Part 7 out of 7
"It's certainly better for them than going to roadhouses and smoking and
"I don't know whether it is or not! Personally I don't see a whole lot of
difference. In both cases they're trying to get away from themselves--most
everybody is, these days, I guess. And I'd certainly get a whole lot more out
of hoofing it in a good lively dance, even in some dive, than sitting looking
as if my collar was too tight, and feeling too scared to spit, and listening
to Opal chewing her words."
"I'm sure you do! You're very fond of dives. No doubt you saw a lot of them
while I was away!"
"Look here! You been doing a hell of a lot of insinuating and hinting around
lately, as if I were leading a double life or something, and I'm damn sick of
it, and I don't want to hear anything more about it!"
"Why, George Babbitt! Do you realize what you're saying? Why, George, in all
our years together you've never talked to me like that!"
"It's about time then!"
"Lately you've been getting worse and worse, and now, finally, you're cursing
and swearing at me and shouting at me, and your voice so ugly and hateful--I
"Oh, rats, quit exaggerating! I wasn't shouting, or swearing either."
"I wish you could hear your own voice! Maybe you don't realize how it sounds.
But even so--You never used to talk like that. You simply COULDN'T talk this
way if something dreadful hadn't happened to you."
His mind was hard. With amazement he found that he wasn't particularly sorry.
It was only with an effort that he made himself more agreeable: "Well, gosh,
I didn't mean to get sore."
"George, do you realize that we can't go on like this, getting farther and
farther apart, and you ruder and ruder to me? I just don't know what's going
He had a moment's pity for her bewilderment; he thought of how many deep and
tender things would be hurt if they really "couldn't go on like this." But his
pity was impersonal, and he was wondering, "Wouldn't it maybe be a good thing
if--Not a divorce and all that, o' course, but kind of a little more
While she looked at him pleadingly he drove on in a dreadful silence.
WHEN he was away from her, while he kicked about the garage and swept the snow
off the running-board and examined a cracked hose-connection, he repented, he
was alarmed and astonished that he could have flared out at his wife, and
thought fondly how much more lasting she was than the flighty Bunch. He went
in to mumble that he was "sorry, didn't mean to be grouchy," and to inquire as
to her interest in movies. But in the darkness of the movie theater he
brooded that he'd "gone and tied himself up to Myra all over again." He had
some satisfaction in taking it out on Tanis Judique. "Hang Tanis anyway!
Why'd she gone and got him into these mix-ups and made him all jumpy and
nervous and cranky? Too many complications! Cut 'em out!"
He wanted peace. For ten days he did not see Tanis nor telephone to her, and
instantly she put upon him the compulsion which he hated. When he had stayed
away from her for five days, hourly taking pride in his resoluteness and
hourly picturing how greatly Tanis must miss him, Miss McGoun reported, "Mrs.
Judique on the 'phone. Like t' speak t' you 'bout some repairs."
Tanis was quick and quiet:
"Mr. Babbitt? Oh, George, this is Tanis. I haven't seen you for weeks--days,
anyway. You aren't sick, are you?"
"No, just been terribly rushed. I, uh, I think there'll be a big revival of
building this year. Got to, uh, got to work hard."
"Of course, my man! I want you to. You know I'm terribly ambitious for you;
much more than I am for myself. I just don't want you to forget poor Tanis.
Will you call me up soon?"
"Sure! Sure! You bet!"
"Please do. I sha'n't call you again."
He meditated, "Poor kid! . . . But gosh, she oughtn't to 'phone me at the
office.... She's a wonder--sympathy 'ambitious for me.' . . . But gosh, I
won't be made and compelled to call her up till I get ready. Darn these
women, the way they make demands! It'll be one long old time before I see her!
. . . But gosh, I'd like to see her to-night--sweet little thing.... Oh, cut
that, son! Now you've broken away, be wise!"
She did not telephone again, nor he, but after five more days she wrote to
Have I offended you? You must know, dear, I didn't mean to. I'm so lonely and
I need somebody to cheer me up. Why didn't you come to the nice party we had
at Carrie's last evening I remember she invited you. Can't you come around
here to-morrow Thur evening? I shall be alone and hope to see you.
His reflections were numerous:
"Doggone it, why can't she let me alone? Why can't women ever learn a fellow
hates to be bulldozed? And they always take advantage of you by yelling how
lonely they are.
"Now that isn't nice of you, young fella. She's a fine, square, straight
girl, and she does get lonely. She writes a swell hand. Nice-looking
stationery. Plain. Refined. I guess I'll have to go see her. Well, thank
God, I got till to-morrow night free of her, anyway.
"She's nice but--Hang it, I won't be MADE to do things! I'm not married to
her. No, nor by golly going to be!
"Oh, rats, I suppose I better go see her."
Thursday, the to-morrow of Tanis's note, was full of emotional crises. At the
Roughnecks' Table at the club, Verg Gunch talked of the Good Citizens' League
and (it seemed to Babbitt) deliberately left him out of the invitations to
join. Old Mat Penniman, the general utility man at Babbitt's office, had
Troubles, and came in to groan about them: his oldest boy was "no good," his
wife was sick, and he had quarreled with his brother-in-law. Conrad Lyte also
had Troubles, and since Lyte was one of his best clients, Babbitt had to
listen to them. Mr. Lyte, it appeared, was suffering from a peculiarly
interesting neuralgia, and the garage had overcharged him. When Babbitt came
home, everybody had Troubles: his wife was simultaneously thinking about
discharging the impudent new maid, and worried lest the maid leave; and Tinka
desired to denounce her teacher.
"Oh, quit fussing!" Babbitt fussed. "You never hear me whining about my
Troubles, and yet if you had to run a real-estate office--Why, to-day I found
Miss Bannigan was two days behind with her accounts, and I pinched my finger
in my desk, and Lyte was in and just as unreasonable as ever."
He was so vexed that after dinner, when it was time for a tactful escape to
Tanis, he merely grumped to his wife, "Got to go out. Be back by eleven,
"Oh! You're going out again?"
"Again! What do you mean 'again'! Haven't hardly been out of the house for a
"Are you--are you going to the Elks?"
"Nope. Got to see some people."
Though this time he heard his own voice and knew that it was curt, though she
was looking at him with wide-eyed reproach, he stumped into the hall, jerked
on his ulster and furlined gloves, and went out to start the car.
He was relieved to find Tanis cheerful, unreproachful, and brilliant in a
frock of brown net over gold tissue. "You poor man, having to come out on a
night like this! It's terribly cold. Don't you think a small highball would
"Now, by golly, there's a woman with savvy! I think we could more or less
stand a highball if it wasn't too long a one--not over a foot tall!"
He kissed her with careless heartiness, he forgot the compulsion of her
demands, he stretched in a large chair and felt that he had beautifully come
home. He was suddenly loquacious; he told her what a noble and misunderstood
man he was, and how superior to Pete, Fulton Bemis, and the other men of their
acquaintance; and she, bending forward, chin in charming hand, brightly
agreed. But when he forced himself to ask, "Well, honey, how's things with
YOU," she took his duty-question seriously, and he discovered that she too had
"Oh, all right but--I did get so angry with Carrie. She told Minnie that I
told her that Minnie was an awful tightwad, and Minnie told me Carrie had told
her, and of course I told her I hadn't said anything of the kind, and then
Carrie found Minnie had told me, and she was simply furious because Minnie had
told me, and of course I was just boiling because Carrie had told her I'd told
her, and then we all met up at Fulton's--his wife is away--thank heavens!--oh,
there's the dandiest floor in his house to dance on--and we were all of us
simply furious at each other and--Oh, I do hate that kind of a mix-up, don't
you? I mean--it's so lacking in refinement, but--And Mother wants to come and
stay with me for a whole month, and of course I do love her, I suppose I do,
but honestly, she'll cramp my style something dreadful--she never can learn
not to comment, and she always wants to know where I'm going when I go out
evenings, and if I lie to her she always spies around and ferrets around and
finds out where I've been, and then she looks like Patience on a Monument till
I could just scream. And oh, I MUST tell you--You know I never talk about
myself; I just hate people who do, don't you? But--I feel so stupid to-night,
and I know I must be boring you with all this but--What would you do about
He gave her facile masculine advice. She was to put off her mother's stay.
She was to tell Carrie to go to the deuce. For these valuable revelations she
thanked him, and they ambled into the familiar gossip of the Bunch. Of what a
sentimental fool was Carrie. Of what a lazy brat was Pete. Of how nice
Fulton Bemis could be--"course lots of people think he's a regular old grouch
when they meet him because he doesn't give 'em the glad hand the first crack
out of the box, but when they get to know him, he's a corker."
But as they had gone conscientiously through each of these analyses before,
the conversation staggered. Babbitt tried to be intellectual and deal with
General Topics. He said some thoroughly sound things about Disarmament, and
broad-mindedness and liberalism; but it seemed to him that General Topics
interested Tanis only when she could apply them to Pete, Carrie, or
themselves. He was distressingly conscious of their silence. He tried to stir
her into chattering again, but silence rose like a gray presence and hovered
"I, uh--" he labored. "It strikes me--it strikes me that unemployment is
"Maybe Pete will get a decent job, then."
Desperately he essayed, "What's the trouble, old honey? You seem kind of quiet
"Am I? Oh, I'm not. But--do you really care whether I am or not?"
"Care? Sure! Course I do!"
"Do you really?" She swooped on him, sat on the arm of his chair.
He hated the emotional drain of having to appear fond of her. He stroked her
hand, smiled up at her dutifully, and sank back.
"George, I wonder if you really like me at all?"
"Course I do, silly."
"Do you really, precious? Do you care a bit?"
"Why certainly! You don't suppose I'd be here if I didn't!"
"Now see here, young man, I won't have you speaking to me in that huffy way!"
"I didn't mean to sound huffy. I just--" In injured and rather childish
tones: "Gosh almighty, it makes me tired the way everybody says I sound huffy
when I just talk natural! Do they expect me to sing it or something?"
"Who do you mean by 'everybody'? How many other ladies have you been
"Look here now, I won't have this hinting!"
Humbly: "I know, dear. I was only teasing. I know it didn't mean to talk
huffy--it was just tired. Forgive bad Tanis. But say you love me, say it!"
"I love you.... Course I do."
"Yes, you do!" cynically. "Oh, darling, I don't mean to be rude but--I get so
lonely. I feel so useless. Nobody needs me, nothing I can do for anybody.
And you know, dear, I'm so active--I could be if there was something to do.
And I am young, aren't I! I'm not an old thing! I'm not old and stupid, am
He had to assure her. She stroked his hair, and he had to look pleased under
that touch, the more demanding in its beguiling softness. He was impatient.
He wanted to flee out to a hard, sure, unemotional man-world. Through her
delicate and caressing fingers she may have caught something of his shrugging
distaste. She left him--he was for the moment buoyantly relieved--she dragged
a footstool to his feet and sat looking beseechingly up at him. But as in many
men the cringing of a dog, the flinching of a frightened child, rouse not pity
but a surprised and jerky cruelty, so her humility only annoyed him. And he
saw her now as middle-aged, as beginning to be old. Even while he detested his
own thoughts, they rode him. She was old, he winced. Old! He noted how the
soft flesh was creasing into webby folds beneath her chin, below her eyes, at
the base of her wrists. A patch of her throat had a minute roughness like the
crumbs from a rubber eraser. Old! She was younger in years than himself, yet
it was sickening to have her yearning up at him with rolling great eyes--as
if, he shuddered, his own aunt were making love to him.
He fretted inwardly, "I'm through with this asinine fooling around. I'm going
to cut her out. She's a darn decent nice woman, and I don't want to hurt her,
but it'll hurt a lot less to cut her right out, like a good clean surgical
He was on his feet. He was speaking urgently. By every rule of self-esteem,
he had to prove to her, and to himself, that it was her fault.
"I suppose maybe I'm kind of out of sorts to-night, but honest, honey, when I
stayed away for a while to catch up on work and everything and figure out
where I was at, you ought to have been cannier and waited till I came back.
Can't you see, dear, when you MADE me come, I--being about an average
bull-headed chump--my tendency was to resist? Listen, dear, I'm going now--"
"Not for a while, precious! No!"
"Yep. Right now. And then sometime we'll see about the future."
"What do you mean, dear, 'about the future'? Have I done something I oughtn't
to? Oh, I'm so dreadfully sorry!"
He resolutely put his hands behind him. "Not a thing, God bless you, not a
thing. You're as good as they make 'em. But it's just--Good Lord, do you
realize I've got things to do in the world? I've got a business to attend to
and, you might not believe it, but I've got a wife and kids that I'm awful
fond of!" Then only during the murder he was committing was he able to feel
nobly virtuous. "I want us to be friends but, gosh, I can't go on this way
feeling I got to come up here every so often--"
"Oh, darling, darling, and I've always told you, so carefully, that you were
absolutely free. I just wanted you to come around when you were tired and
wanted to talk to me, or when you could enjoy our parties--"
She was so reasonable, she was so gently right! It took him an hour to make
his escape, with nothing settled and everything horribly settled. In a barren
freedom of icy Northern wind he sighed, "Thank God that's over! Poor Tanis,
poor darling decent Tanis! But it is over. Absolute! I'm free!"
HIS wife was up when he came in. "Did you have a good time?" she sniffed.
"I did not. I had a rotten time! Anything else I got to explain?"
"George, how can you speak like--Oh, I don't know what's come over you!"
"Good Lord, there's nothing come over me! Why do you look for trouble all the
time?" He was warning himself, "Careful! Stop being so disagreeable. Course
she feels it, being left alone here all evening." But he forgot his warning
as she went on:
"Why do you go out and see all sorts of strange people? I suppose you'll say
you've been to another committee-meeting this evening!"
"Nope. I've been calling on a woman. We sat by the fire and kidded each
other and had a whale of a good time, if you want to know!"
"Well--From the way you say it, I suppose it's my fault you went there! I
probably sent you!"
"Well, upon my word--"
"You hate 'strange people' as you call 'em. If you had your way, I'd be as
much of an old stick-in-the-mud as Howard Littlefield. You never want to have
anybody with any git to 'em at the house; you want a bunch of old stiffs that
sit around and gas about the weather. You're doing your level best to make me
old. Well, let me tell you, I'm not going to have--"
Overwhelmed she bent to his unprecedented tirade, and in answer she mourned:
"Oh, dearest, I don't think that's true. I don't mean to make you old, I
know. Perhaps you're partly right. Perhaps I am slow about getting acquainted
with new people. But when you think of all the dear good times we have, and
the supper-parties and the movies and all--"
With true masculine wiles he not only convinced himself that she had injured
him but, by the loudness of his voice and the brutality of his attack, he
convinced her also, and presently he had her apologizing for his having spent
the evening with Tanis. He went up to bed well pleased, not only the master
but the martyr of the household. For a distasteful moment after he had lain
down he wondered if he had been altogether just. "Ought to be ashamed,
bullying her. Maybe there is her side to things. Maybe she hasn't had such a
bloomin' hectic time herself. But I don't care! Good for her to get waked up
a little. And I'm going to keep free. Of her and Tanis and the fellows at the
club and everybody. I'm going to run my own life!"
In this mood he was particularly objectionable at the Boosters' Club lunch
next day. They were addressed by a congressman who had just returned from an
exhaustive three-months study of the finances, ethnology, political systems,
linguistic divisions, mineral resources, and agriculture of Germany, France,
Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, and Bulgaria. He
told them all about those subjects, together with three funny stories about
European misconceptions of America and some spirited words on the necessity of
keeping ignorant foreigners out of America.
"Say, that was a mighty informative talk. Real he-stuff," said Sidney
But the disaffected Babbitt grumbled, "Four-flusher! Bunch of hot air! And
what's the matter with the immigrants? Gosh, they aren't all ignorant, and I
got a hunch we're all descended from immigrants ourselves."
"Oh, you make me tired!" said Mr. Finkelstein.
Babbitt was aware that Dr. A. I. Dilling was sternly listening from across the
table. Dr. Dilling was one of the most important men in the Boosters'. He was
not a physician but a surgeon, a more romantic and sounding occupation. He was
an intense large man with a boiling of black hair and a thick black mustache.
The newspapers often chronicled his operations; he was professor of surgery in
the State University; he went to dinner at the very best houses on Royal
Ridge; and he was said to be worth several hundred thousand dollars. It was
dismaying to Babbitt to have such a person glower at him. He hastily praised
the congressman's wit, to Sidney Finkelstein, but for Dr. Dilling's benefit.
That afternoon three men shouldered into Babbitt's office with the air of a
Vigilante committee in frontier days. They were large, resolute, big-jawed
men, and they were all high lords in the land of Zenith--Dr. Dilling the
surgeon, Charles McKelvey the contractor, and, most dismaying of all, the
white-bearded Colonel Rutherford Snow, owner of the Advocate-Times. In their
whelming presence Babbitt felt small and insignificant.
"Well, well, great pleasure, have chairs, what c'n I do for you?" he babbled.
They neither sat nor offered observations on the weather.
"Babbitt," said Colonel Snow, "we've come from the Good Citizens' League.
We've decided we want you to join. Vergil Gunch says you don't care to, but I
think we can show you a new light. The League is going to combine with the
Chamber of Commerce in a campaign for the Open Shop, so it's time for you to
put your name down."
In his embarrassment Babbitt could not recall his reasons for not wishing to
join the League, if indeed he had ever definitely known them, but he was
passionately certain that he did not wish to join, and at the thought of their
forcing him he felt a stirring of anger against even these princes of
"Sorry, Colonel, have to think it over a little," he mumbled.
McKelvey snarled, "That means you're not going to join, George?"
Something black and unfamiliar and ferocious spoke from Babbitt: "Now, you
look here, Charley! I'm damned if I'm going to be bullied into joining
anything, not even by you plutes!"
"We're not bullying anybody," Dr. Dilling began, but Colonel Snow thrust him
aside with, "Certainly we are! We don't mind a little bullying, if it's
necessary. Babbitt, the G.C.L. has been talking about you a good deal. You're
supposed to be a sensible, clean, responsible man; you always have been; but
here lately, for God knows what reason, I hear from all sorts of sources that
you're running around with a loose crowd, and what's a whole lot worse, you've
actually been advocating and supporting some of the most dangerous elements in
town, like this fellow Doane."
"Colonel, that strikes me as my private business."
"Possibly, but we want to have an understanding. You've stood in, you and
your father-in-law, with some of the most substantial and forward-looking
interests in town, like my friends of the Street Traction Company, and my
papers have given you a lot of boosts. Well, you can't expect the decent
citizens to go on aiding you if you intend to side with precisely the people
who are trying to undermine us."
Babbitt was frightened, but he had an agonized instinct that if he yielded in
this he would yield in everything. He protested:
"You're exaggerating, Colonel. I believe in being broad-minded and liberal,
but, of course, I'm just as much agin the cranks and blatherskites and labor
unions and so on as you are. But fact is, I belong to so many organizations
now that I can't do 'em justice, and I want to think it over before I decide
about coming into the G.C.L."
Colonel Snow condescended, "Oh, no, I'm not exaggerating! Why the doctor here
heard you cussing out and defaming one of the finest types of Republican
congressmen, just this noon! And you have entirely the wrong idea about
'thinking over joining.' We're not begging you to join the G.C.L.--we're
permitting you to join. I'm not sure, my boy, but what if you put it off it'll
be too late. I'm not sure we'll want you then. Better think quick--better
The three Vigilantes, formidable in their righteousness, stared at him in a
taut silence. Babbitt waited through. He thought nothing at all, he merely
waited, while in his echoing head buzzed, "I don't want to join--I don't want
to join--I don't want to."
"All right. Sorry for you!" said Colonel Snow, and the three men abruptly
turned their beefy backs.
As Babbitt went out to his car that evening he saw Vergil Gunch coming down
the block. He raised his hand in salutation, but Gunch ignored it and crossed
the street. He was certain that Gunch had seen him. He drove home in sharp
His wife attacked at once: "Georgie dear, Muriel Frink was in this afternoon,
and she says that Chum says the committee of this Good Citizens' League
especially asked you to join and you wouldn't. Don't you think it would be
better? You know all the nicest people belong, and the League stands for--"
"I know what the League stands for! It stands for the suppression of free
speech and free thought and everything else! I don't propose to be bullied and
rushed into joining anything, and it isn't a question of whether it's a good
league or a bad league or what the hell kind of a league it is; it's just a
question of my refusing to be told I got to--"
"But dear, if you don't join, people might criticize you."
"Let 'em criticize!"
"But I mean NICE people!"
"Rats, I--Matter of fact, this whole League is just a fad. It's like all these
other organizations that start off with such a rush and let on they're going
to change the whole works, and pretty soon they peter out and everybody
forgets all about 'em!"
"But if it's THE fad now, don't you think you--"
"No, I don't! Oh, Myra, please quit nagging me about it. I'm sick of hearing
about the confounded G.C.L. I almost wish I'd joined it when Verg first came
around, and got it over. And maybe I'd 've come in to-day if the committee
hadn't tried to bullyrag me, but, by God, as long as I'm a free-born
independent American cit--"
"Now, George, you're talking exactly like the German furnace-man."
"Oh, I am, am I! Then, I won't talk at all!"
He longed, that evening, to see Tanis Judique, to be strengthened by her
sympathy. When all the family were up-stairs he got as far as telephoning to
her apartment-house, but he was agitated about it and when the janitor
answered he blurted, "Nev' mind--I'll call later," and hung up the receiver.
If Babbitt had not been certain about Vergil Gunch's avoiding him, there could
be little doubt about William Washington Eathorne, next morning. When Babbitt
was driving down to the office he overtook Eathorne's car, with the great
banker sitting in anemic solemnity behind his chauffeur. Babbitt waved and
cried, "Mornin'!" Eathorne looked at him deliberately, hesitated, and gave him
a nod more contemptuous than a direct cut.
Babbitt's partner and father-in-law came in at ten:
"George, what's this I hear about some song and dance you gave Colonel Snow
about not wanting to join the G.C.L.? What the dickens you trying to do? Wreck
the firm? You don't suppose these Big Guns will stand your bucking them and
springing all this 'liberal' poppycock you been getting off lately, do you?"
"Oh, rats, Henry T., you been reading bum fiction. There ain't any such a
thing as these plots to keep folks from being liberal. This is a free country.
A man can do anything he wants to."
"Course th' ain't any plots. Who said they was? Only if folks get an idea
you're scatter-brained and unstable, you don't suppose they'll want to do
business with you, do you? One little rumor about your being a crank would do
more to ruin this business than all the plots and stuff that these fool
story-writers could think up in a month of Sundays."
That afternoon, when the old reliable Conrad Lyte, the merry miser, Conrad
Lyte, appeared, and Babbitt suggested his buying a parcel of land in the new
residential section of Dorchester, Lyte said hastily, too hastily, "No, no,
don't want to go into anything new just now."
A week later Babbitt learned, through Henry Thompson, that the officials of
the Street Traction Company were planning another real-estate coup, and that
Sanders, Torrey and Wing, not the Babbitt-Thompson Company, were to handle it
for them. "I figure that Jake Offutt is kind of leery about the way folks are
talking about you. Of course Jake is a rock-ribbed old die-hard, and he
probably advised the Traction fellows to get some other broker. George, you
got to do something!" trembled Thompson.
And, in a rush, Babbitt agreed. All nonsense the way people misjudged him,
but still--He determined to join the Good Citizens' League the next time he
was asked, and in furious resignation he waited. He wasn't asked. They
ignored him. He did not have the courage to go to the League and beg in, and
he took refuge in a shaky boast that he had "gotten away with bucking the
whole city. Nobody could dictate to him how he was going to think and act!"
He was jarred as by nothing else when the paragon of stenographers, Miss
McGoun, suddenly left him, though her reasons were excellent--she needed a
rest, her sister was sick, she might not do any more work for six months. He
was uncomfortable with her successor, Miss Havstad. What Miss Havstad's given
name was, no one in the office ever knew. It seemed improbable that she had a
given name, a lover, a powder-puff, or a digestion. She was so impersonal,
this slight, pale, industrious Swede, that it was vulgar to think of her as
going to an ordinary home to eat hash. She was a perfectly oiled and enameled
machine, and she ought, each evening, to have been dusted off and shut in her
desk beside her too-slim, too-frail pencil points. She took dictation
swiftly, her typing was perfect, but Babbitt became jumpy when he tried to
work with her. She made him feel puffy, and at his best-beloved daily jokes
she looked gently inquiring. He longed for Miss McGoun's return, and thought
of writing to her.
Then he heard that Miss McGoun had, a week after leaving him, gone over to his
dangerous competitors, Sanders, Torrey and Wing.
He was not merely annoyed; he was frightened. "Why did she quit, then?" he
worried. "Did she have a hunch my business is going on the rocks? And it was
Sanders got the Street Traction deal. Rats--sinking ship!"
Gray fear loomed always by him now. He watched Fritz Weilinger, the young
salesman, and wondered if he too would leave. Daily he fancied slights. He
noted that he was not asked to speak at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner.
When Orville Jones gave a large poker party and he was not invited, he was
certain that he had been snubbed. He was afraid to go to lunch at the Athletic
Club, and afraid not to go. He believed that he was spied on; that when he
left the table they whispered about him. Everywhere he heard the rustling
whispers: in the offices of clients, in the bank when he made a deposit, in
his own office, in his own home. Interminably he wondered what They were
saying of him. All day long in imaginary conversations he caught them
marveling, "Babbitt? Why, say, he's a regular anarchist! You got to admire
the fellow for his nerve, the way he turned liberal and, by golly, just
absolutely runs his life to suit himself, but say, he's dangerous, that's what
he is, and he's got to be shown up."
He was so twitchy that when he rounded a corner and chanced on two
acquaintances talking--whispering--his heart leaped, and he stalked by like an
embarrassed schoolboy. When he saw his neighbors Howard Littlefield and
Orville Jones together, he peered at them, went indoors to escape their
spying, and was miserably certain that they had been
Through all his fear ran defiance. He felt stubborn. Sometimes he decided
that he had been a very devil of a fellow, as bold as Seneca Doane; sometimes
he planned to call on Doane and tell him what a revolutionist he was, and
never got beyond the planning. But just as often, when he heard the soft
whispers enveloping him he wailed, "Good Lord, what have I done? Just played
with the Bunch, and called down Clarence Drum about being such a
high-and-mighty sodger. Never catch ME criticizing people and trying to make
them accept MY ideas!"
He could not stand the strain. Before long he admitted that he would like to
flee back to the security of conformity, provided there was a decent and
creditable way to return. But, stubbornly, he would not be forced back; he
would not, he swore, "eat dirt."
Only in spirited engagements with his wife did these turbulent fears rise to
the surface. She complained that he seemed nervous, that she couldn't
understand why he did not want to "drop in at the Littlefields'" for the
evening. He tried, but he could not express to her the nebulous facts of his
rebellion and punishment. And, with Paul and Tanis lost, he had no one to whom
he could talk. "Good Lord, Tinka is the only real friend I have, these days,"
he sighed, and he clung to the child, played floor-games with her all evening.
He considered going to see Paul in prison, but, though he had a pale curt note
from him every week, he thought of Paul as dead. It was Tanis for whom he was
"I thought I was so smart and independent, cutting Tanis out, and I need her,
Lord how I need her!" he raged. "Myra simply can't understand. All she sees
in life is getting along by being just like other folks. But Tanis, she'd tell
me I was all right."
Then he broke, and one evening, late, he did run to Tanis. He had not dared
to hope for it, but she was in, and alone. Only she wasn't Tanis. She was a
courteous, brow-lifting, ice-armored woman who looked like Tanis. She said,
"Yes, George, what is it?" in even and uninterested tones, and he crept away,
His first comfort was from Ted and Eunice Littlefield.
They danced in one evening when Ted was home from the university, and Ted
chuckled, "What's this I hear from Euny, dad? She says her dad says you
raised Cain by boosting old Seneca Doane. Hot dog! Give 'em fits! Stir 'em
up! This old burg is asleep!" Eunice plumped down on Babbitt's lap, kissed
him, nestled her bobbed hair against his chin, and crowed; "I think you're
lots nicer than Howard. Why is it," confidentially, "that Howard is such an
old grouch? The man has a good heart, and honestly, he's awfully bright, but
he never will learn to step on the gas, after all the training I've given him.
Don't you think we could do something with him, dearest?"
"Why, Eunice, that isn't a nice way to speak of your papa," Babbitt observed,
in the best Floral Heights manner, but he was happy for the first time in
weeks. He pictured himself as the veteran liberal strengthened by the loyalty
of the young generation. They went out to rifle the ice-box. Babbitt gloated,
"If your mother caught us at this, we'd certainly get our come-uppance!" and
Eunice became maternal, scrambled a terrifying number of eggs for them, kissed
Babbitt on the ear, and in the voice of a brooding abbess marveled, "It beats
the devil why feminists like me still go on nursing these men!"
Thus stimulated, Babbitt was reckless when he encountered Sheldon Smeeth,
educational director of the Y.M.C.A. and choir-leader of the Chatham Road
Church. With one of his damp hands Smeeth imprisoned Babbitt's thick paw
while he chanted, "Brother Babbitt, we haven't seen you at church very often
lately. I know you're busy with a multitude of details, but you mustn't forget
your dear friends at the old church home."
Babbitt shook off the affectionate clasp--Sheldy liked to hold hands for a
long time--and snarled, "Well, I guess you fellows can run the show without
me. Sorry, Smeeth; got to beat it. G'day."
But afterward he winced, "If that white worm had the nerve to try to drag me
back to the Old Church Home, then the holy outfit must have been doing a lot
of talking about me, too."
He heard them whispering--whispering--Dr. John Jennison Drew, Cholmondeley
Frink, even William Washington Eathorne. The independence seeped out of him
and he walked the streets alone, afraid of men's cynical eyes and the
incessant hiss of whispering.
HE tried to explain to his wife, as they prepared for bed, how objectionable
was Sheldon Smeeth, but all her answer was, "He has such a beautiful voice--so
spiritual. I don't think you ought to speak of him like that just because you
can't appreciate music!" He saw her then as a stranger; he stared bleakly at
this plump and fussy woman with the broad bare arms, and wondered how she had
ever come here.
In his chilly cot, turning from aching side to side, he pondered of Tanis.
"He'd been a fool to lose her. He had to have somebody he could really talk
to. He'd--oh, he'd BUST if he went on stewing about things by himself. And
Myra, useless to expect her to understand. Well, rats, no use dodging the
issue. Darn shame for two married people to drift apart after all these years;
darn rotten shame; but nothing could bring them together now, as long as he
refused to let Zenith bully him into taking orders--and he was by golly not
going to let anybody bully him into anything, or wheedle him or coax him
He woke at three, roused by a passing motor, and struggled out of bed for a
drink of water. As he passed through the bedroom he heard his wife groan. His
resentment was night-blurred; he was solicitous in inquiring, "What's the
"I've got--such a pain down here in my side--oh, it's just--it tears at me."
"Bad indigestion? Shall I get you some bicarb?"
"Don't think--that would help. I felt funny last evening and yesterday, and
then--oh!--it passed away and I got to sleep and--That auto woke me up."
Her voice was laboring like a ship in a storm. He was alarmed.
"I better call the doctor."
"No, no! It'll go away. But maybe you might get me an ice-bag."
He stalked to the bathroom for the ice-bag, down to the kitchen for ice. He
felt dramatic in this late-night expedition, but as he gouged the chunk of ice
with the dagger-like pick he was cool, steady, mature; and the old
friendliness was in his voice as he patted the ice-bag into place on her
groin, rumbling, "There, there, that'll be better now." He retired to bed, but
he did not sleep. He heard her groan again. Instantly he was up, soothing
her, "Still pretty bad, honey?"
"Yes, it just gripes me, and I can't get to sleep."
Her voice was faint. He knew her dread of doctors' verdicts and he did not
inform her, but he creaked down-stairs, telephoned to Dr. Earl Patten, and
waited, shivering, trying with fuzzy eyes to read a magazine, till he heard
the doctor's car.
The doctor was youngish and professionally breezy. He came in as though it
were sunny noontime. "Well, George, little trouble, eh? How is she now?" he
said busily as, with tremendous and rather irritating cheerfulness, he tossed
his coat on a chair and warmed his hands at a radiator. He took charge of the
house. Babbitt felt ousted and unimportant as he followed the doctor up to
the bedroom, and it was the doctor who chuckled, "Oh, just little
stomach-ache" when Verona peeped through her door, begging, "What is it, Dad,
what is it?"
To Mrs. Babbitt the doctor said with amiable belligerence, after his
examination, "Kind of a bad old pain, eh? I'll give you something to make you
sleep, and I think you'll feel better in the morning. I'll come in right after
breakfast." But to Babbitt, lying in wait in the lower hall, the doctor
sighed, "I don't like the feeling there in her belly. There's some rigidity
and some inflammation. She's never had her appendix out has she? Um. Well,
no use worrying. I'll be here first thing in the morning, and meantime she'll
get some rest. I've given her a hypo. Good night."
Then was Babbitt caught up in the black tempest.
Instantly all the indignations which had been dominating him and the spiritual
dramas through which he had struggled became pallid and absurd before the
ancient and overwhelming realities, the standard and traditional realities, of
sickness and menacing death, the long night, and the thousand steadfast
implications of married life. He crept back to her. As she drowsed away in
the tropic languor of morphia, he sat on the edge of her bed, holding her
hand, and for the first time in many weeks her hand abode trustfully in his.
He draped himself grotesquely in his toweling bathrobe and a pink and white
couch-cover, and sat lumpishly in a wing-chair. The bedroom was uncanny in its
half-light, which turned the curtains to lurking robbers, the dressing-table
to a turreted castle. It smelled of cosmetics, of linen, of sleep. He napped
and woke, napped and woke, a hundred times. He heard her move and sigh in
slumber; he wondered if there wasn't some officious brisk thing he could do
for her, and before he could quite form the thought he was asleep, racked and
aching. The night was infinite. When dawn came and the waiting seemed at an
end, he fell asleep, and was vexed to have been caught off his guard, to have
been aroused by Verona's entrance and her agitated "Oh, what is it, Dad?"
His wife was awake, her face sallow and lifeless in the morning light, but now
he did not compare her with Tanis; she was not merely A Woman, to be
contrasted with other women, but his own self, and though he might criticize
her and nag her, it was only as he might criticize and nag himself,
interestedly, unpatronizingly, without the expectation of changing--or any
real desire to change--the eternal essence.
With Verona he sounded fatherly again, and firm. He consoled Tinka, who
satisfactorily pointed the excitement of the hour by wailing. He ordered early
breakfast, and wanted to look at the newspaper, and felt somehow heroic and
useful in not looking at it. But there were still crawling and totally
unheroic hours of waiting before Dr. Patten returned.
"Don't see much change," said Patten. "I'll be back about eleven, and if you
don't mind, I think I'll bring in some other world-famous pill-pedler for
consultation, just to be on the safe side. Now George, there's nothing you can
do. I'll have Verona keep the ice-bag filled--might as well leave that on, I
guess--and you, you better beat it to the office instead of standing around
her looking as if you were the patient. The nerve of husbands! Lot more
neurotic than the women! They always have to horn in and get all the credit
for feeling bad when their wives are ailing. Now have another nice cup of
coffee and git!"
Under this derision Babbitt became more matter-of-fact. He drove to the
office, tried to dictate letters, tried to telephone and, before the call was
answered, forgot to whom he was telephoning. At a quarter after ten he
returned home. As he left the down-town traffic and sped up the car, his face
was as grimly creased as the mask of tragedy.
His wife greeted him with surprise. "Why did you come back, dear? I think I
feel a little better. I told Verona to skip off to her office. Was it wicked
of me to go and get sick?"
He knew that she wanted petting, and she got it, joyously. They were curiously
happy when he heard Dr. Patten's car in front. He looked out of the window.
He was frightened. With Patten was an impatient man with turbulent black hair
and a hussar mustache--Dr. A. I. Dilling, the surgeon. Babbitt sputtered with
anxiety, tried to conceal it, and hurried down to the door.
Dr. Patten was profusely casual: "Don't want to worry you, old man, but I
thought it might be a good stunt to have Dr. Dilling examine her." He gestured
toward Dilling as toward a master.
Dilling nodded in his curtest manner and strode up-stairs Babbitt tramped the
living-room in agony. Except for his wife's confinements there had never been
a major operation in the family, and to him surgery was at once a miracle and
an abomination of fear. But when Dilling and Patten came down again he knew
that everything was all right, and he wanted to laugh, for the two doctors
were exactly like the bearded physicians in a musical comedy, both of them
rubbing their hands and looking foolishly sagacious.
Dr. Dilling spoke:
"I'm sorry, old man, but it's acute appendicitis. We ought to operate. Of
course you must decide, but there's no question as to what has to be done."
Babbitt did not get all the force of it. He mumbled, "Well I suppose we could
get her ready in a couple o' days. Probably Ted ought to come down from the
university, just in case anything happened."
Dr. Dilling growled, "Nope. If you don't want peritonitis to set in, we'll
have to operate right away. I must advise it strongly. If you say go ahead,
I'll 'phone for the St. Mary's ambulance at once, and we'll have her on the
table in three-quarters of an hour."
"I--I Of course, I suppose you know what--But great God, man, I can't get her
clothes ready and everything in two seconds, you know! And in her state, so
wrought-up and weak--"
"Just throw her hair-brush and comb and tooth-brush in a bag; that's all
she'll need for a day or two," said Dr. Dilling, and went to the telephone.
Babbitt galloped desperately up-stairs. He sent the frightened Tinka out of
the room. He said gaily to his wife, "Well, old thing, the doc thinks maybe
we better have a little operation and get it over. Just take a few
minutes--not half as serious as a confinement--and you'll be all right in a
She gripped his hand till the fingers ached. She said patiently, like a cowed
child, "I'm afraid--to go into the dark, all alone!" Maturity was wiped from
her eyes; they were pleading and terrified. "Will you stay with me? Darling,
you don't have to go to the office now, do you? Could you just go down to the
hospital with me? Could you come see me this evening--if everything's all
right? You won't have to go out this evening, will you?"
He was on his knees by the bed. While she feebly ruffled his hair, he sobbed,
he kissed the lawn of her sleeve, and swore, "Old honey, I love you more than
anything in the world! I've kind of been worried by business and everything,
but that's all over now, and I'm back again."
"Are you really? George, I was thinking, lying here, maybe it would be a good
thing if I just WENT. I was wondering if anybody really needed me. Or wanted
me. I was wondering what was the use of my living. I've been getting so
stupid and ugly--"
"Why, you old humbug! Fishing for compliments when I ought to be packing your
bag! Me, sure, I'm young and handsome and a regular village cut-up and--" He
could not go on. He sobbed again; and in muttered incoherencies they found
As he packed, his brain was curiously clear and swift. He'd have no more wild
evenings, he realized. He admitted that he would regret them. A little grimly
he perceived that this had been his last despairing fling before the paralyzed
contentment of middle-age. Well, and he grinned impishly, "it was one doggone
good party while it lasted!" And--how much was the operation going to cost?
"I ought to have fought that out with Dilling. But no, damn it, I don't care
how much it costs!"
The motor ambulance was at the door. Even in his grief the Babbitt who
admired all technical excellences was interested in the kindly skill with
which the attendants slid Mrs. Babbitt upon a stretcher and carried her
down-stairs. The ambulance was a huge, suave, varnished, white thing. Mrs.
Babbitt moaned, "It frightens me. It's just like a hearse, just like being
put in a hearse. I want you to stay with me."
"I'll be right up front with the driver," Babbitt promised.
"No, I want you to stay inside with me." To the attendants: "Can't he be
"Sure, ma'am, you bet. There's a fine little camp-stool in there," the older
attendant said, with professional pride.
He sat beside her in that traveling cabin with its cot, its stool, its active
little electric radiator, and its quite unexplained calendar, displaying a
girl eating cherries, and the name of an enterprising grocer. But as he flung
out his hand in hopeless cheerfulness it touched the radiator, and he
"Why, George Babbitt, I won't have you cursing and swearing and blaspheming!"
"I know, awful sorry but--Gosh all fish-hooks, look how I burned my hand! Gee
whiz, it hurts! It hurts like the mischief! Why, that damn radiator is hot
as--it's hot as--it's hotter 'n the hinges of Hades! Look! You can see the
So, as they drove up to St. Mary's Hospital, with the nurses already laying
out the instruments for an operation to save her life, it was she who consoled
him and kissed the place to make it well, and though he tried to be gruff and
mature, he yielded to her and was glad to be babied.
The ambulance whirled under the hooded carriage-entrance of the hospital, and
instantly he was reduced to a zero in the nightmare succession of cork-floored
halls, endless doors open on old women sitting up in bed, an elevator, the
anesthetizing room, a young interne contemptuous of husbands. He was
permitted to kiss his wife; he saw a thin dark nurse fit the cone over her
mouth and nose; he stiffened at a sweet and treacherous odor; then he was
driven out, and on a high stool in a laboratory he sat dazed, longing to see
her once again, to insist that he had always loved her, had never for a second
loved anybody else or looked at anybody else. In the laboratory he was
conscious only of a decayed object preserved in a bottle of yellowing alcohol.
It made him very sick, but he could not take his eyes from it. He was more
aware of it than of waiting. His mind floated in abeyance, coming back always
to that horrible bottle. To escape it he opened the door to the right, hoping
to find a sane and business-like office. He realized that he was looking into
the operating-room; in one glance he took in Dr. Dilling, strange in white
gown and bandaged head, bending over the steel table with its screws and
wheels, then nurses holding basins and cotton sponges, and a swathed thing,
just a lifeless chin and a mound of white in the midst of which was a square
of sallow flesh with a gash a little bloody at the edges, protruding from the
gash a cluster of forceps like clinging parasites.
He shut the door with haste. It may be that his frightened repentance of the
night and morning had not eaten in, but this dehumanizing interment of her who
had been so pathetically human shook him utterly, and as he crouched again on
the high stool in the laboratory he swore faith to his wife . . . to Zenith .
. . to business efficiency . . . to the Boosters' Club . . . to every faith of
the Clan of Good Fellows.
Then a nurse was soothing, "All over! Perfect success! She'll come out fine!
She'll be out from under the anesthetic soon, and you can see her."
He found her on a curious tilted bed, her face an unwholesome yellow but her
purple lips moving slightly. Then only did he really believe that she was
alive. She was muttering. He bent, and heard her sighing, "Hard get real
maple syrup for pancakes." He laughed inexhaustibly; he beamed on the nurse
and proudly confided, "Think of her talking about maple syrup! By golly, I'm
going to go and order a hundred gallons of it, right from Vermont!"
She was out of the hospital in seventeen days. He went to see her each
afternoon, and in their long talks they drifted back to intimacy. Once he
hinted something of his relations to Tanis and the Bunch, and she was inflated
by the view that a Wicked Woman had captivated her poor George.
If once he had doubted his neighbors and the supreme charm of the Good
Fellows, he was convinced now. You didn't, he noted, "see Seneca Doane coming
around with any flowers or dropping in to chat with the Missus," but Mrs.
Howard Littlefield brought to the hospital her priceless wine jelly (flavored
with real wine); Orville Jones spent hours in picking out the kind of novels
Mrs. Babbitt liked--nice love stories about New York millionaries and Wyoming
cowpunchers; Louetta Swanson knitted a pink bed-jacket; Sidney Finkelstein and
his merry brown-eyed flapper of a wife selected the prettiest nightgown in all
the stock of Parcher and Stein.
All his friends ceased whispering about him, suspecting him. At the Athletic
Club they asked after her daily. Club members whose names he did not know
stopped him to inquire, "How's your good lady getting on?" Babbitt felt that
he was swinging from bleak uplands down into the rich warm air of a valley
pleasant with cottages.
One noon Vergil Gunch suggested, "You planning to be at the hospital about
six? The wife and I thought we'd drop in." They did drop in. Gunch was so
humorous that Mrs. Babbitt said he must "stop making her laugh because
honestly it was hurting her incision." As they passed down the hall Gunch
demanded amiably, "George, old scout, you were soreheaded about something,
here a while back. I don't know why, and it's none of my business. But you
seem to be feeling all hunky-dory again, and why don't you come join us in the
Good Citizens' League, old man? We have some corking times together, and we
need your advice."
Then did Babbitt, almost tearful with joy at being coaxed instead of bullied,
at being permitted to stop fighting, at being able to desert without injuring
his opinion of himself, cease utterly to be a domestic revolutionist. He
patted Gunch's shoulder, and next day he became a member of the Good Citizens'
Within two weeks no one in the League was more violent regarding the
wickedness of Seneca Doane, the crimes of labor unions, the perils of
immigration, and the delights of golf, morality, and bank-accounts than was
George F. Babbitt.
THE Good Citizens' League had spread through the country, but nowhere was it
so effective and well esteemed as in cities of the type of Zenith, commercial
cities of a few hundred thousand inhabitants, most of which--though not
all--lay inland, against a background of cornfields and mines and of small
towns which depended upon them for mortgage-loans, table-manners, art, social
philosophy and millinery.
To the League belonged most of the prosperous citizens of Zenith. They were
not all of the kind who called themselves "Regular Guys." Besides these
hearty fellows, these salesmen of prosperity, there were the aristocrats, that
is, the men who were richer or had been rich for more generations: the
presidents of banks and of factories, the land-owners, the corporation
lawyers, the fashionable doctors, and the few young-old men who worked not at
all but, reluctantly remaining in Zenith, collected luster-ware and first
editions as though they were back in Paris. All of them agreed that the
working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that
American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a
wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary.
In this they were like the ruling-class of any other country, particularly of
Great Britain, but they differed in being more vigorous and in actually trying
to produce the accepted standards which all classes, everywhere, desire, but
usually despair of realizing.
The longest struggle of the Good Citizens' League was against the Open
Shop--which was secretly a struggle against all union labor. Accompanying it
was an Americanization Movement, with evening classes in English and history
and economics, and daily articles in the newspapers, so that newly arrived
foreigners might learn that the true-blue and one hundred per cent. American
way of settling labor-troubles was for workmen to trust and love their
The League was more than generous in approving other organizations which
agreed with its aims. It helped the Y.M. C.A. to raise a
two-hundred-thousand-dollar fund for a new building. Babbitt, Vergil Gunch,
Sidney Finkelstein, and even Charles McKelvey told the spectators at movie
theaters how great an influence for manly Christianity the "good old Y." had
been in their own lives; and the hoar and mighty Colonel Rutherford Snow,
owner of the Advocate-Times, was photographed clasping the hand of Sheldon
Smeeth of the Y.M.C.A. It is true that afterward, when Smeeth lisped, "You
must come to one of our prayer-meetings," the ferocious Colonel bellowed,
"What the hell would I do that for? I've got a bar of my own," but this did
not appear in the public prints.
The League was of value to the American Legion at a time when certain of the
lesser and looser newspapers were criticizing that organization of veterans of
the Great War. One evening a number of young men raided the Zenith Socialist
Headquarters, burned its records, beat the office staff, and agreeably dumped
desks out of the window. All of the newspapers save the Advocate-Times and the
Evening Advocate attributed this valuable but perhaps hasty direct-action to
the American Legion. Then a flying squadron from the Good Citizens' League
called on the unfair papers and explained that no ex-soldier could possibly do
such a thing, and the editors saw the light, and retained their advertising.
When Zenith's lone Conscientious Objector came home from prison and was
righteously run out of town, the newspapers referred to the perpetrators as an
In all the activities and triumphs of the Good Citizens' League Babbitt took
part, and completely won back to self-respect, placidity, and the affection of
his friends. But he began to protest, "Gosh, I've done my share in cleaning
up the city. I want to tend to business. Think I'll just kind of slacken up
on this G.C.L. stuff now."
He had returned to the church as he had returned to the Boosters' Club. He
had even endured the lavish greeting which Sheldon Smeeth gave him. He was
worried lest during his late discontent he had imperiled his salvation. He was
not quite sure there was a Heaven to be attained, but Dr. John Jennison Drew
said there was, and Babbitt was not going to take a chance.
One evening when he was walking past Dr. Drew's parsonage he impulsively went
in and found the pastor in his study.
"Jus' minute--getting 'phone call," said Dr. Drew in businesslike tones, then,
aggressively, to the telephone: "'Lo--'lo! This Berkey and Hannis? Reverend
Drew speaking. Where the dickens is the proof for next Sunday's calendar?
Huh? Y' ought to have it here. Well, I can't help it if they're ALL sick! I
got to have it to-night. Get an A.D.T. boy and shoot it up here quick."
He turned, without slackening his briskness. "Well, Brother Babbitt, what c'n
I do for you?"
"I just wanted to ask--Tell you how it is, dominie: Here a while ago I guess
I got kind of slack. Took a few drinks and so on. What I wanted to ask is:
How is it if a fellow cuts that all out and comes back to his senses? Does it
sort of, well, you might say, does it score against him in the long run?"
The Reverend Dr. Drew was suddenly interested. "And, uh, brother--the other
things, too? Women?"
"No, practically, you might say, practically not at all."
"Don't hesitate to tell me, brother! That's what I'm here for. Been going on
joy-rides? Squeezing girls in cars?" The reverend eyes glistened.
"Well, I'll tell you. I've got a deputation from the Don't Make Prohibition a
Joke Association coming to see me in a quarter of an hour, and one from the
Anti-Birth-Control Union at a quarter of ten." He busily glanced at his watch.
"But I can take five minutes off and pray with you. Kneel right down by your
chair, brother. Don't be ashamed to seek the guidance of God."
Babbitt's scalp itched and he longed to flee, but Dr. Drew had already flopped
down beside his desk-chair and his voice had changed from rasping efficiency
to an unctuous familiarity with sin and with the Almighty. Babbitt also
knelt, while Drew gloated:
"O Lord, thou seest our brother here, who has been led astray by manifold
temptations. O Heavenly Father, make his heart to be pure, as pure as a
little child's. Oh, let him know again the joy of a manly courage to abstain
Sheldon Smeeth came frolicking into the study. At the sight of the two men he
smirked, forgivingly patted Babbitt on the shoulder, and knelt beside him, his
arm about him, while he authorized Dr. Drew's imprecations with moans of "Yes,
Lord! Help our brother, Lord!"
Though he was trying to keep his eyes closed, Babbitt squinted between his
fingers and saw the pastor glance at his watch as he concluded with a
triumphant, "And let him never be afraid to come to Us for counsel and tender
care, and let him know that the church can lead him as a little lamb."
Dr. Drew sprang up, rolled his eyes in the general direction of Heaven,
chucked his watch into his pocket, and demanded, "Has the deputation come yet,
"Yep, right outside," Sheldy answered, with equal liveliness; then,
caressingly, to Babbitt, "Brother, if it would help, I'd love to go into the
next room and pray with you while Dr. Drew is receiving the brothers from the
Don't Make Prohibition a Joke Association."
"No--no thanks--can't take the time!" yelped Babbitt, rushing toward the door.
Thereafter he was often seen at the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church, but it
is recorded that he avoided shaking hands with the pastor at the door.
If his moral fiber had been so weakened by rebellion that he was not quite
dependable in the more rigorous campaigns of the Good Citizens' League nor
quite appreciative of the church, yet there was no doubt of the joy with which
Babbitt returned to the pleasures of his home and of the Athletic Club, the
Boosters, the Elks.
Verona and Kenneth Escott were eventually and hesitatingly married. For the
wedding Babbitt was dressed as carefully as was Verona; he was crammed into
the morning-coat he wore to teas thrice a year; and with a certain relief,
after Verona and Kenneth had driven away in a limousine, he returned to the
house, removed the morning coat, sat with his aching feet up on the davenport,
and reflected that his wife and he could have the living-room to themselves
now, and not have to listen to Verona and Kenneth worrying, in a cultured
collegiate manner, about minimum wages and the Drama League.
But even this sinking into peace was less consoling than his return to being
one of the best-loved men in the Boosters' Club.
President Willis Ijams began that Boosters' Club luncheon by standing quiet
and staring at them so unhappily that they feared he was about to announce the
death of a Brother Booster. He spoke slowly then, and gravely:
"Boys, I have something shocking to reveal to you; something terrible about
one of our own members."
Several Boosters, including Babbitt, looked disconcerted.
"A knight of the grip, a trusted friend of mine, recently made a trip
up-state, and in a certain town, where a certain Booster spent his boyhood, he
found out something which can no longer be concealed. In fact, he discovered
the inward nature of a man whom we have accepted as a Real Guy and as one of
us. Gentlemen, I cannot trust my voice to say it, so I have written it down."
He uncovered a large blackboard and on it, in huge capitals, was the legend:
George Follansbee Babbitt--oh you Folly!
The Boosters cheered, they laughed, they wept, they threw rolls at Babbitt,
they cried, "Speech, speech! Oh you Folly!"
President Ijams continued:
"That, gentlemen, is the awful thing Georgie Babbitt has been concealing all
these years, when we thought he was just plain George F. Now I want you to
tell us, taking it in turn, what you've always supposed the F. stood for."
Flivver, they suggested, and Frog-face and Flathead and Farinaceous and
Freezone and Flapdoodle and Foghorn. By the joviality of their insults
Babbitt knew that he had been taken back to their hearts, and happily he rose.
"Boys, I've got to admit it. I've never worn a wrist-watch, or parted my name
in the middle, but I will confess to 'Follansbee.' My only justification is
that my old dad--though otherwise he was perfectly sane, and packed an awful
wallop when it came to trimming the City Fellers at checkers--named me after
the family doc, old Dr. Ambrose Follansbee. I apologize, boys. In my next
what-d'you-call-it I'll see to it that I get named something really
practical--something that sounds swell and yet is good and virile--something,
in fact, like that grand old name so familiar to every household--that bold
and almost overpowering name, Willis Jimjams Ijams!"
He knew by the cheer that he was secure again and popular; he knew that he
would no more endanger his security and popularity by straying from the Clan
of Good Fellows.
Henry Thompson dashed into the office, clamoring, "George! Big news! Jake
Offutt says the Traction Bunch are dissatisfied with the way Sanders, Torrey
and Wing handled their last deal, and they're willing to dicker with us!"
Babbitt was pleased in the realization that the last scar of his rebellion was
healed, yet as he drove home he was annoyed by such background thoughts as had
never weakened him in his days of belligerent conformity. He discovered that
he actually did not consider the Traction group quite honest. "Well, he'd
carry out one more deal for them, but as soon as it was practicable, maybe as
soon as old Henry Thompson died, he'd break away from all association from
them. He was forty-eight; in twelve years he'd be sixty; he wanted to leave a
clean business to his grandchildren. Course there was a lot of money in
negotiating for the Traction people, and a fellow had to look at things in a
practical way, only--" He wriggled uncomfortably. He wanted to tell the
Traction group what he thought of them. "Oh, he couldn't do it, not now. If
he offended them this second time, they would crush him. But--"
He was conscious that his line of progress seemed confused. He wondered what
he would do with his future. He was still young; was he through with all
adventuring? He felt that he had been trapped into the very net from which he
had with such fury escaped and, supremest jest of all, been made to rejoice in
"They've licked me; licked me to a finish!" he whimpered.
The house was peaceful, that evening, and he enjoyed a game of pinochle with
his wife. He indignantly told the Tempter that he was content to do things in
the good old fashioned way. The day after, he went to see the purchasing-agent
of the Street Traction Company and they made plans for the secret purchase of
lots along the Evanston Road. But as he drove to his office he struggled,
"I'm going to run things and figure out things to suit myself--when I retire."
Ted had come down from the University for the week-end. Though he no longer
spoke of mechanical engineering and though he was reticent about his opinion
of his instructors, he seemed no more reconciled to college, and his chief
interest was his wireless telephone set.
On Saturday evening he took Eunice Littlefield to a dance at Devon Woods.
Babbitt had a glimpse of her, bouncing in the seat of the car, brilliant in a
scarlet cloak over a frock of thinnest creamy silk. They two had not returned
when the Babbitts went to bed, at half-past eleven. At a blurred indefinite
time of late night Babbitt was awakened by the ring of the telephone and
gloomily crawled down-stairs. Howard Littlefield was speaking:
"George, Euny isn't back yet. Is Ted?"
"No--at least his door is open--"
"They ought to be home. Eunice said the dance would be over at midnight.
What's the name of those people where they're going?"
"Why, gosh, tell the truth, I don't know, Howard. It's some classmate of
Ted's, out in Devon Woods. Don't see what we can do. Wait, I'll skip up and
ask Myra if she knows their name."
Babbitt turned on the light in Ted's room. It was a brown boyish room;
disordered dresser, worn books, a high-school pennant, photographs of
basket-ball teams and baseball teams. Ted was decidedly not there.
Mrs. Babbitt, awakened, irritably observed that she certainly did not know the
name of Ted's host, that it was late, that Howard Littlefield was but little
better than a born fool, and that she was sleepy. But she remained awake and
worrying while Babbitt, on the sleeping-porch, struggled back into sleep
through the incessant soft rain of her remarks. It was after dawn when he was
aroused by her shaking him and calling "George! George!" in something like
"Wha--wha--what is it?"
"Come here quick and see. Be quiet!"
She led him down the hall to the door of Ted's room and pushed it gently open.
On the worn brown rug he saw a froth of rose-colored chiffon lingerie; on the
sedate Morris chair a girl's silver slipper. And on the pillows were two
sleepy heads--Ted's and Eunice's.
Ted woke to grin, and to mutter with unconvincing defiance, "Good morning!
Let me introduce my wife--Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt Eunice Littlefield Babbitt,
"Good God!" from Babbitt, and from his wife a long wailing, "You've gone
"We got married last evening. Wife! Sit up and say a pretty good morning to
But Eunice hid her shoulders and her charming wild hair under the pillow.
By nine o'clock the assembly which was gathered about Ted and Eunice in the
living-room included Mr. and Mrs. George Babbitt, Dr. and Mrs. Howard
Littlefield, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Escott, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. Thompson, and
Tinka Babbitt, who was the only pleased member of the inquisition.
A crackling shower of phrases filled the room:
"At their age--" "Ought to be annulled--" "Never heard of such a thing in--"
"Fault of both of them and--" "Keep it out of the papers--" "Ought to be
packed off to school--" "Do something about it at once, and what I say is--"
"Damn good old-fashioned spanking--"
Worst of them all was Verona. "TED! Some way MUST be found to make you
understand how dreadfully SERIOUS this is, instead of standing AROUND with
that silly foolish SMILE on your face!"
He began to revolt. "Gee whittakers, Rone, you got married yourself, didn't
"That's entirely different."
"You bet it is! They didn't have to work on Eu and me with a chain and tackle
to get us to hold hands!"
"Now, young man, we'll have no more flippancy," old Henry Thompson ordered.
"You listen to me."
"You listen to Grandfather!" said Verona.
"Yes, listen to your Grandfather!" said Mrs. Babbitt.
"Ted, you listen to Mr. Thompson!" said Howard Littlefield.
"Oh, for the love o' Mike, I am listening!" Ted shouted. "But you look here,
all of you! I'm getting sick and tired of being the corpse in this post
mortem! If you want to kill somebody, go kill the preacher that married us!
Why, he stung me five dollars, and all the money I had in the world was six
dollars and two bits. I'm getting just about enough of being hollered at!"
A new voice, booming, authoritative, dominated the room. It was Babbitt.
"Yuh, there's too darn many putting in their oar! Rone, you dry up. Howard
and I are still pretty strong, and able to do our own cussing. Ted, come into
the dining-room and we'll talk this over."
In the dining-room, the door firmly closed, Babbitt walked to his son, put
both hands on his shoulders. "You're more or less right. They all talk too
much. Now what do you plan to do, old man?"
"Gosh, dad, are you really going to be human?"
"Well, I--Remember one time you called us 'the Babbitt men' and said we ought
to stick together? I want to. I don't pretend to think this isn't serious.
The way the cards are stacked against a young fellow to-day, I can't say I
approve of early marriages. But you couldn't have married a better girl than
Eunice; and way I figure it, Littlefield is darn lucky to get a Babbitt for a
son-in-law! But what do you plan to do? Course you could go right ahead with
the U., and when you'd finished--"
"Dad, I can't stand it any more. Maybe it's all right for some fellows. Maybe
I'll want to go back some day. But me, I want to get into mechanics. I think
I'd get to be a good inventor. There's a fellow that would give me twenty
dollars a week in a factory right now."
"Well--" Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old.
"I've always wanted you to have a college degree." He meditatively stamped
across the floor again. "But I've never--Now, for heaven's sake, don't repeat
this to your mother, or she'd remove what little hair I've got left, but
practically, I've never done a single thing I've wanted to in my whole life! I
don't know 's I've accomplished anything except just get along. I figure out
I've made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods. Well,
maybe you'll carry things on further. I don't know. But I do get a kind of
sneaking pleasure out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did
it. Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down. Tell
'em to go to the devil! I'll back you. Take your factory job, if you want
to. Don't be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself,
the way I've been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!"
Arms about each other's shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the
living-room and faced the swooping family.