Part 6 out of 7
trees. I tell you, Joe, you don't appreciate how lucky you are to live in
woods like this, instead of a city with trolleys grinding and typewriters
clacking and people bothering the life out of you all the time! I wish I knew
the woods like you do. Say, what's the name of that little red flower?"
Rubbing his back, Joe regarded the flower resentfully "Well, some folks call
it one thing and some calls it another I always just call it Pink Flower."
Babbitt blessedly ceased thinking as tramping turned into blind plodding. He
was submerged in weariness. His plump legs seemed to go on by themselves,
without guidance, and he mechanically wiped away the sweat which stung his
eyes. He was too tired to be consciously glad as, after a sun-scourged mile of
corduroy tote-road through a swamp where flies hovered over a hot waste of
brush, they reached the cool shore of Box Car Pond. When he lifted the pack
from his back he staggered from the change in balance, and for a moment could
not stand erect. He lay beneath an ample-bosomed maple tree near the
guest-shack, and joyously felt sleep running through his veins.
He awoke toward dusk, to find Joe efficiently cooking bacon and eggs and
flapjacks for supper, and his admiration of the woodsman returned. He sat on a
stump and felt virile.
"Joe, what would you do if you had a lot of money? Would you stick to guiding,
or would you take a claim 'way back in the woods and be independent of
For the first time Joe brightened. He chewed his cud a second, and bubbled,
"I've often thought of that! If I had the money, I'd go down to Tinker's
Falls and open a swell shoe store."
After supper Joe proposed a game of stud-poker but Babbitt refused with
brevity, and Joe contentedly went to bed at eight. Babbitt sat on the stump,
facing the dark pond, slapping mosquitos. Save the snoring guide, there was no
other human being within ten miles. He was lonelier than he had ever been in
his life. Then he was in Zenith.
He was worrying as to whether Miss McGoun wasn't paying too much for carbon
paper. He was at once resenting and missing the persistent teasing at the
Roughnecks' Table. He was wondering what Zilla Riesling was doing now. He was
wondering whether, after the summer's maturity of being a garageman, Ted would
"get busy" in the university. He was thinking of his wife. "If she would
only--if she wouldn't be so darn satisfied with just settling down--No! I
won't! I won't go back! I'll be fifty in three years. Sixty in thirteen
years. I'm going to have some fun before it's too late. I don't care! I
He thought of Ida Putiak, of Louetta Swanson, of that nice widow--what was her
name?--Tanis Judique?--the one for whom he'd found the flat. He was enmeshed
in imaginary conversations. Then:
"Gee, I can't seem to get away from thinking about folks!"
Thus it came to him merely to run away was folly, because he could never run
away from himself.
That moment he started for Zenith. In his journey there was no appearance of
flight, but he was fleeing, and four days afterward he was on the Zenith
train. He knew that he was slinking back not because it was what he longed to
do but because it was all he could do. He scanned again his discovery that he
could never run away from Zenith and family and office, because in his own
brain he bore the office and the family and every street and disquiet and
illusion of Zenith.
"But I'm going to--oh, I'm going to start something!" he vowed, and he tried
to make it valiant.
As he walked through the train, looking for familiar faces, he saw only one
person whom he knew, and that was Seneca Doane, the lawyer who, after the
blessings of being in Babbitt's own class at college and of becoming a
corporation-counsel, had turned crank, had headed farmer-labor tickets and
fraternized with admitted socialists. Though he was in rebellion, naturally
Babbitt did not care to be seen talking with such a fanatic, but in all the
Pullmans he could find no other acquaintance, and reluctantly he halted.
Seneca Doane was a slight, thin-haired man, rather like Chum Frink except that
he hadn't Frink's grin. He was reading a book called "The Way of All Flesh."
It looked religious to Babbitt, and he wondered if Doane could possibly have
been converted and turned decent and patriotic.
"Why, hello, Doane," he said.
Doane looked up. His voice was curiously kind. "Oh! How do, Babbitt."
"Been away, eh?"
"Yes, I've been in Washington."
"Washington, eh? How's the old Government making out?"
"It's--Won't you sit down?"
"Thanks. Don't care if I do. Well, well! Been quite a while since I've had
a good chance to talk to you, Doane. I was, uh--Sorry you didn't turn up at
the last class-dinner."
"How's the unions coming? Going to run for mayor again?" Doane seemed
restless. He was fingering the pages of his book. He said "I might" as though
it didn't mean anything in particular, and he smiled.
Babbitt liked that smile, and hunted for conversation: "Saw a bang-up cabaret
in New York: the 'Good-Morning Cutie' bunch at the Hotel Minton."
"Yes, they're pretty girls. I danced there one evening."
"Oh. Like dancing?"
"Naturally. I like dancing and pretty women and good food better than
anything else in the world. Most men do."
"But gosh, Doane, I thought you fellows wanted to take all the good eats and
everything away from us."
"No. Not at all. What I'd like to see is the meetings of the Garment Workers
held at the Ritz, with a dance afterward. Isn't that reasonable?"
"Yuh, might be good idea, all right. Well--Shame I haven't seen more of you,
recent years. Oh, say, hope you haven't held it against me, my bucking you as
mayor, going on the stump for Prout. You see, I'm an organization Republican,
and I kind of felt--"
"There's no reason why you shouldn't fight me. I have no doubt you're good for
the Organization. I remember--in college you were an unusually liberal,
sensitive chap. I can still recall your saying to me that you were going to be
a lawyer, and take the cases of the poor for nothing, and fight the rich. And
I remember I said I was going to be one of the rich myself, and buy paintings
and live at Newport. I'm sure you inspired us all."
"Well.... Well.... I've always aimed to be liberal." Babbitt was enormously
shy and proud and self-conscious; he tried to look like the boy he had been a
quarter-century ago, and he shone upon his old friend Seneca Doane as he
rumbled, "Trouble with a lot of these fellows, even the live wires and some of
'em that think they're forward-looking, is they aren't broad-minded and
liberal. Now, I always believe in giving the other fellow a chance, and
listening to his ideas."
"Tell you how I figure it: A little opposition is good for all of us, so a
fellow, especially if he's a business man and engaged in doing the work of the
world, ought to be liberal."
"I always say a fellow ought to have Vision and Ideals. I guess some of the
fellows in my business think I'm pretty visionary, but I just let 'em think
what they want to and go right on--same as you do.... By golly, this is nice
to have a chance to sit and visit and kind of, you might say, brush up on our
"But of course we visionaries do rather get beaten. Doesn't it bother you?"
"Not a bit! Nobody can dictate to me what I think!"
"You're the man I want to help me. I want you to talk to some of the business
men and try to make them a little more liberal in their attitude toward poor
"Ingram? But, why, he's this nut preacher that got kicked out of the
Congregationalist Church, isn't he, and preaches free love and sedition?"
This, Doane explained, was indeed the general conception of Beecher Ingram,
but he himself saw Beecher Ingram as a priest of the brotherhood of man, of
which Babbitt was notoriously an upholder. So would Babbitt keep his
acquaintances from hounding Ingram and his forlorn little church?
"You bet! I'll call down any of the boys I hear getting funny about Ingram,"
Babbitt said affectionately to his dear friend Doane.
Doane warmed up and became reminiscent. He spoke of student days in Germany,
of lobbying for single tax in Washington, of international labor conferences.
He mentioned his friends, Lord Wycombe, Colonel Wedgwood, Professor Piccoli.
Babbitt had always supposed that Doane associated only with the I. W. W., but
now he nodded gravely, as one who knew Lord Wycombes by the score, and he got
in two references to Sir Gerald Doak. He felt daring and idealistic and
Suddenly, in his new spiritual grandeur, he was sorry for Zilla Riesling, and
understood her as these ordinary fellows at the Boosters' Club never could.
Five hours after he had arrived in Zenith and told his wife how hot it was in
New York, he went to call on Zilla. He was buzzing with ideas and
forgiveness. He'd get Paul released; he'd do things, vague but highly
benevolent things, for Zilla; he'd be as generous as his friend Seneca Doane.
He had not seen Zilla since Paul had shot her, and he still pictured her as
buxom, high-colored, lively, and a little blowsy. As he drove up to her
boarding-house, in a depressing back street below the wholesale district, he
stopped in discomfort. At an upper window, leaning on her elbow, was a woman
with the features of Zilla, but she was bloodless and aged, like a yellowed
wad of old paper crumpled into wrinkles. Where Zilla had bounced and jiggled,
this woman was dreadfully still.
He waited half an hour before she came into the boarding-house parlor. Fifty
times he opened the book of photographs of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893,
fifty times he looked at the picture of the Court of Honor.
He was startled to find Zilla in the room. She wore a black streaky gown
which she had tried to brighten with a girdle of crimson ribbon. The ribbon
had been torn and patiently mended. He noted this carefully, because he did
not wish to look at her shoulders. One shoulder was lower than the other; one
arm she carried in contorted fashion, as though it were paralyzed; and behind
a high collar of cheap lace there was a gouge in the anemic neck which had
once been shining and softly plump.
"Yes?" she said.
"Well, well, old Zilla! By golly, it's good to see you again!"
"He can send his messages through a lawyer."
"Why, rats, Zilla, I didn't come just because of him. Came as an old friend."
"You waited long enough!"
"Well, you know how it is. Figured you wouldn't want to see a friend of his
for quite some time and--Sit down, honey! Let's be sensible. We've all of us
done a bunch of things that we hadn't ought to, but maybe we can sort of start
over again. Honest, Zilla, I'd like to do something to make you both happy.
Know what I thought to-day? Mind you, Paul doesn't know a thing about
this--doesn't know I was going to come see you. I got to thinking: Zilla's a
fine? big-hearted woman, and she'll understand that, uh, Paul's had his lesson
now. Why wouldn't it be a fine idea if you asked the governor to pardon him?
Believe he would, if it came from you. No! Wait! Just think how good you'd
feel if you were generous."
"Yes, I wish to be generous." She was sitting primly, speaking icily. "For
that reason I wish to keep him in prison, as an example to evil-doers. I've
gotten religion, George, since the terrible thing that man did to me.
Sometimes I used to be unkind, and I wished for worldly pleasures, for dancing
and the theater. But when I was in the hospital the pastor of the Pentecostal
Communion Faith used to come to see me, and he showed me, right from the
prophecies written in the Word of God, that the Day of Judgment is coming and
all the members of the older churches are going straight to eternal damnation,
because they only do lip-service and swallow the world, the flesh, and the
For fifteen wild minutes she talked, pouring out admonitions to flee the wrath
to come, and her face flushed, her dead voice recaptured something of the
shrill energy of the old Zilla. She wound up with a furious:
"It's the blessing of God himself that Paul should be in prison now, and torn
and humbled by punishment, so that he may yet save his soul, and so other
wicked men, these horrible chasers after women and lust, may have an example."
Babbitt had itched and twisted. As in church he dared not move during the
sermon so now he felt that he must seem attentive, though her screeching
denunciations flew past him like carrion birds.
He sought to be calm and brotherly:
"Yes, I know, Zilla. But gosh, it certainly is the essence of religion to be
charitable, isn't it? Let me tell you how I figure it: What we need in the
world is liberalism, liberality, if we're going to get anywhere. I've always
believed in being broad-minded and liberal--"
"You? Liberal?" It was very much the old Zilla. "Why, George Babbitt,
you're about as broad-minded and liberal as a razor-blade!"
"Oh, I am, am I! Well, just let me tell you, just--let me--tell--you, I'm as
by golly liberal as you are religious, anyway! YOU RELIGIOUS!"
"I am so! Our pastor says I sustain him in the faith!"
"I'll bet you do! With Paul's money! But just to show you how liberal I am,
I'm going to send a check for ten bucks to this Beecher Ingram, because a lot
of fellows are saying the poor cuss preaches sedition and free love, and
they're trying to run him out of town."
"And they're right! They ought to run him out of town! Why, he preaches--if
you can call it preaching--in a theater, in the House of Satan! You don't
know what it is to find God, to find peace, to behold the snares that the
devil spreads out for our feet. Oh, I'm so glad to see the mysterious
purposes of God in having Paul harm me and stop my wickedness--and Paul's
getting his, good and plenty, for the cruel things he did to me, and I hope he
DIES in prison!"
Babbitt was up, hat in hand, growling, "Well, if that's what you call being at
peace, for heaven's sake just warn me before you go to war, will you?"
Vast is the power of cities to reclaim the wanderer. More than mountains or
the shore-devouring sea, a city retains its character, imperturbable, cynical,
holding behind apparent changes its essential purpose. Though Babbitt had
deserted his family and dwelt with Joe Paradise in the wilderness, though he
had become a liberal, though he had been quite sure, on the night before he
reached Zenith, that neither he nor the city would be the same again, ten days
after his return he could not believe that he had ever been away. Nor was it
at all evident to his acquaintances that there was a new George F. Babbitt,
save that he was more irritable under the incessant chaffing at the Athletic
Club, and once, when Vergil Gunch observed that Seneca Doane ought to be
hanged, Babbitt snorted, "Oh, rats, he's not so bad."
At home he grunted "Eh?" across the newspaper to his commentatory wife, and
was delighted by Tinka's new red tam o'shanter, and announced, "No class to
that corrugated iron garage. Have to build me a nice frame one."
Verona and Kenneth Escott appeared really to be engaged. In his newspaper
Escott had conducted a pure-food crusade against commission-houses. As a
result he had been given an excellent job in a commission-house, and he was
making a salary on which he could marry, and denouncing irresponsible
reporters who wrote stories criticizing commission-houses without knowing what
they were talking about.
This September Ted had entered the State University as a freshman in the
College of Arts and Sciences. The university was at Mohalis only fifteen
miles from Zenith, and Ted often came down for the week-end. Babbitt was
worried. Ted was "going in for" everything but books. He had tried to "make"
the football team as a light half-back, he was looking forward to the
basket-ball season, he was on the committee for the Freshman Hop, and (as a
Zenithite, an aristocrat among the yokels) he was being "rushed" by two
fraternities. But of his studies Babbitt could learn nothing save a mumbled,
"Oh, gosh, these old stiffs of teachers just give you a lot of junk about
literature and economics."
One week-end Ted proposed, "Say, Dad, why can't I transfer over from the
College to the School of Engineering and take mechanical engineering? You
always holler that I never study, but honest, I would study there."
"No, the Engineering School hasn't got the standing the College has," fretted
"I'd like to know how it hasn't! The Engineers can play on any of the teams!"
There was much explanation of the "dollars-and-cents value of being known as a
college man when you go into the law," and a truly oratorical account of the
lawyer's life. Before he was through with it, Babbitt had Ted a United States
Among the great lawyers whom he mentioned was Secena Doane.
"But, gee whiz," Ted marveled, "I thought you always said this Doane was a
"That's no way to speak of a great man! Doane's always been a good friend of
mine--fact I helped him in college--I started him out and you might say
inspired him. Just because he's sympathetic with the aims of Labor, a lot of
chumps that lack liberality and broad-mindedness think he's a crank, but let
me tell you there's mighty few of 'em that rake in the fees he does, and he's
a friend of some of the strongest; most conservative men in the world--like
Lord Wycombe, this, uh, this big English nobleman that's so well known. And
you now, which would you rather do: be in with a lot of greasy mechanics and
laboring-men, or chum up to a real fellow like Lord Wycombe, and get invited
to his house for parties?"
"Well--gosh," sighed Ted.
The next week-end he came in joyously with, "Say, Dad, why couldn't I take
mining engineering instead of the academic course? You talk about
standing--maybe there isn't much in mechanical engineering, but the Miners,
gee, they got seven out of eleven in the new elections to Nu Tau Tau!"
THE strike which turned Zenith into two belligerent camps; white and red,
began late in September with a walk-out of telephone girls and linemen, in
protest against a reduction of wages. The newly formed union of dairy-products
workers went out, partly in sympathy and partly in demand for a forty-four
hour week. They were followed by the truck-drivers' union. Industry was tied
up, and the whole city was nervous with talk of a trolley strike, a printers'
strike, a general strike. Furious citizens, trying to get telephone calls
through strike-breaking girls, danced helplessly. Every truck that made its
way from the factories to the freight-stations was guarded by a policeman,
trying to look stoical beside the scab driver. A line of fifty trucks from the
Zenith Steel and Machinery Company was attacked by strikers-rushing out from
the sidewalk, pulling drivers from the seats, smashing carburetors and
commutators, while telephone girls cheered from the walk, and small boys
The National Guard was ordered out. Colonel Nixon, who in private life was
Mr. Caleb Nixon, secretary of the Pullmore Tractor Company, put on a long
khaki coat and stalked through crowds, a .44 automatic in hand. Even Babbitt's
friend, Clarence Drum the shoe merchant--a round and merry man who told
stories at the Athletic Club, and who strangely resembled a Victorian
pug-dog--was to be seen as a waddling but ferocious captain, with his belt
tight about his comfortable little belly, and his round little mouth petulant
as he piped to chattering groups on corners. "Move on there now! I can't have
any of this loitering!"
Every newspaper in the city, save one, was against the strikers. When mobs
raided the news-stands, at each was stationed a militiaman, a young,
embarrassed citizen-soldier with eye-glasses, bookkeeper or grocery-clerk in
private life, trying to look dangerous while small boys yelped, "Get onto de
tin soldier!" and striking truck-drivers inquired tenderly, "Say, Joe, when I
was fighting in France, was you in camp in the States or was you doing Swede
exercises in the Y. M. C. A.? Be careful of that bayonet, now, or you'll cut
There was no one in Zenith who talked of anything but the strike, and no one
who did not take sides. You were either a courageous friend of Labor, or you
were a fearless supporter of the Rights of Property; and in either case you
were belligerent, and ready to disown any friend who did not hate the enemy.
A condensed-milk plant was set afire--each side charged it to the other--and
the city was hysterical.
And Babbitt chose this time to be publicly liberal.
He belonged to the sound, sane, right-thinking wing, and at first he agreed
that the Crooked Agitators ought to be shot. He was sorry when his friend,
Seneca Doane, defended arrested strikers, and he thought of going to Doane and
explaining about these agitators, but when he read a broadside alleging that
even on their former wages the telephone girls had been hungry, he was
troubled. "All lies and fake figures," he said, but in a doubtful croak.
For the Sunday after, the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church announced a sermon
by Dr. John Jennison Drew on "How the Saviour Would End Strikes." Babbitt had
been negligent about church-going lately, but he went to the service, hopeful
that Dr. Drew really did have the information as to what the divine powers
thought about strikes. Beside Babbitt in the large, curving, glossy,
velvet-upholstered pew was Chum Frink.
Frink whispered, "Hope the doc gives the strikers hell! Ordinarily, I don't
believe in a preacher butting into political matters--let him stick to
straight religion and save souls, and not stir up a lot of discussion--but at
a time like this, I do think he ought to stand right up and bawl out those
plug-uglies to a fare-you-well!"
"Yes--well--" said Babbitt.
The Rev. Dr. Drew, his rustic bang flopping with the intensity of his poetic
and sociologic ardor, trumpeted:
"During the untoward series of industrial dislocations which have--let us be
courageous and admit it boldly--throttled the business life of our fair city
these past days, there has been a great deal of loose talk about scientific
prevention of scientific--SCIENTIFIC! Now, let me tell you that the most
unscientific thing in the world is science! Take the attacks on the
established fundamentals of the Christian creed which were so popular with the
'scientists' a generation ago. Oh, yes, they were mighty fellows, and great
poo-bahs of criticism! They were going to destroy the church; they were going
to prove the world was created and has been brought to its extraordinary level
of morality and civilization by blind chance. Yet the church stands just as
firmly to-day as ever, and the only answer a Christian pastor needs make to
the long-haired opponents of his simple faith is just a pitying smile!
"And now these same 'scientists' want to replace the natural condition of free
competition by crazy systems which, no matter by what high-sounding names they
are called, are nothing but a despotic paternalism. Naturally, I'm not
criticizing labor courts, injunctions against men proven to be striking
unjustly, or those excellent unions in which the men and the boss get
together. But I certainly am criticizing the systems in which the free and
fluid motivation of independent labor is to be replaced by cooked-up
wage-scales and minimum salaries and government commissions and labor
federations and all that poppycock.
"What is not generally understood is that this whole industrial matter isn't a
question of economics. It's essentially and only a matter of Love, and of the
practical application of the Christian religion! Imagine a factory--instead of
committees of workmen alienating the boss, the boss goes among them smiling,
and they smile back, the elder brother and the younger. Brothers, that's what
they must be, loving brothers, and then strikes would be as inconceivable as
hatred in the home!"
It was at this point that Babbitt muttered, "Oh, rot!"
"Huh?" said Chum Frink.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about. It's just as clear as mud. It
doesn't mean a darn thing."
Frink looked at him doubtfully, through all the service kept glancing at him
doubtfully, till Babbitt was nervous.
The strikers had announced a parade for Tuesday morning, but Colonel Nixon had
forbidden it, the newspapers said. When Babbitt drove west from his office at
ten that morning he saw a drove of shabby men heading toward the tangled,
dirty district beyond Court House Square. He hated them, because they were
poor, because they made him feel insecure "Damn loafers! Wouldn't be common
workmen if they had any pep," he complained. He wondered if there was going to
be a riot. He drove toward the starting-point of the parade, a triangle of
limp and faded grass known as Moore Street Park, and halted his car.
The park and streets were buzzing with strikers, young men in blue denim
shirts, old men with caps. Through them, keeping them stirred like a boiling
pot, moved the militiamen. Babbitt could hear the soldiers' monotonous orders:
"Keep moving--move on, 'bo--keep your feet warm!" Babbitt admired their stolid
good temper. The crowd shouted, "Tin soldiers," and "Dirty dogs--servants of
the capitalists!" but the militiamen grinned and answered only, "Sure, that's
right. Keep moving, Billy!"
Babbitt thrilled over the citizen-soldiers, hated the scoundrels who were
obstructing the pleasant ways of prosperity, admired Colonel Nixon's striding
contempt for the crowd; and as Captain Clarence Drum, that rather puffing
shoe-dealer, came raging by, Babbitt respectfully clamored, "Great work,
Captain! Don't let 'em march!" He watched the strikers filing from the park.
Many of them bore posters with "They can't stop our peacefully walking." The
militiamen tore away the posters, but the strikers fell in behind their
leaders and straggled off, a thin unimpressive trickle between steel-glinting
lines of soldiers. Babbitt saw with disappointment that there wasn't going to
be any violence, nothing interesting at all. Then he gasped.
Among the marchers, beside a bulky young workman, was Seneca Doane, smiling,
content. In front of him was Professor Brockbank, head of the history
department in the State University, an old man and white-bearded, known to
come from a distinguished Massachusetts family.
"Why, gosh," Babbitt marveled, "a swell like him in with the strikers? And
good ole Senny Doane! They're fools to get mixed up with this bunch. They're
parlor socialists! But they have got nerve. And nothing in it for them, not
a cent! And--I don't know 's ALL the strikers look like such tough nuts.
Look just about like anybody else to me!"
The militiamen were turning the parade down a side street.
"They got just as much right to march as anybody else! They own the streets
as much as Clarence Drum or the American Legion does!" Babbitt grumbled. "Of
course, they're--they're a bad element, but--Oh, rats!"
At the Athletic Club, Babbitt was silent during lunch, while the others
fretted, "I don't know what the world's coming to," or solaced their spirits
Captain Clarence Drum came swinging by, splendid in khaki.
"How's it going, Captain?" inquired Vergil Gunch.
"Oh, we got 'em stopped. We worked 'em off on side streets and separated 'em
and they got discouraged and went home."
"Fine work. No violence."
"Fine work nothing!" groaned Mr. Drum. "If I had my way, there'd be a whole
lot of violence, and I'd start it, and then the whole thing would be over. I
don't believe in standing back and wet-nursing these fellows and letting the
disturbances drag on. I tell you these strikers are nothing in God's world
but a lot of bomb-throwing socialists and thugs, and the only way to handle
'em is with a club! That's what I'd do; beat up the whole lot of 'em!"
Babbitt heard himself saying, "Oh, rats, Clarence, they look just about like
you and me, and I certainly didn't notice any bombs."
Drum complained, "Oh, you didn't, eh? Well, maybe you'd like to take charge
of the strike! Just tell Colonel Nixon what innocents the strikers are! He'd
be glad to hear about it!" Drum strode on, while all the table stared at
"What's the idea? Do you want us to give those hell-hounds love and kisses,
or what?" said Orville Jones.
"Do you defend a lot of hoodlums that are trying to take the bread and butter
away from our families?" raged Professor Pumphrey.
Vergil Gunch intimidatingly said nothing. He put on sternness like a mask;
his jaw was hard, his bristly short hair seemed cruel, his silence was a
ferocious thunder. While the others assured Babbitt that they must have
misunderstood him, Gunch looked as though he had understood only too well.
Like a robed judge he listened to Babbitt's stammering:
"No, sure; course they're a bunch of toughs. But I just mean--Strikes me it's
bad policy to talk about clubbing 'em. Cabe Nixon doesn't. He's got the fine
Italian hand. And that's why he's colonel. Clarence Drum is jealous of him."
"Well," said Professor Pumphrey, "you hurt Clarence's feelings, George. He's
been out there all morning getting hot and dusty, and no wonder he wants to
beat the tar out of those sons of guns!"
Gunch said nothing, and watched; and Babbitt knew that he was being watched.
As he was leaving the club Babbitt heard Chum Frink protesting to Gunch,
"--don't know what's got into him. Last Sunday Doc Drew preached a corking
sermon about decency in business and Babbitt kicked about that, too. Near 's I
can figure out--"
Babbitt was vaguely frightened.
He saw a crowd listening to a man who was talking from the rostrum of a
kitchen-chair. He stopped his car. From newspaper pictures he knew that the
speaker must be the notorious freelance preacher, Beecher Ingram, of whom
Seneca Doane had spoken. Ingram was a gaunt man with flamboyant hair,
weather-beaten cheeks, and worried eyes. He was pleading:
"--if those telephone girls can hold out, living on one meal a day, doing
their own washing, starving and smiling, you big hulking men ought to be
Babbitt saw that from the sidewalk Vergil Gunch was watching him. In vague
disquiet he started the car and mechanically drove on, while Gunch's hostile
eyes seemed to follow him all the way.
"There's a lot of these fellows," Babbitt was complaining to his wife, "that
think if workmen go on strike they're a regular bunch of fiends. Now, of
course, it's a fight between sound business and the destructive element, and
we got to lick the stuffin's out of 'em when they challenge us, but doggoned
if I see why we can't fight like gentlemen and not go calling 'em dirty dogs
and saying they ought to be shot down."
"Why, George," she said placidly, "I thought you always insisted that all
strikers ought to be put in jail."
"I never did! Well, I mean--Some of 'em, of course. Irresponsible leaders.
But I mean a fellow ought to be broad-minded and liberal about things like--"
"But dearie, I thought you always said these so-called 'liberal' people were
the worst of--"
"Rats! Woman never can understand the different definitions of a word.
Depends on how you mean it. And it don't pay to be too cocksure about
anything. Now, these strikers: Honest, they're not such bad people. Just
foolish. They don't understand the complications of merchandizing and profit,
the way we business men do, but sometimes I think they're about like the rest
of us, and no more hogs for wages than we are for profits."
"George! If people were to hear you talk like that--of course I KNOW you; I
remember what a wild crazy boy you were; I know you don't mean a word you
say--but if people that didn't understand you were to hear you talking, they'd
think you were a regular socialist!"
"What do I care what anybody thinks? And let me tell you right now--I want
you to distinctly understand I never was a wild crazy kid, and when I say a
thing, I mean it, and I stand by it and--Honest, do you think people would
think I was too liberal if I just said the strikers were decent?"
"Of course they would. But don't worry, dear; I know you don't mean a word of
it. Time to trot up to bed now. Have you enough covers for to-night?"
On the sleeping-porch he puzzled, "She doesn't understand me. Hardly
understand myself. Why can't I take things easy, way I used to?
"Wish I could go out to Senny Doane's house and talk things over with him.
No! Suppose Verg Gunch saw me going in there!
"Wish I knew some really smart woman, and nice, that would see what I'm trying
to get at, and let me talk to her and--I wonder if Myra's right? Could the
fellows think I've gone nutty just because I'm broad-minded and liberal? Way
Verg looked at me--"
MISS McGOUN came into his private office at three in the afternoon with
"Lissen, Mr. Babbitt; there's a Mrs. Judique on the 'phone--wants to see about
some repairs, and the salesmen are all out. Want to talk to her?"
The voice of Tanis Judique was clear and pleasant. The black cylinder of the
telephone-receiver seemed to hold a tiny animated image of her: lustrous eyes,
delicate nose, gentle chin.
"This is Mrs. Judique. Do you remember me? You drove me up here to the
Cavendish Apartments and helped me find such a nice flat."
"Sure! Bet I remember! What can I do for you?"
"Why, it's just a little--I don't know that I ought to bother you, but the
janitor doesn't seem to be able to fix it. You know my flat is on the top
floor, and with these autumn rains the roof is beginning to leak, and I'd be
awfully glad if--"
"Sure! I'll come up and take a look at it." Nervously, "When do you expect
to be in?"
"Why, I'm in every morning."
"Be in this afternoon, in an hour or so?"
"Ye-es. Perhaps I could give you a cup of tea. I think I ought to, after all
"Fine! I'll run up there soon as I can get away."
He meditated, "Now there's a woman that's got refinement, savvy, CLASS!
'After all your trouble--give you a cup of tea.' She'd appreciate a fellow.
I'm a fool, but I'm not such a bad cuss, get to know me. And not so much a
fool as they think!"
The great strike was over, the strikers beaten. Except that Vergil Gunch
seemed less cordial, there were no visible effects of Babbitt's treachery to
the clan. The oppressive fear of criticism was gone, but a diffident
loneliness remained. Now he was so exhilarated that, to prove he wasn't, he
droned about the office for fifteen minutes, looking at blue-prints,
explaining to Miss McGoun that this Mrs. Scott wanted more money for her
house--had raised the asking-price--raised it from seven thousand to
eighty-five hundred--would Miss McGoun be sure and put it down on the
card--Mrs. Scott's house--raise. When he had thus established himself as a
person unemotional and interested only in business, he sauntered out. He took
a particularly long time to start his car; he kicked the tires, dusted the
glass of the speedometer, and tightened the screws holding the wind-shield
He drove happily off toward the Bellevue district, conscious of the presence
of Mrs. Judique as of a brilliant light on the horizon. The maple leaves had
fallen and they lined the gutters of the asphalted streets. It was a day of
pale gold and faded green, tranquil and lingering. Babbitt was aware of the
meditative day, and of the barrenness of Bellevue--blocks of wooden houses,
garages, little shops, weedy lots. "Needs pepping up; needs the touch that
people like Mrs. Judique could give a place," he ruminated, as he rattled
through the long, crude, airy streets. The wind rose, enlivening, keen, and in
a blaze of well-being he came to the flat of Tanis Judique.
She was wearing, when she flutteringly admitted him, a frock of black chiffon
cut modestly round at the base of her pretty throat. She seemed to him
immensely sophisticated. He glanced at the cretonnes and colored prints in her
living-room, and gurgled, "Gosh, you've fixed the place nice! Takes a clever
woman to know how to make a home, all right!"
"You really like it? I'm so glad! But you've neglected me, scandalously. You
promised to come some time and learn to dance."
Rather unsteadily, "Oh, but you didn't mean it seriously!"
"Perhaps not. But you might have tried!"
"Well, here I've come for my lesson, and you might just as well prepare to
have me stay for supper!"
They both laughed in a manner which indicated that of course he didn't mean
"But first I guess I better look at that leak."
She climbed with him to the flat roof of the apartment-house a detached world
of slatted wooden walks, clotheslines, water-tank in a penthouse. He poked at
things with his toe, and sought to impress her by being learned about copper
gutters, the desirability of passing plumbing pipes through a lead collar and
sleeve and flashing them with copper, and the advantages of cedar over
boiler-iron for roof-tanks.
"You have to know so much, in real estate!" she admired.
He promised that the roof should be repaired within two days. "Do you mind my
'phoning from your apartment?" he asked.
He stood a moment at the coping, looking over a land of hard little bungalows
with abnormally large porches, and new apartment-houses, small, but brave with
variegated brick walls and terra-cotta trimmings. Beyond them was a hill with
a gouge of yellow clay like a vast wound. Behind every apartment-house, beside
each dwelling, were small garages. It was a world of good little people,
comfortable, industrious, credulous.
In the autumnal light the flat newness was mellowed, and the air was a
"Golly, it's one fine afternoon. You get a great view here, right up Tanner's
Hill," said Babbitt.
"Yes, isn't it nice and open."
"So darn few people appreciate a View."
"Don't you go raising my rent on that account! Oh, that was naughty of me! I
was just teasing. Seriously though, there are so few who respond--who react
to Views. I mean--they haven't any feeling of poetry and beauty."
"That's a fact, they haven't," he breathed, admiring her slenderness and the
absorbed, airy way in which she looked toward the hill, chin lifted, lips
smiling. "Well, guess I'd better telephone the plumbers, so they'll get on
the job first thing in the morning."
When he had telephoned, making it conspicuously authoritative and gruff and
masculine, he looked doubtful, and sighed, "S'pose I'd better be--"
"Oh, you must have that cup of tea first!"
"Well, it would go pretty good, at that."
It was luxurious to loll in a deep green rep chair, his legs thrust out before
him, to glance at the black Chinese telephone stand and the colored photograph
of Mount Vernon which he had always liked so much, while in the tiny
kitchen--so near--Mrs. Judique sang "My Creole Queen." In an intolerable
sweetness, a contentment so deep that he was wistfully discontented, he saw
magnolias by moonlight and heard plantation darkies crooning to the banjo. He
wanted to be near her, on pretense of helping her, yet he wanted to remain in
this still ecstasy. Languidly he remained.
When she bustled in with the tea he smiled up at her. "This is awfully nice!"
For the first time, he was not fencing; he was quietly and securely friendly;
and friendly and quiet was her answer: "It's nice to have you here. You were
so kind, helping me to find this little home."
They agreed that the weather would soon turn cold. They agreed that
prohibition was prohibitive. They agreed that art in the home was cultural.
They agreed about everything. They even became bold. They hinted that these
modern young girls, well, honestly, their short skirts were short. They were
proud to find that they were not shocked by such frank speaking. Tanis
ventured, "I know you'll understand--I mean--I don't quite know how to say it,
but I do think that girls who pretend they're bad by the way they dress really
never go any farther. They give away the fact that they haven't the instincts
of a womanly woman."
Remembering Ida Putiak, the manicure girl, and how ill she had used him,
Babbitt agreed with enthusiasm; remembering how ill all the world had used
him, he told of Paul Riesling, of Zilla, of Seneca Doane, of the strike:
"See how it was? Course I was as anxious to have those beggars licked to a
standstill as anybody else, but gosh, no reason for not seeing their side. For
a fellow's own sake, he's got to be broad-minded and liberal, don't you think
"Oh, I do!" Sitting on the hard little couch, she clasped her hands beside
her, leaned toward him, absorbed him; and in a glorious state of being
appreciated he proclaimed:
"So I up and said to the fellows at the club, 'Look here,' I--"
"Do you belong to the Union Club? I think it's--"
"No; the Athletic. Tell you: Course they're always asking me to join the
Union, but I always say, 'No, sir! Nothing doing!' I don't mind the expense
but I can't stand all the old fogies."
"Oh, yes, that's so. But tell me: what did you say to them?"
"Oh, you don't want to hear it. I'm probably boring you to death with my
troubles! You wouldn't hardly think I was an old duffer; I sound like a kid!"
"Oh, you're a boy yet. I mean--you can't be a day over forty-five."
"Well, I'm not--much. But by golly I begin to feel middle-aged sometimes; all
these responsibilities and all."
"Oh, I know!" Her voice caressed him; it cloaked him like warm silk. "And I
feel lonely, so lonely, some days, Mr. Babbitt."
"We're a sad pair of birds! But I think we're pretty darn nice!"
"Yes, I think we're lots nicer than most people I know!" They smiled. "But
please tell me what you said at the Club."
"Well, it was like this: Course Seneca Doane is a friend of mine--they can
say what they want to, they can call him anything they please, but what most
folks here don't know is that Senny is the bosom pal of some of the biggest
statesmen in the world--Lord Wycombe, frinstance--you know, this big British
nobleman. My friend Sir Gerald Doak told me that Lord Wycombe is one of the
biggest guns in England--well, Doak or somebody told me."
"Oh! Do you know Sir Gerald? The one that was here, at the McKelveys'?"
"Know him? Well, say, I know him just well enough so we call each other
George and Jerry, and we got so pickled together in Chicago--"
"That must have been fun. But--" She shook a finger at him. "--I can't have
you getting pickled! I'll have to take you in hand!"
"Wish you would! . . . Well, zize saying: You see I happen to know what a big
noise Senny Doane is outside of Zenith, but of course a prophet hasn't got any
honor in his own country, and Senny, darn his old hide, he's so blame modest
that he never lets folks know the kind of an outfit he travels with when he
goes abroad. Well, during the strike Clarence Drum comes pee-rading up to our
table, all dolled up fit to kill in his nice lil cap'n's uniform, and somebody
says to him, 'Busting the strike, Clarence?'
"Well, he swells up like a pouter-pigeon and he hollers, so 's you could hear
him way up in the reading-room, 'Yes, sure; I told the strike-leaders where
they got off, and so they went home.'
"'Well,' I says to him, 'glad there wasn't any violence.'
"'Yes,' he says, 'but if I hadn't kept my eye skinned there would 've been.
All those fellows had bombs in their pockets. They're reg'lar anarchists.'
"'Oh, rats, Clarence,' I says, 'I looked 'em all over carefully, and they
didn't have any more bombs 'n a rabbit,' I says. 'Course,' I says, 'they're
foolish, but they're a good deal like you and me, after all.'
"And then Vergil Gunch or somebody--no, it was Chum Frink--you know, this
famous poet--great pal of mine--he says to me, 'Look here,' he says, 'do you
mean to say you advocate these strikes?' Well, I was so disgusted with a
fellow whose mind worked that way that I swear, I had a good mind to not
explain at all--just ignore him--"
"Oh, that's so wise!" said Mrs. Judique.
"--but finally I explains to him: 'If you'd done as much as I have on Chamber
of Commerce committees and all,' I says, 'then you'd have the right to talk!
But same time,' I says, 'I believe in treating your opponent like a
gentleman!' Well, sir, that held 'em! Frink--Chum I always call him--he
didn't have another word to say. But at that, I guess some of 'em kind o'
thought I was too liberal. What do you think?"
"Oh, you were so wise. And courageous! I love a man to have the courage of
"But do you think it was a good stunt? After all, some of these fellows are
so darn cautious and narrow-minded that they're prejudiced against a fellow
that talks right out in meeting."
"What do you care? In the long run they're bound to respect a man who makes
them think, and with your reputation for oratory you--"
"What do you know about my reputation for oratory?"
"Oh, I'm not going to tell you everything I know! But seriously, you don't
realize what a famous man you are."
"Well--Though I haven't done much orating this fall. Too kind of bothered by
this Paul Riesling business, I guess. But--Do you know, you're the first
person that's really understood what I was getting at, Tanis--Listen to me,
will you! Fat nerve I've got, calling you Tanis!"
"Oh, do! And shall I call you George? Don't you think it's awfully nice when
two people have so much--what shall I call it?--so much analysis that they can
discard all these stupid conventions and understand each other and become
acquainted right away, like ships that pass in the night?"
"I certainly do! I certainly do!"
He was no longer quiescent in his chair; he wandered about the room, he
dropped on the couch beside her. But as he awkwardly stretched his hand toward
her fragile, immaculate fingers, she said brightly, "Do give me a cigarette.
Would you think poor Tanis was dreadfully naughty if she smoked?"
"Lord, no! I like it!"
He had often and weightily pondered flappers smoking in Zenith restaurants,
but he knew only one woman who smoked--Mrs. Sam Doppelbrau, his flighty
neighbor. He ceremoniously lighted Tanis's cigarette, looked for a place to
deposit the burnt match, and dropped it into his pocket.
"I'm sure you want a cigar, you poor man!" she crooned.
"Do you mind one?"
"Oh, no! I love the smell of a good cigar; so nice and--so nice and like a
man. You'll find an ash-tray in my bedroom, on the table beside the bed, if
you don't mind getting it."
He was embarrassed by her bedroom: the broad couch with a cover of violet
silk, mauve curtains striped with gold. Chinese Chippendale bureau, and an
amazing row of slippers, with ribbon-wound shoe-trees, and primrose stockings
lying across them. His manner of bringing the ash-tray had just the right note
of easy friendliness, he felt. "A boob like Verg Gunch would try to get funny
about seeing her bedroom, but I take it casually." He was not casual
afterward. The contentment of companionship was gone, and he was restless
with desire to touch her hand. But whenever he turned toward her, the
cigarette was in his way. It was a shield between them. He waited till she
should have finished, but as he rejoiced at her quick crushing of its light on
the ashtray she said, "Don't you want to give me another cigarette?" and
hopelessly he saw the screen of pale smoke and her graceful tilted hand again
between them. He was not merely curious now to find out whether she would let
him hold her hand (all in the purest friendship, naturally), but agonized with
need of it.
On the surface appeared none of all this fretful drama. They were talking
cheerfully of motors, of trips to California, of Chum Frink. Once he said
delicately, "I do hate these guys--I hate these people that invite themselves
to meals, but I seem to have a feeling I'm going to have supper with the
lovely Mrs. Tanis Judique to-night. But I suppose you probably have seven
"Well, I was thinking some of going to the movies. Yes, I really think I
ought to get out and get some fresh air."
She did not encourage him to stay, but never did she discourage him. He
considered, "I better take a sneak! She WILL let me stay--there IS something
doing--and I mustn't get mixed up with--I mustn't--I've got to beat it."
Then, "No. it's too late now."
Suddenly, at seven, brushing her cigarette away, brusquely taking her hand:
"Tanis! Stop teasing me! You know we--Here we are, a couple of lonely birds,
and we're awful happy together. Anyway I am! Never been so happy! Do let me
stay! Ill gallop down to the delicatessen and buy some stuff--cold chicken
maybe--or cold turkey--and we can have a nice little supper, and afterwards,
if you want to chase me out, I'll be good and go like a lamb."
"Well--yes--it would be nice," she said.
Nor did she withdraw her hand. He squeezed it, trembling, and blundered
toward his coat. At the delicatessen he bought preposterous stores of food,
chosen on the principle of expensiveness. From the drug store across the
street he telephoned to his wife, "Got to get a fellow to sign a lease before
he leaves town on the midnight. Won't be home till late. Don't wait up for
me. Kiss Tinka good-night." He expectantly lumbered back to the flat.
"Oh, you bad thing, to buy so much food!" was her greeting, and her voice was
gay, her smile acceptant.
He helped her in the tiny white kitchen; he washed the lettuce, he opened the
olive bottle. She ordered him to set the table, and as he trotted into the
living-room, as he hunted through the buffet for knives and forks, he felt
utterly at home.
"Now the only other thing," he announced, "is what you're going to wear. I
can't decide whether you're to put on your swellest evening gown, or let your
hair down and put on short skirts and make-believe you're a little girl."
"I'm going to dine just as I am, in this old chiffon rag, and if you can't
stand poor Tanis that way, you can go to the club for dinner!"
"Stand you!" He patted her shoulder. "Child, you're the brainiest and the
loveliest and finest woman I've ever met! Come now, Lady Wycombe, if you'll
take the Duke of Zenith's arm, we will proambulate in to the magnolious feed!"
"Oh, you do say the funniest, nicest things!"
When they had finished the picnic supper he thrust his head out of the window
and reported, "It's turned awful chilly, and I think it's going to rain. You
don't want to go to the movies."
"I wish we had a fireplace! I wish it was raining like all get-out to-night,
and we were in a funny little old-fashioned cottage, and the trees thrashing
like everything outside, and a great big log fire and--I'll tell you! Let's
draw this couch up to the radiator, and stretch our feet out, and pretend it's
"Oh, I think that's pathetic! You big child!"
But they did draw up to the radiator, and propped their feet against it--his
clumsy black shoes, her patent-leather slippers. In the dimness they talked of
themselves; of how lonely she was, how bewildered he, and how wonderful that
they had found each other. As they fell silent the room was stiller than a
country lane. There was no sound from the street save the whir of motor-tires,
the rumble of a distant freight-train. Self-contained was the room, warm,
secure, insulated from the harassing world.
He was absorbed by a rapture in which all fear and doubting were smoothed
away; and when he reached home, at dawn, the rapture had mellowed to
contentment serene and full of memories.
THE assurance of Tanis Judique's friendship fortified Babbitt's self-approval.
At the Athletic Club he became experimental. Though Vergil Gunch was silent,
the others at the Roughnecks' Table came to accept Babbitt as having, for no
visible reason, "turned crank." They argued windily with him, and he was
cocky, and enjoyed the spectacle of his interesting martyrdom. He even praised
Seneca Doane. Professor Pumphrey said that was carrying a joke too far; but
Babbitt argued, "No! Fact! I tell you he's got one of the keenest intellects
in the country. Why, Lord Wycombe said that--"
"Oh, who the hell is Lord Wycombe? What you always lugging him in for? You
been touting him for the last six weeks!" protested Orville Jones.
"George ordered him from Sears-Roebuck. You can get those English
high-muckamucks by mail for two bucks apiece," suggested Sidney Finkelstein.
"That's all right now! Lord Wycombe, he's one of the biggest intellects in
English political life. As I was saying: Of course I'm conservative myself,
but I appreciate a guy like Senny Doane because--"
Vergil Gunch interrupted harshly, "I wonder if you are so conservative? I find
I can manage to run my own business without any skunks and reds like Doane in
The grimness of Gunch's voice, the hardness of his jaw, disconcerted Babbitt,
but he recovered and went on till they looked bored, then irritated, then as
doubtful as Gunch.
He thought of Tanis always. With a stir he remembered her every aspect. His
arms yearned for her. "I've found her! I've dreamed of her all these years
and now I've found her!" he exulted. He met her at the movies in the morning;
he drove out to her flat in the late afternoon or on evenings when he was
believed to be at the Elks. He knew her financial affairs and advised her
about them, while she lamented her feminine ignorance, and praised his
masterfulness, and proved to know much more about bonds than he did. They had
remembrances, and laughter over old times. Once they quarreled, and he raged
that she was as "bossy" as his wife and far more whining when he was
inattentive. But that passed safely.
Their high hour was a tramp on a ringing December afternoon, through
snow-drifted meadows down to the icy Chaloosa River. She was exotic in an
astrachan cap and a short beaver coat; she slid on the ice and shouted, and he
panted after her, rotund with laughter.... Myra Babbitt never slid on the ice.
He was afraid that they would be seen together. In Zenith it is impossible to
lunch with a neighbor's wife without the fact being known, before nightfall,
in every house in your circle. But Tanis was beautifully discreet. However
appealingly she might turn to him when they were alone, she was gravely
detached when they were abroad, and he hoped that she would be taken for a
client. Orville Jones once saw them emerging from a movie theater, and Babbitt
bumbled, "Let me make you 'quainted with Mrs. Judique. Now here's a lady who
knows the right broker to come to, Orvy!" Mr. Jones, though he was a man
censorious of morals and of laundry machinery, seemed satisfied.
His predominant fear--not from any especial fondness for her but from the
habit of propriety--was that his wife would learn of the affair. He was
certain that she knew nothing specific about Tanis, but he was also certain
that she suspected something indefinite. For years she had been bored by
anything more affectionate than a farewell kiss, yet she was hurt by any
slackening in his irritable periodic interest, and now he had no interest;
rather, a revulsion. He was completely faithful--to Tanis. He was distressed
by the sight of his wife's slack plumpness, by her puffs and billows of flesh,
by the tattered petticoat which she was always meaning and always forgetting
to throw away. But he was aware that she, so long attuned to him, caught all
his repulsions. He elaborately, heavily, jocularly tried to check them. He
They had a tolerable Christmas. Kenneth Escott was there, admittedly engaged
to Verona. Mrs. Babbitt was tearful and called Kenneth her new son. Babbitt
was worried about Ted, because he had ceased complaining of the State
University and become suspiciously acquiescent. He wondered what the boy was
planning, and was too shy to ask. Himself, Babbitt slipped away on Christmas
afternoon to take his present, a silver cigarette-box, to Tanis. When he
returned Mrs. Babbitt asked, much too innocently, "Did you go out for a little
"Yes, just lil drive," he mumbled.
After New Year's his wife proposed, "I heard from my sister to-day, George.
She isn't well. I think perhaps I ought to go stay with her for a few weeks."
Now, Mrs. Babbitt was not accustomed to leave home during the winter except on
violently demanding occasions, and only the summer before, she had been gone
for weeks. Nor was Babbitt one of the detachable husbands who take
separations casually He liked to have her there; she looked after his clothes;
she knew how his steak ought to be cooked; and her clucking made him feel
secure. But he could not drum up even a dutiful "Oh, she doesn't really need
you, does she?" While he tried to look regretful, while he felt that his wife
was watching him, he was filled with exultant visions of Tanis.
"Do you think I'd better go?" she said sharply.
"You've got to decide, honey; I can't."
She turned away, sighing, and his forehead was damp.
Till she went, four days later, she was curiously still, he cumbrously
affectionate. Her train left at noon. As he saw it grow small beyond the
train-shed he longed to hurry to Tanis.
"No, by golly, I won't do that!" he vowed. "I won't go near her for a week!"
But he was at her flat at four.
He who had once controlled or seemed to control his life in a progress
unimpassioned but diligent and sane was for that fortnight borne on a current
of desire and very bad whisky and all the complications of new acquaintances,
those furious new intimates who demand so much more attention than old
friends. Each morning he gloomily recognized his idiocies of the evening
before. With his head throbbing, his tongue and lips stinging from cigarettes,
he incredulously counted the number of drinks he had taken, and groaned, "I
got to quit!" He had ceased saying, "I WILL quit!" for however resolute he
might be at dawn, he could not, for a single evening, check his drift.
He had met Tanis's friends; he had, with the ardent haste of the Midnight
People, who drink and dance and rattle and are ever afraid to be silent, been
adopted as a member of her group, which they called "The Bunch." He first met
them after a day when he had worked particularly hard and when he hoped to be
quiet with Tanis and slowly sip her admiration.
From down the hall he could hear shrieks and the grind of a phonograph. As
Tanis opened the door he saw fantastic figures dancing in a haze of cigarette
smoke. The tables and chairs were against the wall.
"Oh, isn't this dandy!" she gabbled at him. "Carrie Nork had the loveliest
idea. She decided it was time for a party, and she 'phoned the Bunch and told
'em to gather round. . . . George, this is Carrie."
"Carrie" was, in the less desirable aspects of both, at once matronly and
spinsterish. She was perhaps forty; her hair was an unconvincing ash-blond;
and if her chest was flat, her hips were ponderous. She greeted Babbitt with a
giggling "Welcome to our little midst! Tanis says you're a real sport."
He was apparently expected to dance, to be boyish and gay with Carrie, and he
did his unforgiving best. He towed her about the room, bumping into other
couples, into the radiator, into chair-legs cunningly ambushed. As he danced
he surveyed the rest of the Bunch: A thin young woman who looked capable,
conceited, and sarcastic. Another woman whom he could never quite remember.
Three overdressed and slightly effeminate young men--soda-fountain clerks, or
at least born for that profession. A man of his own age, immovable,
self-satisfied, resentful of Babbitt's presence.
When he had finished his dutiful dance Tanis took him aside and begged, "Dear,
wouldn't you like to do something for me? I'm all out of booze, and the Bunch
want to celebrate. Couldn't you just skip down to Healey Hanson's and get
"Sure," he said, trying not to sound sullen.
"I'll tell you: I'll get Minnie Sonntag to drive down with you." Tanis was
pointing to the thin, sarcastic young woman.
Miss Sonntag greeted him with an astringent "How d'you do, Mr. Babbitt. Tanis
tells me you're a very prominent man, and I'm honored by being allowed to
drive with you. Of course I'm not accustomed to associating with society
people like you, so I don't know how to act in such exalted circles!"
Thus Miss Sonntag talked all the way down to Healey Hanson's. To her jibes he
wanted to reply "Oh, go to the devil!" but he never quite nerved himself to
that reasonable comment. He was resenting the existence of the whole Bunch.
He had heard Tanis speak of "darling Carrie" and "Min Sonntag--she's so
clever--you'll adore her," but they had never been real to him. He had
pictured Tanis as living in a rose-tinted vacuum, waiting for him, free of all
the complications of a Floral Heights.
When they returned he had to endure the patronage of the young soda-clerks.
They were as damply friendly as Miss Sonntag was dryly hostile. They called
him "Old Georgie" and shouted, "Come on now, sport; shake a leg" . . . boys in
belted coats, pimply boys, as young as Ted and as flabby as chorus-men, but
powerful to dance and to mind the phonograph and smoke cigarettes and
patronize Tanis. He tried to be one of them; he cried "Good work, Pete!" but
his voice creaked.
Tanis apparently enjoyed the companionship of the dancing darlings; she
bridled to their bland flirtation and casually kissed them at the end of each
dance. Babbitt hated her, for the moment. He saw her as middle-aged. He
studied the wrinkles in the softness of her throat, the slack flesh beneath
her chin. The taut muscles of her youth were loose and drooping. Between
dances she sat in the largest chair, waving her cigarette, summoning her
callow admirers to come and talk to her. ("She thinks she's a blooming queen!"
growled Babbitt.) She chanted to Miss Sonntag, "Isn't my little studio sweet?"
("Studio, rats! It's a plain old-maid-and-chow-dog flat! Oh, God, I wish I
was home! I wonder if I can't make a getaway now?")
His vision grew blurred, however, as he applied himself to Healey Hanson's raw
but vigorous whisky. He blended with the Bunch. He began to rejoice that
Carrie Nork and Pete, the most nearly intelligent of the nimble youths, seemed
to like him; and it was enormously important to win over the surly older man,
who proved to be a railway clerk named Fulton Bemis.
The conversation of the Bunch was exclamatory, high-colored, full of
references to people whom Babbitt did not know. Apparently they thought very
comfortably of themselves. They were the Bunch, wise and beautiful and
amusing; they were Bohemians and urbanites, accustomed to all the luxuries of
Zenith: dance-halls, movie-theaters, and roadhouses; and in a cynical
superiority to people who were "slow" or "tightwad" they cackled:
"Oh, Pete, did I tell you what that dub of a cashier said when I came in late
yesterday? Oh, it was per-fect-ly priceless!"
"Oh, but wasn't T. D. stewed! Say, he was simply ossified! What did Gladys
say to him?"
"Think of the nerve of Bob Bickerstaff trying to get us to come to his house!
Say, the nerve of him! Can you beat it for nerve? Some nerve I call it!"
"Did you notice how Dotty was dancing? Gee, wasn't she the limit!"
Babbitt was to be heard sonorously agreeing with the once-hated Miss Minnie
Sonntag that persons who let a night go by without dancing to jazz music were
crabs, pikers, and poor fish; and he roared "You bet!" when Mrs. Carrie Nork
gurgled, "Don't you love to sit on the floor? It's so Bohemian!" He began to
think extremely well of the Bunch. When he mentioned his friends Sir Gerald
Doak, Lord Wycombe, William Washington Eathorne, and Chum Frink, he was proud
of their condescending interest. He got so thoroughly into the jocund spirit
that he didn't much mind seeing Tanis drooping against the shoulder of the
youngest and milkiest of the young men, and he himself desired to hold Carrie
Nork's pulpy hand, and dropped it only because Tanis looked angry.
When he went home, at two, he was fully a member of the Bunch, and all the
week thereafter he was bound by the exceedingly straitened conventions, the
exceedingly wearing demands, of their life of pleasure and freedom. He had to
go to their parties; he was involved in the agitation when everybody
telephoned to everybody else that she hadn't meant what she'd said when she'd
said that, and anyway, why was Pete going around saying she'd said it?
Never was a Family more insistent on learning one another's movements than
were the Bunch. All of them volubly knew, or indignantly desired to know,
where all the others had been every minute of the week. Babbitt found himself
explaining to Carrie or Fulton Bemis just what he had been doing that he
should not have joined them till ten o'clock, and apologizing for having gone
to dinner with a business acquaintance.
Every member of the Bunch was expected to telephone to every other member at
least once a week. "Why haven't you called me up?" Babbitt was asked
accusingly, not only by Tanis and Carrie but presently by new ancient friends,
Jennie and Capitolina and Toots.
If for a moment he had seen Tanis as withering and sentimental, he lost that
impression at Carrie Nork's dance. Mrs. Nork had a large house and a small
husband. To her party came all of the Bunch, perhaps thirty-five of them when
they were completely mobilized. Babbitt, under the name of "Old Georgie," was
now a pioneer of the Bunch, since each month it changed half its membership
and he who could recall the prehistoric days of a fortnight ago, before Mrs.
Absolom, the food-demonstrator, had gone to Indianapolis, and Mac had "got
sore at" Minnie, was a venerable leader and able to condescend to new Petes
and Minnies and Gladyses.
At Carrie's, Tanis did not have to work at being hostess. She was dignified
and sure, a clear fine figure in the black chiffon frock he had always loved;
and in the wider spaces of that ugly house Babbitt was able to sit quietly
with her. He repented of his first revulsion, mooned at her feet, and happily
drove her home. Next day he bought a violent yellow tie, to make himself young
for her. He knew, a little sadly, that he could not make himself beautiful; he
beheld himself as heavy, hinting of fatness, but he danced, he dressed, he
chattered, to be as young as she was . . . as young as she seemed to be.
As all converts, whether to a religion, love, or gardening, find as by magic
that though hitherto these hobbies have not seemed to exist, now the whole
world is filled with their fury, so, once he was converted to dissipation,
Babbitt discovered agreeable opportunities for it everywhere.
He had a new view of his sporting neighbor, Sam Doppelbrau. The Doppelbraus
were respectable people, industrious people, prosperous people, whose ideal of
happiness was an eternal cabaret. Their life was dominated by suburban
bacchanalia of alcohol, nicotine, gasoline, and kisses. They and their set
worked capably all the week, and all week looked forward to Saturday night,
when they would, as they expressed it, "throw a party;" and the thrown party
grew noisier and noisier up to Sunday dawn, and usually included an extremely
rapid motor expedition to nowhere in particular.
One evening when Tanis was at the theater, Babbitt found himself being lively
with the Doppelbraus, pledging friendship with men whom he had for years
privily denounced to Mrs. Babbitt as a "rotten bunch of tin-horns that I
wouldn't go out with, rot if they were the last people on earth." That
evening he had sulkily come home and poked about in front of the house,
chipping off the walk the ice-clots, like fossil footprints, made by the steps
of passers-by during the recent snow. Howard Littlefield came up snuffling.
"Still a widower, George?"
"Yump. Cold again to-night."
"What do you hear from the wife?"
"She's feeling fine, but her sister is still pretty sick."
"Say, better come in and have dinner with us to-night, George."
"Oh--oh, thanks. Have to go out."
Suddenly he could not endure Littlefield's recitals of the more interesting
statistics about totally uninteresting problems. He scraped at the walk and
Sam Doppelbrau appeared.
"Evenin', Babbitt. Working hard?"
"Yuh, lil exercise."
"Cold enough for you to-night?"
"Well, just about."
"Still a widower?"
"Say, Babbitt, while she's away--I know you don't care much for booze-fights,
but the Missus and I'd be awfully glad if you could come in some night. Think
you could stand a good cocktail for once?"
"Stand it? Young fella, I bet old Uncle George can mix the best cocktail in
these United States!"
"Hurray! That's the way to talk! Look here: There's some folks coming to
the house to-night, Louetta Swanson and some other live ones, and I'm going to
open up a bottle of pre-war gin, and maybe we'll dance a while. Why don't you
drop in and jazz it up a little, just for a change?"
"Well--What time they coming?"
He was at Sam Doppelbrau's at nine. It was the third time he had entered the
house. By ten he was calling Mr. Doppelbrau "Sam, old hoss."
At eleven they all drove out to the Old Farm Inn. Babbitt sat in the back of
Doppelbrau's car with Louetta Swanson. Once he had timorously tried to make
love to her. Now he did not try; he merely made love; and Louetta dropped her
head on his shoulder, told him what a nagger Eddie was, and accepted Babbitt
as a decent and well-trained libertine.
With the assistance of Tanis's Bunch, the Doppelbraus, and other companions in
forgetfulness, there was not an evening for two weeks when he did not return
home late and shaky. With his other faculties blurred he yet had the
motorist's gift of being able to drive when he could scarce walk; of slowing
down at corners and allowing for approaching cars. He came wambling into the
house. If Verona and Kenneth Escott were about, he got past them with a hasty
greeting, horribly aware of their level young glances, and hid himself
up-stairs. He found when he came into the warm house that he was hazier than
he had believed. His head whirled. He dared not lie down. He tried to soak
out the alcohol in a hot bath. For the moment his head was clearer but when he
moved about the bathroom his calculations of distance were wrong, so that he
dragged down the towels, and knocked over the soap-dish with a clatter which,
he feared, would betray him to the children. Chilly in his dressing-gown he
tried to read the evening paper. He could follow every word; he seemed to take
in the sense of things; but a minute afterward he could not have told what he
had been reading. When he went to bed his brain flew in circles, and he
hastily sat up, struggling for self-control. At last he was able to lie still,
feeling only a little sick and dizzy--and enormously ashamed. To hide his
"condition" from his own children! To have danced and shouted with people
whom he despised! To have said foolish things, sung idiotic songs, tried to
kiss silly girls! Incredulously he remembered that he had by his roaring
familiarity with them laid himself open to the patronizing of youths whom he
would have kicked out of his office; that by dancing too ardently he had
exposed himself to rebukes from the rattiest of withering women. As it came
relentlessly back to him he snarled, "I hate myself! God how I hate myself!"
But, he raged, "I'm through! No more! Had enough, plenty!"
He was even surer about it the morning after, when he was trying to be grave
and paternal with his daughters at breakfast. At noontime he was less sure.
He did not deny that he had been a fool; he saw it almost as clearly as at
midnight; but anything, he struggled, was better than going back to a life of
barren heartiness. At four he wanted a drink. He kept a whisky flask in his
desk now, and after two minutes of battle he had his drink. Three drinks
later he began to see the Bunch as tender and amusing friends, and by six he
was with them . . . and the tale was to be told all over.
Each morning his head ached a little less. A bad head for drinks had been his
safeguard, but the safeguard was crumbling. Presently he could be drunk at
dawn, yet not feel particularly wretched in his conscience--or in his
stomach--when he awoke at eight. No regret, no desire to escape the toil of
keeping up with the arduous merriment of the Bunch, was so great as his
feeling of social inferiority when he failed to keep up. To be the "livest" of
them was as much his ambition now as it had been to excel at making money, at
playing golf, at motor-driving, at oratory, at climbing to the McKelvey set.
But occasionally he failed.
He found that Pete and the other young men considered the Bunch too austerely
polite and the Carrie who merely kissed behind doors too embarrassingly
monogamic. As Babbitt sneaked from Floral Heights down to the Bunch, so the
young gallants sneaked from the proprieties of the Bunch off to "times" with
bouncing young women whom they picked up in department stores and at hotel
coatrooms. Once Babbitt tried to accompany them. There was a motor car, a
bottle of whisky, and for him a grubby shrieking cash-girl from Parcher and
Stein's. He sat beside her and worried. He was apparently expected to "jolly
her along," but when she sang out, "Hey, leggo, quit crushing me
cootie-garage," he did not quite know how to go on. They sat in the back room
of a saloon, and Babbitt had a headache, was confused by their new slang
looked at them benevolently, wanted to go home, and had a drink--a good many
Two evenings after, Fulton Bemis, the surly older man of the Bunch, took
Babbitt aside and grunted, "Look here, it's none of my business, and God knows
I always lap up my share of the hootch, but don't you think you better watch
yourself? You're one of these enthusiastic chumps that always overdo things.
D' you realize you're throwing in the booze as fast as you can, and you eat
one cigarette right after another? Better cut it out for a while."
Babbitt tearfully said that good old Fult was a prince, and yes, he certainly
would cut it out, and thereafter he lighted a cigarette and took a drink and
had a terrific quarrel with Tanis when she caught him being affectionate with
Next morning he hated himself that he should have sunk into a position where a
fifteenth-rater like Fulton Bemis could rebuke him. He perceived that, since
he was making love to every woman possible, Tanis was no longer his one pure
star, and he wondered whether she had ever been anything more to him than A
Woman. And if Bemis had spoken to him, were other people talking about him?
He suspiciously watched the men at the Athletic Club that noon. It seemed to
him that they were uneasy. They had been talking about him then? He was
angry. He became belligerent. He not only defended Seneca Doane but even made
fun of the Y. M. C. A, Vergil Gunch was rather brief in his answers.
Afterward Babbitt was not angry. He was afraid. He did not go to the next
lunch of the Boosters' Club but hid in a cheap restaurant, and, while he
munched a ham-and-egg sandwich and sipped coffee from a cup on the arm of his
chair, he worried.
Four days later, when the Bunch were having one of their best parties, Babbitt
drove them to the skating-rink which had been laid out on the Chaloosa River.
After a thaw the streets had frozen in smooth ice. Down those wide endless
streets the wind rattled between the rows of wooden houses, and the whole
Bellevue district seemed a frontier town. Even with skid chains on all four
wheels, Babbitt was afraid of sliding, and when he came to the long slide of a
hill he crawled down, both brakes on. Slewing round a corner came a less
cautious car. It skidded, it almost raked them with its rear fenders. In
relief at their escape the Bunch--Tanis, Minnie Sonntag, Pete, Fulton
Bemis--shouted "Oh, baby," and waved their hands to the agitated other driver.
Then Babbitt saw Professor Pumphrey laboriously crawling up hill, afoot,
Staring owlishly at the revelers. He was sure that Pumphrey recognized him
and saw Tanis kiss him as she crowed, "You're such a good driver!"
At lunch next day he probed Pumphrey with "Out last night with my brother and
some friends of his. Gosh, what driving! Slippery 's glass. Thought I saw
you hiking up the Bellevue Avenue Hill."
"No, I wasn't--I didn't see you," said Pumphrey, hastily, rather guiltily.
Perhaps two days afterward Babbitt took Tanis to lunch at the Hotel
Thornleigh. She who had seemed well content to wait for him at her flat had
begun to hint with melancholy smiles that he must think but little of her if
he never introduced her to his friends, if he was unwilling to be seen with
her except at the movies. He thought of taking her to the "ladies' annex" of
the Athletic Club, but that was too dangerous. He would have to introduce her
and, oh, people might misunderstand and--He compromised on the Thornleigh.
She was unusually smart, all in black: small black tricorne hat, short black
caracul coat, loose and swinging, and austere high-necked black velvet frock
at a time when most street costumes were like evening gowns. Perhaps she was
too smart. Every one in the gold and oak restaurant of the Thornleigh was
staring at her as Babbitt followed her to a table. He uneasily hoped that the
head-waiter would give them a discreet place behind a pillar, but they were
stationed on the center aisle. Tanis seemed not to notice her admirers; she
smiled at Babbitt with a lavish "Oh, isn't this nice! What a peppy-looking
orchestra!" Babbitt had difficulty in being lavish in return, for two tables
away he saw Vergil Gunch. All through the meal Gunch watched them, while
Babbitt watched himself being watched and lugubriously tried to keep from
spoiling Tanis's gaiety. "I felt like a spree to-day," she rippled. "I love
the Thornleigh, don't you? It's so live and yet so--so refined."
He made talk about the Thornleigh, the service, the food, the people he
recognized in the restaurant, all but Vergil Gunch. There did not seem to be
anything else to talk of. He smiled conscientiously at her fluttering jests;
he agreed with her that Minnie Sonntag was "so hard to get along with," and
young Pete "such a silly lazy kid, really just no good at all." But he
himself had nothing to say. He considered telling her his worries about Gunch,
but--"oh, gosh, it was too much work to go into the whole thing and explain
about Verg and everything."
He was relieved when he put Tanis on a trolley; he was cheerful in the
familiar simplicities of his office.
At four o'clock Vergil Gunch called on him.
Babbitt was agitated, but Gunch began in a friendly way:
"How's the boy? Say, some of us are getting up a scheme we'd kind of like to
have you come in on."
"Fine, Verg. Shoot."
"You know during the war we had the Undesirable Element, the Reds and walking
delegates and just the plain common grouches, dead to rights, and so did we
for quite a while after the war, but folks forget about the danger and that
gives these cranks a chance to begin working underground again, especially a
lot of these parlor socialists. Well, it's up to the folks that do a little
sound thinking to make a conscious effort to keep bucking these fellows. Some
guy back East has organized a society called the Good Citizens' League for
just that purpose. Of course the Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion
and so on do a fine work in keeping the decent people in the saddle, but
they're devoted to so many other causes that they can't attend to this one
problem properly. But the Good Citizens' League, the G. C. L., they stick
right to it. Oh, the G. C. L. has to have some other ostensible
purposes--frinstance here in Zenith I think it ought to support the
park-extension project and the City Planning Committee--and then, too, it
should have a social aspect, being made up of the best people--have dances and
so on, especially as one of the best ways it can put the kibosh on cranks is
to apply this social boycott business to folks big enough so you can't reach
'em otherwise. Then if that don't work, the G. C. L. can finally send a little
delegation around to inform folks that get too flip that they got to conform
to decent standards and quit shooting off their mouths so free. Don't it sound
like the organization could do a great work? We've already got some of the
strongest men in town, and of course we want you in. How about it?"
Babbitt was uncomfortable. He felt a compulsion back to all the standards he
had so vaguely yet so desperately been fleeing. He fumbled:
"I suppose you'd especially light on fellows like Seneca Doane and try to make
"You bet your sweet life we would! Look here, old Georgie: I've never for
one moment believed you meant it when you've defended Doane, and the strikers
and so on, at the Club. I knew you were simply kidding those poor galoots
like Sid Finkelstein.... At least I certainly hope you were kidding!"
"Oh, well--sure--Course you might say--" Babbitt was conscious of how feeble
he sounded, conscious of Gunch's mature and relentless eye. "Gosh, you know
where I stand! I'm no labor agitator! I'm a business man, first, last, and
all the time! But--but honestly, I don't think Doane means so badly, and you
got to remember he's an old friend of mine."
"George, when it comes right down to a struggle between decency and the
security of our homes on the one hand, and red ruin and those lazy dogs
plotting for free beer on the other, you got to give up even old friendships.
'He that is not with me is against me.'"
"Ye-es, I suppose--"
"How about it? Going to join us in the Good Citizens' League?"
"I'll have to think it over, Verg."
"All right, just as you say." Babbitt was relieved to be let off so easily,
but Gunch went on: "George, I don't know what's come over you; none of us do;
and we've talked a lot about you. For a while we figured out you'd been upset
by what happened to poor Riesling, and we forgave you for any fool thing you
said, but that's old stuff now, George, and we can't make out what's got into
you. Personally, I've always defended you, but I must say it's getting too
much for me. All the boys at the Athletic Club and the Boosters' are sore,
the way you go on deliberately touting Doane and his bunch of hell-hounds, and
talking about being liberal--which means being wishy-washy--and even saying
this preacher guy Ingram isn't a professional free-love artist. And then the
way you been carrying on personally! Joe Pumphrey says he saw you out the
other night with a gang of totties, all stewed to the gills, and here to-day
coming right into the Thornleigh with a--well, she may be all right and a
perfect lady, but she certainly did look like a pretty gay skirt for a fellow
with his wife out of town to be taking to lunch. Didn't look well. What the
devil has come over you, George?"
"Strikes me there's a lot of fellows that know more about my personal business
than I do myself!"
"Now don't go getting sore at me because I come out flatfooted like a friend
and say what I think instead of tattling behind your back, the way a whole lot
of 'em do. I tell you George, you got a position in the community, and the
community expects you to live up to it. And--Better think over joining the
Good Citizens' League. See you about it later."
He was gone.
That evening Babbitt dined alone. He saw all the Clan of Good Fellows peering
through the restaurant window, spying on him. Fear sat beside him, and he
told himself that to-night he would not go to Tanis's flat; and he did not go
. . . till late.
THE summer before, Mrs. Babbitt's letters had crackled with desire to return
to Zenith. Now they said nothing of returning, but a wistful "I suppose
everything is going on all right without me" among her dry chronicles of
weather and sicknesses hinted to Babbitt that he hadn't been very urgent about
her coming. He worried it:
"If she were here, and I went on raising cain like I been doing, she'd have a
fit. I got to get hold of myself. I got to learn to play around and yet not
make a fool of myself. I can do it, too, if folks like Verg Gunch 'll let me
alone, and Myra 'll stay away. But--poor kid, she sounds lonely. Lord, I
don't want to hurt her!"
Impulsively he wrote that they missed her, and her next letter said happily
that she was coming home.
He persuaded himself that he was eager to see her. He bought roses for the
house, he ordered squab for dinner, he had the car cleaned and polished. All
the way home from the station with her he was adequate in his accounts of
Ted's success in basket-ball at the university, but before they reached Floral
Heights there was nothing more to say, and already he felt the force of her
stolidity, wondered whether he could remain a good husband and still sneak out
of the house this evening for half an hour with the Bunch. When he had housed
the car he blundered upstairs, into the familiar talcum-scented warmth of her
presence, blaring, "Help you unpack your bag?"
"No, I can do it."
Slowly she turned, holding up a small box, and slowly she said, "I brought you
a present, just a new cigar-case. I don't know if you'd care to have it--"
She was the lonely girl, the brown appealing Myra Thompson, whom he had
married, and he almost wept for pity as he kissed her and besought, "Oh,
honey, honey, CARE to have it? Of course I do! I'm awful proud you brought it
to me. And I needed a new case badly."
He wondered how he would get rid of the case he had bought the week before.
"And you really are glad to see me back?"
"Why, you poor kiddy, what you been worrying about?"
"Well, you didn't seem to miss me very much."
By the time he had finished his stint of lying they were firmly bound again.
By ten that evening it seemed improbable that she had ever been away. There
was but one difference: the problem of remaining a respectable husband, a
Floral Heights husband, yet seeing Tanis and the Bunch with frequency. He had
promised to telephone to Tanis that evening, and now it was melodramatically
impossible. He prowled about the telephone, impulsively thrusting out a hand
to lift the receiver, but never quite daring to risk it. Nor could he find a
reason for slipping down to the drug store on Smith Street, with its
telephone-booth. He was laden with responsibility till he threw it off with
the speculation: "Why the deuce should I fret so about not being able to
'phone Tanis? She can get along without me. I don't owe her anything. She's
a fine girl, but I've given her just as much as she has me. . . . Oh, damn
these women and the way they get you all tied up in complications!"
For a week he was attentive to his wife, took her to the theater, to dinner at
the Littlefields'; then the old weary dodging and shifting began and at least
two evenings a week he spent with the Bunch. He still made pretense of going
to the Elks and to committee-meetings but less and less did he trouble to have
his excuses interesting, less and less did she affect to believe them. He was
certain that she knew he was associating with what Floral Heights called "a
sporty crowd," yet neither of them acknowledged it. In matrimonial geography
the distance between the first mute recognition of a break and the admission
thereof is as great as the distance between the first naive faith and the
As he began to drift away he also began to see her as a human being, to like
and dislike her instead of accepting her as a comparatively movable part of
the furniture, and he compassionated that husband-and-wife relation which, in
twenty-five years of married life, had become a separate and real entity. He
recalled their high lights the summer vacation in Virginia meadows under the
blue wall of the mountains; their motor tour through Ohio, and the exploration
of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus; the birth of Verona; their building of
this new house, planned to comfort them through a happy old age--chokingly
they had said that it might be the last home either of them would ever have.
Yet his most softening remembrance of these dear moments did not keep him from
barking at dinner, "Yep, going out f' few hours. Don't sit up for me."
He did not dare now to come home drunk, and though he rejoiced in his return
to high morality and spoke with gravity to Pete and Fulton Bemis about their
drinking, he prickled at Myra's unexpressed criticisms and sulkily meditated
that a "fellow couldn't ever learn to handle himself if he was always bossed
by a lot of women."
He no longer wondered if Tanis wasn't a bit worn and sentimental. In contrast
to the complacent Myra he saw her as swift and air-borne and radiant, a
fire-spirit tenderly stooping to the hearth, and however pitifully he brooded
on his wife, he longed to be with Tanis.
Then Mrs. Babbitt tore the decent cloak from her unhappiness and the astounded
male discovered that she was having a small determined rebellion of her own.
They were beside the fireless fire-place, in the evening.
"Georgie," she said, "you haven't given me the list of your household expenses
while I was away."
"No, I--Haven't made it out yet." Very affably: "Gosh, we must try to keep
down expenses this year."
"That's so. I don't know where all the money goes to. I try to economize, but
it just seems to evaporate."
"I suppose I oughtn't to spend so much on cigars. Don't know but what I'll
cut down my smoking, maybe cut it out entirely. I was thinking of a good way
to do it, the other day: start on these cubeb cigarettes, and they'd kind of
disgust me with smoking."
"Oh, I do wish you would! It isn't that I care, but honestly, George, it is
so bad for you to smoke so much. Don't you think you could reduce the amount?
And George--I notice now, when you come home from these lodges and all, that
sometimes you smell of whisky. Dearie, you know I don't worry so much about
the moral side of it, but you have a weak stomach and you can't stand all this
"Weak stomach, hell! I guess I can carry my booze about as well as most
"Well, I do think you ought to be careful. Don't you see, dear, I don't want
you to get sick."
"Sick rats! I'm not a baby! I guess I ain't going to get sick just because
maybe once a week I shoot a highball! That's the trouble with women. They
always exaggerate so."
"George, I don't think you ought to talk that way when I'm just speaking for
your own good."
"I know, but gosh all fishhooks, that's the trouble with women! They're always
criticizing and commenting and bringing things up, and then they say it's 'for
your own good'!"
"Why, George, that's not a nice way to talk, to answer me so short."
"Well, I didn't mean to answer short, but gosh, talking as if I was a
kindergarten brat, not able to tote one highball without calling for the St.
Mary's ambulance! A fine idea you must have of me!"
"Oh, it isn't that; it's just--I don't want to see you get sick and--My, I
didn't know it was so late! Don't forget to give me those household accounts
for the time while I was away."
"Oh, thunder, what's the use of taking the trouble to make 'em out now? Let's
just skip 'em for that period."
"Why, George Babbitt, in all the years we've been married we've never failed
to keep a complete account of every penny we've spent!"
"No. Maybe that's the trouble with us."
"What in the world do you mean?"
"Oh, I don't mean anything, only--Sometimes I get so darn sick and tired of
all this routine and the accounting at the office and expenses at home and
fussing and stewing and fretting and wearing myself out worrying over a lot of
junk that doesn't really mean a doggone thing, and being so careful and--Good
Lord, what do you think I'm made for? I could have been a darn good orator,
and here I fuss and fret and worry--"
"Don't you suppose I ever get tired of fussing? I get so bored with ordering
three meals a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and ruining my
eyes over that horrid sewing-machine, and looking after your clothes and
Rone's and Ted's and Tinka's and everybody's, and the laundry, and darning
socks, and going down to the Piggly Wiggly to market, and bringing my basket
home to save money on the cash-and-carry and--EVERYTHING!"
"Well, gosh," with a certain astonishment, "I suppose maybe you do! But talk
about--Here I have to be in the office every single day, while you can go out
all afternoon and see folks and visit with the neighbors and do any blinkin'
thing you want to!"
"Yes, and a fine lot of good that does me! Just talking over the same old
things with the same old crowd, while you have all sorts of interesting people
coming in to see you at the office."
"Interesting! Cranky old dames that want to know why I haven't rented their
dear precious homes for about seven times their value, and bunch of old crabs
panning the everlasting daylights out of me because they don't receive every
cent of their rentals by three G.M. on the second of the month! Sure!
Interesting! Just as interesting as the small pox!"
"Now, George, I will not have you shouting at me that way!"
"Well, it gets my goat the way women figure out that a man doesn't do a darn
thing but sit on his chair and have lovey-dovey conferences with a lot of
classy dames and give 'em the glad eye!"
"I guess you manage to give them a glad enough eye when they do come in."
"What do you mean? Mean I'm chasing flappers?"
"I should hope not--at your age!"
"Now you look here! You may not believe it--Of course all you see is fat
little Georgie Babbitt. Sure! Handy man around the house! Fixes the furnace
when the furnace-man doesn't show up, and pays the bills, but dull, awful
dull! Well, you may not believe it, but there's some women that think old
George Babbitt isn't such a bad scout! They think he's not so bad-looking, not
so bad that it hurts anyway, and he's got a pretty good line of guff, and some
even think he shakes a darn wicked Walkover at dancing!"
"Yes." She spoke slowly. "I haven't much doubt that when I'm away you manage
to find people who properly appreciate you."
"Well, I just mean--" he protested, with a sound of denial. Then he was
angered into semi-honesty. "You bet I do! I find plenty of folks, and doggone
nice ones, that don't think I'm a weak-stomached baby!"
"That's exactly what I was saying! You can run around with anybody you
please, but I'm supposed to sit here and wait for you. You have the chance to
get all sorts of culture and everything, and I just stay home--"
"Well, gosh almighty, there's nothing to prevent your reading books and going
to lectures and all that junk, is there?"
"George, I told you, I won't have you shouting at me like that! I don't know
what's come over you. You never used to speak to me in this cranky way."
"I didn't mean to sound cranky, but gosh, it certainly makes me sore to get
the blame because you don't keep up with things."
"I'm going to! Will you help me?"
"Sure. Anything I can do to help you in the culture-grabbing line--yours to
oblige, G. F. Babbitt."
"Very well then, I want you to go to Mrs. Mudge's New Thought meeting with me,
next Sunday afternoon."
"Mrs. Who's which?"
"Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge. The field-lecturer for the American New Thought
League. She's going to speak on 'Cultivating the Sun Spirit' before the
League of the Higher Illumination, at the Thornleigh."
"Oh, punk! New Thought! Hashed thought with a poached egg! 'Cultivating
the--' It sounds like 'Why is a mouse when it spins?' That's a fine spiel for
a good Presbyterian to be going to, when you can hear Doc Drew!"
"Reverend Drew is a scholar and a pulpit orator and all that, but he hasn't
got the Inner Ferment, as Mrs. Mudge calls it; he hasn't any inspiration for
the New Era. Women need inspiration now. So I want you to come, as you
The Zenith branch of the League of the Higher Illumination met in the smaller
ballroom at the Hotel Thornleigh, a refined apartment with pale green walls
and plaster wreaths of roses, refined parquet flooring, and ultra-refined
frail gilt chairs. Here were gathered sixty-five women and ten men. Most of
the men slouched in their chairs and wriggled, while their wives sat rigidly
at attention, but two of them--red-necked, meaty men--were as respectably
devout as their wives. They were newly rich contractors who, having bought
houses, motors, hand-painted pictures, and gentlemanliness, were now buying a
refined ready-made philosophy. It had been a toss-up with them whether to buy
New Thought, Christian Science, or a good standard high-church model of
In the flesh, Mrs. Opal Emerson Mudge fell somewhat short of a prophetic
aspect. She was pony-built and plump, with the face of a haughty Pekingese, a
button of a nose, and arms so short that, despite her most indignant
endeavors, she could not clasp her hands in front of her as she sat on the
platform waiting. Her frock of taffeta and green velvet, with three strings of
glass beads, and large folding eye-glasses dangling from a black ribbon, was a
triumph of refinement.
Mrs. Mudge was introduced by the president of the League of the Higher
Illumination, an oldish young woman with a yearning voice, white spats, and a
mustache. She said that Mrs. Mudge would now make it plain to the simplest
intellect how the Sun Spirit could be cultivated, and they who had been
thinking about cultivating one would do well to treasure Mrs. Mudge's words,
because even Zenith (and everybody knew that Zenith stood in the van of
spiritual and New Thought progress) didn't often have the opportunity to sit
at the feet of such an inspiring Optimist and Metaphysical Seer as Mrs. Opal
Emerson Mudge, who had lived the Life of Wider Usefulness through
Concentration, and in the Silence found those Secrets of Mental Control and
the Inner Key which were immediately going to transform and bring Peace,
Power, and Prosperity to the unhappy nations; and so, friends, would they for
this precious gem-studded hour forget the Illusions of the Seeming Real, and
in the actualization of the deep-lying Veritas pass, along with Mrs. Opal
Emerson Mudge, to the Realm Beautiful.
If Mrs. Mudge was rather pudgier than one would like one's swamis, yogis,
seers, and initiates, yet her voice had the real professional note. It was
refined and optimistic; it was overpoweringly calm; it flowed on relentlessly,
without one comma, till Babbitt was hypnotized. Her favorite word was
"always," which she pronounced olllllle-ways. Her principal gesture was a
pontifical but thoroughly ladylike blessing with two stubby fingers.
She explained about this matter of Spiritual Saturation:
"There are those--"
Of "those" she made a linked sweetness long drawn out; a far-off delicate call
in a twilight minor. It chastely rebuked the restless husbands, yet brought
them a message of healing.
"There are those who have seen the rim and outer seeming of the logos there
are those who have glimpsed and in enthusiasm possessed themselves of some
segment and portion of the Logos there are those who thus flicked but not
penetrated and radioactivated by the Dynamis go always to and fro assertative
that they possess and are possessed of the Logos and the Metaphysikos but this
word I bring you this concept I enlarge that those that are not utter are not
even inceptive and that holiness is in its definitive essence always always
always whole-iness and--"
It proved that the Essence of the Sun Spirit was Truth, but its Aura and
Effluxion were Cheerfulness:
"Face always the day with the dawn-laugh with the enthusiasm of the initiate
who perceives that all works together in the revolutions of the Wheel and who
answers the strictures of the Soured Souls of the Destructionists with a Glad
It went on for about an hour and seven minutes.
At the end Mrs. Mudge spoke with more vigor and punctuation:
"Now let me suggest to all of you the advantages of the Theosophical and
Pantheistic Oriental Reading Circle, which I represent. Our object is to
unite all the manifestations of the New Era into one cohesive whole--New
Thought, Christian Science, Theosophy, Vedanta, Bahaism, and the other sparks
from the one New Light. The subscription is but ten dollars a year, and for
this mere pittance the members receive not only the monthly magazine, Pearls
of Healing, but the privilege of sending right to the president, our revered
Mother Dobbs, any questions regarding spiritual progress, matrimonial
problems, health and well-being questions, financial difficulties, and--"
They listened to her with adoring attention. They looked genteel. They looked
ironed-out. They coughed politely, and crossed their legs with quietness, and
in expensive linen handkerchiefs they blew their noses with a delicacy
altogether optimistic and refined.
As for Babbitt, he sat and suffered.
When they were blessedly out in the air again, when they drove home through a
wind smelling of snow and honest sun, he dared not speak. They had been too
near to quarreling, these days. Mrs. Babbitt forced it:
"Did you enjoy Mrs. Mudge's talk?"
"Well I--What did you get out of it?"
"Oh, it starts a person thinking. It gets you out of a routine of ordinary
"Well, I'll hand it to Opal she isn't ordinary, but gosh--Honest, did that
stuff mean anything to you?"
"Of course I'm not trained in metaphysics, and there was lots I couldn't quite
grasp, but I did feel it was inspiring. And she speaks so readily. I do think
you ought to have got something out of it."
"Well, I didn't! I swear, I was simply astonished, the way those women lapped
it up! Why the dickens they want to put in their time listening to all that
blaa when they--"