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Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

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by "stepping on her a bit!" Guess that's going some, all right--BUT just among
ourselves, you better start a rapidwhiz system to keep tabs as to how fast
you'll buzz from low smoke spirits to TIP-TOP-HIGH--once you line up behind a
jimmy pipe that's all aglow with that peach-of-a-pal, Prince Albert.

Prince Albert is john-on-the-job--always joy'usly more-ISH in flavor; always
delightfully cool and fragrant! For a fact, you never hooked such
double-decked, copper-riveted. two-fisted smoke enjoyment!

Go to a pipe--speed-o-quick like you light on a good thing! Why--packed with
Prince Albert you can play a joy'us jimmy straight across the boards! AND YOU

"Now that," caroled the motor agent, Eddie Swanson, "that's what I call
he-literature! That Prince Albert fellow--though, gosh, there can't be just
one fellow that writes 'em; must be a big board of classy ink-slingers in
conference, but anyway: now, him, he doesn't write for long-haired pikers, he
writes for Regular Guys, he writes for ME, and I tip my benny to him! The
only thing is: I wonder if it sells the goods? Course, like all these poets,
this Prince Albert fellow lets his idea run away with him. It makes elegant
reading, but it don't say nothing. I'd never go out and buy Prince Albert
Tobacco after reading it, because it doesn't tell me anything about the stuff.
It's just a bunch of fluff."

Frink faced him: "Oh, you're crazy! Have I got to sell you the idea of
Style? Anyway that's the kind of stuff I'd like to do for the Zeeco. But I
simply can't. So I decided to stick to the straight poetic, and I took a shot
at a highbrow ad for the Zeeco. How do you like this:

The long white trail is calling--calling-and it's over the hills and far away
for every man or woman that has red blood in his veins and on his lips the
ancient song of the buccaneers. It's away with dull drudging, and a fig for
care. Speed--glorious Speed--it's more than just a moment's exhilaration--it's
Life for you and me! This great new truth the makers of the Zeeco Car have
considered as much as price and style. It's fleet as the antelope, smooth as
the glide of a swallow, yet powerful as the charge of a bull-elephant. Class
breathes in every line. Listen, brother! You'll never know what the high art
of hiking is till you TRY LIFE'S ZIPPINGEST ZEST--THE ZEECO!

"Yes," Frink mused, "that's got an elegant color to it, if I do say so, but it
ain't got the originality of 'spill-of-speech!'" The whole company sighed with
sympathy and admiration.



BABBITT was fond of his friends, he loved the importance of being host and
shouting, "Certainly, you're going to have smore chicken--the idea!" and he
appreciated the genius of T. Cholmondeley Frink, but the vigor of the
cocktails was gone, and the more he ate the less joyful he felt. Then the
amity of the dinner was destroyed by the nagging of the Swansons.

In Floral Heights and the other prosperous sections of Zenith, especially in
the "young married set," there were many women who had nothing to do. Though
they had few servants, yet with gas stoves, electric ranges and dish-washers
and vacuum cleaners, and tiled kitchen walls, their houses were so convenient
that they had little housework, and much of their food came from bakeries and
delicatessens. They had but two, one, or no children; and despite the myth
that the Great War had made work respectable, their husbands objected to their
"wasting time and getting a lot of crank ideas" in unpaid social work, and
still more to their causing a rumor, by earning money, that they were not
adequately supported. They worked perhaps two hours a day, and the rest of the
time they ate chocolates, went to the motion-pictures, went window-shopping,
went in gossiping twos and threes to card-parties, read magazines, thought
timorously of the lovers who never appeared, and accumulated a splendid
restlessness which they got rid of by nagging their husbands. The husbands
nagged back.

Of these naggers the Swansons were perfect specimens.

Throughout the dinner Eddie Swanson had been complaining, publicly, about his
wife's new frock. It was, he submitted, too short, too low, too immodestly
thin, and much too expensive. He appealed to Babbitt:

"Honest, George, what do you think of that rag Louetta went and bought? Don't
you think it's the limit?"

"What's eating you, Eddie? I call it a swell little dress."

"Oh, it is, Mr. Swanson. It's a sweet frock," Mrs. Babbitt protested.

"There now, do you see, smarty! You're such an authority on clothes!" Louetta
raged, while the guests ruminated and peeped at her shoulders.

"That's all right now," said Swanson. "I'm authority enough so I know it was
a waste of money, and it makes me tired to see you not wearing out a whole
closetful of clothes you got already. I've expressed my idea about this
before, and you know good and well you didn't pay the least bit of attention.
I have to camp on your trail to get you to do anything--"

There was much more of it, and they all assisted, all but Babbitt. Everything
about him was dim except his stomach, and that was a bright scarlet
disturbance. "Had too much grub; oughtn't to eat this stuff," he
groaned--while he went on eating, while he gulped down a chill and glutinous
slice of the ice-cream brick, and cocoanut cake as oozy as shaving-cream. He
felt as though he had been stuffed with clay; his body was bursting, his
throat was bursting, his brain was hot mud; and only with agony did he
continue to smile and shout as became a host on Floral Heights.

He would, except for his guests, have fled outdoors and walked off the
intoxication of food, but in the haze which filled the room they sat forever,
talking, talking, while he agonized, "Darn fool to be eating all this--not
'nother mouthful," and discovered that he was again tasting the sickly welter
of melted ice cream on his plate. There was no magic in his friends; he was
not uplifted when Howard Littlefield produced from his treasure-house of
scholarship the information that the chemical symbol for raw rubber is C10H16,
which turns into isoprene, or 2C5H8. Suddenly, without precedent, Babbitt was
not merely bored but admitting that he was bored. It was ecstasy to escape
from the table, from the torture of a straight chair, and loll on the
davenport in the living-room.

The others, from their fitful unconvincing talk, their expressions of being
slowly and painfully smothered, seemed to be suffering from the toil of social
life and the horror of good food as much as himself. All of them accepted with
relief the suggestion of bridge.

Babbitt recovered from the feeling of being boiled. He won at bridge. He was
again able to endure Vergil Gunch's inexorable heartiness. But he pictured
loafing with Paul Riesling beside a lake in Maine. It was as overpowering and
imaginative as homesickness. He had never seen Maine, yet he beheld the
shrouded mountains, the tranquil lake of evening. "That boy Paul's worth all
these ballyhooing highbrows put together," he muttered; and, "I'd like to get
away from--everything."

Even Louetta Swanson did not rouse him.

Mrs. Swanson was pretty and pliant. Babbitt was not an analyst of women,
except as to their tastes in Furnished Houses to Rent. He divided them into
Real Ladies, Working Women, Old Cranks, and Fly Chickens. He mooned over their
charms but he was of opinion that all of them (save the women of his own
family) were "different" and "mysterious." Yet he had known by instinct that
Louetta Swanson could be approached. Her eyes and lips were moist. Her face
tapered from a broad forehead to a pointed chin, her mouth was thin but strong
and avid, and between her brows were two outcurving and passionate wrinkles.
She was thirty, perhaps, or younger. Gossip had never touched her, but every
man naturally and instantly rose to flirtatiousness when he spoke to her, and
every woman watched her with stilled blankness.

Between games, sitting on the davenport, Babbitt spoke to her with the
requisite gallantry, that sonorous Floral Heights gallantry which is not
flirtation but a terrified flight from it: "You're looking like a new
soda-fountain to night, Louetta."

"Am I?"

"Ole Eddie kind of on the rampage."

"Yes. I get so sick of it."

"Well, when you get tired of hubby, you can run off with Uncle George."

"If I ran away--Oh, well--"

"Anybody ever tell you your hands are awful pretty?"

She looked down at them, she pulled the lace of her sleeves over them, but
otherwise she did not heed him. She was lost in unexpressed imaginings.

Babbitt was too languid this evening to pursue his duty of being a captivating
(though strictly moral) male. He ambled back to the bridge-tables. He was not
much thrilled when Mrs. Frink, a small twittering woman, proposed that they
"try and do some spiritualism and table-tipping--you know Chum can make the
spirits come--honest, he just scares me!"

The ladies of the party had not emerged all evening, but now, as the sex given
to things of the spirit while the men warred against base things material,
they took command and cried, "Oh, let's!" In the dimness the men were rather
solemn and foolish, but the goodwives quivered and adored as they sat about
the table. They laughed, "Now, you be good or I'll tell!" when the men took
their hands in the circle.

Babbitt tingled with a slight return of interest in life as Louetta Swanson's
hand closed on his with quiet firmness.

All of them hunched over, intent. They startled as some one drew a strained
breath. In the dusty light from the hall they looked unreal, they felt
disembodied. Mrs. Gunch squeaked, and they jumped with unnatural jocularity,
but at Frink's hiss they sank into subdued awe. Suddenly, incredibly, they
heard a knocking. They stared at Frink's half-revealed hands and found them
lying still. They wriggled, and pretended not to be impressed.

Frink spoke with gravity: "Is some one there?" A thud. "Is one knock to be
the sign for 'yes'?" A thud. "And two for 'no'?" A thud.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, shall we ask the guide to put us into
communication with the spirit of some great one passed over?" Frink mumbled.

Mrs Orville Jones begged, "Oh, let's talk to Dante! We studied him at the
Reading Circle. You know who he was, Orvy."

"Certainly I know who he was! The Wop poet. Where do you think I was
raised?" from her insulted husband.

"Sure--the fellow that took the Cook's Tour to Hell. I've never waded through
his po'try, but we learned about him in the U.," said Babbitt.

"Page Mr. Dannnnnty!" intoned Eddie Swanson.

"You ought to get him easy, Mr. Frink, you and he being fellow-poets," said
Louetta Swanson.

"Fellow-poets, rats! Where d' you get that stuff?" protested Vergil Gunch.
"I suppose Dante showed a lot of speed for an old-timer--not that I've
actually read him, of course--but to come right down to hard facts, he
wouldn't stand one-two-three if he had to buckle down to practical literature
and turn out a poem for the newspaper-syndicate every day, like Chum does!"

"That's so," from Eddie Swanson. "Those old birds could take their time.
Judas Priest, I could write poetry myself if I had a whole year for it, and
just wrote about that old-fashioned junk like Dante wrote about."

Frink demanded, "Hush, now! I'll call him. . . O, Laughing Eyes, emerge forth
into the, uh, the ultimates and bring hither the spirit of Dante, that we
mortals may list to his words of wisdom."

"You forgot to give um the address: 1658 Brimstone Avenue, Fiery Heights,
Hell," Gunch chuckled, but the others felt that this was irreligious. And
besides--"probably it was just Chum making the knocks, but still, if there did
happen to be something to all this, be exciting to talk to an old fellow
belonging to--way back in early times--"

A thud. The spirit of Dante had come to the parlor of George F. Babbitt.

He was, it seemed, quite ready to answer their questions. He was "glad to be
with them, this evening."

Frink spelled out the messages by running through the alphabet till the spirit
interpreter knocked at the right letter.

Littlefield asked, in a learned tone, "Do you like it in the Paradiso,

"We are very happy on the higher plane, Signor. We are glad that you are
studying this great truth of spiritualism," Dante replied.

The circle moved with an awed creaking of stays and shirt-fronts.
"Suppose--suppose there were something to this?"

Babbitt had a different worry. "Suppose Chum Frink was really one of these
spiritualists! Chum had, for a literary fellow, always seemed to be a Regular
Guy; he belonged to the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church and went to the
Boosters' lunches and liked cigars and motors and racy stories. But suppose
that secretly--After all, you never could tell about these darn highbrows; and
to be an out-and-out spiritualist would be almost like being a socialist!"

No one could long be serious in the presence of Vergil Gunch. "Ask Dant' how
Jack Shakespeare and old Verg'--the guy they named after me--are gettin'
along, and don't they wish they could get into the movie game!" he blared, and
instantly all was mirth. Mrs. Jones shrieked, and Eddie Swanson desired to
know whether Dante didn't catch cold with nothing on but his wreath.

The pleased Dante made humble answer.

But Babbitt--the curst discontent was torturing him again, and heavily, in the
impersonal darkness, he pondered, "I don't--We're all so flip and think we're
so smart. There'd be--A fellow like Dante--I wish I'd read some of his
pieces. I don't suppose I ever will, now."

He had, without explanation, the impression of a slaggy cliff and on it, in
silhouette against menacing clouds, a lone and austere figure. He was dismayed
by a sudden contempt for his surest friends. He grasped Louetta Swanson's
hand, and found the comfort of human warmth. Habit came, a veteran warrior;
and he shook himself. "What the deuce is the matter with me, this evening?"

He patted Louetta's hand, to indicate that he hadn't meant anything improper
by squeezing it, and demanded of Frink, "Say, see if you can get old Dant' to
spiel us some of his poetry. Talk up to him. Tell him, 'Buena giorna, senor,
com sa va, wie geht's? Keskersaykersa a little pome, senor?'"


The lights were switched on; the women sat on the fronts of their chairs in
that determined suspense whereby a wife indicates that as soon as the present
speaker has finished, she is going to remark brightly to her husband, "Well,
dear, I think per-HAPS it's about time for us to be saying good-night." For
once Babbitt did not break out in blustering efforts to keep the party going.
He had--there was something he wished to think out--But the psychical research
had started them off again. ("Why didn't they go home! Why didn't they go
home!") Though he was impressed by the profundity of the statement, he was
only half-enthusiastic when Howard Littlefield lectured, "The United States is
the only nation in which the government is a Moral Ideal and not just a social
arrangement." ("True--true--weren't they EVER going home?") He was usually
delighted to have an "inside view" of the momentous world of motors but
to-night he scarcely listened to Eddie Swanson's revelation: "If you want to
go above the Javelin class, the Zeeco is a mighty good buy. Couple weeks ago,
and mind you, this was a fair, square test, they took a Zeeco stock
touring-car and they slid up the Tonawanda hill on high, and fellow told me--"
("Zeeco good boat but--Were they planning to stay all night?")

They really were going, with a flutter of "We did have the best time!"

Most aggressively friendly of all was Babbitt, yet as he burbled he was
reflecting, "I got through it, but for a while there I didn't hardly think I'd
last out." He prepared to taste that most delicate pleasure of the host:
making fun of his guests in the relaxation of midnight. As the door closed he
yawned voluptuously, chest out, shoulders wriggling, and turned cynically to
his wife.

She was beaming. "Oh, it was nice, wasn't it! I know they enjoyed every
minute of it. Don't you think so?"

He couldn't do it. He couldn't mock. It would have been like sneering at a
happy child. He lied ponderously: "You bet! Best party this year, by a long

"Wasn't the dinner good! And honestly I thought the fried chicken was

"You bet! Fried to the Queen's taste. Best fried chicken I've tasted for a
coon's age."

"Didn't Matilda fry it beautifully! And don't you think the soup was simply

"It certainly was! It was corking! Best soup I've tasted since Heck was a
pup!" But his voice was seeping away. They stood in the hall, under the
electric light in its square box-like shade of red glass bound with nickel.
She stared at him.

"Why, George, you don't sound--you sound as if you hadn't really enjoyed it."

"Sure I did! Course I did!"

"George! What is it?"

"Oh, I'm kind of tired, I guess. Been pounding pretty hard at the office.
Need to get away and rest up a little."

"Well, we're going to Maine in just a few weeks now, dear." "Yuh--" Then he
was pouring it out nakedly, robbed of reticence. "Myra: I think it'd be a
good thing for me to get up there early."

"But you have this man you have to meet in New York about business."

"What man? Oh, sure. Him. Oh, that's all off. But I want to hit Maine
early--get in a little fishing, catch me a big trout, by golly!" A nervous,
artificial laugh.

"Well, why don't we do it? Verona and Matilda can run the house between them,
and you and I can go any time, if you think we can afford it."

"But that's--I've been feeling so jumpy lately, I thought maybe it might be a
good thing if I kind of got off by myself and sweat it out of me."

"George! Don't you WANT me to go along?" She was too wretchedly in earnest
to be tragic, or gloriously insulted, or anything save dumpy and defenseless
and flushed to the red steaminess of a boiled beet.

"Of course I do! I just meant--" Remembering that Paul Riesling had predicted
this, he was as desperate as she. "I mean, sometimes it's a good thing for an
old grouch like me to go off and get it out of his system." He tried to sound
paternal. "Then when you and the kids arrive--I figured maybe I might skip up
to Maine just a few days ahead of you--I'd be ready for a real bat, see how I
mean?" He coaxed her with large booming sounds, with affable smiles, like a
popular preacher blessing an Easter congregation, like a humorous lecturer
completing his stint of eloquence, like all perpetrators of masculine wiles.

She stared at him, the joy of festival drained from her face. "Do I bother you
when we go on vacations? Don't I add anything to your fun?"

He broke. Suddenly, dreadfully, he was hysterical, he was a yelping baby.
"Yes, yes, yes! Hell, yes! But can't you understand I'm shot to pieces? I'm
all in! I got to take care of myself! I tell you, I got to--I'm sick of
everything and everybody! I got to--"

It was she who was mature and protective now. "Why, of course! You shall run
off by yourself! Why don't you get Paul to go along, and you boys just fish
and have a good time?" She patted his shoulder--reaching up to it--while he
shook with palsied helplessness, and in that moment was not merely by habit
fond of her but clung to her strength.

She cried cheerily, "Now up-stairs you go, and pop into bed. We'll fix it all
up. I'll see to the doors. Now skip!"

For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake,
shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom,
and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as


No apartment-house in Zenith had more resolutely experimented in condensation
than the Revelstoke Arms, in which Paul and Zilla Riesling had a flat. By
sliding the beds into low closets the bedrooms were converted into
living-rooms. The kitchens were cupboards each containing an electric range, a
copper sink, a glass refrigerator, and, very intermittently, a Balkan maid.
Everything about the Arms was excessively modern, and everything was
compressed--except the garages.

The Babbitts were calling on the Rieslings at the Arms. It was a speculative
venture to call on the Rieslings; interesting and sometimes disconcerting.
Zilla was an active, strident, full-blown, high-bosomed blonde. When she
condescended to be good-humored she was nervously amusing. Her comments on
people were saltily satiric and penetrative of accepted hypocrisies. "That's
so!" you said, and looked sheepish. She danced wildly, and called on the world
to be merry, but in the midst of it she would turn indignant. She was always
becoming indignant. Life was a plot against her and she exposed it furiously.

She was affable to-night. She merely hinted that Orville Jones wore a toupe,
that Mrs. T. Cholmondeley Frink's singing resembled a Ford going into high,
and that the Hon. Otis Deeble, mayor of Zenith and candidate for Congress, was
a flatulent fool (which was quite true). The Babbitts and Rieslings sat
doubtfully on stone-hard brocade chairs in the small living-room of the flat,
with its mantel unprovided with a fireplace, and its strip of heavy gilt
fabric upon a glaring new player-piano, till Mrs. Riesling shrieked, "Come on!
Let's put some pep in it! Get out your fiddle, Paul, and I'll try to make
Georgie dance decently."

The Babbitts were in earnest. They were plotting for the escape to Maine.
But when Mrs. Babbitt hinted with plump smilingness, "Does Paul get as tired
after the winter's work as Georgie does?" then Zilla remembered an injury; and
when Zilla Riesling remembered an injury the world stopped till something had
been done about it.

"Does he get tired? No, he doesn't get tired, he just goes crazy, that's all!
You think Paul is so reasonable, oh, yes, and he loves to make out he's a
little lamb, but he's stubborn as a mule. Oh, if you had to live with him--!
You'd find out how sweet he is! He just pretends to be meek so he can have his
own way. And me, I get the credit for being a terrible old crank, but if I
didn't blow up once in a while and get something started, we'd die of dry-rot.
He never wants to go any place and--Why, last evening, just because the car
was out of order--and that was his fault, too, because he ought to have taken
it to the service-station and had the battery looked at--and he didn't want to
go down to the movies on the trolley. But we went, and then there was one of
those impudent conductors, and Paul wouldn't do a thing.

"I was standing on the platform waiting for the people to let me into the car,
and this beast, this conductor, hollered at me, 'Come on, you, move up!' Why,
I've never had anybody speak to me that way in all my life! I was so
astonished I just turned to him and said--I thought there must be some
mistake, and so I said to him, perfectly pleasant, 'Were you speaking to me?'
and he went on and bellowed at me, 'Yes, I was! You're keeping the whole car
from starting!' he said, and then I saw he was one of these dirty ill-bred
hogs that kindness is wasted on, and so I stopped and looked right at him, and
I said, 'I--beg--your--pardon, I am not doing anything of the kind,' I said,
'it's the people ahead of me, who won't move up,' I said, 'and furthermore,
let me tell you, young man, that you're a low-down, foul-mouthed, impertinent
skunk,' I said, 'and you're no gentleman! I certainly intend to report you,
and we'll see,' I said, 'whether a lady is to be insulted by any drunken bum
that chooses to put on a ragged uniform, and I'd thank you,' I said, 'to keep
your filthy abuse to yourself.' And then I waited for Paul to show he was
half a man and come to my defense, and he just stood there and pretended he
hadn't heard a word, and so I said to him, 'Well,' I said--"

"Oh, cut it, cut it, Zill!" Paul groaned. "We all know I'm a mollycoddle,
and you're a tender bud, and let's let it go at that."

"Let it go?" Zilla's face was wrinkled like the Medusa, her voice was a
dagger of corroded brass. She was full of the joy of righteousness and bad
temper. She was a crusader and, like every crusader, she exulted in the
opportunity to be vicious in the name of virtue. "Let it go? If people knew
how many things I've let go--"

"Oh, quit being such a bully."

"Yes, a fine figure you'd cut if I didn't bully you! You'd lie abed till noon
and play your idiotic fiddle till midnight! You're born lazy, and you're born
shiftless, and you're born cowardly, Paul Riesling--"

"Oh, now, don't say that, Zilla; you don't mean a word of it!" protested Mrs.

"I will say that, and I mean every single last word of it!"

"Oh, now, Zilla, the idea!" Mrs. Babbitt was maternal and fussy. She was no
older than Zilla, but she seemed so--at first. She was placid and puffy and
mature, where Zilla, at forty-five, was so bleached and tight-corseted that
you knew only that she was older than she looked. "The idea of talking to poor
Paul like that!"

"Poor Paul is right! We'd both be poor, we'd be in the poorhouse, if I didn't
jazz him up!"

"Why, now, Zilla, Georgie and I were just saying how hard Paul's been working
all year, and we were thinking it would be lovely if the Boys could run off by
themselves. I've been coaxing George to go up to Maine ahead of the rest of
us, and get the tired out of his system before we come, and I think it would
be lovely if Paul could manage to get away and join him."

At this exposure of his plot to escape, Paul was startled out of impassivity.
He rubbed his fingers. His hands twitched.

Zilla bayed, "Yes! You're lucky! You can let George go, and not have to
watch him. Fat old Georgie! Never peeps at another woman! Hasn't got the

"The hell I haven't!" Babbitt was fervently defending his priceless immorality
when Paul interrupted him--and Paul looked dangerous. He rose quickly; he said
gently to Zilla:

"I suppose you imply I have a lot of sweethearts."

"Yes, I do!"

"Well, then, my dear, since you ask for it--There hasn't been a time in the
last ten years when I haven't found some nice little girl to comfort me, and
as long as you continue your amiability I shall probably continue to deceive
you. It isn't hard. You're so stupid."

Zilla gibbered; she howled; words could not be distinguished in her slaver of

Then the bland George F. Babbitt was transformed. If Paul was dangerous, if
Zilla was a snake-locked fury, if the neat emotions suitable to the Revelstoke
Arms had been slashed into raw hatreds, it was Babbitt who was the most
formidable. He leaped up. He seemed very large. He seized Zilla's shoulder.
The cautions of the broker were wiped from his face, and his voice was cruel:

"I've had enough of all this damn nonsense! I've known you for twenty-five
years, Zil, and I never knew you to miss a chance to take your disappointments
out on Paul. You're not wicked. You're worse. You're a fool. And let me
tell you that Paul is the finest boy God ever made. Every decent person is
sick and tired of your taking advantage of being a woman and springing every
mean innuendo you can think of. Who the hell are you that a person like Paul
should have to ask your PERMISSION to go with me? You act like you were a
combination of Queen Victoria and Cleopatra. You fool, can't you see how
people snicker at you, and sneer at you?"

Zilla was sobbing, "I've never--I've never--nobody ever talked to me like this
in all my life!"

"No, but that's the way they talk behind your back! Always! They say you're
a scolding old woman. Old, by God!"

That cowardly attack broke her. Her eyes were blank. She wept. But Babbitt
glared stolidly. He felt that he was the all-powerful official in charge;
that Paul and Mrs. Babbitt looked on him with awe; that he alone could handle
this case.

Zilla writhed. She begged, "Oh, they don't!"

"They certainly do!"

"I've been a bad woman! I'm terribly sorry! I'll kill myself! I'll do
anything. Oh, I'll--What do you want?"

She abased herself completely. Also, she enjoyed it. To the connoisseur of
scenes, nothing is more enjoyable than a thorough, melodramatic, egoistic

"I want you to let Paul beat it off to Maine with me," Babbitt demanded.

"How can I help his going? You've just said I was an idiot and nobody paid
any attention to me."

"Oh, you can help it, all right, all right! What you got to do is to cut out
hinting that the minute he gets out of your sight, he'll go chasing after some
petticoat. Matter fact, that's the way you start the boy off wrong. You ought
to have more sense--"

"Oh, I will, honestly, I will, George. I know I was bad. Oh, forgive me, all
of you, forgive me--"

She enjoyed it.

So did Babbitt. He condemned magnificently and forgave piously, and as he
went parading out with his wife he was grandly explanatory to her:

"Kind of a shame to bully Zilla, but course it was the only way to handle her.
Gosh, I certainly did have her crawling!"

She said calmly, "Yes. You were horrid. You were showing off. You were
having a lovely time thinking what a great fine person you were!"

"Well, by golly! Can you beat it! Of course I might of expected you to not
stand by me! I might of expected you'd stick up for your own sex!"

"Yes. Poor Zilla, she's so unhappy. She takes it out on Paul. She hasn't a
single thing to do, in that little flat. And she broods too much. And she
used to be so pretty and gay, and she resents losing it. And you were just as
nasty and mean as you could be. I'm not a bit proud of you--or of Paul,
boasting about his horrid love-affairs!"

He was sulkily silent; he maintained his bad temper at a high level of
outraged nobility all the four blocks home. At the door he left her, in
self-approving haughtiness, and tramped the lawn.

With a shock it was revealed to him: "Gosh, I wonder if she was right--if she
was partly right?" Overwork must have flayed him to abnormal sensitiveness;
it was one of the few times in his life when he had queried his eternal
excellence; and he perceived the summer night, smelled the wet grass. Then:
"I don't care! I've pulled it off. We're going to have our spree. And for
Paul, I'd do anything."


They were buying their Maine tackle at Ijams Brothers', the Sporting Goods
Mart, with the help of Willis Ijams, fellow member of the Boosters' Club.
Babbitt was completely mad. He trumpeted and danced. He muttered to Paul,
"Say, this is pretty good, eh? To be buying the stuff, eh? And good old
Willis Ijams himself coming down on the floor to wait on us! Say, if those
fellows that are getting their kit for the North Lakes knew we were going
clear up to Maine, they'd have a fit, eh? . . . Well, come on, Brother
Ijams--Willis, I mean. Here's your chance! We're a couple of easy marks!
Whee! Let me at it! I'm going to buy out the store!"

He gloated on fly-rods and gorgeous rubber hip-boots, on tents with celluloid
windows and folding chairs and ice-boxes. He simple-heartedly wanted to buy
all of them. It was the Paul whom he was always vaguely protecting who kept
him from his drunken desires.

But even Paul lightened when Willis Ijams, a salesman with poetry and
diplomacy, discussed flies. "Now, of course, you boys know." he said, "the
great scrap is between dry flies and wet flies. Personally, I'm for dry flies.
More sporting."

"That's so. Lots more sporting," fulminated Babbitt, who knew very little
about flies either wet or dry.

"Now if you'll take my advice, Georgie, you'll stock up well on these pale
evening dims, and silver sedges, and red ants. Oh, boy, there's a fly, that
red ant!"

"You bet! That's what it is--a fly!" rejoiced Babbitt.

"Yes, sir, that red ant," said Ijams, "is a real honest-to-God FLY!"

"Oh, I guess ole Mr. Trout won't come a-hustling when I drop one of those red
ants on the water!" asserted Babbitt, and his thick wrists made a rapturous
motion of casting.

"Yes, and the landlocked salmon will take it, too," said Ijams, who had never
seen a landlocked salmon.

"Salmon! Trout! Say, Paul, can you see Uncle George with his khaki pants on
haulin' 'em in, some morning 'bout seven? Whee!"


They were on the New York express, incredibly bound for Maine, incredibly
without their families. They were free, in a man's world, in the
smoking-compartment of the Pullman.

Outside the car window was a glaze of darkness stippled with the gold of
infrequent mysterious lights. Babbitt was immensely conscious, in the sway
and authoritative clatter of the train, of going, of going on. Leaning toward
Paul he grunted, "Gosh, pretty nice to be hiking, eh?"

The small room, with its walls of ocher-colored steel, was filled mostly with
the sort of men he classified as the Best Fellows You'll Ever Meet--Real Good
Mixers. There were four of them on the long seat; a fat man with a shrewd fat
face, a knife-edged man in a green velour hat, a very young young man with an
imitation amber cigarette-holder, and Babbitt. Facing them, on two movable
leather chairs, were Paul and a lanky, old-fashioned man, very cunning, with
wrinkles bracketing his mouth. They all read newspapers or trade journals,
boot-and-shoe journals, crockery journals, and waited for the joys of
conversation. It was the very young man, now making his first journey by
Pullman, who began it.

"Say, gee, I had a wild old time in Zenith!" he gloried. "Say, if a fellow
knows the ropes there he can have as wild a time as he can in New York!"

"Yuh, I bet you simply raised the old Ned. I figured you were a bad man when
I saw you get on the train!" chuckled the fat one.

The others delightedly laid down their papers.

"Well, that's all right now! I guess I seen some things in the Arbor you
never seen!" complained the boy.

"Oh, I'll bet you did! I bet you lapped up the malted milk like a reg'lar
little devil!"

Then, the boy having served as introduction, they ignored him and charged into
real talk. Only Paul, sitting by himself, reading at a serial story in a
newspaper, failed to join them and all but Babbitt regarded him as a snob, an
eccentric, a person of no spirit.

Which of them said which has never been determined, and does not matter, since
they all had the same ideas and expressed them always with the same ponderous
and brassy assurance. If it was not Babbitt who was delivering any given
verdict, at least he was beaming on the chancellor who did deliver it.

"At that, though," announced the first "they're selling quite some booze in
Zenith. Guess they are everywhere. I don't know how you fellows feel about
prohibition, but the way it strikes me is that it's a mighty beneficial thing
for the poor zob that hasn't got any will-power but for fellows like us, it's
an infringement of personal liberty."

"That's a fact. Congress has got no right to interfere with a fellow's
personal liberty," contended the second.

A man came in from the car, but as all the seats were full he stood up while
he smoked his cigarette. He was an Outsider; he was not one of the Old
Families of the smoking-compartment. They looked upon him bleakly and, after
trying to appear at ease by examining his chin in the mirror, he gave it up
and went out in silence.

"Just been making a trip through the South. Business conditions not very good
down there," said one of the council.

"Is that a fact! Not very good, eh?"

"No, didn't strike me they were up to normal."

"Not up to normal, eh?"

"No, I wouldn't hardly say they were."

The whole council nodded sagely and decided, "Yump. not hardly up to snuff."

"Well, business conditions ain't what they ought to be out West, neither, not
by a long shot."

"That's a fact. And I guess the hotel business feels it. That's one good
thing, though: these hotels that've been charging five bucks a day--yes, and
maybe six--seven!--for a rotten room are going to be darn glad to get four,
and maybe give you a little service."

"That's a fact. Say, uh, speaknubout hotels, I hit the St. Francis at San
Francisco for the first time, the other day, and, say, it certainly is a
first-class place."

"You're right, brother! The St. Francis is a swell place--absolutely A1."

"That's a fact. I'm right with you. It's a first-class place."

"Yuh, but say, any of you fellows ever stay at the Rippleton, in Chicago? I
don't want to knock--I believe in boosting wherever you can--but say, of all
the rotten dumps that pass 'emselves off as first-class hotels, that's the
worst. I'm going to get those guys, one of these days, and I told 'em so. You
know how I am--well, maybe you don't know, but I'm accustomed to first-class
accommodations, and I'm perfectly willing to pay a reasonable price. I got
into Chicago late the other night, and the Rippleton's near the station--I'd
never been there before, but I says to the taxi-driver--I always believe in
taking a taxi when you get in late; may cost a little more money, but, gosh,
it's worth it when you got to be up early next morning and out selling a lot
of crabs--and I said to him, 'Oh, just drive me over to the Rippleton.'

"Well, we got there, and I breezed up to the desk and said to the clerk,
'Well, brother, got a nice room with bath for Cousin Bill?' Saaaay! You'd
'a' thought I'd sold him a second, or asked him to work on Yom Kippur! He
hands me the cold-boiled stare and yaps, 'I dunno, friend, I'll see,' and he
ducks behind the rigamajig they keep track of the rooms on. Well, I guess he
called up the Credit Association and the American Security League to see if I
was all right--he certainly took long enough--or maybe he just went to sleep;
but finally he comes out and looks at me like it hurts him, and croaks, 'I
think I can let you have a room with bath.' 'Well, that's awful nice of
you--sorry to trouble you--how much 'll it set me back?' I says, real sweet.
'It'll cost you seven bucks a day, friend,' he says.

"Well, it was late, and anyway, it went down on my expense-account--gosh, if
I'd been paying it instead of the firm, I'd 'a' tramped the streets all night
before I'd 'a' let any hick tavern stick me seven great big round dollars,
believe me! So I lets it go at that. Well, the clerk wakes a nice young bell
hop--fine lad--not a day over seventy-nine years old--fought at the Battle of
Gettysburg and doesn't know it's over yet--thought I was one of the
Confederates, I guess, from the way he looked at me--and Rip van Winkle took
me up to something--I found out afterwards they called it a room, but first I
thought there'd been some mistake--I thought they were putting me in the
Salvation Army collection-box! At seven per each and every diem! Gosh!"

"Yuh, I've heard the Rippleton was pretty cheesy. Now, when I go to Chicago I
always stay at the Blackstone or the La Salle--first-class places."

"Say, any of you fellows ever stay at the Birchdale at Terre Haute? How is

"Oh, the Birchdale is a first-class hotel."

(Twelve minutes of conference on the state of hotels in South Bend, Flint,
Dayton, Tulsa, Wichita, Fort Worth, Winona, Erie, Fargo, and Moose Jaw.)

"Speaknubout prices," the man in the velour hat observed, fingering the
elk-tooth on his heavy watch-chain, "I'd like to know where they get this
stuff about clothes coming down. Now, you take this suit I got on." He
pinched his trousers-leg. "Four years ago I paid forty-two fifty for it, and
it was real sure-'nough value. Well, here the other day I went into a store
back home and asked to see a suit, and the fellow yanks out some hand-me-downs
that, honest, I wouldn't put on a hired man. Just out of curiosity I asks him,
'What you charging for that junk?' 'Junk,' he says, 'what d' you mean junk?
That's a swell piece of goods, all wool--' Like hell! It was nice vegetable
wool, right off the Ole Plantation! 'It's all wool,' he says, 'and we get
sixty-seven ninety for it.' 'Oh, you do, do you!' I says. 'Not from me you
don't,' I says, and I walks right out on him. You bet! I says to the wife,
'Well,' I said, 'as long as your strength holds out and you can go on putting
a few more patches on papa's pants, we'll just pass up buying clothes."'

"That's right, brother. And just look at collars, frinstance--"

"Hey! Wait!" the fat man protested. "What's the matter with collars? I'm
selling collars! D' you realize the cost of labor on collars is still two
hundred and seven per cent. above--"

They voted that if their old friend the fat man sold collars, then the price
of collars was exactly what it should be; but all other clothing was
tragically too expensive. They admired and loved one another now. They went
profoundly into the science of business, and indicated that the purpose of
manufacturing a plow or a brick was so that it might be sold. To them, the
Romantic Hero was no longer the knight, the wandering poet, the cowpuncher,
the aviator, nor the brave young district attorney, but the great
sales-manager, who had an Analysis of Merchandizing Problems on his
glass-topped desk, whose title of nobility was "Go-getter," and who devoted
himself and all his young samurai to the cosmic purpose of Selling--not of
selling anything in particular, for or to anybody in particular, but pure

The shop-talk roused Paul Riesling. Though he was a player of violins and an
interestingly unhappy husband, he was also a very able salesman of
tar-roofing. He listened to the fat man's remarks on "the value of
house-organs and bulletins as a method of jazzing-up the Boys out on the
road;" and he himself offered one or two excellent thoughts on the use of
two-cent stamps on circulars. Then he committed an offense against the holy
law of the Clan of Good Fellows. He became highbrow.

They were entering a city. On the outskirts they passed a steel-mill which
flared in scarlet and orange flame that licked at the cadaverous stacks, at
the iron-sheathed walls and sullen converters.

"My Lord, look at that--beautiful!" said Paul.

"You bet it's beautiful, friend. That's the Shelling-Horton Steel Plant, and
they tell me old John Shelling made a good three million bones out of
munitions during the war!" the man with the velour hat said reverently.

"I didn't mean--I mean it's lovely the way the light pulls that picturesque
yard, all littered with junk, right out of the darkness," said Paul.

They stared at him, while Babbitt crowed, "Paul there has certainly got one
great little eye for picturesque places and quaint sights and all that stuff.
'D of been an author or something if he hadn't gone into the roofing line."

Paul looked annoyed. (Babbitt sometimes wondered if Paul appreciated his
loyal boosting.) The man in the velour hat grunted, "Well, personally, I think
Shelling-Horton keep their works awful dirty. Bum routing. But I don't
suppose there's any law against calling 'em 'picturesque' if it gets you that

Paul sulkily returned to his newspaper and the conversation logically moved on
to trains.

"What time do we get into Pittsburg?" asked Babbitt.

"Pittsburg? I think we get in at--no, that was last year's schedule--wait a
minute--let's see--got a time-table right here."

"I wonder if we're on time?"

"Yuh, sure, we must be just about on time."

"No, we aren't--we were seven minutes late, last station."

"Were we? Straight? Why, gosh, I thought we were right on time."

"No, we're about seven minutes late."

"Yuh, that's right; seven minutes late."

The porter entered--a negro in white jacket with brass buttons.

"How late are we, George?" growled the fat man.

"'Deed, I don't know, sir. I think we're about on time," said the porter,
folding towels and deftly tossing them up on the rack above the washbowls. The
council stared at him gloomily and when he was gone they wailed:

"I don't know what's come over these niggers, nowadays. They never give you a
civil answer."

"That's a fact. They're getting so they don't have a single bit of respect
for you. The old-fashioned coon was a fine old cuss--he knew his place--but
these young dinges don't want to be porters or cotton-pickers. Oh, no! They
got to be lawyers and professors and Lord knows what all! I tell you, it's
becoming a pretty serious problem. We ought to get together and show the
black man, yes, and the yellow man, his place. Now, I haven't got one
particle of race-prejudice. I'm the first to be glad when a nigger
succeeds--so long as he stays where he belongs and doesn't try to usurp the
rightful authority and business ability of the white man."

"That's the i.! And another thing we got to do," said the man with the velour
hat (whose name was Koplinsky), "is to keep these damn foreigners out of the
country. Thank the Lord, we're putting a limit on immigration. These Dagoes
and Hunkies have got to learn that this is a white man's country, and they
ain't wanted here. When we've assimilated the foreigners we got here now and
learned 'em the principles of Americanism and turned 'em into regular folks,
why then maybe we'll let in a few more."

"You bet. That's a fact," they observed, and passed on to lighter topics.
They rapidly reviewed motor-car prices, tire-mileage, oil-stocks, fishing, and
the prospects for the wheat-crop in Dakota.

But the fat man was impatient at this waste of time. He was a veteran traveler
and free of illusions. Already he had asserted that he was "an old he-one."
He leaned forward, gathered in their attention by his expression of sly humor,
and grumbled, "Oh, hell, boys, let's cut out the formality and get down to the

They became very lively and intimate.

Paul and the boy vanished. The others slid forward on the long seat,
unbuttoned their vests, thrust their feet up on the chairs, pulled the stately
brass cuspidors nearer, and ran the green window-shade down on its little
trolley, to shut them in from the uncomfortable strangeness of night. After
each bark of laughter they cried, "Say, jever hear the one about--" Babbitt
was expansive and virile. When the train stopped at an important station, the
four men walked up and down the cement platform, under the vast smoky
train-shed roof, like a stormy sky, under the elevated footways, beside crates
of ducks and sides of beef, in the mystery of an unknown city. They strolled
abreast, old friends and well content. At the long-drawn "Alllll
aboarrrrrd"--like a mountain call at dusk--they hastened back into the
smoking-compartment, and till two of the morning continued the droll tales,
their eyes damp with cigar-smoke and laughter. When they parted they shook
hands, and chuckled, "Well, sir, it's been a great session. Sorry to bust it
up. Mighty glad to met you."

Babbitt lay awake in the close hot tomb of his Pullman berth, shaking with
remembrance of the fat man's limerick about the lady who wished to be wild. He
raised the shade; he lay with a puffy arm tucked between his head and the
skimpy pillow, looking out on the sliding silhouettes of trees, and village
lamps like exclamation-points. He was very happy.



THEY had four hours in New York between trains. The one thing Babbitt wished
to see was the Pennsylvania Hotel, which had been built since his last visit.
He stared up at it, muttering, "Twenty-two hundred rooms and twenty-two
hundred baths! That's got everything in the world beat. Lord, their turnover
must be--well, suppose price of rooms is four to eight dollars a day, and I
suppose maybe some ten and--four times twenty-two hundred-say six times
twenty-two hundred--well, anyway, with restaurants and everything, say summers
between eight and fifteen thousand a day. Every day! I never thought I'd see
a thing like that! Some town! Of course the average fellow in Zenith has got
more Individual Initiative than the fourflushers here, but I got to hand it to
New York. Yes, sir, town, you're all right--some ways. Well, old Paulski, I
guess we've seen everything that's worth while. How'll we kill the rest of the
time? Movie?"

But Paul desired to see a liner. "Always wanted to go to Europe--and, by
thunder, I will, too, some day before I past out," he sighed.

From a rough wharf on the North River they stared at the stern of the
Aquitania and her stacks and wireless antenna lifted above the dock-house
which shut her in.

"By golly," Babbitt droned, "wouldn't be so bad to go over to the Old Country
and take a squint at all these ruins, and the place where Shakespeare was
born. And think of being able to order a drink whenever you wanted one! Just
range up to a bar and holler out loud, 'Gimme a cocktail, and darn the
police!' Not bad at all. What juh like to see, over there, Paulibus?"

Paul did not answer. Babbitt turned. Paul was standing with clenched fists,
head drooping, staring at the liner as in terror. His thin body, seen against
the summer-glaring planks of the wharf, was childishly meager.

Again, "What would you hit for on the other side, Paul?"

Scowling at the steamer, his breast heaving, Paul whispered, "Oh, my God!"
While Babbitt watched him anxiously he snapped, "Come on, let's get out of
this," and hastened down the wharf, not looking back.

"That's funny," considered Babbitt. "The boy didn't care for seeing the ocean
boats after all. I thought he'd be interested in 'em."


Though he exulted, and made sage speculations about locomotive horse-power, as
their train climbed the Maine mountain-ridge and from the summit he looked
down the shining way among the pines; though he remarked, "Well, by golly!"
when he discovered that the station at Katadumcook, the end of the line, was
an aged freight-car; Babbitt's moment of impassioned release came when they
sat on a tiny wharf on Lake Sunasquam, awaiting the launch from the hotel. A
raft had floated down the lake; between the logs and the shore, the water was
transparent, thin-looking, flashing with minnows. A guide in black felt hat
with trout-flies in the band, and flannel shirt of a peculiarly daring blue,
sat on a log and whittled and was silent. A dog, a good country dog, black and
woolly gray, a dog rich in leisure and in meditation, scratched and grunted
and slept. The thick sunlight was lavish on the bright water, on the rim of
gold-green balsam boughs, the silver birches and tropic ferns, and across the
lake it burned on the sturdy shoulders of the mountains. Over everything was a
holy peace.

Silent, they loafed on the edge of the wharf, swinging their legs above the
water. The immense tenderness of the place sank into Babbitt, and he
murmured, "I'd just like to sit here--the rest of my life--and whittle--and
sit. And never hear a typewriter. Or Stan Graff fussing in the 'phone. Or
Rone and Ted scrapping. Just sit. Gosh!"

He patted Paul's shoulder. "How does it strike you, old snoozer?"

"Oh, it's darn good, Georgie. There's something sort of eternal about it."

For once, Babbitt understood him.


Their launch rounded the bend; at the head of the lake, under a mountain
slope, they saw the little central dining-shack of their hotel and the
crescent of squat log cottages which served as bedrooms. They landed, and
endured the critical examination of the habitues who had been at the hotel for
a whole week. In their cottage, with its high stone fireplace, they hastened,
as Babbitt expressed it, to "get into some regular he-togs." They came out;
Paul in an old gray suit and soft white shirt; Babbitt in khaki shirt and vast
and flapping khaki trousers. It was excessively new khaki; his rimless
spectacles belonged to a city office; and his face was not tanned but a city
pink. He made a discordant noise in the place. But with infinite satisfaction
he slapped his legs and crowed, "Say, this is getting back home, eh?"

They stood on the wharf before the hotel. He winked at Paul and drew from his
back pocket a plug of chewing-tobacco, a vulgarism forbidden in the Babbitt
home. He took a chew, beaming and wagging his head as he tugged at it. "Um!
Um! Maybe I haven't been hungry for a wad of eating-tobacco! Have some?"

They looked at each other in a grin of understanding. Paul took the plug,
gnawed at it. They stood quiet, their jaws working. They solemnly spat, one
after the other, into the placid water. They stretched voluptuously, with
lifted arms and arched backs. From beyond the mountains came the shuffling
sound of a far-off train. A trout leaped, and fell back in a silver circle.
They sighed together.


They had a week before their families came. Each evening they planned to get
up early and fish before breakfast. Each morning they lay abed till the
breakfast-bell, pleasantly conscious that there were no efficient wives to
rouse them. The mornings were cold; the fire was kindly as they dressed.

Paul was distressingly clean, but Babbitt reveled in a good sound dirtiness,
in not having to shave till his spirit was moved to it. He treasured every
grease spot and fish-scale on his new khaki trousers.

All morning they fished unenergetically, or tramped the dim and
aqueous-lighted trails among rank ferns and moss sprinkled with crimson bells.
They slept all afternoon, and till midnight played stud-poker with the guides.
Poker was a serious business to the guides. They did not gossip; they
shuffled the thick greasy cards with a deft ferocity menacing to the "sports;"
and Joe Paradise, king of guides, was sarcastic to loiterers who halted the
game even to scratch.

At midnight, as Paul and he blundered to their cottage over the pungent wet
grass, and pine-roots confusing in the darkness, Babbitt rejoiced that he did
not have to explain to his wife where he had been all evening.

They did not talk much. The nervous loquacity and opinionation of the Zenith
Athletic Club dropped from them. But when they did talk they slipped into the
naive intimacy of college days. Once they drew their canoe up to the bank of
Sunasquam Water, a stream walled in by the dense green of the hardhack. The
sun roared on the green jungle but in the shade was sleepy peace, and the
water was golden and rippling. Babbitt drew his hand through the cool flood,
and mused:

"We never thought we'd come to Maine together!"

"No. We've never done anything the way we thought we would. I expected to live
in Germany with my granddad's people, and study the fiddle."

"That's so. And remember how I wanted to be a lawyer and go into politics? I
still think I might have made a go of it. I've kind of got the gift of the
gab--anyway, I can think on my feet, and make some kind of a spiel on most
anything, and of course that's the thing you need in politics. By golly, Ted's
going to law-school, even if I didn't! Well--I guess it's worked out all
right. Myra's been a fine wife. And Zilla means well, Paulibus."

"Yes. Up here, I figure out all sorts of plans to keep her amused. I kind of
feel life is going to be different, now that we're getting a good rest and can
go back and start over again."

"I hope so, old boy." Shyly: "Say, gosh, it's been awful nice to sit around
and loaf and gamble and act regular, with you along, you old horse-thief!"

"Well, you know what it means to me, Georgie. Saved my life."

The shame of emotion overpowered them; they cursed a little, to prove they
were good rough fellows; and in a mellow silence, Babbitt whistling while Paul
hummed, they paddled back to the hotel.


Though it was Paul who had seemed overwrought, Babbitt who had been the
protecting big brother, Paul became clear-eyed and merry, while Babbitt sank
into irritability. He uncovered layer on layer of hidden weariness. At first
he had played nimble jester to Paul and for him sought amusements; by the end
of the week Paul was nurse, and Babbitt accepted favors with the condescension
one always shows a patient nurse.

The day before their families arrived, the women guests at the hotel bubbled,
"Oh, isn't it nice! You must be so excited;" and the proprieties compelled
Babbitt and Paul to look excited. But they went to bed early and grumpy.

When Myra appeared she said at once, "Now, we want you boys to go on playing
around just as if we weren't here."

The first evening, he stayed out for poker with the guides, and she said in
placid merriment, "My! You're a regular bad one!" The second evening, she
groaned sleepily, "Good heavens, are you going to be out every single night?"
The third evening, he didn't play poker.

He was tired now in every cell. "Funny! Vacation doesn't seem to have done
me a bit of good," he lamented. "Paul's frisky as a colt, but I swear, I'm
crankier and nervouser than when I came up here."

He had three weeks of Maine. At the end of the second week he began to feel
calm, and interested in life. He planned an expedition to climb Sachem
Mountain, and wanted to camp overnight at Box Car Pond. He was curiously
weak, yet cheerful, as though he had cleansed his veins of poisonous energy
and was filling them with wholesome blood.

He ceased to be irritated by Ted's infatuation with a waitress (his seventh
tragic affair this year); he played catch with Ted, and with pride taught him
to cast a fly in the pine-shadowed silence of Skowtuit Pond.

At the end he sighed, "Hang it, I'm just beginning to enjoy my vacation. But,
well, I feel a lot better. And it's going to be one great year! Maybe the
Real Estate Board will elect me president, instead of some fuzzy old-fashioned
faker like Chan Mott."

On the way home, whenever he went into the smoking-compartment he felt guilty
at deserting his wife and angry at being expected to feel guilty, but each
time he triumphed, "Oh, this is going to be a great year, a great old year!"



ALL the way home from Maine, Babbitt was certain that he was a changed man. He
was converted to serenity. He was going to cease worrying about business. He
was going to have more "interests"--theaters, public affairs, reading. And
suddenly, as he finished an especially heavy cigar, he was going to stop

He invented a new and perfect method. He would buy no tobacco; he would
depend on borrowing it; and, of course, he would be ashamed to borrow often.
In a spasm of righteousness he flung his cigar-case out of the
smoking-compartment window. He went back and was kind to his wife about
nothing in particular; he admired his own purity, and decided, "Absolutely
simple. Just a matter of will-power." He started a magazine serial about a
scientific detective. Ten miles on, he was conscious that he desired to smoke.
He ducked his head, like a turtle going into its shell; he appeared uneasy; he
skipped two pages in his story and didn't know it. Five miles later, he
leaped up and sought the porter. "Say, uh, George, have you got a--" The
porter looked patient. "Have you got a time-table?" Babbitt finished. At the
next stop he went out and bought a cigar. Since it was to be his last before
he reached Zenith, he finished it down to an inch stub.

Four days later he again remembered that he had stopped smoking, but he was
too busy catching up with his office-work to keep it remembered.


Baseball, he determined, would be an excellent hobby. "No sense a man's
working his fool head off. I'm going out to the Game three times a week.
Besides, fellow ought to support the home team."

He did go and support the team, and enhance the glory of Zenith, by yelling
"Attaboy!" and "Rotten!" He performed the rite scrupulously. He wore a cotton
handkerchief about his collar; he became sweaty; he opened his mouth in a wide
loose grin; and drank lemon soda out of a bottle. He went to the Game three
times a week, for one week. Then he compromised on watching the Advocate-Times
bulletin-board. He stood in the thickest and steamiest of the crowd, and as
the boy up on the lofty platform recorded the achievements of Big Bill
Bostwick, the pitcher, Babbitt remarked to complete strangers, "Pretty nice!
Good work!" and hastened back to the office.

He honestly believed that he loved baseball. It is true that he hadn't, in
twenty-five years, himself played any baseball except back-lot catch with
Ted--very gentle, and strictly limited to ten minutes. But the game was a
custom of his clan, and it gave outlet for the homicidal and sides-taking
instincts which Babbitt called "patriotism" and "love of sport."

As he approached the office he walked faster and faster, muttering, "Guess
better hustle." All about him the city was hustling, for hustling's sake. Men
in motors were hustling to pass one another in the hustling traffic. Men were
hustling to catch trolleys, with another trolley a minute behind, and to leap
from the trolleys, to gallop across the sidewalk, to hurl themselves into
buildings, into hustling express elevators. Men in dairy lunches were
hustling to gulp down the food which cooks had hustled to fry. Men in barber
shops were snapping, "Jus' shave me once over. Gotta hustle." Men were
feverishly getting rid of visitors in offices adorned with the signs, "This Is
My Busy Day" and "The Lord Created the World in Six Days--You Can Spiel All
You Got to Say in Six Minutes." Men who had made five thousand, year before
last, and ten thousand last year, were urging on nerve-yelping bodies and
parched brains so that they might make twenty thousand this year; and the men
who had broken down immediately after making their twenty thousand dollars
were hustling to catch trains, to hustle through the vacations which the
hustling doctors had ordered.

Among them Babbitt hustled back to his office, to sit down with nothing much
to do except see that the staff looked as though they were hustling.


Every Saturday afternoon he hustled out to his country club and hustled
through nine holes of golf as a rest after the week's hustle.

In Zenith it was as necessary for a Successful Man to belong to a country club
as it was to wear a linen collar. Babbitt's was the Outing Golf and Country
Club, a pleasant gray-shingled building with a broad porch, on a daisy-starred
cliff above Lake Kennepoose. There was another, the Tonawanda Country Club,
to which belonged Charles McKelvey, Horace Updike, and the other rich men who
lunched not at the Athletic but at the Union Club. Babbitt explained with
frequency, "You couldn't hire me to join the Tonawanda, even if I did have a
hundred and eighty bucks to throw away on the initiation fee. At the Outing
we've got a bunch of real human fellows, and the finest lot of little women in
town--just as good at joshing as the men--but at the Tonawanda there's nothing
but these would-be's in New York get-ups, drinking tea! Too much dog
altogether. Why, I wouldn't join the Tonawanda even if they--I wouldn't join
it on a bet!"

When he had played four or five holes, he relaxed a bit, his
tobacco-fluttering heart beat more normally, and his voice slowed to the
drawling of his hundred generations of peasant ancestors. IV

At least once a week Mr. and Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went to the movies. Their
favorite motion-picture theater was the Chateau, which held three thousand
spectators and had an orchestra of fifty pieces which played Arrangements from
the Operas and suites portraying a Day on the Farm, or a Four-alarm Fire. In
the stone rotunda, decorated with crown-embroidered velvet chairs and almost
medieval tapestries, parrakeets sat on gilded lotos columns.

With exclamations of "Well, by golly!" and "You got to go some to beat this
dump!" Babbitt admired the Chateau. As he stared across the thousands of
heads, a gray plain in the dimness, as he smelled good clothes and mild
perfume and chewing-gum, he felt as when he had first seen a mountain and
realized how very, very much earth and rock there was in it.

He liked three kinds of films: pretty bathing girls with bare legs; policemen
or cowboys and an industrious shooting of revolvers; and funny fat men who ate
spaghetti. He chuckled with immense, moist-eyed sentimentality at interludes
portraying puppies, kittens, and chubby babies; and he wept at deathbeds and
old mothers being patient in mortgaged cottages. Mrs. Babbitt preferred the
pictures in which handsome young women in elaborate frocks moved through sets
ticketed as the drawing-rooms of New York millionaires. As for Tinka, she
preferred, or was believed to prefer, whatever her parents told her to.

All his relaxations--baseball, golf, movies, bridge, motoring, long talks with
Paul at the Athletic Club, or at the Good Red Beef and Old English Chop
House--were necessary to Babbitt, for he was entering a year of such activity
as he had never known.



IT was by accident that Babbitt had his opportunity to address the S. A. R. E.

The S. A. R. E. B., as its members called it, with the universal passion for
mysterious and important-sounding initials, was the State Association of Real
Estate Boards; the organization of brokers and operators. It was to hold its
annual convention at Monarch, Zenith's chief rival among the cities of the
state. Babbitt was an official delegate; another was Cecil Rountree, whom
Babbitt admired for his picaresque speculative building, and hated for his
social position, for being present at the smartest dances on Royal Ridge.
Rountree was chairman of the convention program-committee.

Babbitt had growled to him, "Makes me tired the way these doctors and profs
and preachers put on lugs about being 'professional men.' A good realtor has
to have more knowledge and finesse than any of 'em."

"Right you are! I say: Why don't you put that into a paper, and give it at
the S. A. R. E. B.?" suggested Rountree.

"Well, if it would help you in making up the program--Tell you: the way I look
at it is this: First place, we ought to insist that folks call us 'realtors'
and not 'real-estate men.' Sounds more like a reg'lar profession. Second
place--What is it distinguishes a profession from a mere trade, business, or
occupation? What is it? Why, it's the public service and the skill, the
trained skill, and the knowledge and, uh, all that, whereas a fellow that
merely goes out for the jack, he never considers the-public service and
trained skill and so on. Now as a professional--"

"Rather! That's perfectly bully! Perfectly corking! Now you write it in a
paper," said Rountree, as he rapidly and firmly moved away.


However accustomed to the literary labors of advertisements and
correspondence, Babbitt was dismayed on the evening when he sat down to
prepare a paper which would take a whole ten minutes to read.

He laid out a new fifteen-cent school exercise-book on his wife's collapsible
sewing-table, set up for the event in the living-room. The household had been
bullied into silence; Verona and Ted requested to disappear, and Tinka
threatened with "If I hear one sound out of you--if you holler for a glass of
water one single solitary time--You better not, that's all!" Mrs. Babbitt sat
over by the piano, making a nightgown and gazing with respect while Babbitt
wrote in the exercise-book, to the rhythmical wiggling and squeaking of the

When he rose, damp and jumpy, and his throat dusty from cigarettes, she
marveled, "I don't see how you can just sit down and make up things right out
of your own head!"

"Oh, it's the training in constructive imagination that a fellow gets in
modern business life."

He had written seven pages, whereof the first page set forth:

{illustration omitted: consists of several doodles and
"(1) a profession
(2) Not just a trade
crossed out (3) Skill & vision
(3) Shd be called "realtor" & not just real est man"}

The other six pages were rather like the first.

For a week he went about looking important. Every morning, as he dressed, he
thought aloud: "Jever stop to consider, Myra, that before a town can have
buildings or prosperity or any of those things, some realtor has got to sell
'em the land? All civilization starts with him. Jever realize that?" At the
Athletic Club he led unwilling men aside to inquire, "Say, if you had to read
a paper before a big convention, would you start in with the funny stories or
just kind of scatter 'em all through?" He asked Howard Littlefield for a "set
of statistics about real-estate sales; something good and impressive," and
Littlefield provided something exceedingly good and impressive.

But it was to T. Cholmondeley Frink that Babbitt most often turned. He caught
Frink at the club every noon, and demanded, while Frink looked hunted and
evasive, "Say, Chum--you're a shark on this writing stuff--how would you put
this sentence, see here in my manuscript--manuscript now where the deuce is
that?--oh, yes, here. Would you say 'We ought not also to alone think?' or
'We ought also not to think alone?' or--"

One evening when his wife was away and he had no one to impress, Babbitt
forgot about Style, Order, and the other mysteries, and scrawled off what he
really thought about the real-estate business and about himself, and he found
the paper written. When he read it to his wife she yearned, "Why, dear, it's
splendid; beautifully written, and so clear and interesting, and such splendid
ideas! Why, it's just--it's just splendid!"

Next day he cornered Chum Frink and crowed, "Well, old son, I finished it last
evening! Just lammed it out! I used to think you writing-guys must have a
hard job making up pieces, but Lord, it's a cinch. Pretty soft for you
fellows; you certainly earn your money easy! Some day when I get ready to
retire, guess I'll take to writing and show you boys how to do it. I always
used to think I could write better stuff, and more punch and originality, than
all this stuff you see printed, and now I'm doggone sure of it!"

He had four copies of the paper typed in black with a gorgeous red title, had
them bound in pale blue manilla, and affably presented one to old Ira Runyon,
the managing editor of the Advocate-Times, who said yes, indeed yes, he was
very glad to have it, and he certainly would read it all through--as soon as
he could find time.

Mrs. Babbitt could not go to Monarch. She had a women's-club meeting. Babbitt
said that he was very sorry.


Besides the five official delegates to the convention--Babbitt, Rountree, W.
A. Rogers, Alvin Thayer, and Elbert Wing--there were fifty unofficial
delegates, most of them with their wives.

They met at the Union Station for the midnight train to Monarch. All of them,
save Cecil Rountree, who was such a snob that he never wore badges, displayed
celluloid buttons the size of dollars and lettered "We zoom for Zenith." The
official delegates were magnificent with silver and magenta ribbons. Martin
Lumsen's little boy Willy carried a tasseled banner inscribed "Zenith the Zip
City--Zeal, Zest and Zowie--1,000,000 in 1935." As the delegates arrived, not
in taxicabs but in the family automobile driven by the oldest son or by Cousin
Fred, they formed impromptu processions through the station waiting-room.

It was a new and enormous waiting-room, with marble pilasters, and frescoes
depicting the exploration of the Chaloosa River Valley by Pere Emile Fauthoux
in 1740. The benches were shelves of ponderous mahogany; the news-stand a
marble kiosk with a brass grill. Down the echoing spaces of the hall the
delegates paraded after Willy Lumsen's banner, the men waving their cigars,
the women conscious of their new frocks and strings of beads, all singing to
the tune of Auld Lang Syne the official City Song, written by Chum Frink:

Good old Zenith,
Our kin and kith,
Wherever we may be,
Hats in the ring,
We blithely sing
Of thy Prosperity.

Warren Whitby, the broker, who had a gift of verse for banquets and birthdays,
had added to Frink's City Song a special verse for the realtors' convention:

Oh, here we come,
The fellows from
Zenith, the Zip Citee.
We wish to state
In real estate
There's none so live as we.

Babbitt was stirred to hysteric patriotism. He leaped on a bench, shouting to
the crowd:

"What's the matter with Zenith?"

"She's all right!"

"What's best ole town in the U. S. A.?"


The patient poor people waiting for the midnight train stared in unenvious
wonder--Italian women with shawls, old weary men with broken shoes, roving
road-wise boys in suits which had been flashy when they were new but which
were faded now and wrinkled.

Babbitt perceived that as an official delegate he must be more dignified. With
Wing and Rogers he tramped up and down the cement platform beside the waiting
Pullmans. Motor-driven baggage-trucks and red-capped porters carrying bags
sped down the platform with an agreeable effect of activity. Arc-lights
glared and stammered overhead. The glossy yellow sleeping-cars shone
impressively. Babbitt made his voice to be measured and lordly; he thrust out
his abdomen and rumbled, "We got to see to it that the convention lets the
Legislature understand just where they get off in this matter of taxing realty
transfers." Wing uttered approving grunts and Babbitt swelled--gloated

The blind of a Pullman compartment was raised, and Babbitt looked into an
unfamiliar world. The occupant of the compartment was Lucile McKelvey, the
pretty wife of the millionaire contractor. Possibly, Babbitt thrilled, she
was going to Europe! On the seat beside her was a bunch of orchids and
violets, and a yellow paper-bound book which seemed foreign. While he stared,
she picked up the book, then glanced out of the window as though she was
bored. She must have looked straight at him, and he had met her, but she gave
no sign. She languidly pulled down the blind, and he stood still, a cold
feeling of insignificance in his heart.

But on the train his pride was restored by meeting delegates from Sparta,
Pioneer, and other smaller cities of the state, who listened respectfully
when, as a magnifico from the metropolis of Zenith, he explained politics and
the value of a Good Sound Business Administration. They fell joyfully into
shop-talk, the purest and most rapturous form of conversation:

"How'd this fellow Rountree make out with this big apartment-hotel he was
going to put up? Whadde do? Get out bonds to finance it?" asked a Sparta

"Well, I'll tell you," said Babbitt. "Now if I'd been handling it--"

"So," Elbert Wing was droning, "I hired this shop-window for a week, and put
up a big sign, 'Toy Town for Tiny Tots,' and stuck in a lot of doll houses and
some dinky little trees, and then down at the bottom, 'Baby Likes This
Dollydale, but Papa and Mama Will Prefer Our Beautiful Bungalows,' and you
know, that certainly got folks talking, and first week we sold--"

The trucks sang "lickety-lick, lickety-lick" as the train ran through the
factory district. Furnaces spurted flame, and power-hammers were clanging.
Red lights, green lights, furious white lights rushed past, and Babbitt was
important again, and eager.


He did a voluptuous thing: he had his clothes pressed on the train. In the
morning, half an hour before they reached Monarch, the porter came to his
berth and whispered, "There's a drawing-room vacant, sir. I put your suit in
there." In tan autumn overcoat over his pajamas, Babbitt slipped down the
green-curtain-lined aisle to the glory of his first private compartment. The
porter indicated that he knew Babbitt was used to a man-servant; he held the
ends of Babbitt's trousers, that the beautifully sponged garment might not be
soiled, filled the bowl in the private washroom, and waited with a towel.

To have a private washroom was luxurious. However enlivening a Pullman
smoking-compartment was by night, even to Babbitt it was depressing in the
morning, when it was jammed with fat men in woolen undershirts, every hook
filled with wrinkled cottony shirts, the leather seat piled with dingy
toilet-kits, and the air nauseating with the smell of soap and toothpaste.
Babbitt did not ordinarily think much of privacy, but now he reveled in it,
reveled in his valet, and purred with pleasure as he gave the man a tip of a
dollar and a half.

He rather hoped that he was being noticed as, in his newly pressed clothes,
with the adoring porter carrying his suit-case, he disembarked at Monarch.

He was to share a room at the Hotel Sedgwick with W. A. Rogers, that shrewd,
rustic-looking Zenith dealer in farm-lands. Together they had a noble
breakfast, with waffles, and coffee not in exiguous cups but in large pots.
Babbitt grew expansive, and told Rogers about the art of writing; he gave a
bellboy a quarter to fetch a morning newspaper from the lobby, and sent to
Tinka a post-card: "Papa wishes you were here to bat round with him."


The meetings of the convention were held in the ballroom of the Allen House.
In an anteroom was the office of the chairman of the executive committee. He
was the busiest man in the convention; he was so busy that he got nothing done
whatever. He sat at a marquetry table, in a room littered with crumpled paper
and, all day long, town-boosters and lobbyists and orators who wished to lead
debates came and whispered to him, whereupon he looked vague, and said
rapidly, "Yes, yes, that's a fine idea; we'll do that," and instantly forgot
all about it, lighted a cigar and forgot that too, while the telephone rang
mercilessly and about him men kept beseeching, "Say, Mr. Chairman--say, Mr.
Chairman!" without penetrating his exhausted hearing.

In the exhibit-room were plans of the new suburbs of Sparta, pictures of the
new state capitol, at Galop de Vache, and large ears of corn with the label,
"Nature's Gold, from Shelby County, the Garden Spot of God's Own Country."

The real convention consisted of men muttering in hotel bedrooms or in groups
amid the badge-spotted crowd in the hotel-lobby, but there was a show of
public meetings.

The first of them opened with a welcome by the mayor of Monarch. The pastor
of the First Christian Church of Monarch, a large man with a long damp frontal
lock, informed God that the real-estate men were here now.

The venerable Minnemagantic realtor, Major Carlton Tuke, read a paper in which
he denounced cooperative stores. William A. Larkin of Eureka gave a comforting
prognosis of "The Prospects for Increased Construction," and reminded them
that plate-glass prices were two points lower.

The convention was on.

The delegates were entertained, incessantly and firmly. The Monarch Chamber of
Commerce gave them a banquet, and the Manufacturers' Association an afternoon
reception, at which a chrysanthemum was presented to each of the ladies, and
to each of the men a leather bill-fold inscribed "From Monarch the Mighty
Motor Mart."

Mrs. Crosby Knowlton, wife of the manufacturer of Fleetwing Automobiles,
opened her celebrated Italian garden and served tea. Six hundred real-estate
men and wives ambled down the autumnal paths. Perhaps three hundred of them
were quietly inconspicuous; perhaps three hundred vigorously exclaimed, "This
is pretty slick, eh?" surreptitiously picked the late asters and concealed
them in their pockets, and tried to get near enough to Mrs. Knowlton to shake
her lovely hand. Without request, the Zenith delegates (except Rountree)
gathered round a marble dancing nymph and sang "Here we come, the fellows from
Zenith, the Zip Citee."

It chanced that all the delegates from Pioneer belonged to the Brotherly and
Protective Order of Elks, and they produced an enormous banner lettered: "B.
P. O. E.--Best People on Earth--Boost Pioneer, Oh Eddie." Nor was Galop de
Vache, the state capital, to be slighted. The leader of the Galop de Vache
delegation was a large, reddish, roundish man, but active. He took off his
coat, hurled his broad black felt hat on the ground, rolled up his sleeves,
climbed upon the sundial, spat, and bellowed:

"We'll tell the world, and the good lady who's giving the show this afternoon,
that the bonniest burg in this man's state is Galop de Vache. You boys can
talk about your zip, but jus' lemme murmur that old Galop has the largest
proportion of home-owning citizens in the state; and when folks own their
homes, they ain't starting labor-troubles, and they're raising kids instead of
raising hell! Galop de Vache! The town for homey folks! The town that eats
'em alive oh, Bosco! We'll--tell--the--world!"

The guests drove off; the garden shivered into quiet. But Mrs. Crosby Knowlton
sighed as she looked at a marble seat warm from five hundred summers of
Amalfi. On the face of a winged sphinx which supported it some one had drawn
a mustache in lead-pencil. Crumpled paper napkins were dumped among the
Michaelmas daisies. On the walk, like shredded lovely flesh, were the petals
of the last gallant rose. Cigarette stubs floated in the goldfish pool,
trailing an evil stain as they swelled and disintegrated, and beneath the
marble seat, the fragments carefully put together, was a smashed teacup.


As he rode back to the hotel Babbitt reflected, "Myra would have enjoyed all
this social agony." For himself he cared less for the garden party than for
the motor tours which the Monarch Chamber of Commerce had arranged.
Indefatigably he viewed water-reservoirs, suburban trolley-stations, and
tanneries. He devoured the statistics which were given to him, and marveled
to his roommate, W. A. Rogers, "Of course this town isn't a patch on Zenith;
it hasn't got our outlook and natural resources; but did you know--I nev' did
till to-day--that they manufactured seven hundred and sixty-three million feet
of lumber last year? What d' you think of that!"

He was nervous as the time for reading his paper approached. When he stood on
the low platform before the convention, he trembled and saw only a purple
haze. But he was in earnest, and when he had finished the formal paper he
talked to them, his hands in his pockets, his spectacled face a flashing disk,
like a plate set up on edge in the lamplight. They shouted "That's the
stuff!" and in the discussion afterward they referred with impressiveness to
"our friend and brother, Mr. George F. Babbitt." He had in fifteen minutes
changed from a minor delegate to a personage almost as well known as that
diplomat of business, Cecil Rountree. After the meeting, delegates from all
over the state said, "Hower you, Brother Babbitt?" Sixteen complete strangers
called him "George," and three men took him into corners to confide, "Mighty
glad you had the courage to stand up and give the Profession a real boost. Now
I've always maintained--"

Next morning, with tremendous casualness, Babbitt asked the girl at the hotel
news-stand for the newspapers from Zenith. There was nothing in the Press,
but in the Advocate-Times, on the third page--He gasped. They had printed his
picture and a half-column account. The heading was "Sensation at Annual
Land-men's Convention. G. F. Babbitt, Prominent Ziptown Realtor, Keynoter in
Fine Address."

He murmured reverently, "I guess some of the folks on Floral Heights will sit
up and take notice now, and pay a, little attention to old Georgie!"


It was the last meeting. The delegations were presenting the claims of their
several cities to the next year's convention. Orators were announcing that
"Galop de Vache, the Capital City, the site of Kremer College and of the
Upholtz Knitting Works, is the recognized center of culture and high-class
enterprise;" and that "Hamburg, the Big Little City with the Logical Location,
where every man is open-handed and every woman a heaven-born hostess, throws
wide to you her hospitable gates."

In the midst of these more diffident invitations, the golden doors of the
ballroom opened with a blatting of trumpets, and a circus parade rolled in.
It was composed of the Zenith brokers, dressed as cowpunchers, bareback
riders, Japanese jugglers. At the head was big Warren Whitby, in the bearskin
and gold-and-crimson coat of a drum-major. Behind him, as a clown, beating a
bass drum, extraordinarily happy and noisy, was Babbitt.

Warren Whitby leaped on the platform, made merry play with his baton, and
observed, "Boyses and girlses, the time has came to get down to cases. A
dyed-in-the-wool Zenithite sure loves his neighbors, but we've made up our
minds to grab this convention off our neighbor burgs like we've grabbed the
condensed-milk business and the paper-box business and--"

J. Harry Barmhill, the convention chairman, hinted, "We're grateful to you,
Mr. Uh, but you must give the other boys a chance to hand in their bids now."

A fog-horn voice blared, "In Eureka we'll promise free motor rides through the
prettiest country--"

Running down the aisle, clapping his hands, a lean bald young man cried, "I'm
from Sparta! Our Chamber of Commerce has wired me they've set aside eight
thousand dollars, in real money, for the entertainment of the convention!"

A clerical-looking man rose to clamor, "Money talks! Move we accept the bid
from Sparta!"

It was accepted.


The Committee on Resolutions was reporting. They said that Whereas Almighty
God in his beneficent mercy had seen fit to remove to a sphere of higher
usefulness some thirty-six realtors of the state the past year, Therefore it
was the sentiment of this convention assembled that they were sorry God had
done it, and the secretary should be, and hereby was, instructed to spread
these resolutions on the minutes, and to console the bereaved families by
sending them each a copy.

A second resolution authorized the president of the S.A.R.E.B. to spend
fifteen thousand dollars in lobbying for sane tax measures in the State
Legislature. This resolution had a good deal to say about Menaces to Sound
Business and clearing the Wheels of Progress from ill-advised and shortsighted

The Committee on Committees reported, and with startled awe Babbitt learned
that he had been appointed a member of the Committee on Torrens Titles.

He rejoiced, "I said it was going to be a great year! Georgie, old son, you
got big things ahead of you! You're a natural-born orator and a good mixer


There was no formal entertainment provided for the last evening. Babbitt had
planned to go home, but that afternoon the Jered Sassburgers of Pioneer
suggested that Babbitt and W. A. Rogers have tea with them at the Catalpa Inn.

Teas were not unknown to Babbitt--his wife and he earnestly attended them at
least twice a year--but they were sufficiently exotic to make him feel
important. He sat at a glass-covered table in the Art Room of the Inn, with
its painted rabbits, mottoes lettered on birch bark, and waitresses being
artistic in Dutch caps; he ate insufficient lettuce sandwiches, and was lively
and naughty with Mrs. Sassburger, who was as smooth and large-eyed as a
cloak-model. Sassburger and he had met two days before, so they were calling
each other "Georgie" and "Sassy."

Sassburger said prayerfully, "Say, boys, before you go, seeing this is the
last chance, I've GOT IT, up in my room, and Miriam here is the best little
mixelogist in the Stati Unidos like us Italians say."

With wide flowing gestures, Babbitt and Rogers followed the Sassburgers to
their room. Mrs. Sassburger shrieked, "Oh, how terrible!" when she saw that
she had left a chemise of sheer lavender crepe on the bed. She tucked it into
a bag, while Babbitt giggled, "Don't mind us; we're a couple o' little

Sassburger telephoned for ice, and the bell-boy who brought it said,
prosaically and unprompted, "Highball glasses or cocktail?" Miriam Sassburger
mixed the cocktails in one of those dismal, nakedly white water-pitchers which
exist only in hotels. When they had finished the first round she proved by
intoning "Think you boys could stand another--you got a dividend coming" that,
though she was but a woman, she knew the complete and perfect rite of

Outside, Babbitt hinted to Rogers, "Say, W. A., old rooster, it comes over me
that I could stand it if we didn't go back to the lovin' wives, this handsome
ABEND, but just kind of stayed in Monarch and threw a party, heh?"

"George, you speak with the tongue of wisdom and sagashiteriferousness. El
Wing's wife has gone on to Pittsburg. Let's see if we can't gather him in."

At half-past seven they sat in their room, with Elbert Wing and two up-state
delegates. Their coats were off, their vests open, their faces red, their
voices emphatic. They were finishing a bottle of corrosive bootlegged whisky
and imploring the bell-boy, "Say, son, can you get us some more of this
embalming fluid?" They were smoking large cigars and dropping ashes and stubs
on the carpet. With windy guffaws they were telling stories. They were, in
fact, males in a happy state of nature.

Babbitt sighed, "I don't know how it strikes you hellions, but personally I
like this busting loose for a change, and kicking over a couple of mountains
and climbing up on the North Pole and waving the aurora borealis around."

The man from Sparta, a grave, intense youngster, babbled, "Say! I guess I'm
as good a husband as the run of the mill, but God, I do get so tired of going
home every evening, and nothing to see but the movies. That's why I go out and
drill with the National Guard. I guess I got the nicest little wife in my
burg, but--Say! Know what I wanted to do as a kid? Know what I wanted to do?
Wanted to be a big chemist. Tha's what I wanted to do. But Dad chased me out
on the road selling kitchenware, and here I'm settled down--settled for
LIFE--not a chance! Oh, who the devil started this funeral talk? How 'bout
'nother lil drink? 'And a-noth-er drink wouldn' do 's 'ny harmmmmmmm.' "

"Yea. Cut the sob-stuff," said W. A. Rogers genially. "You boys know I'm the
village songster? Come on nowsing up:

Said the old Obadiah to the young Obadiah, 'I am dry, Obadiah, I am
dry.' Said the young Obadiah to the old Obadiah, 'So am I, Obadiah,
so am I.'"


They had dinner in the Moorish Grillroom of the Hotel Sedgwick. Somewhere,
somehow, they seemed to have gathered in two other comrades: a manufacturer of
fly-paper and a dentist. They all drank whisky from tea-cups, and they were
humorous, and never listened to one another, except when W. A. Rogers "kidded"
the Italian waiter.

"Say, Gooseppy," he said innocently, "I want a couple o' fried elephants'

"Sorry, sir, we haven't any."

"Huh? No elephants' ears? What do you know about that!" Rogers turned to
Babbitt. "Pedro says the elephants' ears are all out!"

"Well, I'll be switched!" said the man from Sparta, with difficulty hiding his

"Well, in that case, Carlo, just bring me a hunk o' steak and a couple o'
bushels o' French fried potatoes and some peas," Rogers went on. "I suppose
back in dear old sunny It' the Eyetalians get their fresh garden peas out of
the can."

"No, sir, we have very nice peas in Italy."

"Is that a fact! Georgie, do you hear that? They get their fresh garden peas
out of the garden, in Italy! By golly, you live and learn, don't you,
Antonio, you certainly do live and learn, if you live long enough and keep
your strength. All right, Garibaldi, just shoot me in that steak, with about
two printers'-reams of French fried spuds on the promenade deck,
comprehenez-vous, Michelovitch Angeloni?"

Afterward Elbert Wing admired, "Gee, you certainly did have that poor Dago
going, W. A. He couldn't make you out at all!"

In the Monarch Herald, Babbitt found an advertisement which he read aloud, to
applause and laughter:

Old Colony Theatre

Shake the Old Dogs to the WROLLICKING WRENS The bonniest bevy of beauteous
bathing babes in burlesque. Pete Menutti and his Oh, Gee, Kids.

This is the straight steer, Benny, the painless chicklets of the Wrollicking
Wrens are the cuddlingest bunch that ever hit town. Steer the feet, get the
card board, and twist the pupils to the PDQest show ever. You will get 111%
on your kale in this fun-fest. The Calroza Sisters are sure some lookers and
will give you a run for your gelt. Jock Silbersteen is one of the pepper lads
and slips you a dose of real laughter. Shoot the up and down to Jackson and
West for graceful tappers. They run 1-2 under the wire. Provin and Adams will
blow the blues in their laugh skit "Hootch Mon!" Something doing, boys.
Listen to what the Hep Bird twitters.

"Sounds like a juicy show to me. Let's all take it in," said Babbitt.

But they put off departure as long as they could. They were safe while they
sat here, legs firmly crossed under the table, but they felt unsteady; they
were afraid of navigating the long and slippery floor of the grillroom under
the eyes of the other guests and the too-attentive waiters.

When they did venture, tables got in their way, and they sought to cover
embarrassment by heavy jocularity at the coatroom. As the girl handed out
their hats, they smiled at her, and hoped that she, a cool and expert judge,
would feel that they were gentlemen. They croaked at one another, "Who owns
the bum lid?" and "You take a good one, George; I'll take what's left," and to
the check-girl they stammered, "Better come along, sister! High, wide, and
fancy evening ahead!" All of them tried to tip her, urging one another, "No!
Wait! Here! I got it right here!" Among them, they gave her three dollars.


Flamboyantly smoking cigars they sat in a box at the burlesque show, their
feet up on the rail, while a chorus of twenty daubed, worried, and
inextinguishably respectable grandams swung their legs in the more elementary
chorus-evolutions, and a Jewish comedian made vicious fun of Jews. In the
entr'actes they met other lone delegates. A dozen of them went in taxicabs out
to Bright Blossom Inn, where the blossoms were made of dusty paper festooned
along a room low and stinking, like a cow-stable no longer wisely used.

Here, whisky was served openly, in glasses. Two or three clerks, who on
pay-day longed to be taken for millionaires, sheepishly danced with
telephone-girls and manicure-girls in the narrow space between the tables.
Fantastically whirled the professionals, a young man in sleek evening-clothes
and a slim mad girl in emerald silk, with amber hair flung up as jaggedly as
flames. Babbitt tried to dance with her. He shuffled along the floor, too
bulky to be guided, his steps unrelated to the rhythm of the jungle music, and
in his staggering he would have fallen, had she not held him with supple
kindly strength. He was blind and deaf from prohibition-era alcohol; he could
not see the tables, the faces. But he was overwhelmed by the girl and her
young pliant warmth.

When she had firmly returned him to his group, he remembered, by a connection
quite untraceable, that his mother's mother had been Scotch, and with head
thrown back, eyes closed, wide mouth indicating ecstasy, he sang, very slowly
and richly, "Loch Lomond."

But that was the last of his mellowness and jolly companionship. The man from
Sparta said he was a "bum singer," and for ten minutes Babbitt quarreled with
him, in a loud, unsteady, heroic indignation. They called for drinks till the
manager insisted that the place was closed. All the while Babbitt felt a hot
raw desire for more brutal amusements. When W. A. Rogers drawled, "What say we
go down the line and look over the girls?" he agreed savagely. Before they
went, three of them secretly made appointments with the professional dancing
girl, who agreed "Yes, yes, sure, darling" to everything they said, and
amiably forgot them.

As they drove back through the outskirts of Monarch, down streets of small
brown wooden cottages of workmen, characterless as cells, as they rattled
across warehouse-districts which by drunken night seemed vast and perilous, as
they were borne toward the red lights and violent automatic pianos and the
stocky women who simpered, Babbitt was frightened. He wanted to leap from the
taxicab, but all his body was a murky fire, and he groaned, "Too late to quit
now," and knew that he did not want to quit.

There was, they felt, one very humorous incident on the way. A broker from
Minnemagantic said, "Monarch is a lot sportier than Zenith. You Zenith
tightwads haven't got any joints like these here." Babbitt raged, "That's a
dirty lie! Snothin' you can't find in Zenith. Believe me, we got more houses
and hootch-parlors an' all kinds o' dives than any burg in the state."

He realized they were laughing at him; he desired to fight; and forgot it in
such musty unsatisfying experiments as he had not known since college.

In the morning, when he returned to Zenith, his desire for rebellion was
partly satisfied. He had retrograded to a shamefaced contentment. He was
irritable. He did not smile when W. A. Rogers complained, "Ow, what a head!
I certainly do feel like the wrath of God this morning. Say! I know what was
the trouble! Somebody went and put alcohol in my booze last night."

Babbitt's excursion was never known to his family, nor to any one in Zenith
save Rogers and Wing. It was not officially recognized even by himself. If it
had any consequences, they have not been discovered.


THIS autumn a Mr. W. G. Harding, of Marion, Ohio, was appointed President of
the United States, but Zenith was less interested in the national campaign
than in the local election. Seneca Doane, though he was a lawyer and a
graduate of the State University, was candidate for mayor of Zenith on an
alarming labor ticket. To oppose him the Democrats and Republicans united on
Lucas Prout, a mattress-manufacturer with a perfect record for sanity. Mr.
Prout was supported by the banks, the Chamber of Commerce, all the decent
newspapers, and George F. Babbitt.

Babbitt was precinct-leader on Floral Heights, but his district was safe and
he longed for stouter battling. His convention paper had given him the
beginning of a reputation for oratory, so the Republican-Democratic Central
Committee sent him to the Seventh Ward and South Zenith, to address small
audiences of workmen and clerks, and wives uneasy with their new votes. He
acquired a fame enduring for weeks. Now and then a reporter was present at
one of his meetings, and the headlines (though they were not very large)
indicated that George F. Babbitt had addressed Cheering Throng, and
Distinguished Man of Affairs had pointed out the Fallacies of Doane. Once, in
the rotogravure section of the Sunday Advocate-Times, there was a photograph
of Babbitt and a dozen other business men, with the caption "Leaders of Zenith
Finance and Commerce Who Back Prout."

He deserved his glory. He was an excellent campaigner. He had faith; he was
certain that if Lincoln were alive, he would be electioneering for Mr. W. G.
Harding--unless he came to Zenith and electioneered for Lucas Prout. He did
not confuse audiences by silly subtleties; Prout represented honest industry,
Seneca Doane represented whining laziness, and you could take your choice.
With his broad shoulders and vigorous voice, he was obviously a Good Fellow;
and, rarest of all, he really liked people. He almost liked common workmen.
He wanted them to be well paid, and able to afford high rents--though,
naturally, they must not interfere with the reasonable profits of
stockholders. Thus nobly endowed, and keyed high by the discovery that he was
a natural orator, he was popular with audiences, and he raged through the
campaign, renowned not only in the Seventh and Eighth Wards but even in parts
of the Sixteenth.


Crowded in his car, they came driving up to Turnverein Hall, South
Zenith--Babbitt, his wife, Verona, Ted, and Paul and Zilla Riesling. The hall
was over a delicatessen shop, in a street banging with trolleys and smelling
of onions and gasoline and fried fish. A new appreciation of Babbitt filled
all of them, including Babbitt.

"Don't know how you keep it up, talking to three bunches in one evening. Wish
I had your strength," said Paul; and Ted exclaimed to Verona, "The old man
certainly does know how to kid these roughnecks along!"

Men in black sateen shirts, their faces new-washed but with a hint of grime
under their eyes, were loitering on the broad stairs up to the hall. Babbitt's
party politely edged through them and into the whitewashed room, at the front
of which was a dais with a red-plush throne and a pine altar painted watery
blue, as used nightly by the Grand Masters and Supreme Potentates of
innumerable lodges. The hall was full. As Babbitt pushed through the fringe
standing at the back, he heard the precious tribute, "That's him!" The
chairman bustled down the center aisle with an impressive, "The speaker? All
ready, sir! Uh--let's see--what was the name, sir?"

Then Babbitt slid into a sea of eloquence:

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Sixteenth Ward, there is one who cannot be with
us here to-night, a man than whom there is no more stalwart Trojan in all the
political arena--I refer to our leader, the Honorable Lucas Prout,
standard-bearer of the city and county of Zenith. Since he is not here, I
trust that you will bear with me if, as a friend and neighbor, as one who is
proud to share with you the common blessing of being a resident of the great
city of Zenith, I tell you in all candor, honesty, and sincerity how the
issues of this critical campaign appear to one plain man of business--to one
who, brought up to the blessings of poverty and of manual labor, has, even
when Fate condemned him to sit at a desk, yet never forgotten how it feels, by
heck, to be up at five-thirty and at the factory with the ole dinner-pail in
his hardened mitt when the whistle blew at seven, unless the owner sneaked in
ten minutes on us and blew it early! (Laughter.) To come down to the basic and
fundamental issues of this campaign, the great error, insincerely promulgated
by Seneca Doane--"

There were workmen who jeered--young cynical workmen, for the most part
foreigners, Jews, Swedes, Irishmen, Italians--but the older men, the patient,
bleached, stooped carpenters and mechanics, cheered him; and when he worked up
to his anecdote of Lincoln their eyes were wet.

Modestly, busily, he hurried out of the hall on delicious applause, and sped
off to his third audience of the evening. "Ted, you better drive," he said.
"Kind of all in after that spiel. Well, Paul, how'd it go? Did I get 'em?"

"Bully! Corking! You had a lot of pep."

Mrs. Babbitt worshiped, "Oh, it was fine! So clear and interesting, and such
nice ideas. When I hear you orating I realize I don't appreciate how
profoundly you think and what a splendid brain and vocabulary you have.
Just--splendid." But Verona was irritating. "Dad," she worried, "how do you
know that public ownership of utilities and so on and so forth will always be
a failure?"

Mrs. Babbitt reproved, "Rone, I should think you could see and realize that
when your father's all worn out with orating, it's no time to expect him to
explain these complicated subjects. I'm sure when he's rested he'll be glad to
explain it to you. Now let's all be quiet and give Papa a chance to get ready
for his next speech. Just think! Right now they're gathering in Maccabee
Temple, and WAITING for us!"


Mr. Lucas Prout and Sound Business defeated Mr. Seneca Doane and Class Rule,
and Zenith was again saved. Babbitt was offered several minor appointments to
distribute among poor relations, but he preferred advance information about
the extension of paved highways, and this a grateful administration gave to
him. Also, he was one of only nineteen speakers at the dinner with which the
Chamber of Commerce celebrated the victory of righteousness.

His reputation for oratory established, at the dinner of the Zenith Real
Estate Board he made the Annual Address. The Advocate-Times reported this
speech with unusual fullness:

"One of the livest banquets that has recently been pulled off occurred last
night in the annual Get-Together Fest of the Zenith Real Estate Board, held in
the Venetian Ball Room of the O'Hearn House. Mine host Gil O'Hearn had as

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