Part 5 out of 7
"Gosh, I don't know. I swear, sometimes I feel like taking Ken aside and
putting him over the jumps and saying to him, 'Young fella me lad, are you
going to marry young Rone, or are you going to talk her to death? Here you
are getting on toward thirty, and you're only making twenty or twenty-five a
week. When you going to develop a sense of responsibility and get a raise? If
there's anything that George F. or I can do to help you, call on us, but show
a little speed, anyway!'"
"Well, at that, it might not be so bad if you or I talked to him, except he
might not understand. He's one of these high brows. He can't come down to
cases and lay his cards on the table and talk straight out from the shoulder,
like you or I can."
"That's right, he's like all these highbrows."
"That's so, like all of 'em."
"That's a fact."
They sighed, and were silent and thoughtful and happy.
The conductor came in. He had once called at Babbitt's office, to ask about
houses. "H' are you, Mr. Babbitt! We going to have you with us to Chicago?
This your boy?"
"Yes, this is my son Ted."
"Well now, what do you know about that! Here I been thinking you were a
youngster yourself, not a day over forty, hardly, and you with this great big
"Forty? Why, brother, I'll never see forty-five again!"
"Is that a fact! Wouldn't hardly 'a' thought it!"
"Yes, sir, it's a bad give-away for the old man when he has to travel with a
young whale like Ted here!"
"You're right, it is." To Ted: "I suppose you're in college now.
Proudly, "No, not till next fall. I'm just kind of giving the diff'rent
colleges the once-over now."
As the conductor went on his affable way, huge watch-chain jingling against
his blue chest, Babbitt and Ted gravely considered colleges. They arrived at
Chicago late at night; they lay abed in the morning, rejoicing, "Pretty nice
not to have to get up and get down to breakfast, heh?" They were staying at
the modest Eden Hotel, because Zenith business men always stayed at the Eden,
but they had dinner in the brocade and crystal Versailles Room of the Regency
Hotel. Babbitt ordered Blue Point oysters with cocktail sauce, a tremendous
steak with a tremendous platter of French fried potatoes, two pots of coffee,
apple pie with ice cream for both of them and, for Ted, an extra piece of
"Hot stuff! Some feed, young fella!" Ted admired.
"Huh! You stick around with me, old man, and I'll show you a good time!"
They went to a musical comedy and nudged each other at the matrimonial jokes
and the prohibition jokes; they paraded the lobby, arm in arm, between acts,
and in the glee of his first release from the shame which dissevers fathers
and sons Ted chuckled, "Dad, did you ever hear the one about the three
milliners and the judge?"
When Ted had returned to Zenith, Babbitt was lonely. As he was trying to make
alliance between Offutt and certain Milwaukee interests which wanted the
race-track plot, most of his time was taken up in waiting for telephone
calls.... Sitting on the edge of his bed, holding the portable telephone,
asking wearily, "Mr. Sagen not in yet? Didn' he leave any message for me? All
right, I'll hold the wire." Staring at a stain on the wall, reflecting that
it resembled a shoe, and being bored by this twentieth discovery that it
resembled a shoe. Lighting a cigarette; then, bound to the telephone with no
ashtray in reach, wondering what to do with this burning menace and anxiously
trying to toss it into the tiled bathroom. At last, on the telephone, "No
message, eh? All right, I'll call up again."
One afternoon he wandered through snow-rutted streets of which he had never
heard, streets of small tenements and two-family houses and marooned cottages.
It came to him that he had nothing to do, that there was nothing he wanted to
do. He was bleakly lonely in the evening, when he dined by himself at the
Regency Hotel. He sat in the lobby afterward, in a plush chair bedecked with
the Saxe-Coburg arms, lighting a cigar and looking for some one who would come
and play with him and save him from thinking. In the chair next to him
(showing the arms of Lithuania) was a half-familiar man, a large red-faced man
with pop eyes and a deficient yellow mustache. He seemed kind and
insignificant, and as lonely as Babbitt himself. He wore a tweed suit and a
reluctant orange tie.
It came to Babbitt with a pyrotechnic crash. The melancholy stranger was Sir
Instinctively Babbitt rose, bumbling, "How 're you, Sir Gerald? 'Member we
met in Zenith, at Charley McKelvey's? Babbitt's my name--real estate."
"Oh! How d' you do." Sir Gerald shook hands flabbily.
Embarrassed, standing, wondering how he could retreat, Babbitt maundered,
"Well, I suppose you been having a great trip since we saw you in Zenith."
"Quite. British Columbia and California and all over the place," he said
doubtfully, looking at Babbitt lifelessly.
"How did you find business conditions in British Columbia? Or I suppose maybe
you didn't look into 'em. Scenery and sport and so on?"
"Scenery? Oh, capital. But business conditions--You know, Mr. Babbitt,
they're having almost as much unemployment as we are." Sir Gerald was speaking
"So? Business conditions not so doggone good, eh?"
"No, business conditions weren't at all what I'd hoped to find them."
"Not good, eh?"
"No, not--not really good."
"That's a darn shame. Well--I suppose you're waiting for somebody to take you
out to some big shindig, Sir Gerald."
"Shindig? Oh. Shindig. No, to tell you the truth, I was wondering what the
deuce I could do this evening. Don't know a soul in Tchicahgo. I wonder if
you happen to know whether there's a good theater in this city?"
"Good? Why say, they're running grand opera right now! I guess maybe you'd
"Eh? Eh? Went to the opera once in London. Covent Garden sort of thing.
Shocking! No, I was wondering if there was a good cinema-movie."
Babbitt was sitting down, hitching his chair over, shouting, "Movie? Say, Sir
Gerald, I supposed of course you had a raft of dames waiting to lead you out
to some soiree--"
"--but if you haven't, what do you say you and me go to a movie? There's a
peach of a film at the Grantham: Bill Hart in a bandit picture."
"Right-o! Just a moment while I get my coat."
Swollen with greatness, slightly afraid lest the noble blood of Nottingham
change its mind and leave him at any street corner, Babbitt paraded with Sir
Gerald Doak to the movie palace and in silent bliss sat beside him, trying not
to be too enthusiastic, lest the knight despise his adoration of six-shooters
and broncos. At the end Sir Gerald murmured, "Jolly good picture, this. So
awfully decent of you to take me. Haven't enjoyed myself so much for weeks.
All these Hostesses--they never let you go to the cinema!"
"The devil you say!" Babbitt's speech had lost the delicate refinement and
all the broad A's with which he had adorned it, and become hearty and natural.
"Well, I'm tickled to death you liked it, Sir Gerald."
They crawled past the knees of fat women into the aisle; they stood in the
lobby waving their arms in the rite of putting on overcoats. Babbitt hinted,
"Say, how about a little something to eat? I know a place where we could get a
swell rarebit, and we might dig up a little drink--that is, if you ever touch
"Rather! But why don't you come to my room? I've some Scotch--not half bad."
"Oh, I don't want to use up all your hootch. It's darn nice of you, but--You
probably want to hit the hay."
Sir Gerald was transformed. He was beefily yearning. "Oh really, now; I
haven't had a decent evening for so long! Having to go to all these dances.
No chance to discuss business and that sort of thing. Do be a good chap and
come along. Won't you?"
"Will I? You bet! I just thought maybe--Say, by golly, it does do a fellow
good, don't it, to sit and visit about business conditions, after he's been to
these balls and masquerades and banquets and all that society stuff. I often
feel that way in Zenith. Sure, you bet I'll come."
"That's awfully nice of you." They beamed along the street. "Look here, old
chap, can you tell me, do American cities always keep up this dreadful social
pace? All these magnificent parties?"
"Go on now, quit your kidding! Gosh, you with court balls and functions and
"No, really, old chap! Mother and I--Lady Doak, I should say, we usually play
a hand of bezique and go to bed at ten. Bless my soul, I couldn't keep up your
beastly pace! And talking! All your American women, they know so
much--culture and that sort of thing. This Mrs. McKelvey--your friend--"
"Yuh, old Lucile. Good kid."
"--she asked me which of the galleries I liked best in Florence. Or was it in
Firenze? Never been in Italy in my life! And primitives. Did I like
primitives. Do you know what the deuce a primitive is?"
"Me? I should say not! But I know what a discount for cash is."
"Rather! So do I, by George! But primitives!"
They laughed with the sound of a Boosters' luncheon.
Sir Gerald's room was, except for his ponderous and durable English bags, very
much like the room of George F. Babbitt; and quite in the manner of Babbitt he
disclosed a huge whisky flask, looked proud and hospitable, and chuckled,
"Say, when, old chap."
It was after the third drink that Sir Gerald proclaimed, "How do you Yankees
get the notion that writing chaps like Bertrand Shaw and this Wells represent
us? The real business England, we think those chaps are traitors. Both our
countries have their comic Old Aristocracy--you know, old county families,
hunting people and all that sort of thing--and we both have our wretched labor
leaders, but we both have a backbone of sound business men who run the whole
"You bet. Here's to the real guys!"
"I'm with you! Here's to ourselves!"
It was after the fourth drink that Sir Gerald asked humbly, "What do you think
of North Dakota mortgages?" but it was not till after the fifth that Babbitt
began to call him "Jerry," and Sir Gerald confided, "I say, do you mind if I
pull off my boots?" and ecstatically stretched his knightly feet, his poor,
tired, hot, swollen feet out on the bed.
After the sixth, Babbitt irregularly arose. "Well, I better be hiking along.
Jerry, you're a regular human being! I wish to thunder we'd been better
acquainted in Zenith. Lookit. Can't you come back and stay with me a while?"
"So sorry--must go to New York to-morrow. Most awfully sorry, old boy. I
haven't enjoyed an evening so much since I've been in the States. Real talk.
Not all this social rot. I'd never have let them give me the beastly
title--and I didn't get it for nothing, eh?--if I'd thought I'd have to talk
to women about primitives and polo! Goodish thing to have in Nottingham,
though; annoyed the mayor most frightfully when I got it; and of course the
missus likes it. But nobody calls me 'Jerry' now--" He was almost weeping.
"--and nobody in the States has treated me like a friend till to-night!
Good-by, old chap, good-by! Thanks awfully!"
"Don't mention it, Jerry. And remember whenever you get to Zenith, the
latch-string is always out."
"And don't forget, old boy. if you ever come to Nottingham, Mother and I will
be frightfully glad to see you. I shall tell the fellows in Nottingham your
ideas about Visions and Real Guys--at our next Rotary Club luncheon."
Babbitt lay abed at his hotel, imagining the Zenith Athletic Club asking him,
"What kind of a time d'you have in Chicago?" and his answering, "Oh, fair; ran
around with Sir Gerald Doak a lot;" picturing himself meeting Lucile McKelvey
and admonishing her, "You're all right, Mrs. Mac, when you aren't trying to
pull this highbrow pose. It's just as Gerald Doak says to me in Chicago--oh,
yes, Jerry's an old friend of mine--the wife and I are thinking of running
over to England to stay with Jerry in his castle, next year--and he said to
me, 'Georgie, old bean, I like Lucile first-rate, but you and me, George, we
got to make her get over this highty-tighty hooptediddle way she's got."
But that evening a thing happened which wrecked his pride.
At the Regency Hotel cigar-counter he fell to talking with a salesman of
pianos, and they dined together. Babbitt was filled with friendliness and
well-being. He enjoyed the gorgeousness of the dining-room: the chandeliers,
the looped brocade curtains, the portraits of French kings against panels of
gilded oak. He enjoyed the crowd: pretty women, good solid fellows who were
He gasped. He stared, and turned away, and stared again. Three tables off,
with a doubtful sort of woman, a woman at once coy and withered, was Paul
Riesling, and Paul was supposed to be in Akron, selling tar-roofing. The woman
was tapping his hand, mooning at him and giggling. Babbitt felt that he had
encountered something involved and harmful. Paul was talking with the rapt
eagerness of a man who is telling his troubles. He was concentrated on the
woman's faded eyes. Once he held her hand and once, blind to the other guests,
he puckered his lips as though he was pretending to kiss her. Babbitt had so
strong an impulse to go to Paul that he could feel his body uncoiling, his
shoulders moving, but he felt, desperately, that he must be diplomatic, and
not till he saw Paul paying the check did he bluster to the piano-salesman,
"By golly-friend of mine over there--'scuse me second--just say hello to him."
He touched Paul's shoulder, and cried, "Well, when did you hit town?"
Paul glared up at him, face hardening. "Oh, hello, George. Thought you'd
gone back to Zenith." He did not introduce his companion. Babbitt peeped at
her. She was a flabbily pretty, weakly flirtatious woman of forty-two or
three, in an atrocious flowery hat. Her rouging was thorough but unskilful.
"Where you staying, Paulibus?"
The woman turned, yawned, examined her nails. She seemed accustomed to not
Paul grumbled, "Campbell Inn, on the South Side."
"Alone?" It sounded insinuating.
"Yes! Unfortunately!" Furiously Paul turned toward the woman, smiling with a
fondness sickening to Babbitt. "May! Want to introduce you. Mrs. Arnold,
this is my old-acquaintance, George Babbitt."
"Pleasmeech," growled Babbitt, while she gurgled, "Oh, I'm very pleased to
meet any friend of Mr. Riesling's, I'm sure."
Babbitt demanded, "Be back there later this evening, Paul? I'll drop down and
"No, better--We better lunch together to-morrow."
"All right, but I'll see you to-night, too, Paul. I'll go down to your hotel,
and I'll wait for you!"
HE sat smoking with the piano-salesman, clinging to the warm refuge of gossip,
afraid to venture into thoughts of Paul. He was the more affable on the
surface as secretly he became more apprehensive, felt more hollow. He was
certain that Paul was in Chicago without Zilla's knowledge, and that he was
doing things not at all moral and secure. When the salesman yawned that he had
to write up his orders, Babbitt left him, left the hotel, in leisurely calm.
But savagely he said "Campbell Inn!" to the taxi-driver. He sat agitated on
the slippery leather seat, in that chill dimness which smelled of dust and
perfume and Turkish cigarettes. He did not heed the snowy lake-front, the dark
spaces and sudden bright corners in the unknown land south of the Loop.
The office of the Campbell Inn was hard, bright, new; the night clerk harder
and brighter. "Yep?" he said to Babbitt.
"Mr. Paul Riesling registered here?"
"Is he in now?"
"Then if you'll give me his key, I'll wait for him."
"Can't do that, brother. Wait down here if you wanna."
Babbitt had spoken with the deference which all the Clan of Good Fellows give
to hotel clerks. Now he said with snarling abruptness:
"I may have to wait some time. I'm Riesling's brother-in-law. I'll go up to
his room. D' I look like a sneak-thief?"
His voice was low and not pleasant. With considerable haste the clerk took
down the key, protesting, "I never said you looked like a sneak-thief. Just
rules of the hotel. But if you want to--"
On his way up in the elevator Babbitt wondered why he was here. Why shouldn't
Paul be dining with a respectable married woman? Why had he lied to the clerk
about being Paul's brother-in-law? He had acted like a child. He must be
careful not to say foolish dramatic things to Paul. As he settled down he
tried to look pompous and placid. Then the thought--Suicide. He'd been
dreading that, without knowing it. Paul would be just the person to do
something like that. He must be out of his head or he wouldn't be confiding in
that--that dried-up hag.
Zilla (oh, damn Zilla! how gladly he'd throttle that nagging fiend of a
woman!)--she'd probably succeeded at last, and driven Paul crazy.
Suicide. Out there in the lake, way out, beyond the piled ice along the
shore. It would be ghastly cold to drop into the water to-night.
Or--throat cut--in the bathroom--
Babbitt flung into Paul's bathroom. It was empty. He smiled, feebly.
He pulled at his choking collar, looked at his watch, opened the window to
stare down at the street, looked at his watch, tried to read the evening paper
lying on the glass-topped bureau, looked again at his watch. Three minutes had
gone by since he had first looked at it.
And he waited for three hours.
He was sitting fixed, chilled, when the doorknob turned. Paul came in
"Hello," Paul said. "Been waiting?"
"Yuh, little while."
"Well what? Just thought I'd drop in to see how you made out in Akron."
"I did all right. What difference does it make?"
"Why, gosh, Paul, what are you sore about?"
"What are you butting into my affairs for?"
"Why, Paul, that's no way to talk! I'm not butting into nothing. I was so
glad to see your ugly old phiz that I just dropped in to say howdy."
"Well, I'm not going to have anybody following me around and trying to boss
me. I've had all of that I'm going to stand!"
"Well, gosh, I'm not--"
"I didn't like the way you looked at May Arnold, or the snooty way you
"Well, all right then! If you think I'm a buttinsky, then I'll just butt in!
I don't know who your May Arnold is, but I know doggone good and well that you
and her weren't talking about tar-roofing, no, nor about playing the violin,
neither! If you haven't got any moral consideration for yourself, you ought to
have some for your position in the community. The idea of your going around
places gawping into a female's eyes like a love-sick pup! I can understand a
fellow slipping once, but I don't propose to see a fellow that's been as
chummy with me as you have getting started on the downward path and sneaking
off from his wife, even as cranky a one as Zilla, to go woman-chasing--"
"Oh, you're a perfectly moral little husband!"
"I am, by God! I've never looked at any woman except Myra since I've been
married--practically--and I never will! I tell you there's nothing to
immorality. It don't pay. Can't you see, old man, it just makes Zilla still
Slight of resolution as he was of body, Paul threw his snow-beaded overcoat on
the floor and crouched on a flimsy cane chair. "Oh, you're an old blowhard,
and you know less about morality than Tinka, but you're all right, Georgie.
But you can't understand that--I'm through. I can't go Zilla's hammering any
longer. She's made up her mind that I'm a devil, and--Reg'lar Inquisition.
Torture. She enjoys it. It's a game to see how sore she can make me. And me,
either it's find a little comfort, any comfort, anywhere, or else do something
a lot worse. Now this Mrs. Arnold, she's not so young, but she's a fine woman
and she understands a fellow, and she's had her own troubles."
"Yea! I suppose she's one of these hens whose husband 'doesn't understand
"I don't know. Maybe. He was killed in the war."
Babbitt lumbered up, stood beside Paul patting his shoulder, making soft
"Honest, George, she's a fine woman, and she's had one hell of a time. We
manage to jolly each other up a lot. We tell each other we're the dandiest
pair on earth. Maybe we don't believe it, but it helps a lot to have somebody
with whom you can be perfectly simple, and not all this
"And that's as far as you go?"
"It is not! Go on! Say it!"
"Well, I don't--I can't say I like it, but--" With a burst which left him
feeling large and shining with generosity, "it's none of my darn business!
I'll do anything I can for you, if there's anything I can do."
"There might be. I judge from Zilla's letters that 've been forwarded from
Akron that she's getting suspicious about my staying away so long. She'd be
perfectly capable of having me shadowed, and of coming to Chicago and busting
into a hotel dining-room and bawling me out before everybody."
"I'll take care of Zilla. I'll hand her a good fairy-story when I get back to
"I don't know--I don't think you better try it. You're a good fellow. but I
don't know that diplomacy is your strong point." Babbitt looked hurt, then
irritated. "I mean with women! With women, I mean. Course they got to go
some to beat you in business diplomacy, but I just mean with women. Zilla may
do a lot of rough talking, but she's pretty shrewd. She'd have the story out
of you in no time."
"Well, all right, but--" Babbitt was still pathetic at not being allowed to
play Secret Agent. Paul soothed:
"Course maybe you might tell her you'd been in Akron and seen me there."
"Why, sure, you bet! Don't I have to go look at that candy-store property in
Akron? Don't I? Ain't it a shame I have to stop off there when I'm so
anxious to get home? Ain't it a regular shame? I'll say it is! I'll say it's
a doggone shame!"
"Fine. But for glory hallelujah's sake don't go putting any fancy fixings on
the story. When men lie they always try to make it too artistic, and that's
why women get suspicious. And--Let's have a drink, Georgie. I've got some
gin and a little vermouth."
The Paul who normally refused a second cocktail took a second now, and a
third. He became red-eyed and thick-tongued. He was embarrassingly jocular
In the taxicab Babbitt incredulously found tears crowding into his eyes.
He had not told Paul of his plan but he did stop at Akron, between trains, for
the one purpose of sending to Zilla a postcard with "Had to come here for the
day, ran into Paul." In Zenith he called on her. If for public appearances
Zilla was over-coiffed, over-painted, and resolutely corseted, for private
misery she wore a filthy blue dressing-gown and torn stockings thrust into
streaky pink satin mules. Her face was sunken. She seemed to have but half
as much hair as Babbitt remembered, and that half was stringy. She sat in a
rocker amid a debris of candy-boxes and cheap magazines, and she sounded
dolorous when she did not sound derisive. But Babbitt was exceedingly breezy:
"Well, well, Zil, old dear, having a good loaf while hubby's away? That's the
ideal I'll bet a hat Myra never got up till ten, while I was in Chicago. Say,
could I borrow your thermos--just dropped in to see if I could borrow your
thermos bottle. We're going to have a toboggan party--want to take some coffee
mit. Oh, did you get my card from Akron, saying I'd run into Paul?"
"Yes. What was he doing?"
"How do you mean?" He unbuttoned his overcoat, sat tentatively on the arm of
"You know how I mean!" She slapped the pages of a magazine with an irritable
clatter. "I suppose he was trying to make love to some hotel waitress or
manicure girl or somebody."
"Hang it, you're always letting on that Paul goes round chasing skirts. He
doesn't, in the first place, and if he did, it would prob'ly be because you
keep hinting at him and dinging at him so much. I hadn't meant to, Zilla, but
since Paul is away, in Akron--"
"He really is in Akron? I know he has some horrible woman that he writes to
"Didn't I tell you I saw him in Akron? What 're you trying to do? Make me out
"No, but I just--I get so worried."
"Now, there you are! That's what gets me! Here you love Paul, and yet you
plague him and cuss him out as if you hated him. I simply can't understand why
it is that the more some folks love people, the harder they try to make 'em
"You love Ted and Rone--I suppose--and yet you nag them."
"Oh. Well. That. That's different. Besides, I don't nag 'em. Not what
you'd call nagging. But zize saying: Now, here's Paul, the nicest, most
sensitive critter on God's green earth. You ought to be ashamed of yourself
the way you pan him. Why, you talk to him like a washerwoman. I'm surprised
you can act so doggone common, Zilla!"
She brooded over her linked fingers. "Oh, I know. I do go and get mean
sometimes, and I'm sorry afterwards. But, oh, Georgie, Paul is so aggravating!
Honestly, I've tried awfully hard, these last few years, to be nice to him,
but just because I used to be spiteful--or I seemed so; I wasn't, really, but
I used to speak up and say anything that came into my head--and so he made up
his mind that everything was my fault. Everything can't always be my fault,
can it? And now if I get to fussing, he just turns silent, oh, so dreadfully
silent, and he won't look at me--he just ignores me. He simply isn't human!
And he deliberately keeps it up till I bust out and say a lot of things I
don't mean. So silent--Oh, you righteous men! How wicked you are! How rotten
They thrashed things over and over for half an hour. At the end, weeping
drably, Zilla promised to restrain herself.
Paul returned four days later, and the Babbitts and Rieslings went festively
to the movies and had chop suey at a Chinese restaurant. As they walked to the
restaurant through a street of tailor shops and barber shops, the two wives in
front, chattering about cooks, Babbitt murmured to Paul, "Zil seems a lot
"Yes, she has been, except once or twice. But it's too late now. I just--I'm
not going to discuss it, but I'm afraid of her. There's nothing left. I don't
ever want to see her. Some day I'm going to break away from her. Somehow."
THE International Organization of Boosters' Clubs has be come a world-force
for optimism, manly pleasantry, and good business. Chapters are to be found
now in thirty countries. Nine hundred and twenty of the thousand chapters,
however, are in the United States.
None of these is more ardent than the Zenith Boosters' Club.
The second March lunch of the Zenith Boosters was the most important of the
year, as it was to be followed by the annual election of officers. There was
agitation abroad. The lunch was held in the ballroom of the O'Hearn House.
As each of the four hundred Boosters entered he took from a wall-board a huge
celluloid button announcing his name, his nick name, and his business. There
was a fine of ten cents for calling a Fellow Booster by anything but his
nickname at a lunch, and as Babbitt jovially checked his hat the air was
radiant with shouts of "Hello, Chet!" and "How're you, Shorty!" and "Top o'
the mornin', Mac!"
They sat at friendly tables for eight, choosing places by lot. Babbitt was
with Albert Boos the merchant tailor, Hector Seybolt of the Little Sweetheart
Condensed Milk Company, Emil Wengert the jeweler, Professor Pumphrey of the
Riteway Business College, Dr. Walter Gorbutt, Roy Teegarten the photographer,
and Ben Berkey the photo-engraver. One of the merits of the Boosters' Club was
that only two persons from each department of business were permitted to join,
so that you at once encountered the Ideals of other occupations, and realized
the metaphysical oneness of all occupations--plumbing and portait-painting,
medicine and the manufacture of chewing-gum.
Babbitt's table was particularly happy to-day, because Professor Pumphrey had
just had a birthday, and was therefore open to teasing.
"Let's pump Pump about how old he is!" said Emil Wengert.
"No, let's paddle him with a dancing-pump!" said Ben Berkey.
But it was Babbitt who had the applause, with "Don't talk about pumps to that
guy! The only pump he knows is a bottle! Honest, they tell me he's starting a
class in home-brewing at the ole college!"
At each place was the Boosters' Club booklet, listing the members. Though the
object of the club was good-fellowship, yet they never lost sight of the
importance of doing a little more business. After each name was the member's
occupation. There were scores of advertisements in the booklet, and on one
page the admonition: "There's no rule that you have to trade with your Fellow
Boosters, but get wise, boy--what's the use of letting all this good money get
outside of our happy fambly?" And at each place, to-day, there was a present;
a card printed in artistic red and black:
SERVICE AND BOOSTERISM
Service finds its finest opportunity and development only in its broadest and
deepest application and the consideration of its perpetual action upon
reaction. I believe the highest type of Service, like the most progressive
tenets of ethics, senses unceasingly and is motived by active adherence and
loyalty to that which is the essential principle of Boosterism--Good
Citizenship in all its factors and aspects.
Compliments of Dadbury Petersen Advertising Corp.
"Ads, not Fads, at Dad's"
The Boosters all read Mr. Peterson's aphorism and said they understood it
The meeting opened with the regular weekly "stunts." Retiring President Vergil
Gunch was in the chair, his stiff hair like a hedge, his voice like a brazen
gong of festival. Members who had brought guests introduced them publicly.
"This tall red-headed piece of misinformation is the sporting editor of the
Press," said Willis Ijams; and H. H. Hazen, the druggist, chanted, "Boys, when
you're on a long motor tour and finally get to a romantic spot or scene and
draw up and remark to the wife, 'This is certainly a romantic place,' it sends
a glow right up and down your vertebrae. Well, my guest to-day is from such a
place, Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in the beautiful Southland, with memories of
good old General Robert E. Lee and of that brave soul, John Brown who, like
every good Booster, goes marching on--"
There were two especially distinguished guests: the leading man of the "Bird
of Paradise" company, playing this week at the Dodsworth Theater, and the
mayor of Zenith, the Hon. Lucas Prout.
Vergil Gunch thundered, "When we manage to grab this celebrated Thespian off
his lovely aggregation of beautiful actresses--and I got to admit I butted
right into his dressing-room and told him how the Boosters appreciated the
high-class artistic performance he's giving us--and don't forget that the
treasurer of the Dodsworth is a Booster and will appreciate our patronage--and
when on top of that we yank Hizzonor out of his multifarious duties at City
Hall, then I feel we've done ourselves proud, and Mr. Prout will now say a few
words about the problems and duties--"
By rising vote the Boosters decided which was the handsomest and which the
ugliest guest, and to each of them was given a bunch of carnations, donated,
President Gunch noted, by Brother Booster H. G. Yeager, the Jennifer Avenue
Each week, in rotation, four Boosters were privileged to obtain the pleasures
of generosity and of publicity by donating goods or services to four
fellow-members, chosen by lot. There was laughter, this week, when it was
announced that one of the contributors was Barnabas Joy, the undertaker.
Everybody whispered, "I can think of a coupla good guys to be buried if his
donation is a free funeral!"
Through all these diversions the Boosters were lunching on chicken croquettes,
peas, fried potatoes, coffee, apple pie, and American cheese. Gunch did not
lump the speeches. Presently he called on the visiting secretary of the
Zenith Rotary Club, a rival organization. The secretary had the distinction
of possessing State Motor Car License Number 5.
The Rotary secretary laughingly admitted that wherever he drove in the state
so low a number created a sensation, and "though it was pretty nice to have
the honor, yet traffic cops remembered it only too darn well, and sometimes he
didn't know but what he'd almost as soon have just plain B56,876 or something
like that. Only let any doggone Booster try to get Number 5 away from a live
Rotarian next year, and watch the fur fly! And if they'd permit him, he'd wind
up by calling for a cheer for the Boosters and Rotarians and the Kiwanis all
Babbitt sighed to Professor Pumphrey, "Be pretty nice to have as low a number
as that! Everybody 'd say, 'He must be an important guy!' Wonder how he got
it? I'll bet he wined and dined the superintendent of the Motor License
Bureau to a fare-you-well!"
Then Chum Frink addressed them:
"Some of you may feel that it's out of place here to talk on a strictly
highbrow and artistic subject, but I want to come out flatfooted and ask you
boys to O.K. the proposition of a Symphony Orchestra for Zenith. Now, where a
lot of you make your mistake is in assuming that if you don't like classical
music and all that junk, you ought to oppose it. Now, I want to confess that,
though I'm a literary guy by profession, I don't care a rap for all this
long-haired music. I'd rather listen to a good jazz band any time than to some
piece by Beethoven that hasn't any more tune to it than a bunch of fighting
cats, and you couldn't whistle it to save your life! But that isn't the point.
Culture has become as necessary an adornment and advertisement for a city
to-day as pavements or bank-clearances. It's Culture, in theaters and
art-galleries and so on, that brings thousands of visitors to New York every
year and, to be frank, for all our splendid attainments we haven't yet got the
Culture of a New York or Chicago or Boston--or at least we don't get the
credit for it. The thing to do then, as a live bunch of go-getters, is to
CAPITALIZE CULTURE; to go right out and grab it.
"Pictures and books are fine for those that have the time to study 'em, but
they don't shoot out on the road and holler 'This is what little old Zenith
can put up in the way of Culture.' That's precisely what a Symphony Orchestra
does do. Look at the credit Minneapolis and Cincinnati get. An orchestra with
first-class musickers and a swell conductor--and I believe we ought to do the
thing up brown and get one of the highest-paid conductors on the market,
providing he ain't a Hun--it goes right into Beantown and New York and
Washington; it plays at the best theaters to the most cultured and moneyed
people; it gives such class-advertising as a town can get in no other way; and
the guy who is so short-sighted as to crab this orchestra proposition is
passing up the chance to impress the glorious name of Zenith on some big New
York millionaire that might-that might establish a branch factory here!
"I could also go into the fact that for our daughters who show an interest in
highbrow music and may want to teach it, having an A1 local organization is of
great benefit, but let's keep this on a practical basis, and I call on you
good brothers to whoop it up for Culture and a World-beating Symphony
To a rustle of excitement President Gunch proclaimed, "Gentlemen, we will now
proceed to the annual election of officers." For each of the six offices,
three candidates had been chosen by a committee. The second name among the
candidates for vice-president was Babbitt's.
He was surprised. He looked self-conscious. His heart pounded. He was still
more agitated when the ballots were counted and Gunch said, "It's a pleasure
to announce that Georgie Babbitt will be the next assistant gavel-wielder. I
know of no man who stands more stanchly for common sense and enterprise than
good old George. Come on, let's give him our best long yell!"
As they adjourned, a hundred men crushed in to slap his back. He had never
known a higher moment. He drove away in a blur of wonder. He lunged into his
office, chuckling to Miss McGoun, "Well, I guess you better congratulate your
boss! Been elected vice-president of the Boosters!"
He was disappointed. She answered only, "Yes--Oh, Mrs. Babbitt's been trying
to get you on the 'phone." But the new salesman, Fritz Weilinger, said, "By
golly, chief, say, that's great, that's perfectly great! I'm tickled to death!
Babbitt called the house, and crowed to his wife, "Heard you were trying to
get me, Myra. Say, you got to hand it to little Georgie, this time! Better
talk careful! You are now addressing the vice-president of the Boosters'
"Pretty nice, huh? Willis Ijams is the new president, but when he's away,
little ole Georgie takes the gavel and whoops 'em up and introduces the
speakers--no matter if they're the governor himself--and--"
"--It puts him in solid with big men like Doc Dilling and--"
"George! Paul Riesling--"
"Yes, sure, I'll 'phone Paul and let him know about it right away."
"Georgie! LISTEN! Paul's in jail. He shot his wife, he shot Zilla, this
noon. She may not live."
HE drove to the City Prison, not blindly, but with unusual fussy care at
corners, the fussiness of an old woman potting plants. It kept him from facing
the obscenity of fate.
The attendant said, "Naw, you can't see any of the prisoners till
It was three. For half an hour Babbitt sat looking at a calendar and a clock
on a whitewashed wall. The chair was hard and mean and creaky. People went
through the office and, he thought, stared at him. He felt a belligerent
defiance which broke into a wincing fear of this machine which was grinding
Exactly at half-past three he sent in his name.
The attendant returned with "Riesling says he don't want to see you."
"You're crazy! You didn't give him my name! Tell him it's George wants to
see him, George Babbitt."
"Yuh, I told him, all right, all right! He said he didn't want to see you."
"Then take me in anyway."
"Nothing doing. If you ain't his lawyer, if he don't want to see you, that's
all there is to it."
"But, my GOD--Say, let me see the warden."
"He's busy. Come on, now, you--" Babbitt reared over him. The attendant
hastily changed to a coaxing "You can come back and try to-morrow. Probably
the poor guy is off his nut."
Babbitt drove, not at all carefully or fussily, sliding viciously past trucks,
ignoring the truckmen's curses, to the City Hall; he stopped with a grind of
wheels against the curb, and ran up the marble steps to the office of the Hon.
Mr. Lucas Prout, the mayor. He bribed the mayor's doorman with a dollar; he
was instantly inside, demanding, "You remember me, Mr. Prout?
Babbitt--vice-president of the Boosters--campaigned for you? Say, have you
heard about poor Riesling? Well, I want an order on the warden or whatever
you call um of the City Prison to take me back and see him. Good. Thanks."
In fifteen minutes he was pounding down the prison corridor to a cage where
Paul Riesling sat on a cot, twisted like an old beggar, legs crossed, arms in
a knot, biting at his clenched fist.
Paul looked up blankly as the keeper unlocked the cell, admitted Babbitt, and
left them together. He spoke slowly: "Go on! Be moral!"
Babbitt plumped on the couch beside him. "I'm not going to be moral! I don't
care what happened! I just want to do anything I can. I'm glad Zilla got what
was coming to her."
Paul said argumentatively, "Now, don't go jumping on Zilla. I've been
thinking; maybe she hasn't had any too easy a time. Just after I shot her--I
didn't hardly mean to, but she got to deviling me so I went crazy, just for a
second, and pulled out that old revolver you and I used to shoot rabbits with,
and took a crack at her. Didn't hardly mean to--After that, when I was trying
to stop the blood--It was terrible what it did to her shoulder, and she had
beautiful skin--Maybe she won't die. I hope it won't leave her skin all
scarred. But just afterward, when I was hunting through the bathroom for some
cotton to stop the blood, I ran onto a little fuzzy yellow duck we hung on the
tree one Christmas, and I remembered she and I'd been awfully happy
then--Hell. I can't hardly believe it's me here." As Babbitt's arm tightened
about his shoulder, Paul sighed, "I'm glad you came. But I thought maybe
you'd lecture me, and when you've committed a murder, and been brought here
and everything--there was a big crowd outside the apartment house, all
staring, and the cops took me through it--Oh, I'm not going to talk about it
But he went on, in a monotonous, terrified insane mumble. To divert him
Babbitt said, "Why, you got a scar on your cheek."
"Yes. That's where the cop hit me. I suppose cops get a lot of fun out of
lecturing murderers, too. He was a big fellow. And they wouldn't let me help
carry Zilla down to the ambulance."
"Paul! Quit it! Listen: she won't die, and when it's all over you and I'll
go off to Maine again. And maybe we can get that May Arnold to go along. I'll
go up to Chicago and ask her. Good woman, by golly. And afterwards I'll see
that you get started in business out West somewhere, maybe Seattle--they say
that's a lovely city."
Paul was half smiling. It was Babbitt who rambled now. He could not tell
whether Paul was heeding, but he droned on till the coming of Paul's lawyer,
P. J. Maxwell, a thin, busy, unfriendly man who nodded at Babbitt and hinted,
"If Riesling and I could be alone for a moment--"
Babbitt wrung Paul's hands, and waited in the office till Maxwell came
pattering out. "Look, old man, what can I do?" he begged.
"Nothing. Not a thing. Not just now," said Maxwell. "Sorry. Got to hurry.
And don't try to see him. I've had the doctor give him a shot of morphine, so
It seemed somehow wicked to return to the office. Babbitt felt as though he
had just come from a funeral. He drifted out to the City Hospital to inquire
about Zilla. She was not likely to die, he learned. The bullet from Paul's
huge old .44 army revolver had smashed her shoulder and torn upward and out.
He wandered home and found his wife radiant with the hor-ified interest we
have in the tragedies of our friends. "Of course Paul isn't altogether to
blame, but this is what comes of his chasing after other women instead of
bearing his cross in a Christian way," she exulted.
He was too languid to respond as he desired. He said what was to be said
about the Christian bearing of crosses, and went out to clean the car. Dully,
patiently, he scraped linty grease from the drip-pan, gouged at the mud caked
on the wheels. He used up many minutes in washing his hands; scoured them with
gritty kitchen soap; rejoiced in hurting his plump knuckles. "Damn soft
hands--like a woman's. Aah!"
At dinner, when his wife began the inevitable, he bellowed, "I forbid any of
you to say a word about Paul! I'll 'tend to all the talking about this that's
necessary, hear me? There's going to be one house in this scandal-mongering
town to-night that isn't going to spring the holier-than-thou. And throw those
filthy evening papers out of the house!"
But he himself read the papers, after dinner.
Before nine he set out for the house of Lawyer Maxwell. He was received
without cordiality. "Well?" said Maxwell.
"I want to offer my services in the trial. I've got an idea. Why couldn't I
go on the stand and swear I was there, and she pulled the gun first and he
wrestled with her and the gun went off accidentally?"
"And perjure yourself?"
"Huh? Yes, I suppose it would be perjury. Oh--Would it help?"
"But, my dear fellow! Perjury!"
"Oh, don't be a fool! Excuse me, Maxwell; I didn't mean to get your goat. I
just mean: I've known and you've known many and many a case of perjury, just
to annex some rotten little piece of real estate, and here where it's a case
of saving Paul from going to prison, I'd perjure myself black in the face."
"No. Aside from the ethics of the matter, I'm afraid it isn't practicable. The
prosecutor would tear your testimony to pieces. It's known that only Riesling
and his wife were there at the time."
"Then, look here! Let me go on the stand and swear--and this would be the
God's truth--that she pestered him till he kind of went crazy."
"No. Sorry. Riesling absolutely refuses to have any testimony reflecting on
his wife. He insists on pleading guilty."
"Then let me get up and testify something--whatever you say. Let me do
"I'm sorry, Babbitt, but the best thing you can do--I hate to say it, but you
could help us most by keeping strictly out of it."
Babbitt, revolving his hat like a defaulting poor tenant, winced so visibly
that Maxwell condescended:
"I don't like to hurt your feelings, but you see we both want to do our best
for Riesling, and we mustn't consider any other factor. The trouble with you,
Babbitt, is that you're one of these fellows who talk too readily. You like
to hear your own voice. If there were anything for which I could put you in
the witness-box, you'd get going and give the whole show away. Sorry. Now I
must look over some papers--So sorry."
He spent most of the next morning nerving himself to face the garrulous world
of the Athletic Club. They would talk about Paul; they would be lip-licking
and rotten. But at the Roughnecks' Table they did not mention Paul. They
spoke with zeal of the coming baseball season. He loved them as he never had
He had, doubtless from some story-book, pictured Paul's trial as a long
struggle, with bitter arguments, a taut crowd, and sudden and overwhelming new
testimony. Actually, the trial occupied less than fifteen minutes, largely
filled with the evidence of doctors that Zilla would recover and that Paul
must have been temporarily insane. Next day Paul was sentenced to three years
in the State Penitentiary and taken off--quite undramatically, not handcuffed,
merely plodding in a tired way beside a cheerful deputy sheriff--and after
saying good-by to him at the station Babbitt returned to his office to realize
that he faced a world which, without Paul, was meaningless.
HE was busy, from March to June. He kept himself from the bewilderment of
thinking. His wife and the neighbors were generous. Every evening he played
bridge or attended the movies, and the days were blank of face and silent.
In June, Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went East, to stay with relatives, and Babbitt
was free to do--he was not quite sure what.
All day long after their departure he thought of the emancipated house in
which he could, if he desired, go mad and curse the gods without having to
keep up a husbandly front. He considered, "I could have a reg'lar party
to-night; stay out till two and not do any explaining afterwards. Cheers!"
He telephoned to Vergil Gunch, to Eddie Swanson. Both of them were engaged
for the evening, and suddenly he was bored by having to take so much trouble
to be riotous.
He was silent at dinner, unusually kindly to Ted and Verona, hesitating but
not disapproving when Verona stated her opinion of Kenneth Escott's opinion of
Dr. John Jennison Drew's opinion of the opinions of the evolutionists. Ted
was working in a garage through the summer vacation, and he related his daily
triumphs: how he had found a cracked ball-race, what he had said to the Old
Grouch, what he had said to the foreman about the future of wireless
Ted and Verona went to a dance after dinner. Even the maid was out. Rarely
had Babbitt been alone in the house for an entire evening. He was restless.
He vaguely wanted something more diverting than the newspaper comic strips to
read. He ambled up to Verona's room, sat on her maidenly blue and white bed,
humming and grunting in a solid-citizen manner as he examined her books:
Conrad's "Rescue," a volume strangely named "Figures of Earth," poetry (quite
irregular poetry, Babbitt thought) by Vachel Lindsay, and essays by H. L.
Mencken--highly improper essays, making fun of the church and all the
decencies. He liked none of the books. In them he felt a spirit of rebellion
against niceness and solid-citizenship. These authors--and he supposed they
were famous ones, too--did not seem to care about telling a good story which
would enable a fellow to forget his troubles. He sighed. He noted a book,
"The Three Black Pennies," by Joseph Hergesheimer. Ah, that was something
like it! It would be an adventure story, maybe about
counterfeiting--detectives sneaking up on the old house at night. He tucked
the book under his arm, he clumped down-stairs and solemnly began to read,
under the piano-lamp:
"A twilight like blue dust sifted into the shallow fold of the thickly wooded
hills. It was early October, but a crisping frost had already stamped the
maple trees with gold, the Spanish oaks were hung with patches of wine red,
the sumach was brilliant in the darkening underbrush. A pattern of wild geese,
flying low and unconcerned above the hills, wavered against the serene ashen
evening. Howat Penny, standing in the comparative clearing of a road, decided
that the shifting regular flight would not come close enough for a shot.... He
had no intention of hunting the geese. With the drooping of day his keenness
had evaporated; an habitual indifference strengthened, permeating him...."
There it was again: discontent with the good common ways. Babbitt laid down
the book and listened to the stillness. The inner doors of the house were
open. He heard from the kitchen the steady drip of the refrigerator, a rhythm
demanding and disquieting. He roamed to the window. The summer evening was
foggy and, seen through the wire screen, the street lamps were crosses of pale
fire. The whole world was abnormal. While he brooded, Verona and Ted came in
and went up to bed. Silence thickened in the sleeping house. He put on his
hat, his respectable derby, lighted a cigar, and walked up and down before the
house, a portly, worthy, unimaginative figure, humming "Silver Threads among
the Gold." He casually considered, "Might call up Paul." Then he remembered.
He saw Paul in a jailbird's uniform, but while he agonized he didn't believe
the tale. It was part of the unreality of this fog-enchanted evening.
If she were here Myra would be hinting, "Isn't it late, Georgie?" He tramped
in forlorn and unwanted freedom. Fog hid the house now. The world was
uncreated, a chaos without turmoil or desire.
Through the mist came a man at so feverish a pace that he seemed to dance with
fury as he entered the orb of glow from a street-lamp. At each step he
brandished his stick and brought it down with a crash. His glasses on their
broad pretentious ribbon banged against his stomach. Babbitt incredulously saw
that it was Chum Frink.
Frink stopped, focused his vision, and spoke with gravity:
"There's another fool. George Babbitt. Lives for renting howshes--houses.
Know who I am? I'm traitor to poetry. I'm drunk. I'm talking too much. I
don't care. Know what I could 've been? I could 've been a Gene Field or a
James Whitcomb Riley. Maybe a Stevenson. I could 've. Whimsies.
'Magination. Lissen. Lissen to this. Just made it up:
Glittering summery meadowy noise
Of beetles and bums and respectable boys.
Hear that? Whimzh--whimsy. I made that up. I don't know what it means!
Beginning good verse. Chile's Garden Verses. And whadi write? Tripe!
Cheer-up poems. All tripe! Could have written--Too late!"
He darted on with an alarming plunge, seeming always to pitch forward yet
never quite falling. Babbitt would have been no more astonished and no less
had a ghost skipped out of the fog carrying his head. He accepted Frink with
vast apathy; he grunted, "Poor boob!" and straightway forgot him.
He plodded into the house, deliberately went to the refrigerator and rifled
it. When Mrs. Babbitt was at home, this was one of the major household
crimes. He stood before the covered laundry tubs, eating a chicken leg and
half a saucer of raspberry jelly, and grumbling over a clammy cold boiled
potato. He was thinking. It was coming to him that perhaps all life as he
knew it and vigorously practised it was futile; that heaven as portrayed by
the Reverend Dr. John Jennison Drew was neither probable nor very interesting;
that he hadn't much pleasure out of making money; that it was of doubtful
worth to rear children merely that they might rear children who would rear
children. What was it all about? What did he want?
He blundered into the living-room, lay on the davenport, hands behind his
What did he want? Wealth? Social position? Travel? Servants? Yes, but
"I give it up," he sighed.
But he did know that he wanted the presence of Paul Riesling; and from that he
stumbled into the admission that he wanted the fairy girl--in the flesh. If
there had been a woman whom he loved, he would have fled to her, humbled his
forehead on her knees.
He thought of his stenographer, Miss McGoun. He thought of the prettiest of
the manicure girls at the Hotel Thornleigh barber shop. As he fell asleep on
the davenport he felt that he had found something in life, and that he had
made a terrifying, thrilling break with everything that was decent and normal.
He had forgotten, next morning, that he was a conscious rebel, but he was
irritable in the office and at the eleven o'clock drive of telephone calls and
visitors he did something he had often desired and never dared: he left the
office without excuses to those stave-drivers his employees, and went to the
movies. He enjoyed the right to be alone. He came out with a vicious
determination to do what he pleased.
As he approached the Roughnecks' Table at the club, everybody laughed.
"Well, here's the millionaire!" said Sidney Finkelstein.
"Yes, I saw him in his Locomobile!" said Professor Pumphrey.
"Gosh, it must be great to be a smart guy like Georgie!" moaned Vergil Gunch.
"He's probably stolen all of Dorchester. I'd hate to leave a poor little
defenseless piece of property lying around where he could get his hooks on
They had, Babbitt perceived, "something on him." Also, they "had their
kidding clothes on." Ordinarily he would have been delighted at the honor
implied in being chaffed, but he was suddenly touchy. He grunted, "Yuh, sure;
maybe I'll take you guys on as office boys!" He was impatient as the jest
elaborately rolled on to its denouement.
"Of course he may have been meeting a girl," they said, and "No, I think he
was waiting for his old roommate, Sir Jerusalem Doak."
He exploded, "Oh, spring it, spring it, you boneheads! What's the great joke?"
"Hurray! George is peeved!" snickered Sidney Finkelstein, while a grin went
round the table. Gunch revealed the shocking truth: He had seen Babbitt
coming out of a motion-picture theater--at noon!
They kept it up. With a hundred variations, a hundred guffaws, they said that
he had gone to the movies during business-hours. He didn't so much mind Gunch,
but he was annoyed by Sidney Finkelstein, that brisk, lean, red-headed
explainer of jokes. He was bothered, too, by the lump of ice in his glass of
water. It was too large; it spun round and burned his nose when he tried to
drink. He raged that Finkelstein was like that lump of ice. But he won
through; he kept up his banter till they grew tired of the superlative jest
and turned to the great problems of the day.
He reflected, "What's the matter with me to-day? Seems like I've got an awful
grouch. Only they talk so darn much. But I better steer careful and keep my
As they lighted their cigars he mumbled, "Got to get back," and on a chorus of
"If you WILL go spending your mornings with lady ushers at the movies!" he
escaped. He heard them giggling. He was embarrassed. While he was most
bombastically agreeing with the coat-man that the weather was warm, he was
conscious that he was longing to run childishly with his troubles to the
comfort of the fairy child.
He kept Miss McGoun after he had finished dictating. He searched for a topic
which would warm her office impersonality into friendliness.
"Where you going on your vacation?" he purred.
"I think I'll go up-state to a farm do you want me to have the Siddons lease
copied this afternoon?"
"Oh, no hurry about it.... I suppose you have a great time when you get away
from us cranks in the office."
She rose and gathered her pencils. "Oh, nobody's cranky here I think I can
get it copied after I do the letters."
She was gone. Babbitt utterly repudiated the view that he had been trying to
discover how approachable was Miss McGoun. "Course! knew there was nothing
doing!" he said. IV
Eddie Swanson, the motor-car agent who lived across the street from Babbitt,
was giving a Sunday supper. His wife Louetta, young Louetta who loved jazz in
music and in clothes and laughter, was at her wildest. She cried, "We'll have
a real party!" as she received the guests. Babbitt had uneasily felt that to
many men she might be alluring; now he admitted that to himself she was
overwhelmingly alluring. Mrs. Babbitt had never quite approved of Louetta;
Babbitt was glad that she was not here this evening.
He insisted on helping Louetta in the kitchen: taking the chicken croquettes
from the warming-oven, the lettuce sandwiches from the ice-box. He held her
hand, once, and she depressingly didn't notice it. She caroled, "You're a good
little mother's-helper, Georgie. Now trot in with the tray and leave it on
He wished that Eddie Swanson would give them cocktails; that Louetta would
have one. He wanted--Oh, he wanted to be one of these Bohemians you read
about. Studio parties. Wild lovely girls who were independent. Not
necessarily bad. Certainly not! But not tame, like Floral Heights. How he'd
ever stood it all these years--
Eddie did not give them cocktails. True, they supped with mirth, and with
several repetitions by Orville Jones of "Any time Louetta wants to come sit on
my lap I'll tell this sandwich to beat it!" but they were respectable, as
befitted Sunday evening. Babbitt had discreetly preempted a place beside
Louetta on the piano bench. While he talked about motors, while he listened
with a fixed smile to her account of the film she had seen last Wednesday,
while he hoped that she would hurry up and finish her description of the plot,
the beauty of the leading man, and the luxury of the setting, he studied her.
Slim waist girdled with raw silk, strong brows, ardent eyes, hair parted above
a broad forehead--she meant youth to him and a charm which saddened. He
thought of how valiant a companion she would be on a long motor tour,
exploring mountains, picnicking in a pine grove high above a valley. Her
frailness touched him; he was angry at Eddie Swanson for the incessant family
bickering. All at once he identified Louetta with the fairy girl. He was
startled by the conviction that they had always had a romantic attraction for
"I suppose you're leading a simply terrible life, now you're a widower," she
"You bet! I'm a bad little fellow and proud of it. Some evening you slip
Eddie some dope in his coffee and sneak across the road and I'll show you how
to mix a cocktail," he roared.
"Well, now, I might do it! You never can tell!"
"Well, whenever you're ready, you just hang a towel out of the attic window
and I'll jump for the gin!"
Every one giggled at this naughtiness. In a pleased way Eddie Swanson stated
that he would have a physician analyze his coffee daily. The others were
diverted to a discussion of the more agreeable recent murders, but Babbitt
drew Louetta back to personal things:
"That's the prettiest dress I ever saw in my life."
"Do you honestly like it?"
"Like it? Why, say, I'm going to have Kenneth Escott put a piece in the paper
saying that the swellest dressed woman in the U. S. is Mrs. E. Louetta
"Now, you stop teasing me!" But she beamed. "Let's dance a little. George,
you've got to dance with me."
Even as he protested, "Oh, you know what a rotten dancer I am!" he was
lumbering to his feet.
"I'll teach you. I can teach anybody."
Her eyes were moist, her voice was jagged with excitement. He was convinced
that he had won her. He clasped her, conscious of her smooth warmth, and
solemnly he circled in a heavy version of the one-step. He bumped into only
one or two people. "Gosh, I'm not doing so bad; hittin' 'em up like a regular
stage dancer!" he gloated; and she answered busily, "Yes--yes--I told you I
could teach anybody--DON'T TAKE SUCH LONG STEPS!"
For a moment he was robbed of confidence; with fearful concentration he sought
to keep time to the music. But he was enveloped again by her enchantment.
"She's got to like me; I'll make her!" he vowed. He tried to kiss the lock
beside her ear. She mechanically moved her head to avoid it, and mechanically
she murmured, "Don't!"
For a moment he hated her, but after the moment he was as urgent as ever. He
danced with Mrs. Orville Jones, but he watched Louetta swooping down the
length of the room with her husband. "Careful! You're getting foolish!" he
cautioned himself, the while he hopped and bent his solid knees in dalliance
with Mrs. Jones, and to that worthy lady rumbled, "Gee, it's hot!" Without
reason, he thought of Paul in that shadowy place where men never dance. "I'm
crazy to-night; better go home," he worried, but he left Mrs. Jones and dashed
to Louetta's lovely side, demanding, "The next is mine."
"Oh, I'm so hot; I'm not going to dance this one."
"Then," boldly, "come out and sit on the porch and get all nice and cool."
In the tender darkness, with the clamor in the house behind them, he
resolutely took her hand. She squeezed his once, then relaxed.
"Louetta! I think you're the nicest thing I know!"
"Well, I think you're very nice."
"Do you? You got to like me! I'm so lonely!"
"Oh, you'll be all right when your wife comes home."
"No, I'm always lonely."
She clasped her hands under her chin, so that he dared not touch her. He
"When I feel punk and--" He was about to bring in the tragedy of Paul, but
that was too sacred even for the diplomacy of love. "--when I get tired out at
the office and everything, I like to look across the street and think of you.
Do you know I dreamed of you, one time!"
"Was it a nice dream?"
"Oh, well, they say dreams go by opposites! Now I must run in."
She was on her feet.
"Oh, don't go in yet! Please, Louetta!"
"Yes, I must. Have to look out for my guests."
"Let 'em look out for 'emselves!"
"I couldn't do that." She carelessly tapped his shoulder and slipped away.
But after two minutes of shamed and childish longing to sneak home he was
snorting, "Certainly I wasn't trying to get chummy with her! Knew there was
nothing doing, all the time!" and he ambled in to dance with Mrs. Orville
Jones, and to avoid Louetta, virtuously and conspicuously.
HIS visit to Paul was as unreal as his night of fog and questioning. Unseeing
he went through prison corridors stinking of carbolic acid to a room lined
with pale yellow settees pierced in rosettes, like the shoe-store benches he
had known as a boy. The guard led in Paul. Above his uniform of linty gray,
Paul's face was pale and without expression. He moved timorously in response
to the guard's commands; he meekly pushed Babbitt's gifts of tobacco and
magazines across the table to the guard for examination. He had nothing to
say but "Oh, I'm getting used to it" and "I'm working in the tailor shop; the
stuff hurts my fingers."
Babbitt knew that in this place of death Paul was already dead. And as he
pondered on the train home something in his own self seemed to have died: a
loyal and vigorous faith in the goodness of the world, a fear of public
disfavor, a pride in success. He was glad that his wife was away. He admitted
it without justifying it. He did not care.
Her card read "Mrs. Daniel Judique." Babbitt knew of her as the widow of a
wholesale paper-dealer. She must have been forty or forty-two but he thought
her younger when he saw her in the office, that afternoon. She had come to
inquire about renting an apartment, and he took her away from the unskilled
girl accountant. He was nervously attracted by her smartness. She was a
slender woman, in a black Swiss frock dotted with white, a cool-looking
graceful frock. A broad black hat shaded her face. Her eyes were lustrous,
her soft chin of an agreeable plumpness, and her cheeks an even rose. Babbitt
wondered afterward if she was made up, but no man living knew less of such
She sat revolving her violet parasol. Her voice was appealing without being
coy. "I wonder if you can help me?"
"I've looked everywhere and--I want a little flat, just a bedroom, or perhaps
two, and sitting-room and kitchenette and bath, but I want one that really has
some charm to it, not these dingy places or these new ones with terrible gaudy
chandeliers. And I can't pay so dreadfully much. My name's Tanis Judique."
"I think maybe I've got just the thing for you. Would you like to chase
around and look at it now?"
"Yes. I have a couple of hours."
In the new Cavendish Apartments, Babbitt had a flat which he had been holding
for Sidney Finkelstein, but at the thought of driving beside this agreeable
woman he threw over his friend Finkelstein, and with a note of gallantry he
proclaimed, "I'll let you see what I can do!"
He dusted the seat of the car for her, and twice he risked death in showing
off his driving.
"You do know how to handle a car!" she said.
He liked her voice. There was, he thought, music in it and a hint of culture,
not a bouncing giggle like Louetta Swanson's.
He boasted, "You know, there's a lot of these fellows that are so scared and
drive so slow that they get in everybody's way. The safest driver is a fellow
that knows how to handle his machine and yet isn't scared to speed up when
it's necessary, don't you think so?"
"I bet you drive like a wiz."
"Oh, no--I mean--not really. Of course, we had a car--I mean, before my
husband passed on--and I used to make believe drive it, but I don't think any
woman ever learns to drive like a man."
"Well, now, there's some mighty good woman drivers."
"Oh, of course, these women that try to imitate men, and play golf and
everything, and ruin their complexions and spoil their hands!"
"That's so. I never did like these mannish females."
"I mean--of course, I admire them, dreadfully, and I feel so weak and useless
"Oh, rats now! I bet you play the piano like a wiz."
"Oh, no--I mean--not really."
"Well, I'll bet you do!" He glanced at her smooth hands, her diamond and ruby
rings. She caught the glance, snuggled her hands together with a kittenish
curving of slim white fingers which delighted him, and yearned:
"I do love to play--I mean--I like to drum on the piano, but I haven't had any
real training. Mr. Judique used to say I would 've been a good pianist if I'd
had any training, but then, I guess he was just flattering me."
"I'll bet he wasn't! I'll bet you've got temperament."
"Oh--Do you like music, Mr Babbitt?"
"You bet I do! Only I don't know 's I care so much for all this classical
"Oh, I do! I just love Chopin and all those."
"Do you, honest? Well, of course, I go to lots of these highbrow concerts,
but I do like a good jazz orchestra, right up on its toes, with the fellow
that plays the bass fiddle spinning it around and beating it up with the bow."
"Oh, I know. I do love good dance music. I love to dance, don't you, Mr.
"Sure, you bet. Not that I'm very darn good at it, though."
"Oh, I'm sure you are. You ought to let me teach you. I can teach anybody to
"Would you give me a lesson some time?"
"Indeed I would."
"Better be careful, or I'll be taking you up on that proposition. I'll be
coming up to your flat and making you give me that lesson."
"Ye-es." She was not offended, but she was non-committal. He warned himself,
"Have some sense now, you chump! Don't go making a fool of yourself again!"
and with loftiness he discoursed:
"I wish I could dance like some of these young fellows, but I'll tell you: I
feel it's a man's place to take a full, you might say, a creative share in the
world's work and mold conditions and have something to show for his life,
don't you think so?"
"Oh, I do!"
"And so I have to sacrifice some of the things I might like to tackle, though
I do, by golly, play about as good a game of golf as the next fellow!"
"Oh, I'm sure you do.... Are you married?"
"Uh--yes.... And, uh, of course official duties I'm the vice-president of the
Boosters' Club, and I'm running one of the committees of the State Association
of Real Estate Boards, and that means a lot of work and responsibility--and
practically no gratitude for it."
"Oh, I know! Public men never do get proper credit."
They looked at each other with a high degree of mutual respect, and at the
Cavendish Apartments he helped her out in a courtly manner, waved his hand at
the house as though he were presenting it to her, and ponderously ordered the
elevator boy to "hustle and get the keys." She stood close to him in the
elevator, and he was stirred but cautious.
It was a pretty flat, of white woodwork and soft blue walls. Mrs. Judique
gushed with pleasure as she agreed to take it, and as they walked down the
hall to the elevator she touched his sleeve, caroling, "Oh, I'm so glad I went
to you! It's such a privilege to meet a man who really Understands. Oh! The
flats SOME people have showed me!"
He had a sharp instinctive belief that he could put his arm around her, but he
rebuked himself and with excessive politeness he saw her to the car, drove her
home. All the way back to his office he raged:
"Glad I had some sense for once.... Curse it, I wish I'd tried. She's a
darling! A corker! A reg'lar charmer! Lovely eyes and darling lips and that
trim waist--never get sloppy, like some women.... No, no, no! She's a real
cultured lady. One of the brightest little women I've met these many moons.
Understands about Public Topics and--But, darn it, why didn't I try? . . .
He was harassed and puzzled by it, but he found that he was turning toward
youth, as youth. The girl who especially disturbed him--though he had never
spoken to her--was the last manicure girl on the right in the Pompeian Barber
Shop. She was small, swift, black-haired, smiling. She was nineteen,
perhaps, or twenty. She wore thin salmon-colored blouses which exhibited her
shoulders and her black-ribboned camisoles.
He went to the Pompeian for his fortnightly hair-trim. As always, he felt
disloyal at deserting his neighbor, the Reeves Building Barber Shop. Then,
for the first time, he overthrew his sense of guilt. "Doggone it, I don't have
to go here if I don't want to! I don't own the Reeves Building! These barbers
got nothing on me! I'll doggone well get my hair cut where I doggone well want
to! Don't want to hear anything more about it! I'm through standing by
people--unless I want to. It doesn't get you anywhere. I'm through!"
The Pompeian Barber Shop was in the basement of the Hotel Thornleigh, largest
and most dynamically modern hotel in Zenith. Curving marble steps with a rail
of polished brass led from the hotel-lobby down to the barber shop. The
interior was of black and white and crimson tiles, with a sensational ceiling
of burnished gold, and a fountain in which a massive nymph forever emptied a
scarlet cornucopia. Forty barbers and nine manicure girls worked desperately,
and at the door six colored porters lurked to greet the customers, to care
reverently for their hats and collars, to lead them to a place of waiting
where, on a carpet like a tropic isle in the stretch of white stone floor,
were a dozen leather chairs and a table heaped with magazines.
Babbitt's porter was an obsequious gray-haired negro who did him an honor
highly esteemed in the land of Zenith--greeted him by name. Yet Babbitt was
unhappy. His bright particular manicure girl was engaged. She was doing the
nails of an overdressed man and giggling with him. Babbitt hated him. He
thought of waiting, but to stop the powerful system of the Pompeian was
inconceivable, and he was instantly wafted into a chair.
About him was luxury, rich and delicate. One votary was having a violet-ray
facial treatment, the next an oil shampoo. Boys wheeled about miraculous
electrical massage-machines. The barbers snatched steaming towels from a
machine like a howitzer of polished nickel and disdainfully flung them away
after a second's use. On the vast marble shelf facing the chairs were hundreds
of tonics, amber and ruby and emerald. It was flattering to Babbitt to have
two personal slaves at once--the barber and the bootblack. He would have been
completely happy if he could also have had the manicure girl. The barber
snipped at his hair and asked his opinion of the Havre de Grace races, the
baseball season, and Mayor Prout. The young negro bootblack hummed "The Camp
Meeting Blues" and polished in rhythm to his tune, drawing the shiny shoe-rag
so taut at each stroke that it snapped like a banjo string. The barber was an
excellent salesman. He made Babbitt feel rich and important by his manner of
inquiring, "What is your favorite tonic, sir? Have you time to-day, sir, for
a facial massage? Your scalp is a little tight; shall I give you a scalp
Babbitt's best thrill was in the shampoo. The barber made his hair creamy
with thick soap, then (as Babbitt bent over the bowl, muffled in towels)
drenched it with hot water which prickled along his scalp, and at last ran the
water ice-cold. At the shock, the sudden burning cold on his skull, Babbitt's
heart thumped, his chest heaved, and his spine was an electric wire. It was a
sensation which broke the monotony of life. He looked grandly about the shop
as he sat up. The barber obsequiously rubbed his wet hair and bound it in a
towel as in a turban, so that Babbitt resembled a plump pink calif on an
ingenious and adjustable throne. The barber begged (in the manner of one who
was a good fellow yet was overwhelmed by the splendors of the calif), "How
about a little Eldorado Oil Rub, sir? Very beneficial to the scalp, sir.
Didn't I give you one the last time?"
He hadn't, but Babbitt agreed, "Well, all right."
With quaking eagerness he saw that his manicure girl was free.
"I don't know, I guess I'll have a manicure after all," he droned, and
excitedly watched her coming, dark-haired, smiling, tender, little. The
manicuring would have to be finished at her table, and he would be able to
talk to her without the barber listening. He waited contentedly, not trying to
peep at her, while she filed his nails and the barber shaved him and smeared
on his burning cheeks all the interesting mixtures which the pleasant minds of
barbers have devised through the revolving ages. When the barber was done and
he sat opposite the girl at her table, he admired the marble slab of it,
admired the sunken set bowl with its tiny silver taps, and admired himself for
being able to frequent so costly a place. When she withdrew his wet hand from
the bowl, it was so sensitive from the warm soapy water that he was abnormally
aware of the clasp of her firm little paw. He delighted in the pinkness and
glossiness of her nails. Her hands seemed to him more adorable than Mrs.
Judique's thin fingers, and more elegant. He had a certain ecstasy in the
pain when she gnawed at the cuticle of his nails with a sharp knife. He
struggled not to look at the outline of her young bosom and her shoulders, the
more apparent under a film of pink chiffon. He was conscious of her as an
exquisite thing, and when he tried to impress his personality on her he spoke
as awkwardly as a country boy at his first party:
"Well, kinda hot to be working to-day."
"Oh, yes, it is hot. You cut your own nails, last time, didn't you!"
"Ye-es, guess I must 've."
"You always ought to go to a manicure."
"Yes, maybe that's so. I--"
"There's nothing looks so nice as nails that are looked after good. I always
think that's the best way to spot a real gent. There was an auto salesman in
here yesterday that claimed you could always tell a fellow's class by the car
he drove, but I says to him, 'Don't be silly,' I says; 'the wisenheimers grab
a look at a fellow's nails when they want to tell if he's a tin-horn or a real
"Yes, maybe there's something to that. Course, that is--with a pretty kiddy
like you, a man can't help coming to get his mitts done."
"Yeh, I may be a kid, but I'm a wise bird, and I know nice folks when I see
um--I can read character at a glance--and I'd never talk so frank with a
fellow if I couldn't see he was a nice fellow."
She smiled. Her eyes seemed to him as gentle as April pools. With great
seriousness he informed himself that "there were some roughnecks who would
think that just because a girl was a manicure girl and maybe not awful well
educated, she was no good, but as for him, he was a democrat, and understood
people," and he stood by the assertion that this was a fine girl, a good
girl--but not too uncomfortably good. He inquired in a voice quick with
"I suppose you have a lot of fellows who try to get fresh with you."
"Say, gee, do I! Say, listen, there's some of these cigar-store sports that
think because a girl's working in a barber shop, they can get away with
anything. The things they saaaaaay! But, believe me, I know how to hop those
birds! I just give um the north and south and ask um, 'Say, who do you think
you're talking to?' and they fade away like love's young nightmare and oh,
don't you want a box of nail-paste? It will keep the nails as shiny as when
first manicured, harmless to apply and lasts for days."
"Sure, I'll try some. Say--Say, it's funny; I've been coming here ever since
the shop opened and--" With arch surprise. "--I don't believe I know your
"Don't you? My, that's funny! I don't know yours!"
"Now you quit kidding me! What's the nice little name?"
"Oh, it ain't so darn nice. I guess it's kind of kike. But my folks ain't
kikes. My papa's papa was a nobleman in Poland, and there was a gentleman in
here one day, he was kind of a count or something--"
"Kind of a no-account, I guess you mean!"
"Who's telling this, smarty? And he said he knew my papa's papa's folks in
Poland and they had a dandy big house. Right on a lake!" Doubtfully, "Maybe
you don't believe it?"
"Sure. No. Really. Sure I do. Why not? Don't think I'm kidding you, honey,
but every time I've noticed you I've said to myself, 'That kid has Blue Blood
in her veins!'"
"Did you, honest?"
"Honest I did. Well, well, come on--now we're friends--what's the darling
"Ida Putiak. It ain't so much-a-much of a name. I always say to Ma, I say,
'Ma, why didn't you name me Doloress or something with some class to it?'"
"Well, now, I think it's a scrumptious name. Ida!"
"I bet I know your name!"
"Well, now, not necessarily. Of course--Oh, it isn't so specially well
"Aren't you Mr. Sondheim that travels for the Krackajack Kitchen Kutlery Ko.?"
"I am not! I'm Mr. Babbitt, the real-estate broker!"
"Oh, excuse me! Oh, of course. You mean here in Zenith."
"Yep." With the briskness of one whose feelings have been hurt.
"Oh, sure. I've read your ads. They're swell."
"Um, well--You might have read about my speeches."
"Course I have! I don't get much time to read but--I guess you think I'm an
awfully silly little nit!"
"I think you're a little darling!"
"Well--There's one nice thing about this job. It gives a girl a chance to
meet some awfully nice gentlemen and improve her mind with conversation, and
you get so you can read a guy's character at the first glance."
"Look here, Ida; please don't think I'm getting fresh--" He was hotly
reflecting that it would be humiliating to be rejected by this child, and
dangerous to be accepted. If he took her to dinner, if he were seen by
censorious friends--But he went on ardently: "Don't think I'm getting fresh
if I suggest it would be nice for us to go out and have a little dinner
together some evening."
"I don't know as I ought to but--My gentleman-friend's always wanting to take
me out. But maybe I could to-night."
There was no reason, he assured himself, why he shouldn't have a quiet dinner
with a poor girl who would benefit by association with an educated and mature
person like himself. But, lest some one see them and not understand, he would
take her to Biddlemeier's Inn, on the outskirts of the city. They would have a
pleasant drive, this hot lonely evening, and he might hold her hand--no, he
wouldn't even do that. Ida was complaisant; her bare shoulders showed it only
too clearly; but he'd be hanged if he'd make love to her merely because she
Then his car broke down; something had happened to the ignition. And he HAD to
have the car this evening! Furiously he tested the spark-plugs, stared at the
commutator. His angriest glower did not seem to stir the sulky car, and in
disgrace it was hauled off to a garage. With a renewed thrill he thought of a
taxicab. There was something at once wealthy and interestingly wicked about a
But when he met her, on a corner two blocks from the Hotel Thornleigh, she
said, "A taxi? Why, I thought you owned a car!"
"I do. Of course I do! But it's out of commission to-night."
"Oh," she remarked, as one who had heard that tale before.
All the way out to Biddlemeier's Inn he tried to talk as an old friend, but he
could not pierce the wall of her words. With interminable indignation she
narrated her retorts to "that fresh head-barber" and the drastic things she
would do to him if he persisted in saying that she was "better at gassing than
At Biddlemeier's Inn they were unable to get anything to drink. The
head-waiter refused to understand who George F. Babbitt was. They sat steaming
before a vast mixed grill, and made conversation about baseball. When he
tried to hold Ida's hand she said with bright friendliness, "Careful! That
fresh waiter is rubbering." But they came out into a treacherous summer night,
the air lazy and a little moon above transfigured maples.
"Let's drive some other place, where we can get a drink and dance!" he
"Sure, some other night. But I promised Ma I'd be home early to-night."
"Rats! It's too nice to go home."
"I'd just love to, but Ma would give me fits."
He was trembling. She was everything that was young and exquisite. He put his
arm about her. She snuggled against his shoulder, unafraid, and he was
triumphant. Then she ran down the steps of the Inn, singing, "Come on,
Georgie, we'll have a nice drive and get cool."
It was a night of lovers. All along the highway into Zenith, under the low
and gentle moon, motors were parked and dim figures were clasped in revery. He
held out hungry hands to Ida, and when she patted them he was grateful. There
was no sense of struggle and transition; he kissed her and simply she
responded to his kiss, they two behind the stolid back of the chauffeur.
Her hat fell off, and she broke from his embrace to reach for it.
"Oh, let it be!" he implored.
"Huh? My hat? Not a chance!"
He waited till she had pinned it on, then his arm sank about her. She drew
away from it, and said with maternal soothing, "Now, don't be a silly boy!
Mustn't make Ittle Mama scold! Just sit back, dearie, and see what a swell
night it is. If you're a good boy, maybe I'll kiss you when we say
nighty-night. Now give me a cigarette."
He was solicitous about lighting her cigarette and inquiring as to her
comfort. Then he sat as far from her as possible. He was cold with failure.
No one could have told Babbitt that he was a fool with more vigor, precision,
and intelligence than he himself displayed. He reflected that from the
standpoint of the Rev. Dr. John Jennison Drew he was a wicked man, and from
the standpoint of Miss Ida Putiak, an old bore who had to be endured as the
penalty attached to eating a large dinner.
"Dearie, you aren't going to go and get peevish, are you?"
She spoke pertly. He wanted to spank her. He brooded, "I don't have to take
anything off this gutter-pup! Darn immigrant! Well, let's get it over as quick
as we can, and sneak home and kick ourselves for the rest of the night."
He snorted, "Huh? Me peevish? Why, you baby, why should I be peevish? Now,
listen, Ida; listen to Uncle George. I want to put you wise about this
scrapping with your head-barber all the time. I've had a lot of experience
with employees, and let me tell you it doesn't pay to antagonize--"
At the drab wooden house in which she lived he said good-night briefly and
amiably, but as the taxicab drove off he was praying "Oh, my God!"
HE awoke to stretch cheerfully as he listened to the sparrows, then to
remember that everything was wrong; that he was determined to go astray, and
not in the least enjoying the process. Why, he wondered, should he be in
rebellion? What was it all about? "Why not be sensible; stop all this idiotic
running around, and enjoy himself with his family, his business, the fellows
at the club?" What was he getting out of rebellion? Misery and shame--the
shame of being treated as an offensive small boy by a ragamuffin like Ida
Putiak! And yet--Always he came back to "And yet." Whatever the misery, he
could not regain contentment with a world which, once doubted, became absurd.
Only, he assured himself, he was "through with this chasing after girls."
By noontime he was not so sure even of that. If in Miss McGoun, Louetta
Swanson, and Ida he had failed to find the lady kind and lovely, it did not
prove that she did not exist. He was hunted by the ancient thought that
somewhere must exist the not impossible she who would understand him, value
him, and make him happy.
Mrs. Babbitt returned in August.
On her previous absences he had missed her reassuring buzz and of her arrival
he had made a fete. Now, though he dared not hurt her by letting a hint of it
appear in his letters, he was sorry that she was coming before he had found
himself, and he was embarrassed by the need of meeting her and looking joyful.
He loitered down to the station; he studied the summer-resort posters, lest he
have to speak to acquaintances and expose his uneasiness. But he was well
trained. When the train clanked in he was out on the cement platform, peering
into the chair-cars, and as he saw her in the line of passengers moving toward
the vestibule he waved his hat. At the door he embraced her, and announced,
"Well, well, well, well, by golly, you look fine, you look fine." Then he was
aware of Tinka. Here was something, this child with her absurd little nose
and lively eyes, that loved him, believed him great, and as he clasped her,
lifted and held her till she squealed, he was for the moment come back to his
old steady self.
Tinka sat beside him in the car, with one hand on the steering-wheel,
pretending to help him drive, and he shouted back to his wife, "I'll bet the
kid will be the best chuffer in the family! She holds the wheel like an old
All the while he was dreading the moment when he would be alone with his wife
and she would patiently expect him to be ardent.
There was about the house an unofficial theory that he was to take his
vacation alone, to spend a week or ten days in Catawba, but he was nagged by
the memory that a year ago he had been with Paul in Maine. He saw himself
returning; finding peace there, and the presence of Paul, in a life primitive
and heroic. Like a shock came the thought that he actually could go. Only, he
couldn't, really; he couldn't leave his business, and "Myra would think it
sort of funny, his going way off there alone. Course he'd decided to do
whatever he darned pleased, from now on, but still--to go way off to Maine!"
He went, after lengthy meditations.
With his wife, since it was inconceivable to explain that he was going to seek
Paul's spirit in the wilderness, he frugally employed the lie prepared over a
year ago and scarcely used at all. He said that he had to see a man in New
York on business. He could not have explained even to himself why he drew from
the bank several hundred dollars more than he needed, nor why he kissed Tinka
so tenderly, and cried, "God bless you, baby!" From the train he waved to her
till she was but a scarlet spot beside the brown bulkier presence of Mrs.
Babbitt, at the end of a steel and cement aisle ending in vast barred gates.
With melancholy he looked back at the last suburb of Zenith.
All the way north he pictured the Maine guides: simple and strong and daring,
jolly as they played stud-poker in their unceiled shack, wise in woodcraft as
they tramped the forest and shot the rapids. He particularly remembered Joe
Paradise, half Yankee, half Indian. If he could but take up a backwoods claim
with a man like Joe, work hard with his hands, be free and noisy in a flannel
shirt, and never come back to this dull decency!
Or, like a trapper in a Northern Canada movie, plunge through the forest, make
camp in the Rockies, a grim and wordless caveman! Why not? He COULD do it!
There'd be enough money at home for the family to live on till Verona was
married and Ted self-supporting. Old Henry T. would look out for them.
Honestly! Why NOT? Really LIVE--
He longed for it, admitted that he longed for it, then almost believed that he
was going lo do it. Whenever common sense snorted, "Nonsense! Folks don't
run away from decent families and partners; just simply don't do it, that's
all!" then Babbitt answered pleadingly, "Well, it wouldn't take any more nerve
than for Paul to go to jail and--Lord, how I'd' like to do it!
Moccasins-six-gun-frontier town-gamblers--sleep under the stars--be a regular
man, with he-men like Joe Paradise--gosh!"
So he came to Maine, again stood on the wharf before the camp-hotel, again
spat heroically into the delicate and shivering water, while the pines
rustled, the mountains glowed, and a trout leaped and fell in a sliding
circle. He hurried to the guides' shack as to his real home, his real
friends, long missed. They would be glad to see him. They would stand up and
shout? "Why, here's Mr. Babbitt! He ain't one of these ordinary sports! He's
a real guy!"
In their boarded and rather littered cabin the guides sat about the greasy
table playing stud-poker with greasy cards: half a dozen wrinkled men in old
trousers and easy old felt hats. They glanced up and nodded. Joe Paradise,
the swart aging man with the big mustache, grunted, "How do. Back again?"
Silence, except for the clatter of chips.
Babbitt stood beside them, very lonely. He hinted, after a period of highly
concentrated playing, "Guess I might take a hand, Joe."
"Sure. Sit in. How many chips you want? Let's see; you were here with your
wife, last year, wa'n't you?" said Joe Paradise.
That was all of Babbitt's welcome to the old home.
He played for half an hour before he spoke again. His head was reeking with
the smoke of pipes and cheap cigars, and he was weary of pairs and
four-flushes, resentful of the way in which they ignored him. He flung at Joe:
"Like to guide me for a few days?"
"Well, jus' soon. I ain't engaged till next week."
Only thus did Joe recognize the friendship Babbitt was offering him. Babbitt
paid up his losses and left the shack rather childishly. Joe raised his head
from the coils of smoke like a seal rising from surf, grunted, "I'll come
'round t'morrow," and dived down to his three aces.
Neither in his voiceless cabin, fragrant with planks of new-cut pine, nor
along the lake, nor in the sunset clouds which presently eddied behind the
lavender-misted mountains, could Babbitt find the spirit of Paul as a
reassuring presence. He was so lonely that after supper he stopped to talk
with an ancient old lady, a gasping and steadily discoursing old lady, by the
stove in the hotel-office. He told her of Ted's presumable future triumphs in
the State University and of Tinka's remarkable vocabulary till he was homesick
for the home he had left forever.
Through the darkness, through that Northern pine-walled silence, he blundered
down to the lake-front and found a canoe. There were no paddles in it but with
a board, sitting awkwardly amidships and poking at the water rather than
paddling, he made his way far out on the lake. The lights of the hotel and
the cottages became yellow dots, a cluster of glow-worms at the base of Sachem
Mountain. Larger and ever more imperturbable was the mountain in the
star-filtered darkness, and the lake a limitless pavement of black marble. He
was dwarfed and dumb and a little awed, but that insignificance freed him from
the pomposities of being Mr. George F. Babbitt of Zenith; saddened and freed
his heart. Now he was conscious of the presence of Paul, fancied him (rescued
from prison, from Zilla and the brisk exactitudes of the tar-roofing business)
playing his violin at the end of the canoe. He vowed, "I will go on! I'll
never go back! Now that Paul's out of it, I don't want to see any of those
damn people again! I was a fool to get sore because Joe Paradise didn't jump
up and hug me. He's one of these woodsmen; too wise to go yelping and talking
your arm off like a cityman. But get him back in the mountains, out on the
trail--! That's real living!" IV
Joe reported at Babbitt's cabin at nine the next morning. Babbitt greeted him
as a fellow caveman:
"Well, Joe, how d' you feel about hitting the trail, and getting away from
these darn soft summerites and these women and all?"
"All right, Mr. Babbitt."
"What do you say we go over to Box Car Pond--they tell me the shack there
isn't being used--and camp out?"
"Well, all right, Mr. Babbitt, but it's nearer to Skowtuit Pond, and you can
get just about as good fishing there."
"No, I want to get into the real wilds."
"Well, all right."
"We'll put the old packs on our backs and get into the woods and really hike."
"I think maybe it would be easier to go by water, through Lake Chogue. We can
go all the way by motor boat--flat-bottom boat with an Evinrude."
"No, sir! Bust up the quiet with a chugging motor? Not on your life! You
just throw a pair of socks in the old pack, and tell 'em what you want for
eats. I'll be ready soon 's you are."
"Most of the sports go by boat, Mr. Babbitt. It's a long walk.
"Look here, Joe: are you objecting to walking?"
"Oh, no, I guess I can do it. But I haven't tramped that far for sixteen
years. Most of the sports go by boat. But I can do it if you say so--I
guess." Joe walked away in sadness.
Babbitt had recovered from his touchy wrath before Joe returned. He pictured
him as warming up and telling the most entertaining stories. But Joe had not
yet warmed up when they took the trail. He persistently kept behind Babbitt,
and however much his shoulders ached from the pack, however sorely he panted,
Babbitt could hear his guide panting equally. But the trail was satisfying: a
path brown with pine-needles and rough with roots, among the balsams, the
ferns, the sudden groves of white birch. He became credulous again, and
rejoiced in sweating. When he stopped to rest he chuckled, "Guess we're
hitting it up pretty good for a couple o' old birds, eh?"
"Uh-huh," admitted Joe.
"This is a mighty pretty place. Look, you can see the lake down through the