitan ice cream in one of the three reliable
molds--the melon mold, the round mold like a layer cake, and the long brick.
Vecchia's shop had pale blue woodwork, tracery of plaster roses, attendants in
frilled aprons, and glass shelves of "kisses" with all the refinement that
inheres in whites of eggs. Babbitt felt heavy and thick amid this professional
daintiness, and as he waited for the ice cream he decided, with hot prickles
at the back of his neck, that a girl customer was giggling at him. He went
home in a touchy temper. The first thing he heard was his wife's agitated:
"George! DID you remember to go to Vecchia's and get the ice cream?"
"Say! Look here! Do I ever forget to do things?"
"Well now, it's darn seldom I do, and it certainly makes me tired, after going
into a pink-tea joint like Vecchia's and having to stand around looking at a
lot of half-naked young girls, all rouged up like they were sixty and eating a
lot of stuff that simply ruins their stomachs--"
"Oh, it's too bad about you! I've noticed how you hate to look at pretty
With a jar Babbitt realized that his wife was too busy to be impressed by that
moral indignation with which males rule the world, and he went humbly
up-stairs to dress. He had an impression of a glorified dining-room, of
cut-glass, candles, polished wood, lace, silver, roses. With the awed
swelling of the heart suitable to so grave a business as giving a dinner, he
slew the temptation to wear his plaited dress-shirt for a fourth time, took
out an entirely fresh one, tightened his black bow, and rubbed his
patent-leather pumps with a handkerchief. He glanced with pleasure at his
garnet and silver studs. He smoothed and patted his ankles, transformed by
silk socks from the sturdy shanks of George Babbitt to the elegant limbs of
what is called a Clubman. He stood before the pier-glass, viewing his trim
dinner-coat, his beautiful triple-braided trousers; and murmured in lyric
beatitude, "By golly, I don't look so bad. I certainly don't look like
Catawba. If the hicks back home could see me in this rig, they'd have a fit!"
He moved majestically down to mix the cocktails. As he chipped ice, as he
squeezed oranges, as he collected vast stores of bottles, glasses, and spoons
at the sink in the pantry, he felt as authoritative as the bartender at Healey
Hanson's saloon. True, Mrs. Babbitt said he was under foot, and Matilda and
the maid hired for the evening brushed by him, elbowed him, shrieked "Pleasopn
door," as they tottered through with trays, but in this high moment he ignored
Besides the new bottle of gin, his cellar consisted of one half-bottle of
Bourbon whisky, a quarter of a bottle of Italian vermouth, and approximately
one hundred drops of orange bitters. He did not possess a cocktail-shaker. A
shaker was proof of dissipation, the symbol of a Drinker, and Babbitt disliked
being known as a Drinker even more than he liked a Drink. He mixed by pouring
from an ancient gravy-boat into a handleless pitcher; he poured with a noble
dignity, holding his alembics high beneath the powerful Mazda globe, his face
hot, his shirt-front a glaring white, the copper sink a scoured red-gold.
He tasted the sacred essence. "Now, by golly, if that isn't pretty near one
fine old cocktail! Kind of a Bronx, and yet like a Manhattan. Ummmmmm! Hey,
Myra, want a little nip before the folks come?"
Bustling into the dining-room, moving each glass a quarter of an inch, rushing
back with resolution implacable on her face her gray and silver-lace party
frock protected by a denim towel, Mrs. Babbitt glared at him, and rebuked him,
"Well," in a loose, jocose manner, "I think the old man will!"
The cocktail filled him with a whirling exhilaration behind which he was aware
of devastating desires--to rush places in fast motors, to kiss girls, to sing,
to be witty. He sought to regain his lost dignity by announcing to Matilda:
"I'm going to stick this pitcher of cocktails in the refrigerator. Be sure you
don't upset any of 'em."
"Well, be sure now. Don't go putting anything on this top shelf."
"Well, be--" He was dizzy. His voice was thin and distant. "Whee!" With
enormous impressiveness he commanded, "Well, be sure now," and minced into the
safety of the living-room. He wondered whether he could persuade "as slow a
bunch as Myra and the Littlefields to go some place aft' dinner and raise Cain
and maybe dig up smore booze." He perceived that he had gifts of profligacy
which had been neglected.
By the time the guests had come, including the inevitable late couple for whom
the others waited with painful amiability, a great gray emptiness had replaced
the purple swirling in Babbitt's head, and he had to force the tumultuous
greetings suitable to a host on Floral Heights.
The guests were Howard Littlefield, the doctor of philosophy who furnished
publicity and comforting economics to the Street Traction Company; Vergil
Gunch, the coal-dealer, equally powerful in the Elks and in the Boosters'
Club; Eddie Swanson the agent for the Javelin Motor Car, who lived across the
street; and Orville Jones, owner of the Lily White Laundry, which justly
announced itself "the biggest, busiest, bulliest cleanerie shoppe in Zenith."
But, naturally, the most distinguished of all was T. Cholmondeley Frink, who
was not only the author of "Poemulations," which, syndicated daily in
sixty-seven leading newspapers, gave him one of the largest audiences of any
poet in the world, but also an optimistic lecturer and the creator of "Ads
that Add." Despite the searching philosophy and high morality of his verses,
they were humorous and easily understood by any child of twelve; and it added
a neat air of pleasantry to them that they were set not as verse but as prose.
Mr. Frink was known from Coast to Coast as "Chum."
With them were six wives, more or less--it was hard to tell, so early in the
evening, as at first glance they all looked alike, and as they all said, "Oh,
ISN'T this nice!" in the same tone of determined liveliness. To the eye, the
men were less similar: Littlefield, a hedge-scholar, tall and horse-faced;
Chum Frink, a trifle of a man with soft and mouse-like hair, advertising his
profession as poet by a silk cord on his eye-glasses; Vergil Gunch, broad,
with coarse black hair en brosse; Eddie Swanson, a bald and bouncing young man
who showed his taste for elegance by an evening waistcoat of figured black
silk with glass buttons; Orville Jones, a steady-looking, stubby, not very
memorable person, with a hemp-colored toothbrush mustache. Yet they were all
so well fed and clean, they all shouted "'Evenin', Georgie!" with such
robustness, that they seemed to be cousins, and the strange thing is that the
longer one knew the women, the less alike they seemed; while the longer one
knew the men, the more alike their bold patterns appeared.
The drinking of the cocktails was as canonical a rite as the mixing. The
company waited, uneasily, hopefully, agreeing in a strained manner that the
weather had been rather warm and slightly cold, but still Babbitt said nothing
about drinks. They became despondent. But when the late couple (the Swansons)
had arrived, Babbitt hinted, "Well, folks, do you think you could stand
breaking the law a little?"
They looked at Chum Frink, the recognized lord of language. Frink pulled at
his eye-glass cord as at a bell-rope, he cleared his throat and said that
which was the custom:
"I'll tell you, George: I'm a law-abiding man, but they do say Verg Gunch is
a regular yegg, and of course he's bigger 'n I am, and I just can't figure out
what I'd do if he tried to force me into anything criminal!"
Gunch was roaring, "Well, I'll take a chance--" when Frink held up his hand
and went on, "So if Verg and you insist, Georgie, I'll park my car on the
wrong side of the street, because I take it for granted that's the crime
you're hinting at!"
There was a great deal of laughter. Mrs. Jones asserted, "Mr. Frink is simply
too killing! You'd think he was so innocent!"
Babbitt clamored, "How did you guess it, Chum? Well, you-all just wait a
moment while I go out and get the--keys to your cars!" Through a froth of
merriment he brought the shining promise, the mighty tray of glasses with the
cloudy yellow cocktails in the glass pitcher in the center. The men babbled,
"Oh, gosh, have a look!" and "This gets me right where I live!" and "Let me at
it!" But Chum Frink, a traveled man and not unused to woes, was stricken by
the thought that the potion might be merely fruit-juice with a little neutral
spirits. He looked timorous as Babbitt, a moist and ecstatic almoner, held
out a glass, but as he tasted it he piped, "Oh, man, let me dream on! It ain't
true, but don't waken me! Jus' lemme slumber!"
Two hours before, Frink had completed a newspaper lyric beginning:
"I sat alone and groused and thunk, and scratched my head and sighed and wunk,
and groaned, "There still are boobs, alack, who'd like the old-time gin-mill
back; that den that makes a sage a loon, the vile and smelly old saloon!" I'll
never miss their poison booze, whilst I the bubbling spring can use, that
leaves my head at merry morn as clear as any babe new-born!"
Babbitt drank with the others; his moment's depression was gone; he perceived
that these were the best fellows in the world; he wanted to give them a
thousand cocktails. "Think you could stand another?" he cried. The wives
refused, with giggles, but the men, speaking in a wide, elaborate, enjoyable
manner, gloated, "Well, sooner than have you get sore at me, Georgie--"
"You got a little dividend coming," said Babbitt to each of them, and each
intoned, "Squeeze it, Georgie, squeeze it!"
When, beyond hope, the pitcher was empty, they stood and talked about
prohibition. The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their
trousers-pockets, and proclaimed their views with the booming profundity of a
prosperous male repeating a thoroughly hackneyed statement about a matter of
which he knows nothing whatever.
"Now, I'll tell you," said Vergil Gunch; "way I figure it is this, and I can
speak by the book, because I've talked to a lot of doctors and fellows that
ought to know, and the way I see it is that it's a good thing to get rid of
the saloon, but they ought to let a fellow have beer and light wines."
Howard Littlefield observed, "What isn't generally realized is that it's a
dangerous prop'sition to invade the rights of personal liberty. Now, take this
for instance: The King of--Bavaria? I think it was Bavaria--yes, Bavaria, it
was--in 1862, March, 1862, he issued a proclamation against public grazing of
live-stock. The peasantry had stood for overtaxation without the slightest
complaint, but when this proclamation came out, they rebelled. Or it may have
been Saxony. But it just goes to show the dangers of invading the rights of
"That's it--no one got a right to invade personal liberty," said Orville
"Just the same, you don't want to forget prohibition is a mighty good thing
for the working-classes. Keeps 'em from wasting their money and lowering their
productiveness," said Vergil Gunch.
"Yes, that's so. But the trouble is the manner of enforcement," insisted
Howard Littlefield. "Congress didn't understand the right system. Now, if
I'd been running the thing, I'd have arranged it so that the drinker himself
was licensed, and then we could have taken care of the shiftless workman--kept
him from drinking--and yet not 've interfered with the rights--with the
personal liberty--of fellows like ourselves."
They bobbed their heads, looked admiringly at one another, and stated, "That's
so, that would be the stunt."
"The thing that worries me is that a lot of these guys will take to cocaine,"
sighed Eddie Swanson.
They bobbed more violently, and groaned, "That's so, there is a danger of
Chum Frink chanted, "Oh, say, I got hold of a swell new receipt for home-made
beer the other day. You take--"
Gunch interrupted, "Wait! Let me tell you mine!" Littlefield snorted, "Beer!
Rats! Thing to do is to ferment cider!" Jones insisted, "I've got the receipt
that does the business!" Swanson begged, "Oh, say, lemme tell you the story--"
But Frink went on resolutely, "You take and save the shells from peas, and
pour six gallons of water on a bushel of shells and boil the mixture till--"
Mrs. Babbitt turned toward them with yearning sweetness; Frink hastened to
finish even his best beer-recipe; and she said gaily, "Dinner is served."
There was a good deal of friendly argument among the men as to which should go
in last, and while they were crossing the hall from the living-room to the
dining-room Vergil Gunch made them laugh by thundering, "If I can't sit next
to Myra Babbitt and hold her hand under the table, I won't play--I'm goin'
home." In the dining-room they stood embarrassed while Mrs. Babbitt
fluttered, "Now, let me see--Oh, I was going to have some nice hand-painted
place-cards for you but--Oh, let me see; Mr. Frink, you sit there."
The dinner was in the best style of women's-magazine art, whereby the salad
was served in hollowed apples, and everything but the invincible fried chicken
resembled something else. Ordinarily the men found it hard to talk to the
women; flirtation was an art unknown on Floral Heights, and the realms of
offices and of kitchens had no alliances. But under the inspiration of the
cocktails, conversation was violent. Each of the men still had a number of
important things to say about prohibition, and now that each had a loyal
listener in his dinner-partner he burst out:
"I found a place where I can get all the hootch I want at eight a quart--"
"Did you read about this fellow that went and paid a thousand dollars for ten
cases of red-eye that proved to be nothing but water? Seems this fellow was
standing on the corner and fellow comes up to him--"
"They say there's a whole raft of stuff being smuggled across at Detroit--"
"What I always say is--what a lot of folks don't realize about prohibition--"
"And then you get all this awful poison stuff--wood alcohol and everything--"
"Course I believe in it on principle, but I don't propose to have anybody
telling me what I got to think and do. No American 'll ever stand for that!"
But they all felt that it was rather in bad taste for Orville Jones--and he
not recognized as one of the wits of the occasion anyway--to say, "In fact,
the whole thing about prohibition is this: it isn't the initial cost, it's the
Not till the one required topic had been dealt with did the conversation
It was often and admiringly said of Vergil Gunch, "Gee, that fellow can get
away with murder! Why, he can pull a Raw One in mixed company and all the
ladies 'll laugh their heads off, but me, gosh, if I crack anything that's
just the least bit off color I get the razz for fair!" Now Gunch delighted
them by crying to Mrs. Eddie Swanson, youngest of the women, "Louetta! I
managed to pinch Eddie's doorkey out of his pocket, and what say you and me
sneak across the street when the folks aren't looking? Got something," with a
gorgeous leer, "awful important to tell you!"
The women wriggled, and Babbitt was stirred to like naughtiness. "Say, folks,
I wished I dared show you a book I borrowed from Doc Patten!"
"Now, George! The idea!" Mrs. Babbitt warned him.
"This book--racy isn't the word! It's some kind of an anthropological report
about--about Customs, in the South Seas, and what it doesn't SAY! It's a book
you can't buy. Verg, I'll lend it to you."
"Me first!" insisted Eddie Swanson. "Sounds spicy!"
Orville Jones announced, "Say, I heard a Good One the other day about a coupla
Swedes and their wives," and, in the best Jewish accent, he resolutely carried
the Good One to a slightly disinfected ending. Gunch capped it. But the
cocktails waned, the seekers dropped back into cautious reality.
Chum Frink had recently been on a lecture-tour among the small towns, and he
chuckled, "Awful good to get back to civilization! I certainly been seeing
some hick towns! I mean--Course the folks there are the best on earth, but,
gee whiz, those Main Street burgs are slow, and you fellows can't hardly
appreciate what it means to be here with a bunch of live ones!"
"You bet!" exulted Orville Jones. "They're the best folks on earth, those
small-town folks, but, oh, mama! what conversation! Why, say, they can't talk
about anything but the weather and the ne-oo Ford, by heckalorum!"
"That's right. They all talk about just the same things," said Eddie Swanson.
"Don't they, though! They just say the same things over and over," said
"Yes, it's really remarkable. They seem to lack all power of looking at
things impersonally. They simply go over and over the same talk about Fords
and the weather and so on." said Howard Littlefield.
"Still, at that, you can't blame 'em. They haven't got any intellectual
stimulus such as you get up here in the city," said Chum Frink.
"Gosh, that's right," said Babbitt. "I don't want you highbrows to get stuck
on yourselves but I must say it keeps a fellow right up on his toes to sit in
with a poet and with Howard, the guy that put the con in economics! But these
small-town boobs, with nobody but each other to talk to, no wonder they get so
sloppy and uncultured in their speech, and so balled-up in their thinking!"
Orville Jones commented, "And, then take our other advantages--the movies,
frinstance. These Yapville sports think they're all-get-out if they have one
change of bill a week, where here in the city you got your choice of a dozen
diff'rent movies any evening you want to name!"
"Sure, and the inspiration we get from rubbing up against high-class hustlers
every day and getting jam full of ginger," said Eddie Swanson.
"Same time," said Babbitt, "no sense excusing these rube burgs too easy.
Fellow's own fault if he doesn't show the initiative to up and beat it to the
city, like we done--did. And, just speaking in confidence among friends,
they're jealous as the devil of a city man. Every time I go up to Catawba I
have to go around apologizing to the fellows I was brought up with because
I've more or less succeeded and they haven't. And if you talk natural to 'em,
way we do here, and show finesse and what you might call a broad point of
view, why, they think you're putting on side. There's my own half-brother
Martin--runs the little ole general store my Dad used to keep. Say, I'll bet
he don't know there is such a thing as a Tux--as a dinner-jacket. If he was to
come in here now, he'd think we were a bunch of--of--Why, gosh, I swear, he
wouldn't know what to think! Yes, sir, they're jealous!"
Chum Frink agreed, "That's so. But what I mind is their lack of culture and
appreciation of the Beautiful--if you'll excuse me for being highbrow. Now, I
like to give a high-class lecture, and read some of my best poetry--not the
newspaper stuff but the magazine things. But say, when I get out in the tall
grass, there's nothing will take but a lot of cheesy old stories and slang and
junk that if any of us were to indulge in it here, he'd get the gate so fast
it would make his head swim."
Vergil Gunch summed it up: "Fact is, we're mighty lucky to be living among a
bunch of city-folks, that recognize artistic things and business-punch
equally. We'd feel pretty glum if we got stuck in some Main Street burg and
tried to wise up the old codgers to the kind of life we're used to here. But,
by golly, there's this you got to say for 'em: Every small American town is
trying to get population and modern ideals. And darn if a lot of 'em don't put
it across! Somebody starts panning a rube crossroads, telling how he was
there in 1900 and it consisted of one muddy street, count 'em, one, and nine
hundred human clams. Well, you go back there in 1920, and you find pavements
and a swell little hotel and a first-class ladies' ready-to-wear shop-real
perfection, in fact! You don't want to just look at what these small towns
are, you want to look at what they're aiming to become, and they all got an
ambition that in the long run is going to make 'em the finest spots on
earth--they all want to be just like Zenith!"
However intimate they might be with T. Cholmondeley Frink as a neighbor, as a
borrower of lawn-mowers and monkey-wrenches, they knew that he was also a
Famous Poet and a distinguished advertising-agent; that behind his easiness
were sultry literary mysteries which they could not penetrate. But to-night,
in the gin-evolved confidence, he admitted them to the arcanum:
"I've got a literary problem that's worrying me to death. I'm doing a series
of ads for the Zeeco Car and I want to make each of 'em a real little
gem--reg'lar stylistic stuff. I'm all for this theory that perfection is the
stunt, or nothing at all, and these are as tough things as I ever tackled. You
might think it'd be harder to do my poems--all these Heart Topics: home and
fireside and happiness--but they're cinches. You can't go wrong on 'em; you
know what sentiments any decent go-ahead fellow must have if he plays the
game, and you stick right to 'em. But the poetry of industrialism, now
there's a literary line where you got to open up new territory. Do you know
the fellow who's really THE American genius? The fellow who you don't know his
name and I don't either, but his work ought to be preserved so's future
generations can judge our American thought and originality to-day? Why, the
fellow that writes the Prince Albert Tobacco ads! Just listen to this:
It's P.A. that jams such joy in jimmy pipes. Say--bet you've often
bent-an-ear to that spill-of-speech about hopping from five to f-i-f-t-y p-e-r