By Sinclair Lewis

To Edith Wharton







































THE towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of
steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver
rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully

The mist took pity on the fretted structures of earlier generations: the
Post Office with its shingle-tortured mansard, the red brick minarets of
hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden
tenements colored like mud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but
the clean towers were thrusting them from the business center, and on the
farther hills were shining new houses, homes—they seemed—for
laughter and tranquillity.

Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiseless
engine. These people in evening clothes were returning from an all-night
rehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic adventure considerably
illuminated by champagne. Below the bridge curved a railroad, a maze of
green and crimson lights. The New York Flyer boomed past, and twenty lines
of polished steel leaped into the glare.

In one of the skyscrapers the wires of the Associated Press were closing
down. The telegraph operators wearily raised their celluloid eye-shades
after a night of talking with Paris and Peking. Through the building
crawled the scrubwomen, yawning, their old shoes slapping. The dawn mist
spun away. Cues of men with lunch-boxes clumped toward the immensity of
new factories, sheets of glass and hollow tile, glittering shops where
five thousand men worked beneath one roof, pouring out the honest wares
that would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt. The whistles
rolled out in greeting a chorus cheerful as the April dawn; the song of
labor in a city built—it seemed—for giants.


There was nothing of the giant in the aspect of the man who was beginning
to awaken on the sleeping-porch of a Dutch Colonial house in that
residential district of Zenith known as Floral Heights.

His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April,
1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor
poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than
people could afford to pay.

His large head was pink, his brown hair thin and dry. His face was babyish
in slumber, despite his wrinkles and the red spectacle-dents on the slopes
of his nose. He was not fat but he was exceedingly well fed; his cheeks
were pads, and the unroughened hand which lay helpless upon the
khaki-colored blanket was slightly puffy. He seemed prosperous, extremely
married and unromantic; and altogether unromantic appeared this
sleeping-porch, which looked on one sizable elm, two respectable
grass-plots, a cement driveway, and a corrugated iron garage. Yet Babbitt
was again dreaming of the fairy child, a dream more romantic than scarlet
pagodas by a silver sea.

For years the fairy child had come to him. Where others saw but Georgie
Babbitt, she discerned gallant youth. She waited for him, in the darkness
beyond mysterious groves. When at last he could slip away from the crowded
house he darted to her. His wife, his clamoring friends, sought to follow,
but he escaped, the girl fleet beside him, and they crouched together on a
shadowy hillside. She was so slim, so white, so eager! She cried that he
was gay and valiant, that she would wait for him, that they would sail—

Rumble and bang of the milk-truck.

Babbitt moaned; turned over; struggled back toward his dream. He could see
only her face now, beyond misty waters. The furnace-man slammed the
basement door. A dog barked in the next yard. As Babbitt sank blissfully
into a dim warm tide, the paper-carrier went by whistling, and the
rolled-up Advocate thumped the front door. Babbitt roused, his stomach
constricted with alarm. As he relaxed, he was pierced by the familiar and
irritating rattle of some one cranking a Ford: snap-ah-ah, snap-ah-ah,
snap-ah-ah. Himself a pious motorist, Babbitt cranked with the unseen
driver, with him waited through taut hours for the roar of the starting
engine, with him agonized as the roar ceased and again began the infernal
patient snap-ah-ah—a round, flat sound, a shivering cold-morning
sound, a sound infuriating and inescapable. Not till the rising voice of
the motor told him that the Ford was moving was he released from the
panting tension. He glanced once at his favorite tree, elm twigs against
the gold patina of sky, and fumbled for sleep as for a drug. He who had
been a boy very credulous of life was no longer greatly interested in the
possible and improbable adventures of each new day.

He escaped from reality till the alarm-clock rang, at seven-twenty.


It was the best of nationally advertised and quantitatively produced
alarm-clocks, with all modern attachments, including cathedral chime,
intermittent alarm, and a phosphorescent dial. Babbitt was proud of being
awakened by such a rich device. Socially it was almost as creditable as
buying expensive cord tires.

He sulkily admitted now that there was no more escape, but he lay and
detested the grind of the real-estate business, and disliked his family,
and disliked himself for disliking them. The evening before, he had played
poker at Vergil Gunch's till midnight, and after such holidays he was
irritable before breakfast. It may have been the tremendous home-brewed
beer of the prohibition-era and the cigars to which that beer enticed him;
it may have been resentment of return from this fine, bold man-world to a
restricted region of wives and stenographers, and of suggestions not to
smoke so much.

From the bedroom beside the sleeping-porch, his wife's detestably cheerful
“Time to get up, Georgie boy,” and the itchy sound, the brisk and scratchy
sound, of combing hairs out of a stiff brush.

He grunted; he dragged his thick legs, in faded baby-blue pajamas, from
under the khaki blanket; he sat on the edge of the cot, running his
fingers through his wild hair, while his plump feet mechanically felt for
his slippers. He looked regretfully at the blanket—forever a
suggestion to him of freedom and heroism. He had bought it for a camping
trip which had never come off. It symbolized gorgeous loafing, gorgeous
cursing, virile flannel shirts.

He creaked to his feet, groaning at the waves of pain which passed behind
his eyeballs. Though he waited for their scorching recurrence, he looked
blurrily out at the yard. It delighted him, as always; it was the neat
yard of a successful business man of Zenith, that is, it was perfection,
and made him also perfect. He regarded the corrugated iron garage. For the
three-hundred-and-sixty-fifth time in a year he reflected, “No class to
that tin shack. Have to build me a frame garage. But by golly it's the
only thing on the place that isn't up-to-date!” While he stared he thought
of a community garage for his acreage development, Glen Oriole. He stopped
puffing and jiggling. His arms were akimbo. His petulant, sleep-swollen
face was set in harder lines. He suddenly seemed capable, an official, a
man to contrive, to direct, to get things done.

On the vigor of his idea he was carried down the hard, clean,
unused-looking hall into the bathroom.

Though the house was not large it had, like all houses on Floral Heights,
an altogether royal bathroom of porcelain and glazed tile and metal sleek
as silver. The towel-rack was a rod of clear glass set in nickel. The tub
was long enough for a Prussian Guard, and above the set bowl was a
sensational exhibit of tooth-brush holder, shaving-brush holder,
soap-dish, sponge-dish, and medicine-cabinet, so glittering and so
ingenious that they resembled an electrical instrument-board. But the
Babbitt whose god was Modern Appliances was not pleased. The air of the
bathroom was thick with the smell of a heathen toothpaste. “Verona been at
it again! 'Stead of sticking to Lilidol, like I've re-peat-ed-ly asked
her, she's gone and gotten some confounded stinkum stuff that makes you

The bath-mat was wrinkled and the floor was wet. (His daughter Verona
eccentrically took baths in the morning, now and then.) He slipped on the
mat, and slid against the tub. He said “Damn!” Furiously he snatched up
his tube of shaving-cream, furiously he lathered, with a belligerent
slapping of the unctuous brush, furiously he raked his plump cheeks with a
safety-razor. It pulled. The blade was dull. He said, “Damn—oh—oh—damn

He hunted through the medicine-cabinet for a packet of new razor-blades
(reflecting, as invariably, “Be cheaper to buy one of these dinguses and
strop your own blades,”) and when he discovered the packet, behind the
round box of bicarbonate of soda, he thought ill of his wife for putting
it there and very well of himself for not saying “Damn.” But he did say
it, immediately afterward, when with wet and soap-slippery fingers he
tried to remove the horrible little envelope and crisp clinging oiled
paper from the new blade. Then there was the problem, oft-pondered, never
solved, of what to do with the old blade, which might imperil the fingers
of his young. As usual, he tossed it on top of the medicine-cabinet, with
a mental note that some day he must remove the fifty or sixty other blades
that were also temporarily, piled up there. He finished his shaving in a
growing testiness increased by his spinning headache and by the emptiness
in his stomach. When he was done, his round face smooth and streamy and
his eyes stinging from soapy water, he reached for a towel. The family
towels were wet, wet and clammy and vile, all of them wet, he found, as he
blindly snatched them—his own face-towel, his wife's, Verona's,
Ted's, Tinka's, and the lone bath-towel with the huge welt of initial.
Then George F. Babbitt did a dismaying thing. He wiped his face on the
guest-towel! It was a pansy-embroidered trifle which always hung there to
indicate that the Babbitts were in the best Floral Heights society. No one
had ever used it. No guest had ever dared to. Guests secretively took a
corner of the nearest regular towel.

He was raging, “By golly, here they go and use up all the towels, every
doggone one of 'em, and they use 'em and get 'em all wet and sopping, and
never put out a dry one for me—of course, I'm the goat!—and
then I want one and—I'm the only person in the doggone house that's
got the slightest doggone bit of consideration for other people and
thoughtfulness and consider there may be others that may want to use the
doggone bathroom after me and consider—”

He was pitching the chill abominations into the bath-tub, pleased by the
vindictiveness of that desolate flapping sound; and in the midst his wife
serenely trotted in, observed serenely, “Why Georgie dear, what are you
doing? Are you going to wash out the towels? Why, you needn't wash out the
towels. Oh, Georgie, you didn't go and use the guest-towel, did you?”

It is not recorded that he was able to answer.

For the first time in weeks he was sufficiently roused by his wife to look
at her.


Myra Babbitt—Mrs. George F. Babbitt—was definitely mature. She
had creases from the corners of her mouth to the bottom of her chin, and
her plump neck bagged. But the thing that marked her as having passed the
line was that she no longer had reticences before her husband, and no
longer worried about not having reticences. She was in a petticoat now,
and corsets which bulged, and unaware of being seen in bulgy corsets. She
had become so dully habituated to married life that in her full
matronliness she was as sexless as an anemic nun. She was a good woman, a
kind woman, a diligent woman, but no one, save perhaps Tinka her
ten-year-old, was at all interested in her or entirely aware that she was

After a rather thorough discussion of all the domestic and social aspects
of towels she apologized to Babbitt for his having an alcoholic headache;
and he recovered enough to endure the search for a B.V.D. undershirt which
had, he pointed out, malevolently been concealed among his clean pajamas.

He was fairly amiable in the conference on the brown suit.

“What do you think, Myra?” He pawed at the clothes hunched on a chair in
their bedroom, while she moved about mysteriously adjusting and patting
her petticoat and, to his jaundiced eye, never seeming to get on with her
dressing. “How about it? Shall I wear the brown suit another day?”

“Well, it looks awfully nice on you.”

“I know, but gosh, it needs pressing.”

“That's so. Perhaps it does.”

“It certainly could stand being pressed, all right.”

“Yes, perhaps it wouldn't hurt it to be pressed.”

“But gee, the coat doesn't need pressing. No sense in having the whole
darn suit pressed, when the coat doesn't need it.”

“That's so.”

“But the pants certainly need it, all right. Look at them—look at
those wrinkles—the pants certainly do need pressing.”

“That's so. Oh, Georgie, why couldn't you wear the brown coat with the
blue trousers we were wondering what we'd do with them?”

“Good Lord! Did you ever in all my life know me to wear the coat of one
suit and the pants of another? What do you think I am? A busted

“Well, why don't you put on the dark gray suit to-day, and stop in at the
tailor and leave the brown trousers?”

“Well, they certainly need—Now where the devil is that gray suit?
Oh, yes, here we are.”

He was able to get through the other crises of dressing with comparative
resoluteness and calm.

His first adornment was the sleeveless dimity B.V.D. undershirt, in which
he resembled a small boy humorlessly wearing a cheesecloth tabard at a
civic pageant. He never put on B.V.D.'s without thanking the God of
Progress that he didn't wear tight, long, old-fashioned undergarments,
like his father-in-law and partner, Henry Thompson. His second
embellishment was combing and slicking back his hair. It gave him a
tremendous forehead, arching up two inches beyond the former hair-line.
But most wonder-working of all was the donning of his spectacles.

There is character in spectacles—the pretentious tortoiseshell, the
meek pince-nez of the school teacher, the twisted silver-framed glasses of
the old villager. Babbitt's spectacles had huge, circular, frameless
lenses of the very best glass; the ear-pieces were thin bars of gold. In
them he was the modern business man; one who gave orders to clerks and
drove a car and played occasional golf and was scholarly in regard to
Salesmanship. His head suddenly appeared not babyish but weighty, and you
noted his heavy, blunt nose, his straight mouth and thick, long upper lip,
his chin overfleshy but strong; with respect you beheld him put on the
rest of his uniform as a Solid Citizen.

The gray suit was well cut, well made, and completely undistinguished. It
was a standard suit. White piping on the V of the vest added a flavor of
law and learning. His shoes were black laced boots, good boots, honest
boots, standard boots, extraordinarily uninteresting boots. The only
frivolity was in his purple knitted scarf. With considerable comment on
the matter to Mrs. Babbitt (who, acrobatically fastening the back of her
blouse to her skirt with a safety-pin, did not hear a word he said), he
chose between the purple scarf and a tapestry effect with stringless brown
harps among blown palms, and into it he thrust a snake-head pin with opal

A sensational event was changing from the brown suit to the gray the
contents of his pockets. He was earnest about these objects. They were of
eternal importance, like baseball or the Republican Party. They included a
fountain pen and a silver pencil (always lacking a supply of new leads)
which belonged in the righthand upper vest pocket. Without them he would
have felt naked. On his watch-chain were a gold penknife, silver
cigar-cutter, seven keys (the use of two of which he had forgotten), and
incidentally a good watch. Depending from the chain was a large, yellowish
elk's-tooth-proclamation of his membership in the Brotherly and Protective
Order of Elks. Most significant of all was his loose-leaf pocket
note-book, that modern and efficient note-book which contained the
addresses of people whom he had forgotten, prudent memoranda of postal
money-orders which had reached their destinations months ago, stamps which
had lost their mucilage, clippings of verses by T. Cholmondeley Frink and
of the newspaper editorials from which Babbitt got his opinions and his
polysyllables, notes to be sure and do things which he did not intend to
do, and one curious inscription—D.S.S. D.M.Y.P.D.F.

But he had no cigarette-case. No one had ever happened to give him one, so
he hadn't the habit, and people who carried cigarette-cases he regarded as

Last, he stuck in his lapel the Boosters' Club button. With the
conciseness of great art the button displayed two words: “Boosters-Pep!”
It made Babbitt feel loyal and important. It associated him with Good
Fellows, with men who were nice and human, and important in business
circles. It was his V.C., his Legion of Honor ribbon, his Phi Beta Kappa

With the subtleties of dressing ran other complex worries. “I feel kind of
punk this morning,” he said. “I think I had too much dinner last evening.
You oughtn't to serve those heavy banana fritters.”

“But you asked me to have some.”

“I know, but—I tell you, when a fellow gets past forty he has to
look after his digestion. There's a lot of fellows that don't take proper
care of themselves. I tell you at forty a man's a fool or his doctor—I
mean, his own doctor. Folks don't give enough attention to this matter of
dieting. Now I think—Course a man ought to have a good meal after
the day's work, but it would be a good thing for both of us if we took
lighter lunches.”

“But Georgie, here at home I always do have a light lunch.”

“Mean to imply I make a hog of myself, eating down-town? Yes, sure! You'd
have a swell time if you had to eat the truck that new steward hands out
to us at the Athletic Club! But I certainly do feel out of sorts, this
morning. Funny, got a pain down here on the left side—but no, that
wouldn't be appendicitis, would it? Last night, when I was driving over to
Verg Gunch's, I felt a pain in my stomach, too. Right here it was—kind
of a sharp shooting pain. I—Where'd that dime go to? Why don't you
serve more prunes at breakfast? Of course I eat an apple every evening—an
apple a day keeps the doctor away—but still, you ought to have more
prunes, and not all these fancy doodads.”

“The last time I had prunes you didn't eat them.”

“Well, I didn't feel like eating 'em, I suppose. Matter of fact, I think I
did eat some of 'em. Anyway—I tell you it's mighty important to—I
was saying to Verg Gunch, just last evening, most people don't take
sufficient care of their diges—”

“Shall we have the Gunches for our dinner, next week?”

“Why sure; you bet.”

“Now see here, George: I want you to put on your nice dinner-jacket that

“Rats! The rest of 'em won't want to dress.”

“Of course they will. You remember when you didn't dress for the
Littlefields' supper-party, and all the rest did, and how embarrassed you

“Embarrassed, hell! I wasn't embarrassed. Everybody knows I can put on as
expensive a Tux. as anybody else, and I should worry if I don't happen to
have it on sometimes. All a darn nuisance, anyway. All right for a woman,
that stays around the house all the time, but when a fellow's worked like
the dickens all day, he doesn't want to go and hustle his head off getting
into the soup-and-fish for a lot of folks that he's seen in just reg'lar
ordinary clothes that same day.”

“You know you enjoy being seen in one. The other evening you admitted you
were glad I'd insisted on your dressing. You said you felt a lot better
for it. And oh, Georgie, I do wish you wouldn't say 'Tux.' It's

“Rats, what's the odds?”

“Well, it's what all the nice folks say. Suppose Lucile McKelvey heard you
calling it a 'Tux.'”

“Well, that's all right now! Lucile McKelvey can't pull anything on me!
Her folks are common as mud, even if her husband and her dad are
millionaires! I suppose you're trying to rub in your exalted social
position! Well, let me tell you that your revered paternal ancestor, Henry
T., doesn't even call it a 'Tux.'! He calls it a 'bobtail jacket for a
ringtail monkey,' and you couldn't get him into one unless you
chloroformed him!”

“Now don't be horrid, George.”

“Well, I don't want to be horrid, but Lord! you're getting as fussy as
Verona. Ever since she got out of college she's been too rambunctious to
live with—doesn't know what she wants—well, I know what she
wants!—all she wants is to marry a millionaire, and live in Europe,
and hold some preacher's hand, and simultaneously at the same time stay
right here in Zenith and be some blooming kind of a socialist agitator or
boss charity-worker or some damn thing! Lord, and Ted is just as bad! He
wants to go to college, and he doesn't want to go to college. Only one of
the three that knows her own mind is Tinka. Simply can't understand how I
ever came to have a pair of shillyshallying children like Rone and Ted. I
may not be any Rockefeller or James J. Shakespeare, but I certainly do
know my own mind, and I do keep right on plugging along in the office and—Do
you know the latest? Far as I can figure out, Ted's new bee is he'd like
to be a movie actor and—And here I've told him a hundred times, if
he'll go to college and law-school and make good, I'll set him up in
business and—Verona just exactly as bad. Doesn't know what she
wants. Well, well, come on! Aren't you ready yet? The girl rang the bell
three minutes ago.”


Before he followed his wife, Babbitt stood at the westernmost window of
their room. This residential settlement, Floral Heights, was on a rise;
and though the center of the city was three miles away—Zenith had
between three and four hundred thousand inhabitants now—he could see
the top of the Second National Tower, an Indiana limestone building of
thirty-five stories.

Its shining walls rose against April sky to a simple cornice like a streak
of white fire. Integrity was in the tower, and decision. It bore its
strength lightly as a tall soldier. As Babbitt stared, the nervousness was
soothed from his face, his slack chin lifted in reverence. All he
articulated was “That's one lovely sight!” but he was inspired by the
rhythm of the city; his love of it renewed. He beheld the tower as a
temple-spire of the religion of business, a faith passionate, exalted,
surpassing common men; and as he clumped down to breakfast he whistled the
ballad “Oh, by gee, by gosh, by jingo” as though it were a hymn melancholy
and noble.


RELIEVED of Babbitt's bumbling and the soft grunts with which his wife
expressed the sympathy she was too experienced to feel and much too
experienced not to show, their bedroom settled instantly into

It gave on the sleeping-porch. It served both of them as dressing-room,
and on the coldest nights Babbitt luxuriously gave up the duty of being
manly and retreated to the bed inside, to curl his toes in the warmth and
laugh at the January gale.

The room displayed a modest and pleasant color-scheme, after one of the
best standard designs of the decorator who “did the interiors” for most of
the speculative-builders' houses in Zenith. The walls were gray, the
woodwork white, the rug a serene blue; and very much like mahogany was the
furniture—the bureau with its great clear mirror, Mrs. Babbitt's
dressing-table with toilet-articles of almost solid silver, the plain twin
beds, between them a small table holding a standard electric bedside lamp,
a glass for water, and a standard bedside book with colored illustrations—what
particular book it was cannot be ascertained, since no one had ever opened
it. The mattresses were firm but not hard, triumphant modern mattresses
which had cost a great deal of money; the hot-water radiator was of
exactly the proper scientific surface for the cubic contents of the room.
The windows were large and easily opened, with the best catches and cords,
and Holland roller-shades guaranteed not to crack. It was a masterpiece
among bedrooms, right out of Cheerful Modern Houses for Medium Incomes.
Only it had nothing to do with the Babbitts, nor with any one else. If
people had ever lived and loved here, read thrillers at midnight and lain
in beautiful indolence on a Sunday morning, there were no signs of it. It
had the air of being a very good room in a very good hotel. One expected
the chambermaid to come in and make it ready for people who would stay but
one night, go without looking back, and never think of it again.

Every second house in Floral Heights had a bedroom precisely like this.

The Babbitts' house was five years old. It was all as competent and glossy
as this bedroom. It had the best of taste, the best of inexpensive rugs, a
simple and laudable architecture, and the latest conveniences. Throughout,
electricity took the place of candles and slatternly hearth-fires. Along
the bedroom baseboard were three plugs for electric lamps, concealed by
little brass doors. In the halls were plugs for the vacuum cleaner, and in
the living-room plugs for the piano lamp, for the electric fan. The trim
dining-room (with its admirable oak buffet, its leaded-glass cupboard, its
creamy plaster walls, its modest scene of a salmon expiring upon a pile of
oysters) had plugs which supplied the electric percolator and the electric

In fact there was but one thing wrong with the Babbitt house: It was not a


Often of a morning Babbitt came bouncing and jesting in to breakfast. But
things were mysteriously awry to-day. As he pontifically tread the upper
hall he looked into Verona's bedroom and protested, “What's the use of
giving the family a high-class house when they don't appreciate it and
tend to business and get down to brass tacks?”

He marched upon them: Verona, a dumpy brown-haired girl of twenty-two,
just out of Bryn Mawr, given to solicitudes about duty and sex and God and
the unconquerable bagginess of the gray sports-suit she was now wearing.
Ted—Theodore Roosevelt Babbitt—a decorative boy of seventeen.
Tinka—Katherine—still a baby at ten, with radiant red hair and
a thin skin which hinted of too much candy and too many ice cream sodas.
Babbitt did not show his vague irritation as he tramped in. He really
disliked being a family tyrant, and his nagging was as meaningless as it
was frequent. He shouted at Tinka, “Well, kittiedoolie!” It was the only
pet name in his vocabulary, except the “dear” and “hon.” with which he
recognized his wife, and he flung it at Tinka every morning.

He gulped a cup of coffee in the hope of pacifying his stomach and his
soul. His stomach ceased to feel as though it did not belong to him, but
Verona began to be conscientious and annoying, and abruptly there returned
to Babbitt the doubts regarding life and families and business which had
clawed at him when his dream-life and the slim fairy girl had fled.

Verona had for six months been filing-clerk at the Gruensberg Leather
Company offices, with a prospect of becoming secretary to Mr. Gruensberg
and thus, as Babbitt defined it, “getting some good out of your expensive
college education till you're ready to marry and settle down.”

But now said Verona: “Father! I was talking to a classmate of mine that's
working for the Associated Charities—oh, Dad, there's the sweetest
little babies that come to the milk-station there!—and I feel as
though I ought to be doing something worth while like that.”

“What do you mean 'worth while'? If you get to be Gruensberg's secretary—and
maybe you would, if you kept up your shorthand and didn't go sneaking off
to concerts and talkfests every evening—I guess you'll find
thirty-five or forty bones a week worth while!”

“I know, but—oh, I want to—contribute—I wish I were
working in a settlement-house. I wonder if I could get one of the
department-stores to let me put in a welfare-department with a nice
rest-room and chintzes and wicker chairs and so on and so forth. Or I

“Now you look here! The first thing you got to understand is that all this
uplift and flipflop and settlement-work and recreation is nothing in God's
world but the entering wedge for socialism. The sooner a man learns he
isn't going to be coddled, and he needn't expect a lot of free grub and,
uh, all these free classes and flipflop and doodads for his kids unless he
earns 'em, why, the sooner he'll get on the job and produce—produce—produce!
That's what the country needs, and not all this fancy stuff that just
enfeebles the will-power of the working man and gives his kids a lot of
notions above their class. And you—if you'd tend to business instead
of fooling and fussing—All the time! When I was a young man I made
up my mind what I wanted to do, and stuck to it through thick and thin,
and that's why I'm where I am to-day, and—Myra! What do you let the
girl chop the toast up into these dinky little chunks for? Can't get your
fist onto 'em. Half cold, anyway!”

Ted Babbitt, junior in the great East Side High School, had been making
hiccup-like sounds of interruption. He blurted now, “Say, Rone, you going

Verona whirled. “Ted! Will you kindly not interrupt us when we're talking
about serious matters!”

“Aw punk,” said Ted judicially. “Ever since somebody slipped up and let
you out of college, Ammonia, you been pulling these nut conversations
about what-nots and so-on-and-so-forths. Are you going to—I want to
use the car tonight.”

Babbitt snorted, “Oh, you do! May want it myself!” Verona protested, “Oh,
you do, Mr. Smarty! I'm going to take it myself!” Tinka wailed, “Oh, papa,
you said maybe you'd drive us down to Rosedale!” and Mrs. Babbitt,
“Careful, Tinka, your sleeve is in the butter.” They glared, and Verona
hurled, “Ted, you're a perfect pig about the car!”

“Course you're not! Not a-tall!” Ted could be maddeningly bland. “You just
want to grab it off, right after dinner, and leave it in front of some
skirt's house all evening while you sit and gas about lite'ature and the
highbrows you're going to marry—if they only propose!”

“Well, Dad oughtn't to EVER let you have it! You and those beastly Jones
boys drive like maniacs. The idea of your taking the turn on Chautauqua
Place at forty miles an hour!”

“Aw, where do you get that stuff! You're so darn scared of the car that
you drive up-hill with the emergency brake on!”

“I do not! And you—Always talking about how much you know about
motors, and Eunice Littlefield told me you said the battery fed the

“You—why, my good woman, you don't know a generator from a
differential.” Not unreasonably was Ted lofty with her. He was a natural
mechanic, a maker and tinkerer of machines; he lisped in blueprints for
the blueprints came.

“That'll do now!” Babbitt flung in mechanically, as he lighted the
gloriously satisfying first cigar of the day and tasted the exhilarating
drug of the Advocate-Times headlines.

Ted negotiated: “Gee, honest, Rone, I don't want to take the old boat, but
I promised couple o' girls in my class I'd drive 'em down to the rehearsal
of the school chorus, and, gee, I don't want to, but a gentleman's got to
keep his social engagements.”

“Well, upon my word! You and your social engagements! In high school!”

“Oh, ain't we select since we went to that hen college! Let me tell you
there isn't a private school in the state that's got as swell a bunch as
we got in Gamma Digamma this year. There's two fellows that their dads are
millionaires. Say, gee, I ought to have a car of my own, like lots of the
fellows.” Babbitt almost rose. “A car of your own! Don't you want a yacht,
and a house and lot? That pretty nearly takes the cake! A boy that can't
pass his Latin examinations, like any other boy ought to, and he expects
me to give him a motor-car, and I suppose a chauffeur, and an areoplane
maybe, as a reward for the hard work he puts in going to the movies with
Eunice Littlefield! Well, when you see me giving you—”

Somewhat later, after diplomacies, Ted persuaded Verona to admit that she
was merely going to the Armory, that evening, to see the dog and cat show.
She was then, Ted planned, to park the car in front of the candy-store
across from the Armory and he would pick it up. There were masterly
arrangements regarding leaving the key, and having the gasoline tank
filled; and passionately, devotees of the Great God Motor, they hymned the
patch on the spare inner-tube, and the lost jack-handle.

Their truce dissolving, Ted observed that her friends were “a scream of a
bunch-stuck-up gabby four-flushers.” His friends, she indicated, were
“disgusting imitation sports, and horrid little shrieking ignorant girls.”
Further: “It's disgusting of you to smoke cigarettes, and so on and so
forth, and those clothes you've got on this morning, they're too utterly
ridiculous—honestly, simply disgusting.”

Ted balanced over to the low beveled mirror in the buffet, regarded his
charms, and smirked. His suit, the latest thing in Old Eli Togs, was
skin-tight, with skimpy trousers to the tops of his glaring tan boots, a
chorus-man waistline, pattern of an agitated check, and across the back a
belt which belted nothing. His scarf was an enormous black silk wad. His
flaxen hair was ice-smooth, pasted back without parting. When he went to
school he would add a cap with a long vizor like a shovel-blade. Proudest
of all was his waistcoat, saved for, begged for, plotted for; a real Fancy
Vest of fawn with polka dots of a decayed red, the points astoundingly
long. On the lower edge of it he wore a high-school button, a class
button, and a fraternity pin.

And none of it mattered. He was supple and swift and flushed; his eyes
(which he believed to be cynical) were candidly eager. But he was not
over-gentle. He waved his hand at poor dumpy Verona and drawled: “Yes, I
guess we're pretty ridiculous and disgusticulus, and I rather guess our
new necktie is some smear!”

Babbitt barked: “It is! And while you're admiring yourself, let me tell
you it might add to your manly beauty if you wiped some of that egg off
your mouth!”

Verona giggled, momentary victor in the greatest of Great Wars, which is
the family war. Ted looked at her hopelessly, then shrieked at Tinka: “For
the love o' Pete, quit pouring the whole sugar bowl on your corn flakes!”

When Verona and Ted were gone and Tinka upstairs, Babbitt groaned to his
wife: “Nice family, I must say! I don't pretend to be any baa-lamb, and
maybe I'm a little cross-grained at breakfast sometimes, but the way they
go on jab-jab-jabbering, I simply can't stand it. I swear, I feel like
going off some place where I can get a little peace. I do think after a
man's spent his lifetime trying to give his kids a chance and a decent
education, it's pretty discouraging to hear them all the time scrapping
like a bunch of hyenas and never—and never—Curious; here in
the paper it says—Never silent for one mom—Seen the morning
paper yet?”

“No, dear.” In twenty-three years of married life, Mrs. Babbitt had seen
the paper before her husband just sixty-seven times.

“Lots of news. Terrible big tornado in the South. Hard luck, all right.
But this, say, this is corking! Beginning of the end for those fellows!
New York Assembly has passed some bills that ought to completely outlaw
the socialists! And there's an elevator-runners' strike in New York and a
lot of college boys are taking their places. That's the stuff! And a
mass-meeting in Birmingham's demanded that this Mick agitator, this fellow
De Valera, be deported. Dead right, by golly! All these agitators paid
with German gold anyway. And we got no business interfering with the Irish
or any other foreign government. Keep our hands strictly off. And there's
another well-authenticated rumor from Russia that Lenin is dead. That's
fine. It's beyond me why we don't just step in there and kick those
Bolshevik cusses out.”

“That's so,” said Mrs. Babbitt.

“And it says here a fellow was inaugurated mayor in overalls—a
preacher, too! What do you think of that!”

“Humph! Well!”

He searched for an attitude, but neither as a Republican, a Presbyterian,
an Elk, nor a real-estate broker did he have any doctrine about
preacher-mayors laid down for him, so he grunted and went on. She looked
sympathetic and did not hear a word. Later she would read the headlines,
the society columns, and the department-store advertisements.

“What do you know about this! Charley McKelvey still doing the sassiety
stunt as heavy as ever. Here's what that gushy woman reporter says about
last night:”

Never is Society with the big, big S more flattered than when they are
bidden to partake of good cheer at the distinguished and hospitable
residence of Mr. and Mrs. Charles L. McKelvey as they were last night. Set
in its spacious lawns and landscaping, one of the notable sights crowning
Royal Ridge, but merry and homelike despite its mighty stone walls and its
vast rooms famed for their decoration, their home was thrown open last
night for a dance in honor of Mrs. McKelvey's notable guest, Miss J.
Sneeth of Washington. The wide hall is so generous in its proportions that
it made a perfect ballroom, its hardwood floor reflecting the charming
pageant above its polished surface. Even the delights of dancing paled
before the alluring opportunities for tete-a-tetes that invited the soul
to loaf in the long library before the baronial fireplace, or in the
drawing-room with its deep comfy armchairs, its shaded lamps just made for
a sly whisper of pretty nothings all a deux; or even in the billiard room
where one could take a cue and show a prowess at still another game than
that sponsored by Cupid and Terpsichore.

There was more, a great deal more, in the best urban journalistic style of
Miss Elnora Pearl Bates, the popular society editor of the Advocate-Times.
But Babbitt could not abide it. He grunted. He wrinkled the newspaper. He
protested: “Can you beat it! I'm willing to hand a lot of credit to
Charley McKelvey. When we were in college together, he was just as hard up
as any of us, and he's made a million good bucks out of contracting and
hasn't been any dishonester or bought any more city councils than was
necessary. And that's a good house of his—though it ain't any
'mighty stone walls' and it ain't worth the ninety thousand it cost him.
But when it comes to talking as though Charley McKelvey and all that
booze-hoisting set of his are any blooming bunch of of, of Vanderbilts,
why, it makes me tired!”

Timidly from Mrs. Babbitt: “I would like to see the inside of their house
though. It must be lovely. I've never been inside.”

“Well, I have! Lots of—couple of times. To see Chaz about business
deals, in the evening. It's not so much. I wouldn't WANT to go there to
dinner with that gang of, of high-binders. And I'll bet I make a whole lot
more money than some of those tin-horns that spend all they got on
dress-suits and haven't got a decent suit of underwear to their name! Hey!
What do you think of this!”

Mrs. Babbitt was strangely unmoved by the tidings from the Real Estate and
Building column of the Advocate-Times:

     Ashtabula Street, 496—J. K. Dawson to
Thomas Mullally, April 17, 15.7 X 112.2,
mtg. $4000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nom

And this morning Babbitt was too disquieted to entertain her with items
from Mechanics' Liens, Mortgages Recorded, and Contracts Awarded. He rose.
As he looked at her his eyebrows seemed shaggier than usual. Suddenly:

“Yes, maybe—Kind of shame to not keep in touch with folks like the
McKelveys. We might try inviting them to dinner, some evening. Oh,
thunder, let's not waste our good time thinking about 'em! Our little
bunch has a lot liver times than all those plutes. Just compare a real
human like you with these neurotic birds like Lucile McKelvey—all
highbrow talk and dressed up like a plush horse! You're a great old girl,

He covered his betrayal of softness with a complaining: “Say, don't let
Tinka go and eat any more of that poison nutfudge. For Heaven's sake, try
to keep her from ruining her digestion. I tell you, most folks don't
appreciate how important it is to have a good digestion and regular
habits. Be back 'bout usual time, I guess.”

He kissed her—he didn't quite kiss her—he laid unmoving lips
against her unflushing cheek. He hurried out to the garage, muttering:
“Lord, what a family! And now Myra is going to get pathetic on me because
we don't train with this millionaire outfit. Oh, Lord, sometimes I'd like
to quit the whole game. And the office worry and detail just as bad. And I
act cranky and—I don't mean to, but I get—So darn tired!”


To George F. Babbitt, as to most prosperous citizens of Zenith, his motor
car was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism. The office was his pirate
ship but the car his perilous excursion ashore.

Among the tremendous crises of each day none was more dramatic than
starting the engine. It was slow on cold mornings; there was the long,
anxious whirr of the starter; and sometimes he had to drip ether into the
cocks of the cylinders, which was so very interesting that at lunch he
would chronicle it drop by drop, and orally calculate how much each drop
had cost him.

This morning he was darkly prepared to find something wrong, and he felt
belittled when the mixture exploded sweet and strong, and the car didn't
even brush the door-jamb, gouged and splintery with many bruisings by
fenders, as he backed out of the garage. He was confused. He shouted
“Morning!” to Sam Doppelbrau with more cordiality than he had intended.

Babbitt's green and white Dutch Colonial house was one of three in that
block on Chatham Road. To the left of it was the residence of Mr. Samuel
Doppelbrau, secretary of an excellent firm of bathroom-fixture jobbers.
His was a comfortable house with no architectural manners whatever; a
large wooden box with a squat tower, a broad porch, and glossy paint
yellow as a yolk. Babbitt disapproved of Mr. and Mrs. Doppelbrau as
“Bohemian.” From their house came midnight music and obscene laughter;
there were neighborhood rumors of bootlegged whisky and fast motor rides.
They furnished Babbitt with many happy evenings of discussion, during
which he announced firmly, “I'm not strait-laced, and I don't mind seeing
a fellow throw in a drink once in a while, but when it comes to
deliberately trying to get away with a lot of hell-raising all the while
like the Doppelbraus do, it's too rich for my blood!”

On the other side of Babbitt lived Howard Littlefield, Ph.D., in a
strictly modern house whereof the lower part was dark red tapestry brick,
with a leaded oriel, the upper part of pale stucco like spattered clay,
and the roof red-tiled. Littlefield was the Great Scholar of the
neighborhood; the authority on everything in the world except babies,
cooking, and motors. He was a Bachelor of Arts of Blodgett College, and a
Doctor of Philosophy in economics of Yale. He was the employment-manager
and publicity-counsel of the Zenith Street Traction Company. He could, on
ten hours' notice, appear before the board of aldermen or the state
legislature and prove, absolutely, with figures all in rows and with
precedents from Poland and New Zealand, that the street-car company loved
the Public and yearned over its employees; that all its stock was owned by
Widows and Orphans; and that whatever it desired to do would benefit
property-owners by increasing rental values, and help the poor by lowering
rents. All his acquaintances turned to Littlefield when they desired to
know the date of the battle of Saragossa, the definition of the word
“sabotage,” the future of the German mark, the translation of “hinc illae
lachrimae,” or the number of products of coal tar. He awed Babbitt by
confessing that he often sat up till midnight reading the figures and
footnotes in Government reports, or skimming (with amusement at the
author's mistakes) the latest volumes of chemistry, archeology, and

But Littlefield's great value was as a spiritual example. Despite his
strange learnings he was as strict a Presbyterian and as firm a Republican
as George F. Babbitt. He confirmed the business men in the faith. Where
they knew only by passionate instinct that their system of industry and
manners was perfect, Dr. Howard Littlefield proved it to them, out of
history, economics, and the confessions of reformed radicals.

Babbitt had a good deal of honest pride in being the neighbor of such a
savant, and in Ted's intimacy with Eunice Littlefield. At sixteen Eunice
was interested in no statistics save those regarding the ages and salaries
of motion-picture stars, but—as Babbitt definitively put it—“she
was her father's daughter.”

The difference between a light man like Sam Doppelbrau and a really fine
character like Littlefield was revealed in their appearances. Doppelbrau
was disturbingly young for a man of forty-eight. He wore his derby on the
back of his head, and his red face was wrinkled with meaningless laughter.
But Littlefield was old for a man of forty-two. He was tall, broad, thick;
his gold-rimmed spectacles were engulfed in the folds of his long face;
his hair was a tossed mass of greasy blackness; he puffed and rumbled as
he talked; his Phi Beta Kappa key shone against a spotty black vest; he
smelled of old pipes; he was altogether funereal and archidiaconal; and to
real-estate brokerage and the jobbing of bathroom-fixtures he added an
aroma of sanctity.

This morning he was in front of his house, inspecting the grass parking
between the curb and the broad cement sidewalk. Babbitt stopped his car
and leaned out to shout “Mornin'!” Littlefield lumbered over and stood
with one foot up on the running-board.

“Fine morning,” said Babbitt, lighting—illegally early—his
second cigar of the day.

“Yes, it's a mighty fine morning,” said Littlefield.

“Spring coming along fast now.”

“Yes, it's real spring now, all right,” said Littlefield.

“Still cold nights, though. Had to have a couple blankets, on the
sleeping-porch last night.”

“Yes, it wasn't any too warm last night,” said Littlefield.

“But I don't anticipate we'll have any more real cold weather now.”

“No, but still, there was snow at Tiflis, Montana, yesterday,” said the
Scholar, “and you remember the blizzard they had out West three days ago—thirty
inches of snow at Greeley, Colorado—and two years ago we had a
snow-squall right here in Zenith on the twenty-fifth of April.”

“Is that a fact! Say, old man, what do you think about the Republican
candidate? Who'll they nominate for president? Don't you think it's about
time we had a real business administration?”

“In my opinion, what the country needs, first and foremost, is a good,
sound, business-like conduct of its affairs. What we need is—a
business administration!” said Littlefield.

“I'm glad to hear you say that! I certainly am glad to hear you say that!
I didn't know how you'd feel about it, with all your associations with
colleges and so on, and I'm glad you feel that way. What the country needs—just
at this present juncture—is neither a college president nor a lot of
monkeying with foreign affairs, but a good—sound economical—business—administration,
that will give us a chance to have something like a decent turnover.”

“Yes. It isn't generally realized that even in China the schoolmen are
giving way to more practical men, and of course you can see what that

“Is that a fact! Well, well!” breathed Babbitt, feeling much calmer, and
much happier about the way things were going in the world. “Well, it's
been nice to stop and parleyvoo a second. Guess I'll have to get down to
the office now and sting a few clients. Well, so long, old man. See you
tonight. So long.”


They had labored, these solid citizens. Twenty years before, the hill on
which Floral Heights was spread, with its bright roofs and immaculate turf
and amazing comfort, had been a wilderness of rank second-growth elms and
oaks and maples. Along the precise streets were still a few wooded vacant
lots, and the fragment of an old orchard. It was brilliant to-day; the
apple boughs were lit with fresh leaves like torches of green fire. The
first white of cherry blossoms flickered down a gully, and robins

Babbitt sniffed the earth, chuckled at the hysteric robins as he would
have chuckled at kittens or at a comic movie. He was, to the eye, the
perfect office-going executive—a well-fed man in a correct brown
soft hat and frameless spectacles, smoking a large cigar, driving a good
motor along a semi-suburban parkway. But in him was some genius of
authentic love for his neighborhood, his city, his clan. The winter was
over; the time was come for the building, the visible growth, which to him
was glory. He lost his dawn depression; he was ruddily cheerful when he
stopped on Smith Street to leave the brown trousers, and to have the
gasoline-tank filled.

The familiarity of the rite fortified him: the sight of the tall red iron
gasoline-pump, the hollow-tile and terra-cotta garage, the window full of
the most agreeable accessories—shiny casings, spark-plugs with
immaculate porcelain jackets tire-chains of gold and silver. He was
flattered by the friendliness with which Sylvester Moon, dirtiest and most
skilled of motor mechanics, came out to serve him. “Mornin', Mr. Babbitt!”
said Moon, and Babbitt felt himself a person of importance, one whose name
even busy garagemen remembered—not one of these cheap-sports flying
around in flivvers. He admired the ingenuity of the automatic dial,
clicking off gallon by gallon; admired the smartness of the sign: “A fill
in time saves getting stuck—gas to-day 31 cents”; admired the
rhythmic gurgle of the gasoline as it flowed into the tank, and the
mechanical regularity with which Moon turned the handle.

“How much we takin' to-day?” asked Moon, in a manner which combined the
independence of the great specialist, the friendliness of a familiar
gossip, and respect for a man of weight in the community, like George F.

“Fill 'er up.”

“Who you rootin' for for Republican candidate, Mr. Babbitt?”

“It's too early to make any predictions yet. After all, there's still a
good month and two weeks—no, three weeks—must be almost three
weeks—well, there's more than six weeks in all before the Republican
convention, and I feel a fellow ought to keep an open mind and give all
the candidates a show—look 'em all over and size 'em up, and then
decide carefully.”

“That's a fact, Mr. Babbitt.”

“But I'll tell you—and my stand on this is just the same as it was
four years ago, and eight years ago, and it'll be my stand four years from
now—yes, and eight years from now! What I tell everybody, and it
can't be too generally understood, is that what we need first, last, and
all the time is a good, sound business administration!”

“By golly, that's right!”

“How do those front tires look to you?”

“Fine! Fine! Wouldn't be much work for garages if everybody looked after
their car the way you do.”

“Well, I do try and have some sense about it.” Babbitt paid his bill, said
adequately, “Oh, keep the change,” and drove off in an ecstasy of honest
self-appreciation. It was with the manner of a Good Samaritan that he
shouted at a respectable-looking man who was waiting for a trolley car,
“Have a lift?” As the man climbed in Babbitt condescended, “Going clear
down-town? Whenever I see a fellow waiting for a trolley, I always make it
a practice to give him a lift—unless, of course, he looks like a

“Wish there were more folks that were so generous with their machines,”
dutifully said the victim of benevolence. “Oh, no, 'tain't a question of
generosity, hardly. Fact, I always feel—I was saying to my son just
the other night—it's a fellow's duty to share the good things of
this world with his neighbors, and it gets my goat when a fellow gets
stuck on himself and goes around tooting his horn merely because he's

The victim seemed unable to find the right answer. Babbitt boomed on:

“Pretty punk service the Company giving us on these car-lines. Nonsense to
only run the Portland Road cars once every seven minutes. Fellow gets
mighty cold on a winter morning, waiting on a street corner with the wind
nipping at his ankles.”

“That's right. The Street Car Company don't care a damn what kind of a
deal they give us. Something ought to happen to 'em.”

Babbitt was alarmed. “But still, of course it won't do to just keep
knocking the Traction Company and not realize the difficulties they're
operating under, like these cranks that want municipal ownership. The way
these workmen hold up the Company for high wages is simply a crime, and of
course the burden falls on you and me that have to pay a seven-cent fare!
Fact, there's remarkable service on all their lines—considering.”

“Well—” uneasily.

“Darn fine morning,” Babbitt explained. “Spring coming along fast.”

“Yes, it's real spring now.”

The victim had no originality, no wit, and Babbitt fell into a great
silence and devoted himself to the game of beating trolley cars to the
corner: a spurt, a tail-chase, nervous speeding between the huge yellow
side of the trolley and the jagged row of parked motors, shooting past
just as the trolley stopped—a rare game and valiant.

And all the while he was conscious of the loveliness of Zenith. For weeks
together he noticed nothing but clients and the vexing To Rent signs of
rival brokers. To-day, in mysterious malaise, he raged or rejoiced with
equal nervous swiftness, and to-day the light of spring was so winsome
that he lifted his head and saw.

He admired each district along his familiar route to the office: The
bungalows and shrubs and winding irregular drive ways of Floral Heights.
The one-story shops on Smith Street, a glare of plate-glass and new yellow
brick; groceries and laundries and drug-stores to supply the more
immediate needs of East Side housewives. The market gardens in Dutch
Hollow, their shanties patched with corrugated iron and stolen doors.
Billboards with crimson goddesses nine feet tall advertising cinema films,
pipe tobacco, and talcum powder. The old “mansions” along Ninth Street, S.
E., like aged dandies in filthy linen; wooden castles turned into
boarding-houses, with muddy walks and rusty hedges, jostled by
fast-intruding garages, cheap apartment-houses, and fruit-stands conducted
by bland, sleek Athenians. Across the belt of railroad-tracks, factories
with high-perched water-tanks and tall stacks-factories producing
condensed milk, paper boxes, lighting-fixtures, motor cars. Then the
business center, the thickening darting traffic, the crammed trolleys
unloading, and high doorways of marble and polished granite.

It was big—and Babbitt respected bigness in anything; in mountains,
jewels, muscles, wealth, or words. He was, for a spring-enchanted moment,
the lyric and almost unselfish lover of Zenith. He thought of the outlying
factory suburbs; of the Chaloosa River with its strangely eroded banks; of
the orchard-dappled Tonawanda Hills to the North, and all the fat dairy
land and big barns and comfortable herds. As he dropped his passenger he
cried, “Gosh, I feel pretty good this morning!” III

Epochal as starting the car was the drama of parking it before he entered
his office. As he turned from Oberlin Avenue round the corner into Third
Street, N.E., he peered ahead for a space in the line of parked cars. He
angrily just missed a space as a rival driver slid into it. Ahead, another
car was leaving the curb, and Babbitt slowed up, holding out his hand to
the cars pressing on him from behind, agitatedly motioning an old woman to
go ahead, avoiding a truck which bore down on him from one side. With
front wheels nicking the wrought-steel bumper of the car in front, he
stopped, feverishly cramped his steering-wheel, slid back into the vacant
space and, with eighteen inches of room, manoeuvered to bring the car
level with the curb. It was a virile adventure masterfully executed. With
satisfaction he locked a thief-proof steel wedge on the front wheel, and
crossed the street to his real-estate office on the ground floor of the
Reeves Building.

The Reeves Building was as fireproof as a rock and as efficient as a
typewriter; fourteen stories of yellow pressed brick, with clean, upright,
unornamented lines. It was filled with the offices of lawyers, doctors,
agents for machinery, for emery wheels, for wire fencing, for
mining-stock. Their gold signs shone on the windows. The entrance was too
modern to be flamboyant with pillars; it was quiet, shrewd, neat. Along
the Third Street side were a Western Union Telegraph Office, the Blue
Delft Candy Shop, Shotwell's Stationery Shop, and the Babbitt-Thompson
Realty Company.

Babbitt could have entered his office from the street, as customers did,
but it made him feel an insider to go through the corridor of the building
and enter by the back door. Thus he was greeted by the villagers.

The little unknown people who inhabited the Reeves Building corridors—elevator-runners,
starter, engineers, superintendent, and the doubtful-looking lame man who
conducted the news and cigar stand—were in no way city-dwellers.
They were rustics, living in a constricted valley, interested only in one
another and in The Building. Their Main Street was the entrance hall, with
its stone floor, severe marble ceiling, and the inner windows of the
shops. The liveliest place on the street was the Reeves Building Barber
Shop, but this was also Babbitt's one embarrassment. Himself, he
patronized the glittering Pompeian Barber Shop in the Hotel Thornleigh,
and every time he passed the Reeves shop—ten times a day, a hundred
times—he felt untrue to his own village.

Now, as one of the squirearchy, greeted with honorable salutations by the
villagers, he marched into his office, and peace and dignity were upon
him, and the morning's dissonances all unheard.

They were heard again, immediately.

Stanley Graff, the outside salesman, was talking on the telephone with
tragic lack of that firm manner which disciplines clients: “Say, uh, I
think I got just the house that would suit you—the Percival House,
in Linton.... Oh, you've seen it. Well, how'd it strike you?... Huh?
...Oh,” irresolutely, “oh, I see.”

As Babbitt marched into his private room, a coop with semi-partition of
oak and frosted glass, at the back of the office, he reflected how hard it
was to find employees who had his own faith that he was going to make

There were nine members of the staff, besides Babbitt and his partner and
father-in-law, Henry Thompson, who rarely came to the office. The nine
were Stanley Graff, the outside salesman—a youngish man given to
cigarettes and the playing of pool; old Mat Penniman, general utility man,
collector of rents and salesman of insurance—broken, silent, gray; a
mystery, reputed to have been a “crack” real-estate man with a firm of his
own in haughty Brooklyn; Chester Kirby Laylock, resident salesman out at
the Glen Oriole acreage development—an enthusiastic person with a
silky mustache and much family; Miss Theresa McGoun, the swift and rather
pretty stenographer; Miss Wilberta Bannigan, the thick, slow, laborious
accountant and file-clerk; and four freelance part-time commission

As he looked from his own cage into the main room Babbitt mourned,
“McGoun's a good stenog., smart's a whip, but Stan Graff and all those
bums—” The zest of the spring morning was smothered in the stale
office air.

Normally he admired the office, with a pleased surprise that he should
have created this sure lovely thing; normally he was stimulated by the
clean newness of it and the air of bustle; but to-day it seemed flat—the
tiled floor, like a bathroom, the ocher-colored metal ceiling, the faded
maps on the hard plaster walls, the chairs of varnished pale oak, the
desks and filing-cabinets of steel painted in olive drab. It was a vault,
a steel chapel where loafing and laughter were raw sin.

He hadn't even any satisfaction in the new water-cooler! And it was the
very best of water-coolers, up-to-date, scientific, and right-thinking. It
had cost a great deal of money (in itself a virtue). It possessed a
non-conducting fiber ice-container, a porcelain water-jar (guaranteed
hygienic), a drip-less non-clogging sanitary faucet, and machine-painted
decorations in two tones of gold. He looked down the relentless stretch of
tiled floor at the water-cooler, and assured himself that no tenant of the
Reeves Building had a more expensive one, but he could not recapture the
feeling of social superiority it had given him. He astoundingly grunted,
“I'd like to beat it off to the woods right now. And loaf all day. And go
to Gunch's again to-night, and play poker, and cuss as much as I feel
like, and drink a hundred and nine-thousand bottles of beer.”

He sighed; he read through his mail; he shouted “Msgoun,” which meant
“Miss McGoun”; and began to dictate.

This was his own version of his first letter:

“Omar Gribble, send it to his office, Miss McGoun, yours of twentieth to
hand and in reply would say look here, Gribble, I'm awfully afraid if we
go on shilly-shallying like this we'll just naturally lose the Allen sale,
I had Allen up on carpet day before yesterday and got right down to cases
and think I can assure you—uh, uh, no, change that: all my
experience indicates he is all right, means to do business, looked into
his financial record which is fine—that sentence seems to be a
little balled up, Miss McGoun; make a couple sentences out of it if you
have to, period, new paragraph.

“He is perfectly willing to pro rate the special assessment and strikes
me, am dead sure there will be no difficulty in getting him to pay for
title insurance, so now for heaven's sake let's get busy—no, make
that: so now let's go to it and get down—no, that's enough—you
can tie those sentences up a little better when you type 'em, Miss McGoun—your
sincerely, etcetera.”

This is the version of his letter which he received, typed, from Miss
McGoun that afternoon:

Homes for Folks
Reeves Bldg., Oberlin Avenue & 3d St., N.E

Omar Gribble, Esq., 376 North American Building, Zenith.

Dear Mr. Gribble:

Your letter of the twentieth to hand. I must say I'm awfully afraid that
if we go on shilly-shallying like this we'll just naturally lose the Allen
sale. I had Allen up on the carpet day before yesterday, and got right
down to cases. All my experience indicates that he means to do business. I
have also looked into his financial record, which is fine.

He is perfectly willing to pro rate the special assessment and there will
be no difficulty in getting him to pay for title insurance.

SO LET'S GO! Yours sincerely,

As he read and signed it, in his correct flowing business-college hand,
Babbitt reflected, “Now that's a good, strong letter, and clear's a bell.
Now what the—I never told McGoun to make a third paragraph there!
Wish she'd quit trying to improve on my dictation! But what I can't
understand is: why can't Stan Graff or Chet Laylock write a letter like
that? With punch! With a kick!”

The most important thing he dictated that morning was the fortnightly
form-letter, to be mimeographed and sent out to a thousand “prospects.” It
was diligently imitative of the best literary models of the day; of
heart-to-heart-talk advertisements, “sales-pulling” letters, discourses on
the “development of Will-power,” and hand-shaking house-organs, as richly
poured forth by the new school of Poets of Business. He had painfully
written out a first draft, and he intoned it now like a poet delicate and

SAY, OLD MAN! I just want to know can I do you a whaleuva favor? Honest!
No kidding! I know you're interested in getting a house, not merely a
place where you hang up the old bonnet but a love-nest for the wife and
kiddies—and maybe for the flivver out beyant (be sure and spell that
b-e-y-a-n-t, Miss McGoun) the spud garden. Say, did you ever stop to think
that we're here to save you trouble? That's how we make a living—folks
don't pay us for our lovely beauty! Now take a look:

Sit right down at the handsome carved mahogany escritoire and shoot us in
a line telling us just what you want, and if we can find it we'll come
hopping down your lane with the good tidings, and if we can't, we won't
bother you. To save your time, just fill out the blank enclosed. On
request will also send blank regarding store properties in Floral Heights,
Silver Grove, Linton, Bellevue, and all East Side residential districts.

Yours for service,

P.S.—Just a hint of some plums we can pick for you—some
genuine bargains that came in to-day:

SILVER GROVE.—Cute four-room California bungalow, a.m.i., garage,
dandy shade tree, swell neighborhood, handy car line. $3700, $780 down and
balance liberal, Babbitt-Thompson terms, cheaper than rent.

DORCHESTER.—A corker! Artistic two-family house, all oak trim,
parquet floors, lovely gas log, big porches, colonial, HEATED ALL-WEATHER
GARAGE, a bargain at $11,250.

Dictation over, with its need of sitting and thinking instead of bustling
around and making a noise and really doing something, Babbitt sat creakily
back in his revolving desk-chair and beamed on Miss McGoun. He was
conscious of her as a girl, of black bobbed hair against demure cheeks. A
longing which was indistinguishable from loneliness enfeebled him. While
she waited, tapping a long, precise pencil-point on the desk-tablet, he
half identified her with the fairy girl of his dreams. He imagined their
eyes meeting with terrifying recognition; imagined touching her lips with
frightened reverence and—She was chirping, “Any more, Mist'
Babbitt?” He grunted, “That winds it up, I guess,” and turned heavily

For all his wandering thoughts, they had never been more intimate than
this. He often reflected, “Nev' forget how old Jake Offutt said a wise
bird never goes love-making in his own office or his own home. Start
trouble. Sure. But—”

In twenty-three years of married life he had peered uneasily at every
graceful ankle, every soft shoulder; in thought he had treasured them; but
not once had he hazarded respectability by adventuring. Now, as he
calculated the cost of repapering the Styles house, he was restless again,
discontented about nothing and everything, ashamed of his discontentment,
and lonely for the fairy girl.


IT was a morning of artistic creation. Fifteen minutes after the purple
prose of Babbitt's form-letter, Chester Kirby Laylock, the resident
salesman at Glen Oriole, came in to report a sale and submit an
advertisement. Babbitt disapproved of Laylock, who sang in choirs and was
merry at home over games of Hearts and Old Maid. He had a tenor voice,
wavy chestnut hair, and a mustache like a camel's-hair brush. Babbitt
considered it excusable in a family-man to growl, “Seen this new picture
of the kid—husky little devil, eh?” but Laylock's domestic
confidences were as bubbling as a girl's.

“Say, I think I got a peach of an ad for the Glen, Mr. Babbitt.
Why don't we try something in poetry? Honest, it'd have wonderful
pulling-power. Listen:

'Mid pleasures and palaces,
Wherever you may roam,
You just provide the little bride
And we'll provide the home.

Do you get it? See—like 'Home Sweet Home.' Don't you—”

“Yes, yes, yes, hell yes, of course I get it. But—Oh, I think we'd
better use something more dignified and forceful, like 'We lead, others
follow,' or 'Eventually, why not now?' Course I believe in using poetry
and humor and all that junk when it turns the trick, but with a high-class
restricted development like the Glen we better stick to the more dignified
approach, see how I mean? Well, I guess that's all, this morning, Chet.”


By a tragedy familiar to the world of art, the April enthusiasm of Chet
Laylock served only to stimulate the talent of the older craftsman, George
F. Babbitt. He grumbled to Stanley Graff, “That tan-colored voice of
Chet's gets on my nerves,” yet he was aroused and in one swoop he wrote:


When the last sad rites of bereavement are over, do you know for certain
that you have done your best for the Departed? You haven't unless they lie
in the Cemetery Beautiful,


the only strictly up-to-date burial place in or near Zenith, where
exquisitely gardened plots look from daisy-dotted hill-slopes across the
smiling fields of Dorchester.

     Sole agents
Reeves Building

He rejoiced, “I guess that'll show Chan Mott and his weedy old Wildwood
Cemetery something about modern merchandizing!”


He sent Mat Penniman to the recorder's office to dig out the names of the
owners of houses which were displaying For Rent signs of other brokers; he
talked to a man who desired to lease a store-building for a pool-room; he
ran over the list of home-leases which were about to expire; he sent
Thomas Bywaters, a street-car conductor who played at real estate in spare
time, to call on side-street “prospects” who were unworthy the strategies
of Stanley Graff. But he had spent his credulous excitement of creation,
and these routine details annoyed him. One moment of heroism he had, in
discovering a new way of stopping smoking.

He stopped smoking at least once a month. He went through with it like the
solid citizen he was: admitted the evils of tobacco, courageously made
resolves, laid out plans to check the vice, tapered off his allowance of
cigars, and expounded the pleasures of virtuousness to every one he met.
He did everything, in fact, except stop smoking.

Two months before, by ruling out a schedule, noting down the hour and
minute of each smoke, and ecstatically increasing the intervals between
smokes, he had brought himself down to three cigars a day. Then he had
lost the schedule.

A week ago he had invented a system of leaving his cigar-case and
cigarette-box in an unused drawer at the bottom of the
correspondence-file, in the outer office. “I'll just naturally be ashamed
to go poking in there all day long, making a fool of myself before my own
employees!” he reasoned. By the end of three days he was trained to leave
his desk, walk to the file, take out and light a cigar, without knowing
that he was doing it.

This morning it was revealed to him that it had been too easy to open the
file. Lock it, that was the thing! Inspired, he rushed out and locked up
his cigars, his cigarettes, and even his box of safety matches; and the
key to the file drawer he hid in his desk. But the crusading passion of it
made him so tobacco-hungry that he immediately recovered the key, walked
with forbidding dignity to the file, took out a cigar and a match—“but
only one match; if ole cigar goes out, it'll by golly have to stay out!”
Later, when the cigar did go out, he took one more match from the file,
and when a buyer and a seller came in for a conference at eleven-thirty,
naturally he had to offer them cigars. His conscience protested, “Why,
you're smoking with them!” but he bullied it, “Oh, shut up! I'm busy now.
Of course by-and-by—” There was no by-and-by, yet his belief that he
had crushed the unclean habit made him feel noble and very happy. When he
called up Paul Riesling he was, in his moral splendor, unusually eager.

He was fonder of Paul Riesling than of any one on earth except himself and
his daughter Tinka. They had been classmates, roommates, in the State
University, but always he thought of Paul Riesling, with his dark
slimness, his precisely parted hair, his nose-glasses, his hesitant
speech, his moodiness, his love of music, as a younger brother, to be
petted and protected. Paul had gone into his father's business, after
graduation; he was now a wholesaler and small manufacturer of
prepared-paper roofing. But Babbitt strenuously believed and lengthily
announced to the world of Good Fellows that Paul could have been a great
violinist or painter or writer. “Why say, the letters that boy sent me on
his trip to the Canadian Rockies, they just absolutely make you see the
place as if you were standing there. Believe me, he could have given any
of these bloomin' authors a whale of a run for their money!”

Yet on the telephone they said only:

“South 343. No, no, no! I said SOUTH—South 343. Say, operator, what
the dickens is the trouble? Can't you get me South 343? Why certainly
they'll answer. Oh, Hello, 343? Wanta speak Mist' Riesling, Mist' Babbitt
talking. . . 'Lo, Paul?”


“'S George speaking.”


“How's old socks?”

“Fair to middlin'. How 're you?”

“Fine, Paulibus. Well, what do you know?”

“Oh, nothing much.”

“Where you been keepin' yourself?”

“Oh, just stickin' round. What's up, Georgie?”

“How 'bout lil lunch 's noon?”

“Be all right with me, I guess. Club?'

“Yuh. Meet you there twelve-thirty.”

“A' right. Twelve-thirty. S' long, Georgie.”


His morning was not sharply marked into divisions. Interwoven with
correspondence and advertisement-writing were a thousand nervous details:
calls from clerks who were incessantly and hopefully seeking five
furnished rooms and bath at sixty dollars a month; advice to Mat Penniman
on getting money out of tenants who had no money.

Babbitt's virtues as a real-estate broker—as the servant of society
in the department of finding homes for families and shops for distributors
of food—were steadiness and diligence. He was conventionally honest,
he kept his records of buyers and sellers complete, he had experience with
leases and titles and an excellent memory for prices. His shoulders were
broad enough, his voice deep enough, his relish of hearty humor strong
enough, to establish him as one of the ruling caste of Good Fellows. Yet
his eventual importance to mankind was perhaps lessened by his large and
complacent ignorance of all architecture save the types of houses turned
out by speculative builders; all landscape gardening save the use of
curving roads, grass, and six ordinary shrubs; and all the commonest
axioms of economics. He serenely believed that the one purpose of the
real-estate business was to make money for George F. Babbitt. True, it was
a good advertisement at Boosters' Club lunches, and all the varieties of
Annual Banquets to which Good Fellows were invited, to speak sonorously of
Unselfish Public Service, the Broker's Obligation to Keep Inviolate the
Trust of His Clients, and a thing called Ethics, whose nature was
confusing but if you had it you were a High-class Realtor and if you
hadn't you were a shyster, a piker, and a fly-by-night. These virtues
awakened Confidence, and enabled you to handle Bigger Propositions. But
they didn't imply that you were to be impractical and refuse to take twice
the value of a house if a buyer was such an idiot that he didn't jew you
down on the asking-price.

Babbitt spoke well—and often—at these orgies of commercial
righteousness about the “realtor's function as a seer of the future
development of the community, and as a prophetic engineer clearing the
pathway for inevitable changes”—which meant that a real-estate
broker could make money by guessing which way the town would grow. This
guessing he called Vision.

In an address at the Boosters' Club he had admitted, “It is at once the
duty and the privilege of the realtor to know everything about his own
city and its environs. Where a surgeon is a specialist on every vein and
mysterious cell of the human body, and the engineer upon electricity in
all its phases, or every bolt of some great bridge majestically arching
o'er a mighty flood, the realtor must know his city, inch by inch, and all
its faults and virtues.”

Though he did know the market-price, inch by inch, of certain districts of
Zenith, he did not know whether the police force was too large or too
small, or whether it was in alliance with gambling and prostitution. He
knew the means of fire-proofing buildings and the relation of
insurance-rates to fire-proofing, but he did not know how many firemen
there were in the city, how they were trained and paid, or how complete
their apparatus. He sang eloquently the advantages of proximity of
school-buildings to rentable homes, but he did not know—he did not
know that it was worth while to know—whether the city schoolrooms
were properly heated, lighted, ventilated, furnished; he did not know how
the teachers were chosen; and though he chanted “One of the boasts of
Zenith is that we pay our teachers adequately,” that was because he had
read the statement in the Advocate-Times. Himself, he could not have given
the average salary of teachers in Zenith or anywhere else.

He had heard it said that “conditions” in the County Jail and the Zenith
City Prison were not very “scientific;” he had, with indignation at the
criticism of Zenith, skimmed through a report in which the notorious
pessimist Seneca Doane, the radical lawyer, asserted that to throw boys
and young girls into a bull-pen crammed with men suffering from syphilis,
delirium tremens, and insanity was not the perfect way of educating them.
He had controverted the report by growling, “Folks that think a jail ought
to be a bloomin' Hotel Thornleigh make me sick. If people don't like a
jail, let 'em behave 'emselves and keep out of it. Besides, these reform
cranks always exaggerate.” That was the beginning and quite completely the
end of his investigations into Zenith's charities and corrections; and as
to the “vice districts” he brightly expressed it, “Those are things that
no decent man monkeys with. Besides, smatter fact, I'll tell you
confidentially: it's a protection to our daughters and to decent women to
have a district where tough nuts can raise cain. Keeps 'em away from our
own homes.”

As to industrial conditions, however, Babbitt had thought a great deal,
and his opinions may be coordinated as follows:

“A good labor union is of value because it keeps out radical unions, which
would destroy property. No one ought to be forced to belong to a union,
however. All labor agitators who try to force men to join a union should
be hanged. In fact, just between ourselves, there oughtn't to be any
unions allowed at all; and as it's the best way of fighting the unions,
every business man ought to belong to an employers'-association and to the
Chamber of Commerce. In union there is strength. So any selfish hog who
doesn't join the Chamber of Commerce ought to be forced to.”

In nothing—as the expert on whose advice families moved to new
neighborhoods to live there for a generation—was Babbitt more
splendidly innocent than in the science of sanitation. He did not know a
malaria-bearing mosquito from a bat; he knew nothing about tests of
drinking water; and in the matters of plumbing and sewage he was as
unlearned as he was voluble. He often referred to the excellence of the
bathrooms in the houses he sold. He was fond of explaining why it was that
no European ever bathed. Some one had told him, when he was twenty-two,
that all cesspools were unhealthy, and he still denounced them. If a
client impertinently wanted him to sell a house which had a cesspool,
Babbitt always spoke about it—before accepting the house and selling

When he laid out the Glen Oriole acreage development, when he ironed
woodland and dipping meadow into a glenless, orioleless, sunburnt flat
prickly with small boards displaying the names of imaginary streets, he
righteously put in a complete sewage-system. It made him feel superior; it
enabled him to sneer privily at the Martin Lumsen development, Avonlea,
which had a cesspool; and it provided a chorus for the full-page
advertisements in which he announced the beauty, convenience, cheapness,
and supererogatory healthfulness of Glen Oriole. The only flaw was that
the Glen Oriole sewers had insufficient outlet, so that waste remained in
them, not very agreeably, while the Avonlea cesspool was a Waring septic

The whole of the Glen Oriole project was a suggestion that Babbitt, though
he really did hate men recognized as swindlers, was not too unreasonably
honest. Operators and buyers prefer that brokers should not be in
competition with them as operators and buyers themselves, but attend to
their clients' interests only. It was supposed that the Babbitt-Thompson
Company were merely agents for Glen Oriole, serving the real owner, Jake
Offutt, but the fact was that Babbitt and Thompson owned sixty-two per
cent. of the Glen, the president and purchasing agent of the Zenith Street
Traction Company owned twenty-eight per cent., and Jake Offutt (a
gang-politician, a small manufacturer, a tobacco-chewing old farceur who
enjoyed dirty politics, business diplomacy, and cheating at poker) had
only ten per cent., which Babbitt and the Traction officials had given to
him for “fixing” health inspectors and fire inspectors and a member of the
State Transportation Commission.

But Babbitt was virtuous. He advocated, though he did not practise, the
prohibition of alcohol; he praised, though he did not obey, the laws
against motor-speeding; he paid his debts; he contributed to the church,
the Red Cross, and the Y. M. C. A.; he followed the custom of his clan and
cheated only as it was sanctified by precedent; and he never descended to
trickery—though, as he explained to Paul Riesling:

“Course I don't mean to say that every ad I write is literally true or
that I always believe everything I say when I give some buyer a good
strong selling-spiel. You see—you see it's like this: In the first
place, maybe the owner of the property exaggerated when he put it into my
hands, and it certainly isn't my place to go proving my principal a liar!
And then most folks are so darn crooked themselves that they expect a
fellow to do a little lying, so if I was fool enough to never whoop the
ante I'd get the credit for lying anyway! In self-defense I got to toot my
own horn, like a lawyer defending a client—his bounden duty, ain't
it, to bring out the poor dub's good points? Why, the Judge himself would
bawl out a lawyer that didn't, even if they both knew the guy was guilty!
But even so, I don't pad out the truth like Cecil Rountree or Thayer or
the rest of these realtors. Fact, I think a fellow that's willing to
deliberately up and profit by lying ought to be shot!”

Babbitt's value to his clients was rarely better shown than this morning,
in the conference at eleven-thirty between himself, Conrad Lyte, and
Archibald Purdy.


Conrad Lyte was a real-estate speculator. He was a nervous speculator.
Before he gambled he consulted bankers, lawyers, architects, contracting
builders, and all of their clerks and stenographers who were willing to be
cornered and give him advice. He was a bold entrepreneur, and he desired
nothing more than complete safety in his investments, freedom from
attention to details, and the thirty or forty per cent. profit which,
according to all authorities, a pioneer deserves for his risks and
foresight. He was a stubby man with a cap-like mass of short gray curls
and clothes which, no matter how well cut, seemed shaggy. Below his eyes
were semicircular hollows, as though silver dollars had been pressed
against them and had left an imprint.

Particularly and always Lyte consulted Babbitt, and trusted in his slow

Six months ago Babbitt had learned that one Archibald Purdy, a grocer in
the indecisive residential district known as Linton, was talking of
opening a butcher shop beside his grocery. Looking up the ownership of
adjoining parcels of land, Babbitt found that Purdy owned his present shop
but did not own the one available lot adjoining. He advised Conrad Lyte to
purchase this lot, for eleven thousand dollars, though an appraisal on a
basis of rents did not indicate its value as above nine thousand. The
rents, declared Babbitt, were too low; and by waiting they could make
Purdy come to their price. (This was Vision.) He had to bully Lyte into
buying. His first act as agent for Lyte was to increase the rent of the
battered store-building on the lot. The tenant said a number of rude
things, but he paid.

Now, Purdy seemed ready to buy, and his delay was going to cost him ten
thousand extra dollars—the reward paid by the community to Mr.
Conrad Lyte for the virtue of employing a broker who had Vision and who
understood Talking Points, Strategic Values, Key Situations,
Underappraisals, and the Psychology of Salesmanship.

Lyte came to the conference exultantly. He was fond of Babbitt, this
morning, and called him “old hoss.” Purdy, the grocer, a long-nosed man
and solemn, seemed to care less for Babbitt and for Vision, but Babbitt
met him at the street door of the office and guided him toward the private
room with affectionate little cries of “This way, Brother Purdy!” He took
from the correspondence-file the entire box of cigars and forced them on
his guests. He pushed their chairs two inches forward and three inches
back, which gave an hospitable note, then leaned back in his desk-chair
and looked plump and jolly. But he spoke to the weakling grocer with

“Well, Brother Purdy, we been having some pretty tempting offers from
butchers and a slew of other folks for that lot next to your store, but I
persuaded Brother Lyte that we ought to give you a shot at the property
first. I said to Lyte, 'It'd be a rotten shame,' I said, 'if somebody went
and opened a combination grocery and meat market right next door and
ruined Purdy's nice little business.' Especially—” Babbitt leaned
forward, and his voice was harsh, “—it would be hard luck if one of
these cash-and-carry chain-stores got in there and started cutting prices
below cost till they got rid of competition and forced you to the wall!”

Purdy snatched his thin hands from his pockets, pulled up his trousers,
thrust his hands back into his pockets, tilted in the heavy oak chair, and
tried to look amused, as he struggled:

“Yes, they're bad competition. But I guess you don't realize the Pulling
Power that Personality has in a neighborhood business.”

The great Babbitt smiled. “That's so. Just as you feel, old man. We
thought we'd give you first chance. All right then—”

“Now look here!” Purdy wailed. “I know f'r a fact that a piece of property
'bout same size, right near, sold for less 'n eighty-five hundred,
'twa'n't two years ago, and here you fellows are asking me twenty-four
thousand dollars! Why, I'd have to mortgage—I wouldn't mind so much
paying twelve thousand but—Why good God, Mr. Babbitt, you're asking
more 'n twice its value! And threatening to ruin me if I don't take it!”

“Purdy, I don't like your way of talking! I don't like it one little bit!
Supposing Lyte and I were stinking enough to want to ruin any fellow
human, don't you suppose we know it's to our own selfish interest to have
everybody in Zenith prosperous? But all this is beside the point. Tell you
what we'll do: We'll come down to twenty-three thousand-five thousand down
and the rest on mortgage—and if you want to wreck the old shack and
rebuild, I guess I can get Lyte here to loosen up for a building-mortgage
on good liberal terms. Heavens, man, we'd be glad to oblige you! We don't
like these foreign grocery trusts any better 'n you do! But it isn't
reasonable to expect us to sacrifice eleven thousand or more just for
neighborliness, IS it! How about it, Lyte? You willing to come down?”

By warmly taking Purdy's part, Babbitt persuaded the benevolent Mr. Lyte
to reduce his price to twenty-one thousand dollars. At the right moment
Babbitt snatched from a drawer the agreement he had had Miss McGoun type
out a week ago and thrust it into Purdy's hands. He genially shook his
fountain pen to make certain that it was flowing, handed it to Purdy, and
approvingly watched him sign.

The work of the world was being done. Lyte had made something over nine
thousand dollars, Babbitt had made a four-hundred-and-fifty dollar
commission, Purdy had, by the sensitive mechanism of modern finance, been
provided with a business-building, and soon the happy inhabitants of
Linton would have meat lavished upon them at prices only a little higher
than those down-town.

It had been a manly battle, but after it Babbitt drooped. This was the
only really amusing contest he had been planning. There was nothing ahead
save details of leases, appraisals, mortgages.

He muttered, “Makes me sick to think of Lyte carrying off most of the
profit when I did all the work, the old skinflint! And—What else
have I got to do to-day?... Like to take a good long vacation. Motor trip.
Something.” He sprang up, rekindled by the thought of lunching with Paul


BABBITT'S preparations for leaving the office to its feeble self during
the hour and a half of his lunch-period were somewhat less elaborate than
the plans for a general European war.

He fretted to Miss McGoun, “What time you going to lunch? Well, make sure
Miss Bannigan is in then. Explain to her that if Wiedenfeldt calls up,
she's to tell him I'm already having the title traced. And oh, b' the way,
remind me to-morrow to have Penniman trace it. Now if anybody comes in
looking for a cheap house, remember we got to shove that Bangor Road place
off onto somebody. If you need me, I'll be at the Athletic Club. And—uh—And—uh—I'll
be back by two.”

He dusted the cigar-ashes off his vest. He placed a difficult unanswered
letter on the pile of unfinished work, that he might not fail to attend to
it that afternoon. (For three noons, now, he had placed the same letter on
the unfinished pile.) He scrawled on a sheet of yellow backing-paper the
memorandum: “See abt apt h drs,” which gave him an agreeable feeling of
having already seen about the apartment-house doors.

He discovered that he was smoking another cigar. He threw it away,
protesting, “Darn it, I thought you'd quit this darn smoking!” He
courageously returned the cigar-box to the correspondence-file, locked it
up, hid the key in a more difficult place, and raged, “Ought to take care
of myself. And need more exercise—walk to the club, every single
noon—just what I'll do—every noon—cut out this motoring all
the time.”

The resolution made him feel exemplary. Immediately after it he decided
that this noon it was too late to walk.

It took but little more time to start his car and edge it into the traffic
than it would have taken to walk the three and a half blocks to the club.


As he drove he glanced with the fondness of familiarity at the buildings.

A stranger suddenly dropped into the business-center of Zenith could not
have told whether he was in a city of Oregon or Georgia, Ohio or Maine,
Oklahoma or Manitoba. But to Babbitt every inch was individual and
stirring. As always he noted that the California Building across the way
was three stories lower, therefore three stories less beautiful, than his
own Reeves Building. As always when he passed the Parthenon Shoe Shine
Parlor, a one-story hut which beside the granite and red-brick
ponderousness of the old California Building resembled a bath-house under
a cliff, he commented, “Gosh, ought to get my shoes shined this afternoon.
Keep forgetting it.” At the Simplex Office Furniture Shop, the National
Cash Register Agency, he yearned for a dictaphone, for a typewriter which
would add and multiply, as a poet yearns for quartos or a physician for

At the Nobby Men's Wear Shop he took his left hand off the steering-wheel
to touch his scarf, and thought well of himself as one who bought
expensive ties “and could pay cash for 'em, too, by golly;” and at the
United Cigar Store, with its crimson and gold alertness, he reflected,
“Wonder if I need some cigars—idiot—plumb forgot—going
t' cut down my fool smoking.” He looked at his bank, the Miners' and
Drovers' National, and considered how clever and solid he was to bank with
so marbled an establishment. His high moment came in the clash of traffic
when he was halted at the corner beneath the lofty Second National Tower.
His car was banked with four others in a line of steel restless as
cavalry, while the cross town traffic, limousines and enormous moving-vans
and insistent motor-cycles, poured by; on the farther corner, pneumatic
riveters rang on the sun-plated skeleton of a new building; and out of
this tornado flashed the inspiration of a familiar face, and a fellow
Booster shouted, “H' are you, George!” Babbitt waved in neighborly
affection, and slid on with the traffic as the policeman lifted his hand.
He noted how quickly his car picked up. He felt superior and powerful,
like a shuttle of polished steel darting in a vast machine.

As always he ignored the next two blocks, decayed blocks not yet reclaimed
from the grime and shabbiness of the Zenith of 1885. While he was passing
the five-and-ten-cent store, the Dakota Lodging House, Concordia Hall with
its lodge-rooms and the offices of fortune-tellers and chiropractors, he
thought of how much money he made, and he boasted a little and worried a
little and did old familiar sums:

“Four hundred fifty plunks this morning from the Lyte deal. But taxes due.
Let's see: I ought to pull out eight thousand net this year, and save
fifteen hundred of that—no, not if I put up garage and—Let's
see: six hundred and forty clear last month, and twelve times six-forty
makes—makes—let see: six times twelve is seventy-two hundred
and—Oh rats, anyway, I'll make eight thousand—gee now, that's
not so bad; mighty few fellows pulling down eight thousand dollars a year—eight
thousand good hard iron dollars—bet there isn't more than five per
cent. of the people in the whole United States that make more than Uncle
George does, by golly! Right up at the top of the heap! But—Way
expenses are—Family wasting gasoline, and always dressed like
millionaires, and sending that eighty a month to Mother—And all
these stenographers and salesmen gouging me for every cent they can get—”

The effect of his scientific budget-planning was that he felt at once
triumphantly wealthy and perilously poor, and in the midst of these
dissertations he stopped his car, rushed into a small news-and-miscellany
shop, and bought the electric cigar-lighter which he had coveted for a
week. He dodged his conscience by being jerky and noisy, and by shouting
at the clerk, “Guess this will prett' near pay for itself in matches, eh?”

It was a pretty thing, a nickeled cylinder with an almost silvery socket,
to be attached to the dashboard of his car. It was not only, as the
placard on the counter observed, “a dandy little refinement, lending the
last touch of class to a gentleman's auto,” but a priceless time-saver. By
freeing him from halting the car to light a match, it would in a month or
two easily save ten minutes.

As he drove on he glanced at it. “Pretty nice. Always wanted one,” he said
wistfully. “The one thing a smoker needs, too.”

Then he remembered that he had given up smoking.

“Darn it!” he mourned. “Oh well, I suppose I'll hit a cigar once in a
while. And—Be a great convenience for other folks. Might make just
the difference in getting chummy with some fellow that would put over a
sale. And—Certainly looks nice there. Certainly is a mighty clever
little jigger. Gives the last touch of refinement and class. I—By
golly, I guess I can afford it if I want to! Not going to be the only
member of this family that never has a single doggone luxury!”

Thus, laden with treasure, after three and a half blocks of romantic
adventure, he drove up to the club.


The Zenith Athletic Club is not athletic and it isn't exactly a club, but
it is Zenith in perfection. It has an active and smoke-misted billiard
room, it is represented by baseball and football teams, and in the pool
and the gymnasium a tenth of the members sporadically try to reduce. But
most of its three thousand members use it as a cafe in which to lunch,
play cards, tell stories, meet customers, and entertain out-of town uncles
at dinner. It is the largest club in the city, and its chief hatred is the
conservative Union Club, which all sound members of the Athletic call “a
rotten, snobbish, dull, expensive old hole—not one Good Mixer in the
place—you couldn't hire me to join.” Statistics show that no member
of the Athletic has ever refused election to the Union, and of those who
are elected, sixty-seven per cent. resign from the Athletic and are
thereafter heard to say, in the drowsy sanctity of the Union lounge, “The
Athletic would be a pretty good hotel, if it were more exclusive.”

The Athletic Club building is nine stories high, yellow brick with glassy
roof-garden above and portico of huge limestone columns below. The lobby,
with its thick pillars of porous Caen stone, its pointed vaulting, and a
brown glazed-tile floor like well-baked bread-crust, is a combination of
cathedral-crypt and rathskellar. The members rush into the lobby as though
they were shopping and hadn't much time for it. Thus did Babbitt enter,
and to the group standing by the cigar-counter he whooped, “How's the
boys? How's the boys? Well, well, fine day!”

Jovially they whooped back—Vergil Gunch, the coal-dealer, Sidney
Finkelstein, the ladies'-ready-to-wear buyer for Parcher & Stein's
department-store, and Professor Joseph K. Pumphrey, owner of the Riteway
Business College and instructor in Public Speaking, Business English,
Scenario Writing, and Commercial Law. Though Babbitt admired this savant,
and appreciated Sidney Finkelstein as “a mighty smart buyer and a good
liberal spender,” it was to Vergil Gunch that he turned with enthusiasm.
Mr. Gunch was president of the Boosters' Club, a weekly lunch-club, local
chapter of a national organization which promoted sound business and
friendliness among Regular Fellows. He was also no less an official than
Esteemed Leading Knight in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks,
and it was rumored that at the next election he would be a candidate for
Exalted Ruler. He was a jolly man, given to oratory and to chumminess with
the arts. He called on the famous actors and vaudeville artists when they
came to town, gave them cigars, addressed them by their first names, and—sometimes—succeeded
in bringing them to the Boosters' lunches to give The Boys a Free
Entertainment. He was a large man with hair en brosse, and he knew the
latest jokes, but he played poker close to the chest. It was at his party
that Babbitt had sucked in the virus of to-day's restlessness.

Gunch shouted, “How's the old Bolsheviki? How do you feel, the morning
after the night before?”

“Oh, boy! Some head! That was a regular party you threw, Verg! Hope you
haven't forgotten I took that last cute little jack-pot!” Babbitt
bellowed. (He was three feet from Gunch.)

“That's all right now! What I'll hand you next time, Georgie! Say, juh
notice in the paper the way the New York Assembly stood up to the Reds?”

“You bet I did. That was fine, eh? Nice day to-day.”

“Yes, it's one mighty fine spring day, but nights still cold.”

“Yeh, you're right they are! Had to have coupla blankets last night, out
on the sleeping-porch. Say, Sid,” Babbitt turned to Finkelstein, the
buyer, “got something wanta ask you about. I went out and bought me an
electric cigar-lighter for the car, this noon, and—”

“Good hunch!” said Finkelstein, while even the learned Professor Pumphrey,
a bulbous man with a pepper-and-salt cutaway and a pipe-organ voice,
commented, “That makes a dandy accessory. Cigar-lighter gives tone to the

“Yep, finally decided I'd buy me one. Got the best on the market, the
clerk said it was. Paid five bucks for it. Just wondering if I got stuck.
What do they charge for 'em at the store, Sid?”

Finkelstein asserted that five dollars was not too great a sum, not for a
really high-class lighter which was suitably nickeled and provided with
connections of the very best quality. “I always say—and believe me,
I base it on a pretty fairly extensive mercantile experience—the
best is the cheapest in the long run. Of course if a fellow wants to be a
Jew about it, he can get cheap junk, but in the long RUN, the cheapest
thing is—the best you can get! Now you take here just th' other day:
I got a new top for my old boat and some upholstery, and I paid out a
hundred and twenty-six fifty, and of course a lot of fellows would say
that was too much—Lord, if the Old Folks—they live in one of
these hick towns up-state and they simply can't get onto the way a city
fellow's mind works, and then, of course, they're Jews, and they'd lie
right down and die if they knew Sid had anted up a hundred and twenty-six
bones. But I don't figure I was stuck, George, not a bit. Machine looks
brand new now—not that it's so darned old, of course; had it less 'n
three years, but I give it hard service; never drive less 'n a hundred
miles on Sunday and, uh—Oh, I don't really think you got stuck,
George. In the LONG run, the best is, you might say, it's unquestionably
the cheapest.”

“That's right,” said Vergil Gunch. “That's the way I look at it. If a
fellow is keyed up to what you might call intensive living, the way you
get it here in Zenith—all the hustle and mental activity that's
going on with a bunch of live-wires like the Boosters and here in the
Z.A.C., why, he's got to save his nerves by having the best.”

Babbitt nodded his head at every fifth word in the roaring rhythm; and by
the conclusion, in Gunch's renowned humorous vein, he was enchanted:

“Still, at that, George, don't know's you can afford it. I've heard your
business has been kind of under the eye of the gov'ment since you stole
the tail of Eathorne Park and sold it!”

“Oh, you're a great little josher, Verg. But when it comes to kidding, how
about this report that you stole the black marble steps off the
post-office and sold 'em for high-grade coal!” In delight Babbitt patted
Gunch's back, stroked his arm.

“That's all right, but what I want to know is: who's the real-estate shark
that bought that coal for his apartment-houses?”

“I guess that'll hold you for a while, George!” said Finkelstein. “I'll
tell you, though, boys, what I did hear: George's missus went into the
gents' wear department at Parcher's to buy him some collars, and before
she could give his neck-size the clerk slips her some thirteens. 'How juh
know the size?' says Mrs. Babbitt, and the clerk says, 'Men that let their
wives buy collars for 'em always wear thirteen, madam.' How's that! That's
pretty good, eh? How's that, eh? I guess that'll about fix you, George!”

“I—I—” Babbitt sought for amiable insults in answer. He
stopped, stared at the door. Paul Riesling was coming in. Babbitt cried,
“See you later, boys,” and hastened across the lobby. He was, just then,
neither the sulky child of the sleeping-porch, the domestic tyrant of the
breakfast table, the crafty money-changer of the Lyte-Purdy conference,
nor the blaring Good Fellow, the Josher and Regular Guy, of the Athletic
Club. He was an older brother to Paul Riesling, swift to defend him,
admiring him with a proud and credulous love passing the love of women.
Paul and he shook hands solemnly; they smiled as shyly as though they had
been parted three years, not three days—and they said:

“How's the old horse-thief?”

“All right, I guess. How're you, you poor shrimp?”

“I'm first-rate, you second-hand hunk o' cheese.”

Reassured thus of their high fondness, Babbitt grunted, “You're a fine
guy, you are! Ten minutes late!” Riesling snapped, “Well, you're lucky to
have a chance to lunch with a gentleman!” They grinned and went into the
Neronian washroom, where a line of men bent over the bowls inset along a
prodigious slab of marble as in religious prostration before their own
images in the massy mirror. Voices thick, satisfied, authoritative,
hurtled along the marble walls, bounded from the ceiling of
lavender-bordered milky tiles, while the lords of the city, the barons of
insurance and law and fertilizers and motor tires, laid down the law for
Zenith; announced that the day was warm-indeed, indisputably of spring;
that wages were too high and the interest on mortgages too low; that Babe
Ruth, the eminent player of baseball, was a noble man; and that “those two
nuts at the Climax Vaudeville Theater this week certainly are a slick pair
of actors.” Babbitt, though ordinarily his voice was the surest and most
episcopal of all, was silent. In the presence of the slight dark reticence
of Paul Riesling, he was awkward, he desired to be quiet and firm and

The entrance lobby of the Athletic Club was Gothic, the washroom Roman
Imperial, the lounge Spanish Mission, and the reading-room in Chinese
Chippendale, but the gem of the club was the dining-room, the masterpiece
of Ferdinand Reitman, Zenith's busiest architect. It was lofty and
half-timbered, with Tudor leaded casements, an oriel, a somewhat
musicianless musicians'-gallery, and tapestries believed to illustrate the
granting of Magna Charta. The open beams had been hand-adzed at Jake
Offutt's car-body works, the hinge; were of hand-wrought iron, the
wainscot studded with handmade wooden pegs, and at one end of the room was
a heraldic and hooded stone fireplace which the club's
advertising-pamphlet asserted to be not only larger than any of the
fireplaces in European castles but of a draught incomparably more
scientific. It was also much cleaner, as no fire had ever been built in

Half of the tables were mammoth slabs which seated twenty or thirty men.
Babbitt usually sat at the one near the door, with a group including
Gunch, Finkelstein, Professor Pumphrey, Howard Littlefield, his neighbor,
T. Cholmondeley Frink, the poet and advertising-agent, and Orville Jones,
whose laundry was in many ways the best in Zenith. They composed a club
within the club, and merrily called themselves “The Roughnecks.” To-day as
he passed their table the Roughnecks greeted him, “Come on, sit in! You
'n' Paul too proud to feed with poor folks? Afraid somebody might stick
you for a bottle of Bevo, George? Strikes me you swells are getting awful
darn exclusive!”

He thundered, “You bet! We can't afford to have our reps ruined by being
seen with you tightwads!” and guided Paul to one of the small tables
beneath the musicians'-gallery. He felt guilty. At the Zenith Athletic
Club, privacy was very bad form. But he wanted Paul to himself.

That morning he had advocated lighter lunches and now he ordered nothing
but English mutton chop, radishes, peas, deep-dish apple pie, a bit of
cheese, and a pot of coffee with cream, adding, as he did invariably, “And
uh—Oh, and you might give me an order of French fried potatoes.”
When the chop came he vigorously peppered it and salted it. He always
peppered and salted his meat, and vigorously, before tasting it.

Paul and he took up the spring-like quality of the spring, the virtues of
the electric cigar-lighter, and the action of the New York State Assembly.
It was not till Babbitt was thick and disconsolate with mutton grease that
he flung out:

“I wound up a nice little deal with Conrad Lyte this morning that put five
hundred good round plunks in my pocket. Pretty nice—pretty nice! And
yet—I don't know what's the matter with me to-day. Maybe it's an
attack of spring fever, or staying up too late at Verg Gunch's, or maybe
it's just the winter's work piling up, but I've felt kind of down in the
mouth all day long. Course I wouldn't beef about it to the fellows at the
Roughnecks' Table there, but you—Ever feel that way, Paul? Kind of
comes over me: here I've pretty much done all the things I ought to;
supported my family, and got a good house and a six-cylinder car, and
built up a nice little business, and I haven't any vices 'specially,
except smoking—and I'm practically cutting that out, by the way. And
I belong to the church, and play enough golf to keep in trim, and I only
associate with good decent fellows. And yet, even so, I don't know that
I'm entirely satisfied!”

It was drawled out, broken by shouts from the neighboring tables, by
mechanical love-making to the waitress, by stertorous grunts as the coffee
filled him with dizziness and indigestion. He was apologetic and doubtful,
and it was Paul, with his thin voice, who pierced the fog:

“Good Lord, George, you don't suppose it's any novelty to me to find that
we hustlers, that think we're so all-fired successful, aren't getting much
out of it? You look as if you expected me to report you as seditious! You
know what my own life's been.”

“I know, old man.”

“I ought to have been a fiddler, and I'm a pedler of tar-roofing! And
Zilla—Oh, I don't want to squeal, but you know as well as I do about
how inspiring a wife she is.... Typical instance last evening: We went to
the movies. There was a big crowd waiting in the lobby, us at the
tail-end. She began to push right through it with her 'Sir, how dare you?'
manner—Honestly, sometimes when I look at her and see how she's
always so made up and stinking of perfume and looking for trouble and kind
of always yelping, 'I tell yuh I'm a lady, damn yuh!'—why, I want to
kill her! Well, she keeps elbowing through the crowd, me after her,
feeling good and ashamed, till she's almost up to the velvet rope and
ready to be the next let in. But there was a little squirt of a man there—probably
been waiting half an hour—I kind of admired the little cuss—and
he turns on Zilla and says, perfectly polite, 'Madam, why are you trying
to push past me?' And she simply—God, I was so ashamed!—she
rips out at him, 'You're no gentleman,' and she drags me into it and
hollers, 'Paul, this person insulted me!' and the poor skate he got ready
to fight.

“I made out I hadn't heard them—sure! same as you wouldn't hear a
boiler-factory!—and I tried to look away—I can tell you
exactly how every tile looks in the ceiling of that lobby; there's one
with brown spots on it like the face of the devil—and all the time
the people there—they were packed in like sardines—they kept
making remarks about us, and Zilla went right on talking about the little
chap, and screeching that 'folks like him oughtn't to be admitted in a
place that's SUPPOSED to be for ladies and gentlemen,' and 'Paul, will you
kindly call the manager, so I can report this dirty rat?' and—Oof!
Maybe I wasn't glad when I could sneak inside and hide in the dark!

“After twenty-four years of that kind of thing, you don't expect me to
fall down and foam at the mouth when you hint that this sweet, clean,
respectable, moral life isn't all it's cracked up to be, do you? I can't
even talk about it, except to you, because anybody else would think I was
yellow. Maybe I am. Don't care any longer.... Gosh, you've had to stand a
lot of whining from me, first and last, Georgie!”

“Rats, now, Paul, you've never really what you could call whined.
Sometimes—I'm always blowing to Myra and the kids about what a whale
of a realtor I am, and yet sometimes I get a sneaking idea I'm not such a
Pierpont Morgan as I let on to be. But if I ever do help by jollying you
along, old Paulski, I guess maybe Saint Pete may let me in after all!”

“Yuh, you're an old blow-hard, Georgie, you cheerful cut-throat, but
you've certainly kept me going.”

“Why don't you divorce Zilla?”

“Why don't I! If I only could! If she'd just give me the chance! You
couldn't hire her to divorce me, no, nor desert me. She's too fond of her
three squares and a few pounds of nut-center chocolates in between. If
she'd only be what they call unfaithful to me! George, I don't want to be
too much of a stinker; back in college I'd 've thought a man who could say
that ought to be shot at sunrise. But honestly, I'd be tickled to death if
she'd really go making love with somebody. Fat chance! Of course she'll
flirt with anything—you know how she holds hands and laughs—that
laugh—that horrible brassy laugh—the way she yaps, 'You
naughty man, you better be careful or my big husband will be after you!'—and
the guy looking me over and thinking, 'Why, you cute little thing, you run
away now or I'll spank you!' And she'll let him go just far enough so she
gets some excitement out of it and then she'll begin to do the injured
innocent and have a beautiful time wailing, 'I didn't think you were that
kind of a person.' They talk about these demi-vierges in stories—”

“These WHATS?”

“—but the wise, hard, corseted, old married women like Zilla are
worse than any bobbed-haired girl that ever went boldly out into this-here
storm of life—and kept her umbrella slid up her sleeve! But rats,
you know what Zilla is. How she nags—nags—nags. How she wants
everything I can buy her, and a lot that I can't, and how absolutely
unreasonable she is, and when I get sore and try to have it out with her
she plays the Perfect Lady so well that even I get fooled and get all
tangled up in a lot of 'Why did you say's' and 'I didn't mean's.' I'll
tell you, Georgie: You know my tastes are pretty fairly simple—in
the matter of food, at least. Course, as you're always complaining, I do
like decent cigars—not those Flor de Cabagos you're smoking—”

“That's all right now! That's a good two-for. By the way, Paul, did I tell
you I decided to practically cut out smok—”

“Yes you—At the same time, if I can't get what I like, why, I can do
without it. I don't mind sitting down to burnt steak, with canned peaches
and store cake for a thrilling little dessert afterwards, but I do draw
the line at having to sympathize with Zilla because she's so rotten
bad-tempered that the cook has quit, and she's been so busy sitting in a
dirty lace negligee all afternoon, reading about some brave manly Western
hero, that she hasn't had time to do any cooking. You're always talking
about 'morals'—meaning monogamy, I suppose. You've been the rock of
ages to me, all right, but you're essentially a simp. You—”

“Where d' you get that 'simp,' little man? Let me tell you—”

“—love to look earnest and inform the world that it's the 'duty of
responsible business men to be strictly moral, as an example to the
community.' In fact you're so earnest about morality, old Georgie, that I
hate to think how essentially immoral you must be underneath. All right,
you can—”

“Wait, wait now! What's—”

“—talk about morals all you want to, old thing, but believe me, if
it hadn't been for you and an occasional evening playing the violin to
Terrill O'Farrell's 'cello, and three or four darling girls that let me
forget this beastly joke they call 'respectable life,' I'd 've killed
myself years ago.

“And business! The roofing business! Roofs for cowsheds! Oh, I don't mean
I haven't had a lot of fun out of the Game; out of putting it over on the
labor unions, and seeing a big check coming in, and the business
increasing. But what's the use of it? You know, my business isn't
distributing roofing—it's principally keeping my competitors from
distributing roofing. Same with you. All we do is cut each other's throats
and make the public pay for it!”

“Look here now, Paul! You're pretty darn near talking socialism!”

“Oh yes, of course I don't really exactly mean that—I s'pose. Course—competition—brings
out the best—survival of the fittest—but—But I mean:
Take all these fellows we know, the kind right here in the club now, that
seem to be perfectly content with their home-life and their businesses,
and that boost Zenith and the Chamber of Commerce and holler for a million
population. I bet if you could cut into their heads you'd find that
one-third of 'em are sure-enough satisfied with their wives and kids and
friends and their offices; and one-third feel kind of restless but won't
admit it; and one-third are miserable and know it. They hate the whole
peppy, boosting, go-ahead game, and they're bored by their wives and think
their families are fools—at least when they come to forty or
forty-five they're bored—and they hate business, and they'd go—Why
do you suppose there's so many 'mysterious' suicides? Why do you suppose
so many Substantial Citizens jumped right into the war? Think it was all

Babbitt snorted, “What do you expect? Think we were sent into the world to
have a soft time and—what is it?—'float on flowery beds of
ease'? Think Man was just made to be happy?”

“Why not? Though I've never discovered anybody that knew what the deuce
Man really was made for!”

“Well we know—not just in the Bible alone, but it stands to reason—a
man who doesn't buckle down and do his duty, even if it does bore him
sometimes, is nothing but a—well, he's simply a weakling.
Mollycoddle, in fact! And what do you advocate? Come down to cases! If a
man is bored by his wife, do you seriously mean he has a right to chuck
her and take a sneak, or even kill himself?”

“Good Lord, I don't know what 'rights' a man has! And I don't know the
solution of boredom. If I did, I'd be the one philosopher that had the
cure for living. But I do know that about ten times as many people find
their lives dull, and unnecessarily dull, as ever admit it; and I do
believe that if we busted out and admitted it sometimes, instead of being
nice and patient and loyal for sixty years, and then nice and patient and
dead for the rest of eternity, why, maybe, possibly, we might make life
more fun.”

They drifted into a maze of speculation. Babbitt was elephantishly uneasy.
Paul was bold, but not quite sure about what he was being bold. Now and
then Babbitt suddenly agreed with Paul in an admission which contradicted
all his defense of duty and Christian patience, and at each admission he
had a curious reckless joy. He said at last:

“Look here, old Paul, you do a lot of talking about kicking things in the
face, but you never kick. Why don't you?”

“Nobody does. Habit too strong. But—Georgie, I've been thinking of
one mild bat—oh, don't worry, old pillar of monogamy; it's highly
proper. It seems to be settled now, isn't it—though of course Zilla
keeps rooting for a nice expensive vacation in New York and Atlantic City,
with the bright lights and the bootlegged cocktails and a bunch of
lounge-lizards to dance with—but the Babbitts and the Rieslings are
sure-enough going to Lake Sunasquam, aren't we? Why couldn't you and I
make some excuse—say business in New York—and get up to Maine
four or five days before they do, and just loaf by ourselves and smoke and
cuss and be natural?”

“Great! Great idea!” Babbitt admired.

Not for fourteen years had he taken a holiday without his wife, and
neither of them quite believed they could commit this audacity. Many
members of the Athletic Club did go camping without their wives, but they
were officially dedicated to fishing and hunting, whereas the sacred and
unchangeable sports of Babbitt and Paul Riesling were golfing, motoring,
and bridge. For either the fishermen or the golfers to have changed their
habits would have been an infraction of their self-imposed discipline
which would have shocked all right-thinking and regularized citizens.

Babbitt blustered, “Why don't we just put our foot down and say, 'We're
going on ahead of you, and that's all there is to it!' Nothing criminal in
it. Simply say to Zilla—”

“You don't say anything to Zilla simply. Why, Georgie, she's almost as
much of a moralist as you are, and if I told her the truth she'd believe
we were going to meet some dames in New York. And even Myra—she
never nags you, the way Zilla does, but she'd worry. She'd say, 'Don't you
WANT me to go to Maine with you? I shouldn't dream of going unless you
wanted me;' and you'd give in to save her feelings. Oh, the devil! Let's
have a shot at duck-pins.”

During the game of duck-pins, a juvenile form of bowling, Paul was silent.
As they came down the steps of the club, not more than half an hour after
the time at which Babbitt had sternly told Miss McGoun he would be back,
Paul sighed, “Look here, old man, oughtn't to talked about Zilla way I

“Rats, old man, it lets off steam.”

“Oh, I know! After spending all noon sneering at the conventional stuff,
I'm conventional enough to be ashamed of saving my life by busting out
with my fool troubles!”

“Old Paul, your nerves are kind of on the bum. I'm going to take you away.
I'm going to rig this thing. I'm going to have an important deal in New
York and—and sure, of course!—I'll need you to advise me on
the roof of the building! And the ole deal will fall through, and there'll
be nothing for us but to go on ahead to Maine. I—Paul, when it comes
right down to it, I don't care whether you bust loose or not. I do like
having a rep for being one of the Bunch, but if you ever needed me I'd
chuck it and come out for you every time! Not of course but what you're—course
I don't mean you'd ever do anything that would put—that would put a
decent position on the fritz but—See how I mean? I'm kind of a
clumsy old codger, and I need your fine Eyetalian hand. We—Oh, hell,
I can't stand here gassing all day! On the job! S' long! Don't take any
wooden money, Paulibus! See you soon! S' long!”



HE forgot Paul Riesling in an afternoon of not unagreeable details. After
a return to his office, which seemed to have staggered on without him, he
drove a “prospect” out to view a four-flat tenement in the Linton
district. He was inspired by the customer's admiration of the new
cigar-lighter. Thrice its novelty made him use it, and thrice he hurled
half-smoked cigarettes from the car, protesting, “I GOT to quit smoking so
blame much!”

Their ample discussion of every detail of the cigar-lighter led them to
speak of electric flat-irons and bed-warmers. Babbitt apologized for being
so shabbily old-fashioned as still to use a hot-water bottle, and he
announced that he would have the sleeping-porch wired at once. He had
enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all
mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding
each new intricate mechanism—metal lathe, two-jet carburetor,
machine gun, oxyacetylene welder—he learned one good
realistic-sounding phrase, and used it over and over, with a delightful
feeling of being technical and initiated.

The customer joined him in the worship of machinery, and they came
buoyantly up to the tenement and began that examination of plastic slate
roof, kalamein doors, and seven-eighths-inch blind-nailed flooring, began
those diplomacies of hurt surprise and readiness to be persuaded to do
something they had already decided to do, which would some day result in a

On the way back Babbitt picked up his partner and father-in-law, Henry T.
Thompson, at his kitchen-cabinet works, and they drove through South
Zenith, a high-colored, banging, exciting region: new factories of hollow
tile with gigantic wire-glass windows, surly old red-brick factories
stained with tar, high-perched water-tanks, big red trucks like
locomotives, and, on a score of hectic side-tracks, far-wandering
freight-cars from the New York Central and apple orchards, the Great
Northern and wheat-plateaus, the Southern Pacific and orange groves.

They talked to the secretary of the Zenith Foundry Company about an
interesting artistic project—a cast-iron fence for Linden Lane
Cemetery. They drove on to the Zeeco Motor Company and interviewed the
sales-manager, Noel Ryland, about a discount on a Zeeco car for Thompson.
Babbitt and Ryland were fellow-members of the Boosters' Club, and no
Booster felt right if he bought anything from another Booster without
receiving a discount. But Henry Thompson growled, “Oh, t' hell with 'em!
I'm not going to crawl around mooching discounts, not from nobody.” It was
one of the differences between Thompson, the old-fashioned, lean Yankee,
rugged, traditional, stage type of American business man, and Babbitt, the
plump, smooth, efficient, up-to-the-minute and otherwise perfected modern.
Whenever Thompson twanged, “Put your John Hancock on that line,” Babbitt
was as much amused by the antiquated provincialism as any proper
Englishman by any American. He knew himself to be of a breeding altogether
more esthetic and sensitive than Thompson's. He was a college graduate, he
played golf, he often smoked cigarettes instead of cigars, and when he
went to Chicago he took a room with a private bath. “The whole thing is,”
he explained to Paul Riesling, “these old codgers lack the subtlety that
you got to have to-day.”

This advance in civilization could be carried too far, Babbitt perceived.
Noel Ryland, sales-manager of the Zeeco, was a frivolous graduate of
Princeton, while Babbitt was a sound and standard ware from that great
department-store, the State University. Ryland wore spats, he wrote long
letters about City Planning and Community Singing, and, though he was a
Booster, he was known to carry in his pocket small volumes of poetry in a
foreign language. All this was going too far. Henry Thompson was the
extreme of insularity, and Noel Ryland the extreme of frothiness, while
between them, supporting the state, defending the evangelical churches and
domestic brightness and sound business, were Babbitt and his friends.

With this just estimate of himself—and with the promise of a
discount on Thompson's car—he returned to his office in triumph.

But as he went through the corridor of the Reeves Building he sighed,
“Poor old Paul! I got to—Oh, damn Noel Ryland! Damn Charley
McKelvey! Just because they make more money than I do, they think they're
so superior. I wouldn't be found dead in their stuffy old Union Club! I—Somehow,
to-day, I don't feel like going back to work. Oh well—”


He answered telephone calls, he read the four o'clock mail, he signed his
morning's letters, he talked to a tenant about repairs, he fought with
Stanley Graff.

Young Graff, the outside salesman, was always hinting that he deserved an
increase of commission, and to-day he complained, “I think I ought to get
a bonus if I put through the Heiler sale. I'm chasing around and working
on it every single evening, almost.”

Babbitt frequently remarked to his wife that it was better to “con your
office-help along and keep 'em happy 'stead of jumping on 'em and poking
'em up—get more work out of 'em that way,” but this unexampled lack
of appreciation hurt him, and he turned on Graff:

“Look here, Stan; let's get this clear. You've got an idea somehow that
it's you that do all the selling. Where d' you get that stuff? Where d'
you think you'd be if it wasn't for our capital behind you, and our lists
of properties, and all the prospects we find for you? All you got to do is
follow up our tips and close the deal. The hall-porter could sell
Babbitt-Thompson listings! You say you're engaged to a girl, but have to
put in your evenings chasing after buyers. Well, why the devil shouldn't
you? What do you want to do? Sit around holding her hand? Let me tell you,
Stan, if your girl is worth her salt, she'll be glad to know you're out
hustling, making some money to furnish the home-nest, instead of doing the
lovey-dovey. The kind of fellow that kicks about working overtime, that
wants to spend his evenings reading trashy novels or spooning and
exchanging a lot of nonsense and foolishness with some girl, he ain't the
kind of upstanding, energetic young man, with a future—and with
Vision!—that we want here. How about it? What's your Ideal, anyway?
Do you want to make money and be a responsible member of the community, or
do you want to be a loafer, with no Inspiration or Pep?”

Graff was not so amenable to Vision and Ideals as usual. “You bet I want
to make money! That's why I want that bonus! Honest, Mr. Babbitt, I don't
want to get fresh, but this Heiler house is a terror. Nobody'll fall for
it. The flooring is rotten and the walls are full of cracks.”

“That's exactly what I mean! To a salesman with a love for his profession,
it's hard problems like that that inspire him to do his best. Besides,
Stan—Matter o' fact, Thompson and I are against bonuses, as a matter
of principle. We like you, and we want to help you so you can get married,
but we can't be unfair to the others on the staff. If we start giving you
bonuses, don't you see we're going to hurt the feeling and be unjust to
Penniman and Laylock? Right's right, and discrimination is unfair, and
there ain't going to be any of it in this office! Don't get the idea,
Stan, that because during the war salesmen were hard to hire, now, when
there's a lot of men out of work, there aren't a slew of bright young
fellows that would be glad to step in and enjoy your opportunities, and
not act as if Thompson and I were his enemies and not do any work except
for bonuses. How about it, heh? How about it?”

“Oh—well—gee—of course—” sighed Graff, as he went
out, crabwise.

Babbitt did not often squabble with his employees. He liked to like the
people about him; he was dismayed when they did not like him. It was only
when they attacked the sacred purse that he was frightened into fury, but
then, being a man given to oratory and high principles, he enjoyed the
sound of his own vocabulary and the warmth of his own virtue. Today he had
so passionately indulged in self-approval that he wondered whether he had
been entirely just:

“After all, Stan isn't a boy any more. Oughtn't to call him so hard. But
rats, got to haul folks over the coals now and then for their own good.
Unpleasant duty, but—I wonder if Stan is sore? What's he saying to
McGoun out there?”

So chill a wind of hatred blew from the outer office that the normal
comfort of his evening home-going was ruined. He was distressed by losing
that approval of his employees to which an executive is always slave.
Ordinarily he left the office with a thousand enjoyable fussy directions
to the effect that there would undoubtedly be important tasks to-morrow,
and Miss McGoun and Miss Bannigan would do well to be there early, and for
heaven's sake remind him to call up Conrad Lyte soon 's he came in.
To-night he departed with feigned and apologetic liveliness. He was as
afraid of his still-faced clerks—of the eyes focused on him, Miss
McGoun staring with head lifted from her typing, Miss Bannigan looking
over her ledger, Mat Penniman craning around at his desk in the dark
alcove, Stanley Graff sullenly expressionless—as a parvenu before
the bleak propriety of his butler. He hated to expose his back to their
laughter, and in his effort to be casually merry he stammered and was
raucously friendly and oozed wretchedly out of the door.

But he forgot his misery when he saw from Smith Street the charms of
Floral Heights; the roofs of red tile and green slate, the shining new
sun-parlors, and the stainless walls.


He stopped to inform Howard Littlefield, his scholarly neighbor, that
though the day had been springlike the evening might be cold. He went in
to shout “Where are you?” at his wife, with no very definite desire to
know where she was. He examined the lawn to see whether the furnace-man
had raked it properly. With some satisfaction and a good deal of
discussion of the matter with Mrs. Babbitt, Ted, and Howard Littlefield,
he concluded that the furnace-man had not raked it properly. He cut two
tufts of wild grass with his wife's largest dressmaking-scissors; he
informed Ted that it was all nonsense having a furnace-man—“big
husky fellow like you ought to do all the work around the house;” and
privately he meditated that it was agreeable to have it known throughout
the neighborhood that he was so prosperous that his son never worked
around the house.

He stood on the sleeping-porch and did his day's exercises: arms out
sidewise for two minutes, up for two minutes, while he muttered, “Ought
take more exercise; keep in shape;” then went in to see whether his collar
needed changing before dinner. As usual it apparently did not.

The Lettish-Croat maid, a powerful woman, beat the dinner-gong.

The roast of beef, roasted potatoes, and string beans were excellent this
evening and, after an adequate sketch of the day's progressive
weather-states, his four-hundred-and-fifty-dollar fee, his lunch with Paul
Riesling, and the proven merits of the new cigar-lighter, he was moved to
a benign, “Sort o' thinking about buyin, a new car. Don't believe we'll
get one till next year, but still we might.”

Verona, the older daughter, cried, “Oh, Dad, if you do, why don't you get
a sedan? That would be perfectly slick! A closed car is so much more comfy
than an open one.”

“Well now, I don't know about that. I kind of like an open car. You get
more fresh air that way.”

“Oh, shoot, that's just because you never tried a sedan. Let's get one.
It's got a lot more class,” said Ted.

“A closed car does keep the clothes nicer,” from Mrs. Babbitt; “You don't
get your hair blown all to pieces,” from Verona; “It's a lot sportier,”
from Ted; and from Tinka, the youngest, “Oh, let's have a sedan! Mary
Ellen's father has got one.” Ted wound up, “Oh, everybody's got a closed
car now, except us!”

Babbitt faced them: “I guess you got nothing very terrible to complain
about! Anyway, I don't keep a car just to enable you children to look like
millionaires! And I like an open car, so you can put the top down on
summer evenings and go out for a drive and get some good fresh air.
Besides—A closed car costs more money.”

“Aw, gee whiz, if the Doppelbraus can afford a closed car, I guess we
can!” prodded Ted.

“Humph! I make eight thousand a year to his seven! But I don't blow it all
in and waste it and throw it around, the way he does! Don't believe in
this business of going and spending a whole lot of money to show off and—”

They went, with ardor and some thoroughness, into the matters of
streamline bodies, hill-climbing power, wire wheels, chrome steel,
ignition systems, and body colors. It was much more than a study of
transportation. It was an aspiration for knightly rank. In the city of
Zenith, in the barbarous twentieth century, a family's motor indicated its
social rank as precisely as the grades of the peerage determined the rank
of an English family—indeed, more precisely, considering the opinion
of old county families upon newly created brewery barons and woolen-mill
viscounts. The details of precedence were never officially determined.
There was no court to decide whether the second son of a Pierce Arrow
limousine should go in to dinner before the first son of a Buick roadster,
but of their respective social importance there was no doubt; and where
Babbitt as a boy had aspired to the presidency, his son Ted aspired to a
Packard twin-six and an established position in the motored gentry.

The favor which Babbitt had won from his family by speaking of a new car
evaporated as they realized that he didn't intend to buy one this year.
Ted lamented, “Oh, punk! The old boat looks as if it'd had fleas and been
scratching its varnish off.” Mrs. Babbitt said abstractedly, “Snoway
talkcher father.” Babbitt raged, “If you're too much of a high-class
gentleman, and you belong to the bon ton and so on, why, you needn't take
the car out this evening.” Ted explained, “I didn't mean—” and
dinner dragged on with normal domestic delight to the inevitable point at
which Babbitt protested, “Come, come now, we can't sit here all evening.
Give the girl a chance to clear away the table.”

He was fretting, “What a family! I don't know how we all get to scrapping
this way. Like to go off some place and be able to hear myself think....
Paul ... Maine ... Wear old pants, and loaf, and cuss.” He said cautiously
to his wife, “I've been in correspondence with a man in New York—wants
me to see him about a real-estate trade—may not come off till
summer. Hope it doesn't break just when we and the Rieslings get ready to
go to Maine. Be a shame if we couldn't make the trip there together. Well,
no use worrying now.”

Verona escaped, immediately after dinner, with no discussion save an
automatic “Why don't you ever stay home?” from Babbitt.

In the living-room, in a corner of the davenport, Ted settled down to his
Home Study; plain geometry, Cicero, and the agonizing metaphors of Comus.

“I don't see why they give us this old-fashioned junk by Milton and
Shakespeare and Wordsworth and all these has-beens,” he protested. “Oh, I
guess I could stand it to see a show by Shakespeare, if they had swell
scenery and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in cold blood and READ
'em—These teachers—how do they get that way?”

Mrs. Babbitt, darning socks, speculated, “Yes, I wonder why. Of course I
don't want to fly in the face of the professors and everybody, but I do
think there's things in Shakespeare—not that I read him much, but
when I was young the girls used to show me passages that weren't, really,
they weren't at all nice.”

Babbitt looked up irritably from the comic strips in the Evening Advocate.
They composed his favorite literature and art, these illustrated
chronicles in which Mr. Mutt hit Mr. Jeff with a rotten egg, and Mother
corrected Father's vulgarisms by means of a rolling-pin. With the solemn
face of a devotee, breathing heavily through his open mouth, he plodded
nightly through every picture, and during the rite he detested
interruptions. Furthermore, he felt that on the subject of Shakespeare he
wasn't really an authority. Neither the Advocate-Times, the Evening
Advocate, nor the Bulletin of the Zenith Chamber of Commerce had ever had
an editorial on the matter, and until one of them had spoken he found it
hard to form an original opinion. But even at risk of floundering in
strange bogs, he could not keep out of an open controversy.

“I'll tell you why you have to study Shakespeare and those. It's because
they're required for college entrance, and that's all there is to it!
Personally, I don't see myself why they stuck 'em into an up-to-date
high-school system like we have in this state. Be a good deal better if
you took Business English, and learned how to write an ad, or letters that
would pull. But there it is, and there's no talk, argument, or discussion
about it! Trouble with you, Ted, is you always want to do something
different! If you're going to law-school—and you are!—I never
had a chance to, but I'll see that you do—why, you'll want to lay in
all the English and Latin you can get.”

“Oh punk. I don't see what's the use of law-school—or even finishing
high school. I don't want to go to college 'specially. Honest, there's lot
of fellows that have graduated from colleges that don't begin to make as
much money as fellows that went to work early. Old Shimmy Peters, that
teaches Latin in the High, he's a what-is-it from Columbia and he sits up
all night reading a lot of greasy books and he's always spieling about the
'value of languages,' and the poor soak doesn't make but eighteen hundred
a year, and no traveling salesman would think of working for that. I know
what I'd like to do. I'd like to be an aviator, or own a corking big
garage, or else—a fellow was telling me about it yesterday—I'd
like to be one of these fellows that the Standard Oil Company sends out to
China, and you live in a compound and don't have to do any work, and you
get to see the world and pagodas and the ocean and everything! And then I
could take up correspondence-courses. That's the real stuff! You don't
have to recite to some frosty-faced old dame that's trying to show off to
the principal, and you can study any subject you want to. Just listen to
these! I clipped out the ads of some swell courses.”

He snatched from the back of his geometry half a hundred advertisements of
those home-study courses which the energy and foresight of American
commerce have contributed to the science of education. The first displayed
the portrait of a young man with a pure brow, an iron jaw, silk socks, and
hair like patent leather. Standing with one hand in his trousers-pocket
and the other extended with chiding forefinger, he was bewitching an
audience of men with gray beards, paunches, bald heads, and every other
sign of wisdom and prosperity. Above the picture was an inspiring
educational symbol—no antiquated lamp or torch or owl of Minerva,
but a row of dollar signs. The text ran:

     $   $   $   $   $   $   $   $   $

A Yarn Told at the Club

Who do you think I ran into the other evening at the De Luxe Restaurant?
Why, old Freddy Durkee, that used to be a dead or-alive shipping clerk in
my old place—Mr. Mouse-Man we used to laughingly call the dear
fellow. One time he was so timid he was plumb scared of the Super, and
never got credit for the dandy work he did. Him at the De Luxe! And if he
wasn't ordering a tony feed with all the “fixings” from celery to nuts!
And instead of being embarrassed by the waiters, like he used to be at the
little dump where we lunched in Old Lang Syne, he was bossing them around
like he was a millionaire!

I cautiously asked him what he was doing. Freddy laughed and said, “Say,
old chum, I guess you're wondering what's come over me. You'll be glad to
know I'm now Assistant Super at the old shop, and right on the High Road
to Prosperity and Domination, and I look forward with confidence to a
twelve-cylinder car, and the wife is making things hum in the best society
and the kiddies getting a first-class education.”


How to address your lodge.

How to give toasts.

How to tell dialect stories.

How to propose to a lady.

How to entertain banquets.

How to make convincing selling-talks.

How to build big vocabulary.

How to create a strong personality.

How to become a rational, powerful and original thinker.

How to be a MASTER MAN!


author of the Shortcut Course in Public-Speaking, is easily the foremost
figure in practical literature, psychology & oratory. A graduate of
some of our leading universities, lecturer, extensive traveler, author of
books, poetry, etc., a man with the unique PERSONALITY OF THE MASTER
MINDS, he is ready to give YOU all the secrets of his culture and
hammering Force, in a few easy lessons that will not interfere with other
occupations. ————————————————

“Here's how it happened. I ran across an ad of a course that claimed to
teach people how to talk easily and on their feet, how to answer
complaints, how to lay a proposition before the Boss, how to hit a bank
for a loan, how to hold a big audience spellbound with wit, humor,
anecdote, inspiration, etc. It was compiled by the Master Orator, Prof.
Waldo F. Peet. I was skeptical, too, but I wrote (JUST ON A POSTCARD, with
name and address) to the publisher for the lessons—sent On Trial,
money back if you are not absolutely satisfied. There were eight simple
lessons in plain language anybody could understand, and I studied them
just a few hours a night, then started practising on the wife. Soon found
I could talk right up to the Super and get due credit for all the good
work I did. They began to appreciate me and advance me fast, and say, old
doggo, what do you think they're paying me now? $6,500 per year! And say,
I find I can keep a big audience fascinated, speaking on any topic. As a
friend, old boy, I advise you to send for circular (no obligation) and
valuable free Art Picture to:—

Desk WA Sandpit, Iowa.


Babbitt was again without a canon which would enable him to speak with
authority. Nothing in motoring or real estate had indicated what a Solid
Citizen and Regular Fellow ought to think about culture by mail. He began
with hesitation:

“Well—sounds as if it covered the ground. It certainly is a fine
thing to be able to orate. I've sometimes thought I had a little talent
that way myself, and I know darn well that one reason why a fourflushing
old back-number like Chan Mott can get away with it in real estate is just
because he can make a good talk, even when he hasn't got a doggone thing
to say! And it certainly is pretty cute the way they get out all these
courses on various topics and subjects nowadays. I'll tell you, though: No
need to blow in a lot of good money on this stuff when you can get a
first-rate course in eloquence and English and all that right in your own
school—and one of the biggest school buildings in the entire

“That's so,” said Mrs. Babbitt comfortably, while Ted complained:

“Yuh, but Dad, they just teach a lot of old junk that isn't any practical
use—except the manual training and typewriting and basketball and
dancing—and in these correspondence-courses, gee, you can get all
kinds of stuff that would come in handy. Say, listen to this one:


'If you are walking with your mother, sister or best girl and some one
passes a slighting remark or uses improper language, won't you be ashamed
if you can't take her part? Well, can you?

'We teach boxing and self-defense by mail. Many pupils have written saying
that after a few lessons they've outboxed bigger and heavier opponents.
The lessons start with simple movements practised before your mirror—holding
out your hand for a coin, the breast-stroke in swimming, etc. Before you
realize it you are striking scientifically, ducking, guarding and
feinting, just as if you had a real opponent before you.'”

“Oh, baby, maybe I wouldn't like that!” Ted chanted. “I'll tell the world!
Gosh, I'd like to take one fellow I know in school that's always shooting
off his mouth, and catch him alone—”

“Nonsense! The idea! Most useless thing I ever heard of!” Babbitt

“Well, just suppose I was walking with Mama or Rone, and somebody passed a
slighting remark or used improper language. What would I do?”

“Why, you'd probably bust the record for the hundred-yard dash!”

“I WOULD not! I'd stand right up to any mucker that passed a slighting
remark on MY sister and I'd show him—”

“Look here, young Dempsey! If I ever catch you fighting I'll whale the
everlasting daylights out of you—and I'll do it without practising
holding out my hand for a coin before the mirror, too!”

“Why, Ted dear,” Mrs. Babbitt said placidly, “it's not at all nice, your
talking of fighting this way!”

“Well, gosh almighty, that's a fine way to appreciate—And then
suppose I was walking with YOU, Ma, and somebody passed a slighting remark—”

“Nobody's going to pass no slighting remarks on nobody,” Babbitt observed,
“not if they stay home and study their geometry and mind their own affairs
instead of hanging around a lot of poolrooms and soda-fountains and places
where nobody's got any business to be!”

“But gooooooosh, Dad, if they DID!”

Mrs. Babbitt chirped, “Well, if they did, I wouldn't do them the honor of
paying any attention to them! Besides, they never do. You always hear
about these women that get followed and insulted and all, but I don't
believe a word of it, or it's their own fault, the way some women look at
a person. I certainly never 've been insulted by—”

“Aw shoot. Mother, just suppose you WERE sometime! Just SUPPOSE! Can't you
suppose something? Can't you imagine things?”

“Certainly I can imagine things! The idea!”

“Certainly your mother can imagine things—and suppose things! Think
you're the only member of this household that's got an imagination?”
Babbitt demanded. “But what's the use of a lot of supposing? Supposing
never gets you anywhere. No sense supposing when there's a lot of real
facts to take into considera—”

“Look here, Dad. Suppose—I mean, just—just suppose you were in
your office and some rival real-estate man—”


“—some realtor that you hated came in—”

“I don't hate any realtor.”

“But suppose you DID!”

“I don't intend to suppose anything of the kind! There's plenty of fellows
in my profession that stoop and hate their competitors, but if you were a
little older and understood business, instead of always going to the
movies and running around with a lot of fool girls with their dresses up
to their knees and powdered and painted and rouged and God knows what all
as if they were chorus-girls, then you'd know—and you'd suppose—that
if there's any one thing that I stand for in the real-estate circles of
Zenith, it is that we ought to always speak of each other only in the
friendliest terms and institute a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation,
and so I certainly can't suppose and I can't imagine my hating any
realtor, not even that dirty, fourflushing society sneak, Cecil Rountree!”


“And there's no If, And or But about it! But if I WERE going to lambaste
somebody, I wouldn't require any fancy ducks or swimming-strokes before a
mirror, or any of these doodads and flipflops! Suppose you were out some
place and a fellow called you vile names. Think you'd want to box and jump
around like a dancing-master? You'd just lay him out cold (at least I
certainly hope any son of mine would!) and then you'd dust off your hands
and go on about your business, and that's all there is to it, and you
aren't going to have any boxing-lessons by mail, either!”

“Well but—Yes—I just wanted to show how many different kinds
of correspondence-courses there are, instead of all the camembert they
teach us in the High.”

“But I thought they taught boxing in the school gymnasium.”

“That's different. They stick you up there and some big stiff amuses
himself pounding the stuffin's out of you before you have a chance to
learn. Hunka! Not any! But anyway—Listen to some of these others.”

The advertisements were truly philanthropic. One of them bore the rousing
headline: “Money! Money!! Money!!!” The second announced that “Mr. P. R.,
formerly making only eighteen a week in a barber shop, writes to us that
since taking our course he is now pulling down $5,000 as an Osteo-vitalic
Physician;” and the third that “Miss J. L., recently a wrapper in a store,
is now getting Ten Real Dollars a day teaching our Hindu System of
Vibratory Breathing and Mental Control.”

Ted had collected fifty or sixty announcements, from annual
reference-books, from Sunday School periodicals, fiction-magazines, and
journals of discussion. One benefactor implored, “Don't be a Wallflower—Be
More Popular and Make More Money—YOU Can Ukulele or Sing Yourself
into Society! By the secret principles of a Newly Discovered System of
Music Teaching, any one—man, lady or child—can, without
tiresome exercises, special training or long drawn out study, and without
waste of time, money or energy, learn to play by note, piano, banjo,
cornet, clarinet, saxophone, violin or drum, and learn sight-singing.”

The next, under the wistful appeal “Finger Print Detectives Wanted—Big
Incomes!” confided: “YOU red-blooded men and women—this is the
PROFESSION you have been looking for. There's MONEY in it, BIG money, and
that rapid change of scene, that entrancing and compelling interest and
fascination, which your active mind and adventurous spirit crave. Think of
being the chief figure and directing factor in solving strange mysteries
and baffling crimes. This wonderful profession brings you into contact
with influential men on the basis of equality, and often calls upon you to
travel everywhere, maybe to distant lands—all expenses paid. NO

“Oh, boy! I guess that wins the fire-brick necklace! Wouldn't it be swell
to travel everywhere and nab some famous crook!” whooped Ted.

“Well, I don't think much of that. Doggone likely to get hurt. Still, that
music-study stunt might be pretty fair, though. There's no reason why, if
efficiency-experts put their minds to it the way they have to routing
products in a factory, they couldn't figure out some scheme so a person
wouldn't have to monkey with all this practising and exercises that you
get in music.” Babbitt was impressed, and he had a delightful parental
feeling that they two, the men of the family, understood each other.

He listened to the notices of mail-box universities which taught
Short-story Writing and Improving the Memory, Motion-picture-acting and
Developing the Soul-power, Banking and Spanish, Chiropody and Photography,
Electrical Engineering and Window-trimming, Poultry-raising and Chemistry.

“Well—well—” Babbitt sought for adequate expression of his
admiration. “I'm a son of a gun! I knew this correspondence-school
business had become a mighty profitable game—makes suburban
real-estate look like two cents!—but I didn't realize it'd got to be
such a reg'lar key-industry! Must rank right up with groceries and movies.
Always figured somebody'd come along with the brains to not leave
education to a lot of bookworms and impractical theorists but make a big
thing out of it. Yes, I can see how a lot of these courses might interest
you. I must ask the fellows at the Athletic if they ever realized—But
same time, Ted, you know how advertisers, I means some advertisers,
exaggerate. I don't know as they'd be able to jam you through these
courses as fast as they claim they can.”

“Oh sure, Dad; of course.” Ted had the immense and joyful maturity of a
boy who is respectfully listened to by his elders. Babbitt concentrated on
him with grateful affection:

“I can see what an influence these courses might have on the whole
educational works. Course I'd never admit it publicly—fellow like
myself, a State U. graduate, it's only decent and patriotic for him to
blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater—but smatter of fact, there's
a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and
French and subjects that never brought in anybody a cent. I don't know but
what maybe these correspondence-courses might prove to be one of the most
important American inventions.

“Trouble with a lot of folks is: they're so blame material; they don't see
the spiritual and mental side of American supremacy; they think that
inventions like the telephone and the areoplane and wireless—no,
that was a Wop invention, but anyway: they think these mechanical
improvements are all that we stand for; whereas to a real thinker, he sees
that spiritual and, uh, dominating movements like Efficiency, and
Rotarianism, and Prohibition, and Democracy are what compose our deepest
and truest wealth. And maybe this new principle in education-at-home may
be another—may be another factor. I tell you, Ted, we've got to have

“I think those correspondence-courses are terrible!”

The philosophers gasped. It was Mrs. Babbitt who had made this discord in
their spiritual harmony, and one of Mrs. Babbitt's virtues was that,
except during dinner-parties, when she was transformed into a raging
hostess, she took care of the house and didn't bother the males by
thinking. She went on firmly:

“It sounds awful to me, the way they coax those poor young folks to think
they're learning something, and nobody 'round to help them and—You
two learn so quick, but me, I always was slow. But just the same—”

Babbitt attended to her: “Nonsense! Get just as much, studying at home.
You don't think a fellow learns any more because he blows in his father's
hard-earned money and sits around in Morris chairs in a swell Harvard
dormitory with pictures and shields and table-covers and those doodads, do
you? I tell you, I'm a college man—I KNOW! There is one objection
you might make though. I certainly do protest against any effort to get a
lot of fellows out of barber shops and factories into the professions.
They're too crowded already, and what'll we do for workmen if all those
fellows go and get educated?”

Ted was leaning back, smoking a cigarette without reproof. He was, for the
moment, sharing the high thin air of Babbitt's speculation as though he
were Paul Riesling or even Dr. Howard Littlefield. He hinted:

“Well, what do you think then, Dad? Wouldn't it be a good idea if I could
go off to China or some peppy place, and study engineering or something by

“No, and I'll tell you why, son. I've found out it's a mighty nice thing
to be able to say you're a B.A. Some client that doesn't know what you are
and thinks you're just a plug business man, he gets to shooting off his
mouth about economics or literature or foreign trade conditions, and you
just ease in something like, 'When I was in college—course I got my
B.A. in sociology and all that junk—' Oh, it puts an awful crimp in
their style! But there wouldn't be any class to saying 'I got the degree
of Stamp-licker from the Bezuzus Mail-order University!' You see—My
dad was a pretty good old coot, but he never had much style to him, and I
had to work darn hard to earn my way through college. Well, it's been
worth it, to be able to associate with the finest gentlemen in Zenith, at
the clubs and so on, and I wouldn't want you to drop out of the gentlemen
class—the class that are just as red-blooded as the Common People
but still have power and personality. It would kind of hurt me if you did
that, old man!”

“I know, Dad! Sure! All right. I'll stick to it. Say! Gosh! Gee whiz! I
forgot all about those kids I was going to take to the chorus rehearsal.
I'll have to duck!”

“But you haven't done all your home-work.”

“Do it first thing in the morning.”


Six times in the past sixty days Babbitt had stormed, “You will not 'do it
first thing in the morning'! You'll do it right now!” but to-night he
said, “Well, better hustle,” and his smile was the rare shy radiance he
kept for Paul Riesling.


“Ted's a good boy,” he said to Mrs. Babbitt.

“Oh, he is!”

“Who's these girls he's going to pick up? Are they nice decent girls?”

“I don't know. Oh dear, Ted never tells me anything any more. I don't
understand what's come over the children of this generation. I used to
have to tell Papa and Mama everything, but seems like the children to-day
have just slipped away from all control.”

“I hope they're decent girls. Course Ted's no longer a kid, and I wouldn't
want him to, uh, get mixed up and everything.”

“George: I wonder if you oughtn't to take him aside and tell him about—Things!”
She blushed and lowered her eyes.

“Well, I don't know. Way I figure it, Myra, no sense suggesting a lot of
Things to a boy's mind. Think up enough devilment by himself. But I wonder—It's
kind of a hard question. Wonder what Littlefield thinks about it?”

“Course Papa agrees with you. He says all this—Instruction is—He
says 'tisn't decent.”

“Oh, he does, does he! Well, let me tell you that whatever Henry T.
Thompson thinks—about morals, I mean, though course you can't beat
the old duffer—”

“Why, what a way to talk of Papa!”

“—simply can't beat him at getting in on the ground floor of a deal,
but let me tell you whenever he springs any ideas about higher things and
education, then I know I think just the opposite. You may not regard me as
any great brain-shark, but believe me, I'm a regular college president,
compared with Henry T.! Yes sir, by golly, I'm going to take Ted aside and
tell him why I lead a strictly moral life.”

“Oh, will you? When?”

“When? When? What's the use of trying to pin me down to When and Why and
Where and How and When? That's the trouble with women, that's why they
don't make high-class executives; they haven't any sense of diplomacy.
When the proper opportunity and occasion arises so it just comes in
natural, why then I'll have a friendly little talk with him and—and—Was
that Tinka hollering up-stairs? She ought to been asleep, long ago.”

He prowled through the living-room, and stood in the sun-parlor, that
glass-walled room of wicker chairs and swinging couch in which they loafed
on Sunday afternoons. Outside only the lights of Doppelbrau's house and
the dim presence of Babbitt's favorite elm broke the softness of April

“Good visit with the boy. Getting over feeling cranky, way I did this
morning. And restless. Though, by golly, I will have a few days alone with
Paul in Maine! . . . That devil Zilla! . . . But . . . Ted's all right.
Whole family all right. And good business. Not many fellows make four
hundred and fifty bucks, practically half of a thousand dollars easy as I
did to-day! Maybe when we all get to rowing it's just as much my fault as
it is theirs. Oughtn't to get grouchy like I do. But—Wish I'd been a
pioneer, same as my grand-dad. But then, wouldn't have a house like this.
I—Oh, gosh, I DON'T KNOW!”

He thought moodily of Paul Riesling, of their youth together, of the girls
they had known.

When Babbitt had graduated from the State University, twenty-four years
ago, he had intended to be a lawyer. He had been a ponderous debater in
college; he felt that he was an orator; he saw himself becoming governor
of the state. While he read law he worked as a real-estate salesman. He
saved money, lived in a boarding-house, supped on poached egg on hash. The
lively Paul Riesling (who was certainly going off to Europe to study
violin, next month or next year) was his refuge till Paul was bespelled by
Zilla Colbeck, who laughed and danced and drew men after her plump and
gaily wagging finger.

Babbitt's evenings were barren then, and he found comfort only in Paul's
second cousin, Myra Thompson, a sleek and gentle girl who showed her
capacity by agreeing with the ardent young Babbitt that of course he was
going to be governor some day. Where Zilla mocked him as a country boy,
Myra said indignantly that he was ever so much solider than the young
dandies who had been born in the great city of Zenith—an ancient
settlement in 1897, one hundred and five years old, with two hundred
thousand population, the queen and wonder of all the state and, to the
Catawba boy, George Babbitt, so vast and thunderous and luxurious that he
was flattered to know a girl ennobled by birth in Zenith.

Of love there was no talk between them. He knew that if he was to study
law he could not marry for years; and Myra was distinctly a Nice Girl—one
didn't kiss her, one didn't “think about her that way at all” unless one
was going to marry her. But she was a dependable companion. She was always
ready to go skating, walking; always content to hear his discourses on the
great things he was going to do, the distressed poor whom he would defend
against the Unjust Rich, the speeches he would make at Banquets, the
inexactitudes of popular thought which he would correct.

One evening when he was weary and soft-minded, he saw that she had been
weeping. She had been left out of a party given by Zilla. Somehow her head
was on his shoulder and he was kissing away the tears—and she raised
her head to say trustingly, “Now that we're engaged, shall we be married
soon or shall we wait?”

Engaged? It was his first hint of it. His affection for this brown tender
woman thing went cold and fearful, but he could not hurt her, could not
abuse her trust. He mumbled something about waiting, and escaped. He
walked for an hour, trying to find a way of telling her that it was a
mistake. Often, in the month after, he got near to telling her, but it was
pleasant to have a girl in his arms, and less and less could he insult her
by blurting that he didn't love her. He himself had no doubt. The evening
before his marriage was an agony, and the morning wild with the desire to

She made him what is known as a Good Wife. She was loyal, industrious, and
at rare times merry. She passed from a feeble disgust at their closer
relations into what promised to be ardent affection, but it drooped into
bored routine. Yet she existed only for him and for the children, and she
was as sorry, as worried as himself, when he gave up the law and trudged
on in a rut of listing real estate.

“Poor kid, she hasn't had much better time than I have,” Babbitt
reflected, standing in the dark sun-parlor. “But—I wish I could 've
had a whirl at law and politics. Seen what I could do. Well—Maybe
I've made more money as it is.”

He returned to the living-room but before he settled down he smoothed his
wife's hair, and she glanced up, happy and somewhat surprised.



HE solemnly finished the last copy of the American Magazine, while his
wife sighed, laid away her darning, and looked enviously at the lingerie
designs in a women's magazine. The room was very still.

It was a room which observed the best Floral Heights standards. The gray
walls were divided into artificial paneling by strips of white-enameled
pine. From the Babbitts' former house had come two much-carved
rocking-chairs, but the other chairs were new, very deep and restful,
upholstered in blue and gold-striped velvet. A blue velvet davenport faced
the fireplace, and behind it was a cherrywood table and a tall piano-lamp
with a shade of golden silk. (Two out of every three houses in Floral
Heights had before the fireplace a davenport, a mahogany table real or
imitation, and a piano-lamp or a reading-lamp with a shade of yellow or
rose silk.)

On the table was a runner of gold-threaded Chinese fabric, four magazines,
a silver box containing cigarette-crumbs, and three “gift-books”—large,
expensive editions of fairy-tales illustrated by English artists and as
yet unread by any Babbitt save Tinka.

In a corner by the front windows was a large cabinet Victrola. (Eight out
of every nine Floral Heights houses had a cabinet phonograph.)

Among the pictures, hung in the exact center of each gray panel, were a
red and black imitation English hunting-print, an anemic imitation
boudoir-print with a French caption of whose morality Babbitt had always
been rather suspicious, and a “hand-colored” photograph of a Colonial room—rag
rug, maiden spinning, cat demure before a white fireplace. (Nineteen out
of every twenty houses in Floral Heights had either a hunting-print, a
Madame Feit la Toilette print, a colored photograph of a New England
house, a photograph of a Rocky Mountain, or all four.)

It was a room as superior in comfort to the “parlor” of Babbitt's boyhood
as his motor was superior to his father's buggy. Though there was nothing
in the room that was interesting, there was nothing that was offensive. It
was as neat, and as negative, as a block of artificial ice. The fireplace
was unsoftened by downy ashes or by sooty brick; the brass fire-irons were
of immaculate polish; and the grenadier andirons were like samples in a
shop, desolate, unwanted, lifeless things of commerce.

Against the wall was a piano, with another piano-lamp, but no one used it
save Tinka. The hard briskness of the phonograph contented them; their
store of jazz records made them feel wealthy and cultured; and all they
knew of creating music was the nice adjustment of a bamboo needle. The
books on the table were unspotted and laid in rigid parallels; not one
corner of the carpet-rug was curled; and nowhere was there a hockey-stick,
a torn picture-book, an old cap, or a gregarious and disorganizing dog.


At home, Babbitt never read with absorption. He was concentrated enough at
the office but here he crossed his legs and fidgeted. When his story was
interesting he read the best, that is the funniest, paragraphs to his
wife; when it did not hold him he coughed, scratched his ankles and his
right ear, thrust his left thumb into his vest pocket, jingled his silver,
whirled the cigar-cutter and the keys on one end of his watch chain,
yawned, rubbed his nose, and found errands to do. He went upstairs to put
on his slippers—his elegant slippers of seal-brown, shaped like
medieval shoes. He brought up an apple from the barrel which stood by the
trunk-closet in the basement.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” he enlightened Mrs. Babbitt, for
quite the first time in fourteen hours.

“That's so.”

“An apple is Nature's best regulator.”

“Yes, it—”

“Trouble with women is, they never have sense enough to form regular

“Well, I—”

“Always nibbling and eating between meals.”

“George!” She looked up from her reading. “Did you have a light lunch
to-day, like you were going to? I did!”

This malicious and unprovoked attack astounded him. “Well, maybe it wasn't
as light as—Went to lunch with Paul and didn't have much chance to
diet. Oh, you needn't to grin like a chessy cat! If it wasn't for me
watching out and keeping an eye on our diet—I'm the only member of
this family that appreciates the value of oatmeal for breakfast. I—”

She stooped over her story while he piously sliced and gulped down the
apple, discoursing:

“One thing I've done: cut down my smoking.

“Had kind of a run-in with Graff in the office. He's getting too darn
fresh. I'll stand for a good deal, but once in a while I got to assert my
authority, and I jumped him. 'Stan,' I said—Well, I told him just
exactly where he got off.

“Funny kind of a day. Makes you feel restless.

“Wellllllllll, uh—” That sleepiest sound in the world, the terminal
yawn. Mrs. Babbitt yawned with it, and looked grateful as he droned, “How
about going to bed, eh? Don't suppose Rone and Ted will be in till all
hours. Yep, funny kind of a day; not terribly warm but yet—Gosh, I'd
like—Some day I'm going to take a long motor trip.”

“Yes, we'd enjoy that,” she yawned.

He looked away from her as he realized that he did not wish to have her go
with him. As he locked doors and tried windows and set the heat regulator
so that the furnace-drafts would open automatically in the morning, he
sighed a little, heavy with a lonely feeling which perplexed and
frightened him. So absent-minded was he that he could not remember which
window-catches he had inspected, and through the darkness, fumbling at
unseen perilous chairs, he crept back to try them all over again. His feet
were loud on the steps as he clumped upstairs at the end of this great and
treacherous day of veiled rebellions.


Before breakfast he always reverted to up-state village boyhood, and
shrank from the complex urban demands of shaving, bathing, deciding
whether the current shirt was clean enough for another day. Whenever he
stayed home in the evening he went to bed early, and thriftily got ahead
in those dismal duties. It was his luxurious custom to shave while sitting
snugly in a tubful of hot water. He may be viewed to-night as a plump,
smooth, pink, baldish, podgy goodman, robbed of the importance of
spectacles, squatting in breast-high water, scraping his lather-smeared
cheeks with a safety-razor like a tiny lawn-mower, and with melancholy
dignity clawing through the water to recover a slippery and active piece
of soap.

He was lulled to dreaming by the caressing warmth. The light fell on the
inner surface of the tub in a pattern of delicate wrinkled lines which
slipped with a green sparkle over the curving porcelain as the clear water
trembled. Babbitt lazily watched it; noted that along the silhouette of
his legs against the radiance on the bottom of the tub, the shadows of the
air-bubbles clinging to the hairs were reproduced as strange jungle
mosses. He patted the water, and the reflected light capsized and leaped
and volleyed. He was content and childish. He played. He shaved a swath
down the calf of one plump leg.

The drain-pipe was dripping, a dulcet and lively song: drippety drip drip
dribble, drippety drip drip drip. He was enchanted by it. He looked at the
solid tub, the beautiful nickel taps, the tiled walls of the room, and
felt virtuous in the possession of this splendor.

He roused himself and spoke gruffly to his bath-things. “Come here! You've
done enough fooling!” he reproved the treacherous soap, and defied the
scratchy nail-brush with “Oh, you would, would you!” He soaped himself,
and rinsed himself, and austerely rubbed himself; he noted a hole in the
Turkish towel, and meditatively thrust a finger through it, and marched
back to the bedroom, a grave and unbending citizen.

There was a moment of gorgeous abandon, a flash of melodrama such as he
found in traffic-driving, when he laid out a clean collar, discovered that
it was frayed in front, and tore it up with a magnificent yeeeeeing sound.

Most important of all was the preparation of his bed and the

It is not known whether he enjoyed his sleeping-porch because of the fresh
air or because it was the standard thing to have a sleeping-porch.

Just as he was an Elk, a Booster, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce,
just as the priests of the Presbyterian Church determined his every
religious belief and the senators who controlled the Republican Party
decided in little smoky rooms in Washington what he should think about
disarmament, tariff, and Germany, so did the large national advertisers
fix the surface of his life, fix what he believed to be his individuality.
These standard advertised wares—toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras,
instantaneous hot-water heaters—were his symbols and proofs of
excellence; at first the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion
and wisdom.

But none of these advertised tokens of financial and social success was
more significant than a sleeping-porch with a sun-parlor below.

The rites of preparing for bed were elaborate and unchanging. The blankets
had to be tucked in at the foot of his cot. (Also, the reason why the maid
hadn't tucked in the blankets had to be discussed with Mrs. Babbitt.) The
rag rug was adjusted so that his bare feet would strike it when he arose
in the morning. The alarm clock was wound. The hot-water bottle was filled
and placed precisely two feet from the bottom of the cot.

These tremendous undertakings yielded to his determination; one by one
they were announced to Mrs. Babbitt and smashed through to accomplishment.
At last his brow cleared, and in his “Gnight!” rang virile power. But
there was yet need of courage. As he sank into sleep, just at the first
exquisite relaxation, the Doppelbrau car came home. He bounced into
wakefulness, lamenting, “Why the devil can't some people never get to bed
at a reasonable hour?” So familiar was he with the process of putting up
his own car that he awaited each step like an able executioner condemned
to his own rack.

The car insultingly cheerful on the driveway. The car door opened and
banged shut, then the garage door slid open, grating on the sill, and the
car door again. The motor raced for the climb up into the garage and raced
once more, explosively, before it was shut off. A final opening and
slamming of the car door. Silence then, a horrible silence filled with
waiting, till the leisurely Mr. Doppelbrau had examined the state of his
tires and had at last shut the garage door. Instantly, for Babbitt, a
blessed state of oblivion.


At that moment In the city of Zenith, Horace Updike was making love to
Lucile McKelvey in her mauve drawing-room on Royal Ridge, after their
return from a lecture by an eminent English novelist. Updike was Zenith's
professional bachelor; a slim-waisted man of forty-six with an effeminate
voice and taste in flowers, cretonnes, and flappers. Mrs. McKelvey was
red-haired, creamy, discontented, exquisite, rude, and honest. Updike
tried his invariable first maneuver—touching her nervous wrist.

“Don't be an idiot!” she said.

“Do you mind awfully?”

“No! That's what I mind!”

He changed to conversation. He was famous at conversation. He spoke
reasonably of psychoanalysis, Long Island polo, and the Ming platter he
had found in Vancouver. She promised to meet him in Deauville, the coming
summer, “though,” she sighed, “it's becoming too dreadfully banal; nothing
but Americans and frowsy English baronesses.”

And at that moment in Zenith, a cocaine-runner and a prostitute were
drinking cocktails in Healey Hanson's saloon on Front Street. Since
national prohibition was now in force, and since Zenith was notoriously
law-abiding, they were compelled to keep the cocktails innocent by
drinking them out of tea-cups. The lady threw her cup at the
cocaine-runner's head. He worked his revolver out of the pocket in his
sleeve, and casually murdered her.

At that moment in Zenith, two men sat in a laboratory. For thirty-seven
hours now they had been working on a report of their investigations of
synthetic rubber.

At that moment in Zenith, there was a conference of four union officials
as to whether the twelve thousand coal-miners within a hundred miles of
the city should strike. Of these men one resembled a testy and prosperous
grocer, one a Yankee carpenter, one a soda-clerk, and one a Russian Jewish
actor The Russian Jew quoted Kautsky, Gene Debs, and Abraham Lincoln.

At that moment a G. A. R. veteran was dying. He had come from the Civil
War straight to a farm which, though it was officially within the
city-limits of Zenith, was primitive as the backwoods. He had never ridden
in a motor car, never seen a bath-tub, never read any book save the Bible,
McGuffey's readers, and religious tracts; and he believed that the earth
is flat, that the English are the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and that the
United States is a democracy.

At that moment the steel and cement town which composed the factory of the
Pullmore Tractor Company of Zenith was running on night shift to fill an
order of tractors for the Polish army. It hummed like a million bees,
glared through its wide windows like a volcano. Along the high wire
fences, searchlights played on cinder-lined yards, switch-tracks, and
armed guards on patrol.

At that moment Mike Monday was finishing a meeting. Mr. Monday, the
distinguished evangelist, the best-known Protestant pontiff in America,
had once been a prize-fighter. Satan had not dealt justly with him. As a
prize-fighter he gained nothing but his crooked nose, his celebrated
vocabulary, and his stage-presence. The service of the Lord had been more
profitable. He was about to retire with a fortune. It had been well
earned, for, to quote his last report, “Rev. Mr. Monday, the Prophet with
a Punch, has shown that he is the world's greatest salesman of salvation,
and that by efficient organization the overhead of spiritual regeneration
may be kept down to an unprecedented rock-bottom basis. He has converted
over two hundred thousand lost and priceless souls at an average cost of
less than ten dollars a head.”

Of the larger cities of the land, only Zenith had hesitated to submit its
vices to Mike Monday and his expert reclamation corps. The more
enterprising organizations of the city had voted to invite him—Mr.
George F. Babbitt had once praised him in a speech at the Boosters' Club.
But there was opposition from certain Episcopalian and Congregationalist
ministers, those renegades whom Mr. Monday so finely called “a bunch of
gospel-pushers with dish-water instead of blood, a gang of squealers that
need more dust on the knees of their pants and more hair on their skinny
old chests.” This opposition had been crushed when the secretary of the
Chamber of Commerce had reported to a committee of manufacturers that in
every city where he had appeared, Mr. Monday had turned the minds of
workmen from wages and hours to higher things, and thus averted strikes.
He was immediately invited.

An expense fund of forty thousand dollars had been underwritten; out on
the County Fair Grounds a Mike Monday Tabernacle had been erected, to seat
fifteen thousand people. In it the prophet was at this moment concluding
his message:

“There's a lot of smart college professors and tea-guzzling slobs in this
burg that say I'm a roughneck and a never-wuzzer and my knowledge of
history is not-yet. Oh, there's a gang of woolly-whiskered book-lice that
think they know more than Almighty God, and prefer a lot of Hun science
and smutty German criticism to the straight and simple Word of God. Oh,
there's a swell bunch of Lizzie boys and lemon-suckers and pie-faces and
infidels and beer-bloated scribblers that love to fire off their filthy
mouths and yip that Mike Monday is vulgar and full of mush. Those pups are
saying now that I hog the gospel-show, that I'm in it for the coin. Well,
now listen, folks! I'm going to give those birds a chance! They can stand
right up here and tell me to my face that I'm a galoot and a liar and a
hick! Only if they do—if they do!—don't faint with surprise if
some of those rum-dumm liars get one good swift poke from Mike, with all
the kick of God's Flaming Righteousness behind the wallop! Well, come on,
folks! Who says it? Who says Mike Monday is a fourflush and a yahoo? Huh?
Don't I see anybody standing up? Well, there you are! Now I guess the
folks in this man's town will quit listening to all this kyoodling from
behind the fence; I guess you'll quit listening to the guys that pan and
roast and kick and beef, and vomit out filthy atheism; and all of you 'll
come in, with every grain of pep and reverence you got, and boost all
together for Jesus Christ and his everlasting mercy and tenderness!”

At that moment Seneca Doane, the radical lawyer, and Dr. Kurt Yavitch, the
histologist (whose report on the destruction of epithelial cells under
radium had made the name of Zenith known in Munich, Prague, and Rome),
were talking in Doane's library.

“Zenith's a city with gigantic power—gigantic buildings, gigantic
machines, gigantic transportation,” meditated Doane.

“I hate your city. It has standardized all the beauty out of life. It is
one big railroad station—with all the people taking tickets for the
best cemeteries,” Dr. Yavitch said placidly.

Doane roused. “I'm hanged if it is! You make me sick, Kurt, with your
perpetual whine about 'standardization.' Don't you suppose any other
nation is 'standardized?' Is anything more standardized than England, with
every house that can afford it having the same muffins at the same
tea-hour, and every retired general going to exactly the same evensong at
the same gray stone church with a square tower, and every golfing prig in
Harris tweeds saying 'Right you are!' to every other prosperous ass? Yet I
love England. And for standardization—just look at the sidewalk
cafes in France and the love-making in Italy!

“Standardization is excellent, per se. When I buy an Ingersoll watch or a
Ford, I get a better tool for less money, and I know precisely what I'm
getting, and that leaves me more time and energy to be individual in. And—I
remember once in London I saw a picture of an American suburb, in a
toothpaste ad on the back of the Saturday Evening Post—an elm-lined
snowy street of these new houses, Georgian some of 'em, or with low raking
roofs and—The kind of street you'd find here in Zenith, say in
Floral Heights. Open. Trees. Grass. And I was homesick! There's no other
country in the world that has such pleasant houses. And I don't care if
they ARE standardized. It's a corking standard!

“No, what I fight in Zenith is standardization of thought, and, of course,
the traditions of competition. The real villains of the piece are the
clean, kind, industrious Family Men who use every known brand of trickery
and cruelty to insure the prosperity of their cubs. The worst thing about
these fellows is that they're so good and, in their work at least, so
intelligent. You can't hate them properly, and yet their standardized
minds are the enemy.

“Then this boosting—Sneakingly I have a notion that Zenith is a
better place to live in than Manchester or Glasgow or Lyons or Berlin or

“It is not, and I have lift in most of them,” murmured Dr. Yavitch.

“Well, matter of taste. Personally, I prefer a city with a future so
unknown that it excites my imagination. But what I particularly want—”

“You,” said Dr. Yavitch, “are a middle-road liberal, and you haven't the
slightest idea what you want. I, being a revolutionist, know exactly what
I want—and what I want now is a drink.”


At that moment in Zenith, Jake Offutt, the politician, and Henry T.
Thompson were in conference. Offutt suggested, “The thing to do is to get
your fool son-in-law, Babbitt, to put it over. He's one of these patriotic
guys. When he grabs a piece of property for the gang, he makes it look
like we were dyin' of love for the dear peepul, and I do love to buy
respectability—reasonable. Wonder how long we can keep it up, Hank?
We're safe as long as the good little boys like George Babbitt and all the
nice respectable labor-leaders think you and me are rugged patriots.
There's swell pickings for an honest politician here, Hank: a whole city
working to provide cigars and fried chicken and dry martinis for us, and
rallying to our banner with indignation, oh, fierce indignation, whenever
some squealer like this fellow Seneca Doane comes along! Honest, Hank, a
smart codger like me ought to be ashamed of himself if he didn't milk
cattle like them, when they come around mooing for it! But the Traction
gang can't get away with grand larceny like it used to. I wonder when—Hank,
I wish we could fix some way to run this fellow Seneca Doane out of town.
It's him or us!”

At that moment in Zenith, three hundred and forty or fifty thousand
Ordinary People were asleep, a vast unpenetrated shadow. In the slum
beyond the railroad tracks, a young man who for six months had sought work
turned on the gas and killed himself and his wife.

At that moment Lloyd Mallam, the poet, owner of the Hafiz Book Shop, was
finishing a rondeau to show how diverting was life amid the feuds of
medieval Florence, but how dull it was in so obvious a place as Zenith.

And at that moment George F. Babbitt turned ponderously in bed—the
last turn, signifying that he'd had enough of this worried business of
falling asleep and was about it in earnest.

Instantly he was in the magic dream. He was somewhere among unknown people
who laughed at him. He slipped away, ran down the paths of a midnight
garden, and at the gate the fairy child was waiting. Her dear and tranquil
hand caressed his cheek. He was gallant and wise and well-beloved; warm
ivory were her arms; and beyond perilous moors the brave sea glittered.



THE great events of Babbitt's spring were the secret buying of real-estate
options in Linton for certain street-traction officials, before the public
announcement that the Linton Avenue Car Line would be extended, and a
dinner which was, as he rejoiced to his wife, not only “a regular society
spread but a real sure-enough highbrow affair, with some of the keenest
intellects and the brightest bunch of little women in town.” It was so
absorbing an occasion that he almost forgot his desire to run off to Maine
with Paul Riesling.

Though he had been born in the village of Catawba, Babbitt had risen to
that metropolitan social plane on which hosts have as many as four people
at dinner without planning it for more than an evening or two. But a
dinner of twelve, with flowers from the florist's and all the cut-glass
out, staggered even the Babbitts.

For two weeks they studied, debated, and arbitrated the list of guests.

Babbitt marveled, “Of course we're up-to-date ourselves, but still, think
of us entertaining a famous poet like Chum Frink, a fellow that on nothing
but a poem or so every day and just writing a few advertisements pulls
down fifteen thousand berries a year!”

“Yes, and Howard Littlefield. Do you know, the other evening Eunice told
me her papa speaks three languages!” said Mrs. Babbitt.

“Huh! That's nothing! So do I—American, baseball, and poker!”

“I don't think it's nice to be funny about a matter like that. Think how
wonderful it must be to speak three languages, and so useful and—And
with people like that, I don't see why we invite the Orville Joneses.”

“Well now, Orville is a mighty up-and-coming fellow!”

“Yes, I know, but—A laundry!”

“I'll admit a laundry hasn't got the class of poetry or real estate, but
just the same, Orvy is mighty deep. Ever start him spieling about
gardening? Say, that fellow can tell you the name of every kind of tree,
and some of their Greek and Latin names too! Besides, we owe the Joneses a
dinner. Besides, gosh, we got to have some boob for audience, when a bunch
of hot-air artists like Frink and Littlefield get going.”

“Well, dear—I meant to speak of this—I do think that as host
you ought to sit back and listen, and let your guests have a chance to
talk once in a while!”

“Oh, you do, do you! Sure! I talk all the time! And I'm just a business
man—oh sure!—I'm no Ph.D. like Littlefield, and no poet, and I
haven't anything to spring! Well, let me tell you, just the other day your
darn Chum Frink comes up to me at the club begging to know what I thought
about the Springfield school-bond issue. And who told him? I did! You bet
your life I told him! Little me! I certainly did! He came up and asked me,
and I told him all about it! You bet! And he was darn glad to listen to me
and—Duty as a host! I guess I know my duty as a host and let me tell

In fact, the Orville Joneses were invited.


On the morning of the dinner, Mrs. Babbitt was restive.

“Now, George, I want you to be sure and be home early tonight. Remember,
you have to dress.”

“Uh-huh. I see by the Advocate that the Presbyterian General Assembly has
voted to quit the Interchurch World Movement. That—”

“George! Did you hear what I said? You must be home in time to dress

“Dress? Hell! I'm dressed now! Think I'm going down to the office in my

“I will not have you talking indecently before the children! And you do
have to put on your dinner-jacket!”

“I guess you mean my Tux. I tell you, of all the doggone nonsensical
nuisances that was ever invented—”

Three minutes later, after Babbitt had wailed, “Well, I don't know whether
I'm going to dress or NOT” in a manner which showed that he was going to
dress, the discussion moved on.

“Now, George, you mustn't forget to call in at Vecchia's on the way home
and get the ice cream. Their delivery-wagon is broken down, and I don't
want to trust them to send it by—”

“All right! You told me that before breakfast!”

“Well, I don't want you to forget. I'll be working my head off all day
long, training the girl that's to help with the dinner—”

“All nonsense, anyway, hiring an extra girl for the feed. Matilda could
perfectly well—”

“—and I have to go out and buy the flowers, and fix them, and set
the table, and order the salted almonds, and look at the chickens, and
arrange for the children to have their supper upstairs and—And I
simply must depend on you to go to Vecchia's for the ice cream.”

“All riiiiiight! Gosh, I'm going to get it!”

“All you have to do is to go in and say you want the ice cream that Mrs.
Babbitt ordered yesterday by 'phone, and it will be all ready for you.”

At ten-thirty she telephoned to him not to forget the ice cream from

He was surprised and blasted then by a thought. He wondered whether Floral
Heights dinners were worth the hideous toil involved. But he repented the
sacrilege in the excitement of buying the materials for cocktails.

Now this was the manner of obtaining alcohol under the reign of
righteousness and prohibition:

He drove from the severe rectangular streets of the modern business center
into the tangled byways of Old Town—jagged blocks filled with sooty
warehouses and lofts; on into The Arbor, once a pleasant orchard but now a
morass of lodging-houses, tenements, and brothels. Exquisite shivers
chilled his spine and stomach, and he looked at every policeman with
intense innocence, as one who loved the law, and admired the Force, and
longed to stop and play with them. He parked his car a block from Healey
Hanson's saloon, worrying, “Well, rats, if anybody did see me, they'd
think I was here on business.”

He entered a place curiously like the saloons of ante-prohibition days,
with a long greasy bar with sawdust in front and streaky mirror behind, a
pine table at which a dirty old man dreamed over a glass of something
which resembled whisky, and with two men at the bar, drinking something
which resembled beer, and giving that impression of forming a large crowd
which two men always give in a saloon. The bartender, a tall pale Swede
with a diamond in his lilac scarf, stared at Babbitt as he stalked plumply
up to the bar and whispered, “I'd, uh—Friend of Hanson's sent me
here. Like to get some gin.”

The bartender gazed down on him in the manner of an outraged bishop. “I
guess you got the wrong place, my friend. We sell nothing but soft drinks
here.” He cleaned the bar with a rag which would itself have done with a
little cleaning, and glared across his mechanically moving elbow.

The old dreamer at the table petitioned the bartender, “Say, Oscar,

Oscar did not listen.

“Aw, say, Oscar, listen, will yuh? Say, lis-sen!”

The decayed and drowsy voice of the loafer, the agreeable stink of
beer-dregs, threw a spell of inanition over Babbitt. The bartender moved
grimly toward the crowd of two men. Babbitt followed him as delicately as
a cat, and wheedled, “Say, Oscar, I want to speak to Mr. Hanson.”

“Whajuh wanta see him for?”

“I just want to talk to him. Here's my card.”

It was a beautiful card, an engraved card, a card in the blackest black
and the sharpest red, announcing that Mr. George F. Babbitt was Estates,
Insurance, Rents. The bartender held it as though it weighed ten pounds,
and read it as though it were a hundred words long. He did not bend from
his episcopal dignity, but he growled, “I'll see if he's around.”

From the back room he brought an immensely old young man, a quiet
sharp-eyed man, in tan silk shirt, checked vest hanging open, and burning
brown trousers—Mr. Healey Hanson. Mr. Hanson said only “Yuh?” but
his implacable and contemptuous eyes queried Babbitt's soul, and he seemed
not at all impressed by the new dark-gray suit for which (as he had
admitted to every acquaintance at the Athletic Club) Babbitt had paid a
hundred and twenty-five dollars.

“Glad meet you, Mr. Hanson. Say, uh—I'm George Babbitt of the
Babbitt-Thompson Realty Company. I'm a great friend of Jake Offutt's.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Say, uh, I'm going to have a party, and Jake told me you'd be able to fix
me up with a little gin.” In alarm, in obsequiousness, as Hanson's eyes
grew more bored, “You telephone to Jake about me, if you want to.”

Hanson answered by jerking his head to indicate the entrance to the back
room, and strolled away. Babbitt melodramatically crept into an apartment
containing four round tables, eleven chairs, a brewery calendar, and a
smell. He waited. Thrice he saw Healey Hanson saunter through, humming,
hands in pockets, ignoring him.

By this time Babbitt had modified his valiant morning vow, “I won't pay
one cent over seven dollars a quart” to “I might pay ten.” On Hanson's
next weary entrance he besought “Could you fix that up?” Hanson scowled,
and grated, “Just a minute—Pete's sake—just a min-ute!” In
growing meekness Babbitt went on waiting till Hanson casually reappeared
with a quart of gin—what is euphemistically known as a quart—in
his disdainful long white hands.

“Twelve bucks,” he snapped.

“Say, uh, but say, cap'n, Jake thought you'd be able to fix me up for
eight or nine a bottle.”

“Nup. Twelve. This is the real stuff, smuggled from Canada. This is none
o' your neutral spirits with a drop of juniper extract,” the honest
merchant said virtuously. “Twelve bones—if you want it. Course y'
understand I'm just doing this anyway as a friend of Jake's.”

“Sure! Sure! I understand!” Babbitt gratefully held out twelve dollars. He
felt honored by contact with greatness as Hanson yawned, stuffed the
bills, uncounted, into his radiant vest, and swaggered away.

He had a number of titillations out of concealing the gin-bottle under his
coat and out of hiding it in his desk. All afternoon he snorted and
chuckled and gurgled over his ability to “give the Boys a real shot in the
arm to-night.” He was, in fact, so exhilarated that he was within a block
of his house before he remembered that there was a certain matter,
mentioned by his wife, of fetching ice cream from Vecchia's. He explained,
“Well, darn it—” and drove back.

Vecchia was not a caterer, he was The Caterer of Zenith. Most coming-out
parties were held in the white and gold ballroom of the Maison Vecchia; at
all nice teas the guests recognized the five kinds of Vecchia sandwiches
and the seven kinds of Vecchia cakes; and all really smart dinners ended,
as on a resolving chord, in Vecchia Neapolitan ice cream in one of the
three reliable molds—the melon mold, the round mold like a layer
cake, and the long brick.

Vecchia's shop had pale blue woodwork, tracery of plaster roses,
attendants in frilled aprons, and glass shelves of “kisses” with all the
refinement that inheres in whites of eggs. Babbitt felt heavy and thick
amid this professional daintiness, and as he waited for the ice cream he
decided, with hot prickles at the back of his neck, that a girl customer
was giggling at him. He went home in a touchy temper. The first thing he
heard was his wife's agitated:

“George! DID you remember to go to Vecchia's and get the ice cream?”

“Say! Look here! Do I ever forget to do things?”

“Yes! Often!”

“Well now, it's darn seldom I do, and it certainly makes me tired, after
going into a pink-tea joint like Vecchia's and having to stand around
looking at a lot of half-naked young girls, all rouged up like they were
sixty and eating a lot of stuff that simply ruins their stomachs—”

“Oh, it's too bad about you! I've noticed how you hate to look at pretty

With a jar Babbitt realized that his wife was too busy to be impressed by
that moral indignation with which males rule the world, and he went humbly
up-stairs to dress. He had an impression of a glorified dining-room, of
cut-glass, candles, polished wood, lace, silver, roses. With the awed
swelling of the heart suitable to so grave a business as giving a dinner,
he slew the temptation to wear his plaited dress-shirt for a fourth time,
took out an entirely fresh one, tightened his black bow, and rubbed his
patent-leather pumps with a handkerchief. He glanced with pleasure at his
garnet and silver studs. He smoothed and patted his ankles, transformed by
silk socks from the sturdy shanks of George Babbitt to the elegant limbs
of what is called a Clubman. He stood before the pier-glass, viewing his
trim dinner-coat, his beautiful triple-braided trousers; and murmured in
lyric beatitude, “By golly, I don't look so bad. I certainly don't look
like Catawba. If the hicks back home could see me in this rig, they'd have
a fit!”

He moved majestically down to mix the cocktails. As he chipped ice, as he
squeezed oranges, as he collected vast stores of bottles, glasses, and
spoons at the sink in the pantry, he felt as authoritative as the
bartender at Healey Hanson's saloon. True, Mrs. Babbitt said he was under
foot, and Matilda and the maid hired for the evening brushed by him,
elbowed him, shrieked “Pleasopn door,” as they tottered through with
trays, but in this high moment he ignored them.

Besides the new bottle of gin, his cellar consisted of one half-bottle of
Bourbon whisky, a quarter of a bottle of Italian vermouth, and
approximately one hundred drops of orange bitters. He did not possess a
cocktail-shaker. A shaker was proof of dissipation, the symbol of a
Drinker, and Babbitt disliked being known as a Drinker even more than he
liked a Drink. He mixed by pouring from an ancient gravy-boat into a
handleless pitcher; he poured with a noble dignity, holding his alembics
high beneath the powerful Mazda globe, his face hot, his shirt-front a
glaring white, the copper sink a scoured red-gold.

He tasted the sacred essence. “Now, by golly, if that isn't pretty near
one fine old cocktail! Kind of a Bronx, and yet like a Manhattan. Ummmmmm!
Hey, Myra, want a little nip before the folks come?”

Bustling into the dining-room, moving each glass a quarter of an inch,
rushing back with resolution implacable on her face her gray and
silver-lace party frock protected by a denim towel, Mrs. Babbitt glared at
him, and rebuked him, “Certainly not!”

“Well,” in a loose, jocose manner, “I think the old man will!”

The cocktail filled him with a whirling exhilaration behind which he was
aware of devastating desires—to rush places in fast motors, to kiss
girls, to sing, to be witty. He sought to regain his lost dignity by
announcing to Matilda:

“I'm going to stick this pitcher of cocktails in the refrigerator. Be sure
you don't upset any of 'em.”


“Well, be sure now. Don't go putting anything on this top shelf.”


“Well, be—” He was dizzy. His voice was thin and distant. “Whee!”
With enormous impressiveness he commanded, “Well, be sure now,” and minced
into the safety of the living-room. He wondered whether he could persuade
“as slow a bunch as Myra and the Littlefields to go some place aft' dinner
and raise Cain and maybe dig up smore booze.” He perceived that he had
gifts of profligacy which had been neglected.

By the time the guests had come, including the inevitable late couple for
whom the others waited with painful amiability, a great gray emptiness had
replaced the purple swirling in Babbitt's head, and he had to force the
tumultuous greetings suitable to a host on Floral Heights.

The guests were Howard Littlefield, the doctor of philosophy who furnished
publicity and comforting economics to the Street Traction Company; Vergil
Gunch, the coal-dealer, equally powerful in the Elks and in the Boosters'
Club; Eddie Swanson the agent for the Javelin Motor Car, who lived across
the street; and Orville Jones, owner of the Lily White Laundry, which
justly announced itself “the biggest, busiest, bulliest cleanerie shoppe
in Zenith.” But, naturally, the most distinguished of all was T.
Cholmondeley Frink, who was not only the author of “Poemulations,” which,
syndicated daily in sixty-seven leading newspapers, gave him one of the
largest audiences of any poet in the world, but also an optimistic
lecturer and the creator of “Ads that Add.” Despite the searching
philosophy and high morality of his verses, they were humorous and easily
understood by any child of twelve; and it added a neat air of pleasantry
to them that they were set not as verse but as prose. Mr. Frink was known
from Coast to Coast as “Chum.”

With them were six wives, more or less—it was hard to tell, so early
in the evening, as at first glance they all looked alike, and as they all
said, “Oh, ISN'T this nice!” in the same tone of determined liveliness. To
the eye, the men were less similar: Littlefield, a hedge-scholar, tall and
horse-faced; Chum Frink, a trifle of a man with soft and mouse-like hair,
advertising his profession as poet by a silk cord on his eye-glasses;
Vergil Gunch, broad, with coarse black hair en brosse; Eddie Swanson, a
bald and bouncing young man who showed his taste for elegance by an
evening waistcoat of figured black silk with glass buttons; Orville Jones,
a steady-looking, stubby, not very memorable person, with a hemp-colored
toothbrush mustache. Yet they were all so well fed and clean, they all
shouted “'Evenin', Georgie!” with such robustness, that they seemed to be
cousins, and the strange thing is that the longer one knew the women, the
less alike they seemed; while the longer one knew the men, the more alike
their bold patterns appeared.

The drinking of the cocktails was as canonical a rite as the mixing. The
company waited, uneasily, hopefully, agreeing in a strained manner that
the weather had been rather warm and slightly cold, but still Babbitt said
nothing about drinks. They became despondent. But when the late couple
(the Swansons) had arrived, Babbitt hinted, “Well, folks, do you think you
could stand breaking the law a little?”

They looked at Chum Frink, the recognized lord of language. Frink pulled
at his eye-glass cord as at a bell-rope, he cleared his throat and said
that which was the custom:

“I'll tell you, George: I'm a law-abiding man, but they do say Verg Gunch
is a regular yegg, and of course he's bigger 'n I am, and I just can't
figure out what I'd do if he tried to force me into anything criminal!”

Gunch was roaring, “Well, I'll take a chance—” when Frink held up
his hand and went on, “So if Verg and you insist, Georgie, I'll park my
car on the wrong side of the street, because I take it for granted that's
the crime you're hinting at!”

There was a great deal of laughter. Mrs. Jones asserted, “Mr. Frink is
simply too killing! You'd think he was so innocent!”

Babbitt clamored, “How did you guess it, Chum? Well, you-all just wait a
moment while I go out and get the—keys to your cars!” Through a
froth of merriment he brought the shining promise, the mighty tray of
glasses with the cloudy yellow cocktails in the glass pitcher in the
center. The men babbled, “Oh, gosh, have a look!” and “This gets me right
where I live!” and “Let me at it!” But Chum Frink, a traveled man and not
unused to woes, was stricken by the thought that the potion might be
merely fruit-juice with a little neutral spirits. He looked timorous as
Babbitt, a moist and ecstatic almoner, held out a glass, but as he tasted
it he piped, “Oh, man, let me dream on! It ain't true, but don't waken me!
Jus' lemme slumber!”

Two hours before, Frink had completed a newspaper lyric beginning:

“I sat alone and groused and thunk, and scratched my head and sighed and
wunk, and groaned, There still are boobs, alack, who'd like the old-time
gin-mill back; that den that makes a sage a loon, the vile and smelly old
saloon! I'll never miss their poison booze, whilst I the bubbling spring
can use, that leaves my head at merry morn as clear as any babe new-born!”

Babbitt drank with the others; his moment's depression was gone; he
perceived that these were the best fellows in the world; he wanted to give
them a thousand cocktails. “Think you could stand another?” he cried. The
wives refused, with giggles, but the men, speaking in a wide, elaborate,
enjoyable manner, gloated, “Well, sooner than have you get sore at me,

“You got a little dividend coming,” said Babbitt to each of them, and each
intoned, “Squeeze it, Georgie, squeeze it!”

When, beyond hope, the pitcher was empty, they stood and talked about
prohibition. The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their
trousers-pockets, and proclaimed their views with the booming profundity
of a prosperous male repeating a thoroughly hackneyed statement about a
matter of which he knows nothing whatever.

“Now, I'll tell you,” said Vergil Gunch; “way I figure it is this, and I
can speak by the book, because I've talked to a lot of doctors and fellows
that ought to know, and the way I see it is that it's a good thing to get
rid of the saloon, but they ought to let a fellow have beer and light

Howard Littlefield observed, “What isn't generally realized is that it's a
dangerous prop'sition to invade the rights of personal liberty. Now, take
this for instance: The King of—Bavaria? I think it was Bavaria—yes,
Bavaria, it was—in 1862, March, 1862, he issued a proclamation
against public grazing of live-stock. The peasantry had stood for
overtaxation without the slightest complaint, but when this proclamation
came out, they rebelled. Or it may have been Saxony. But it just goes to
show the dangers of invading the rights of personal liberty.”

“That's it—no one got a right to invade personal liberty,” said
Orville Jones.

“Just the same, you don't want to forget prohibition is a mighty good
thing for the working-classes. Keeps 'em from wasting their money and
lowering their productiveness,” said Vergil Gunch.

“Yes, that's so. But the trouble is the manner of enforcement,” insisted
Howard Littlefield. “Congress didn't understand the right system. Now, if
I'd been running the thing, I'd have arranged it so that the drinker
himself was licensed, and then we could have taken care of the shiftless
workman—kept him from drinking—and yet not 've interfered with
the rights—with the personal liberty—of fellows like

They bobbed their heads, looked admiringly at one another, and stated,
“That's so, that would be the stunt.”

“The thing that worries me is that a lot of these guys will take to
cocaine,” sighed Eddie Swanson.

They bobbed more violently, and groaned, “That's so, there is a danger of

Chum Frink chanted, “Oh, say, I got hold of a swell new receipt for
home-made beer the other day. You take—”

Gunch interrupted, “Wait! Let me tell you mine!” Littlefield snorted,
“Beer! Rats! Thing to do is to ferment cider!” Jones insisted, “I've got
the receipt that does the business!” Swanson begged, “Oh, say, lemme tell
you the story—” But Frink went on resolutely, “You take and save the
shells from peas, and pour six gallons of water on a bushel of shells and
boil the mixture till—”

Mrs. Babbitt turned toward them with yearning sweetness; Frink hastened to
finish even his best beer-recipe; and she said gaily, “Dinner is served.”

There was a good deal of friendly argument among the men as to which
should go in last, and while they were crossing the hall from the
living-room to the dining-room Vergil Gunch made them laugh by thundering,
“If I can't sit next to Myra Babbitt and hold her hand under the table, I
won't play—I'm goin' home.” In the dining-room they stood
embarrassed while Mrs. Babbitt fluttered, “Now, let me see—Oh, I was
going to have some nice hand-painted place-cards for you but—Oh, let
me see; Mr. Frink, you sit there.”

The dinner was in the best style of women's-magazine art, whereby the
salad was served in hollowed apples, and everything but the invincible
fried chicken resembled something else. Ordinarily the men found it hard
to talk to the women; flirtation was an art unknown on Floral Heights, and
the realms of offices and of kitchens had no alliances. But under the
inspiration of the cocktails, conversation was violent. Each of the men
still had a number of important things to say about prohibition, and now
that each had a loyal listener in his dinner-partner he burst out:

“I found a place where I can get all the hootch I want at eight a quart—”

“Did you read about this fellow that went and paid a thousand dollars for
ten cases of red-eye that proved to be nothing but water? Seems this
fellow was standing on the corner and fellow comes up to him—”

“They say there's a whole raft of stuff being smuggled across at Detroit—”

“What I always say is—what a lot of folks don't realize about

“And then you get all this awful poison stuff—wood alcohol and

“Course I believe in it on principle, but I don't propose to have anybody
telling me what I got to think and do. No American 'll ever stand for

But they all felt that it was rather in bad taste for Orville Jones—and
he not recognized as one of the wits of the occasion anyway—to say,
“In fact, the whole thing about prohibition is this: it isn't the initial
cost, it's the humidity.”

Not till the one required topic had been dealt with did the conversation
become general.

It was often and admiringly said of Vergil Gunch, “Gee, that fellow can
get away with murder! Why, he can pull a Raw One in mixed company and all
the ladies 'll laugh their heads off, but me, gosh, if I crack anything
that's just the least bit off color I get the razz for fair!” Now Gunch
delighted them by crying to Mrs. Eddie Swanson, youngest of the women,
“Louetta! I managed to pinch Eddie's doorkey out of his pocket, and what
say you and me sneak across the street when the folks aren't looking? Got
something,” with a gorgeous leer, “awful important to tell you!”

The women wriggled, and Babbitt was stirred to like naughtiness. “Say,
folks, I wished I dared show you a book I borrowed from Doc Patten!”

“Now, George! The idea!” Mrs. Babbitt warned him.

“This book—racy isn't the word! It's some kind of an anthropological
report about—about Customs, in the South Seas, and what it doesn't
SAY! It's a book you can't buy. Verg, I'll lend it to you.”

“Me first!” insisted Eddie Swanson. “Sounds spicy!”

Orville Jones announced, “Say, I heard a Good One the other day about a
coupla Swedes and their wives,” and, in the best Jewish accent, he
resolutely carried the Good One to a slightly disinfected ending. Gunch
capped it. But the cocktails waned, the seekers dropped back into cautious

Chum Frink had recently been on a lecture-tour among the small towns, and
he chuckled, “Awful good to get back to civilization! I certainly been
seeing some hick towns! I mean—Course the folks there are the best
on earth, but, gee whiz, those Main Street burgs are slow, and you fellows
can't hardly appreciate what it means to be here with a bunch of live

“You bet!” exulted Orville Jones. “They're the best folks on earth, those
small-town folks, but, oh, mama! what conversation! Why, say, they can't
talk about anything but the weather and the ne-oo Ford, by heckalorum!”

“That's right. They all talk about just the same things,” said Eddie

“Don't they, though! They just say the same things over and over,” said
Vergil Gunch.

“Yes, it's really remarkable. They seem to lack all power of looking at
things impersonally. They simply go over and over the same talk about
Fords and the weather and so on.” said Howard Littlefield.

“Still, at that, you can't blame 'em. They haven't got any intellectual
stimulus such as you get up here in the city,” said Chum Frink.

“Gosh, that's right,” said Babbitt. “I don't want you highbrows to get
stuck on yourselves but I must say it keeps a fellow right up on his toes
to sit in with a poet and with Howard, the guy that put the con in
economics! But these small-town boobs, with nobody but each other to talk
to, no wonder they get so sloppy and uncultured in their speech, and so
balled-up in their thinking!”

Orville Jones commented, “And, then take our other advantages—the
movies, frinstance. These Yapville sports think they're all-get-out if
they have one change of bill a week, where here in the city you got your
choice of a dozen diff'rent movies any evening you want to name!”

“Sure, and the inspiration we get from rubbing up against high-class
hustlers every day and getting jam full of ginger,” said Eddie Swanson.

“Same time,” said Babbitt, “no sense excusing these rube burgs too easy.
Fellow's own fault if he doesn't show the initiative to up and beat it to
the city, like we done—did. And, just speaking in confidence among
friends, they're jealous as the devil of a city man. Every time I go up to
Catawba I have to go around apologizing to the fellows I was brought up
with because I've more or less succeeded and they haven't. And if you talk
natural to 'em, way we do here, and show finesse and what you might call a
broad point of view, why, they think you're putting on side. There's my
own half-brother Martin—runs the little ole general store my Dad
used to keep. Say, I'll bet he don't know there is such a thing as a Tux—as
a dinner-jacket. If he was to come in here now, he'd think we were a bunch
of—of—Why, gosh, I swear, he wouldn't know what to think! Yes,
sir, they're jealous!”

Chum Frink agreed, “That's so. But what I mind is their lack of culture
and appreciation of the Beautiful—if you'll excuse me for being
highbrow. Now, I like to give a high-class lecture, and read some of my
best poetry—not the newspaper stuff but the magazine things. But
say, when I get out in the tall grass, there's nothing will take but a lot
of cheesy old stories and slang and junk that if any of us were to indulge
in it here, he'd get the gate so fast it would make his head swim.”

Vergil Gunch summed it up: “Fact is, we're mighty lucky to be living among
a bunch of city-folks, that recognize artistic things and business-punch
equally. We'd feel pretty glum if we got stuck in some Main Street burg
and tried to wise up the old codgers to the kind of life we're used to
here. But, by golly, there's this you got to say for 'em: Every small
American town is trying to get population and modern ideals. And darn if a
lot of 'em don't put it across! Somebody starts panning a rube crossroads,
telling how he was there in 1900 and it consisted of one muddy street,
count 'em, one, and nine hundred human clams. Well, you go back there in
1920, and you find pavements and a swell little hotel and a first-class
ladies' ready-to-wear shop—real perfection, in fact! You don't want to
just look at what these small towns are, you want to look at what they're
aiming to become, and they all got an ambition that in the long run is
going to make 'em the finest spots on earth—they all want to be just
like Zenith!”


However intimate they might be with T. Cholmondeley Frink as a neighbor,
as a borrower of lawn-mowers and monkey-wrenches, they knew that he was
also a Famous Poet and a distinguished advertising-agent; that behind his
easiness were sultry literary mysteries which they could not penetrate.
But to-night, in the gin-evolved confidence, he admitted them to the

“I've got a literary problem that's worrying me to death. I'm doing a
series of ads for the Zeeco Car and I want to make each of 'em a real
little gem—reg'lar stylistic stuff. I'm all for this theory that
perfection is the stunt, or nothing at all, and these are as tough things
as I ever tackled. You might think it'd be harder to do my poems—all
these Heart Topics: home and fireside and happiness—but they're
cinches. You can't go wrong on 'em; you know what sentiments any decent
go-ahead fellow must have if he plays the game, and you stick right to
'em. But the poetry of industrialism, now there's a literary line where
you got to open up new territory. Do you know the fellow who's really THE
American genius? The fellow who you don't know his name and I don't
either, but his work ought to be preserved so's future generations can
judge our American thought and originality to-day? Why, the fellow that
writes the Prince Albert Tobacco ads! Just listen to this:

It's P.A. that jams such joy in jimmy pipes. Say—bet you've often
bent-an-ear to that spill-of-speech about hopping from five to f-i-f-t-y
p-e-r by “stepping on her a bit!” Guess that's going some, all right—BUT
just among ourselves, you better start a rapidwhiz system to keep tabs as
to how fast you'll buzz from low smoke spirits to TIP-TOP-HIGH—once
you line up behind a jimmy pipe that's all aglow with that peach-of-a-pal,
Prince Albert.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Of these naggers the Swansons were perfect specimens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Louetta Swanson did not rouse him.

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

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

“Am I?”

“Ole Eddie kind of on the rampage.”

“Yes. I get so sick of it.”

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

“If I ran away—Oh, well—”

“Anybody ever tell you your hands are awful pretty?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Page Mr. Dannnnnty!” intoned Eddie Swanson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pleased Dante made humble answer.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Didn't Matilda fry it beautifully! And don't you think the soup was
simply delicious?”

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

“Why, George, you don't sound—you sound as if you hadn't really
enjoyed it.”

“Sure I did! Course I did!”

“George! What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, quit being such a bully.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose you imply I have a lot of sweethearts.”

“Yes, I do!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They certainly do!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I will, honestly, I will, George. I know I was bad. Oh, forgive me,
all of you, forgive me—”

She enjoyed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“You bet! That's what it is—a fly!” rejoiced Babbitt.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The others delightedly laid down their papers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that a fact! Not very good, eh?”

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

“Not up to normal, eh?”

“No, I wouldn't hardly say they were.”

The whole council nodded sagely and decided, “Yump, not hardly up to

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

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

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

“You're right, brother! The St. Francis is a swell place—absolutely

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, the Birchdale is a first-class hotel.”

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

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

“That's right, brother. And just look at collars, frinstance—”

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

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

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

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

“My Lord, look at that—beautiful!” said Paul.

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

“I didn't mean—I mean it's lovely the way the light pulls that
picturesque yard, all littered with junk, right out of the darkness,” said

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

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

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

“What time do we get into Pittsburg?” asked Babbitt.

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

“I wonder if we're on time?”

“Yuh, sure, we must be just about on time.”

“No, we aren't—we were seven minutes late, last station.”

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

“No, we're about seven minutes late.”

“Yuh, that's right; seven minutes late.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They became very lively and intimate.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

For once, Babbitt understood him.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“We never thought we'd come to Maine together!”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The other six pages were rather like the first.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What's the matter with Zenith?”

“She's all right!”

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I'll tell you,” said Babbitt. “Now if I'd been handling it—”

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The convention was on.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was accepted.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yea. Cut the sob-stuff,” said W. A. Rogers genially. “You boys know I'm
the village songster? Come on now—sing up:

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


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

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

“Sorry, sir, we haven't any.”

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

“Well, I'll be switched!” said the man from Sparta, with difficulty hiding
his laughter.

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

“No, sir, we have very nice peas in Italy.”

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

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

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

Old Colony Theatre

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Then Babbitt slid into a sea of eloquence:

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

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

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

“Bully! Corking! You had a lot of pep.”

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

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


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

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

“One of the livest banquets that has recently been pulled off occurred
last night in the annual Get-Together Fest of the Zenith Real Estate
Board, held in the Venetian Ball Room of the O'Hearn House. Mine host Gil
O'Hearn had as usual done himself proud and those assembled feasted on
such an assemblage of plates as could be rivaled nowhere west of New York,
if there, and washed down the plenteous feed with the cup which inspired
but did not inebriate in the shape of cider from the farm of Chandler
Mott, president of the board and who acted as witty and efficient

“As Mr. Mott was suffering from slight infection and sore throat, G. F.
Babbitt made the principal talk. Besides outlining the progress of
Torrensing real estate titles, Mr. Babbitt spoke in part as follows:

“'In rising to address you, with my impromptu speech carefully tucked into
my vest pocket, I am reminded of the story of the two Irishmen, Mike and
Pat, who were riding on the Pullman. Both of them, I forgot to say, were
sailors in the Navy. It seems Mike had the lower berth and by and by he
heard a terrible racket from the upper, and when he yelled up to find out
what the trouble was, Pat answered, “Shure an' bedad an' how can I ever
get a night's sleep at all, at all? I been trying to get into this darned
little hammock ever since eight bells!”

“'Now, gentlemen, standing up here before you, I feel a good deal like
Pat, and maybe after I've spieled along for a while, I may feel so darn
small that I'll be able to crawl into a Pullman hammock with no trouble at
all, at all!

“'Gentlemen, it strikes me that each year at this annual occasion when
friend and foe get together and lay down the battle-ax and let the waves
of good-fellowship waft them up the flowery slopes of amity, it behooves
us, standing together eye to eye and shoulder to shoulder as
fellow-citizens of the best city in the world, to consider where we are
both as regards ourselves and the common weal.

“'It is true that even with our 361,000, or practically 362,000,
population, there are, by the last census, almost a score of larger cities
in the United States. But, gentlemen, if by the next census we do not
stand at least tenth, then I'll be the first to request any knocker to
remove my shirt and to eat the same, with the compliments of G. F.
Babbitt, Esquire! It may be true that New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia
will continue to keep ahead of us in size. But aside from these three
cities, which are notoriously so overgrown that no decent white man,
nobody who loves his wife and kiddies and God's good out-o'doors and likes
to shake the hand of his neighbor in greeting, would want to live in them—and
let me tell you right here and now, I wouldn't trade a high-class Zenith
acreage development for the whole length and breadth of Broadway or State
Street!—aside from these three, it's evident to any one with a head
for facts that Zenith is the finest example of American life and
prosperity to be found anywhere.

“'I don't mean to say we're perfect. We've got a lot to do in the way of
extending the paving of motor boulevards, for, believe me, it's the fellow
with four to ten thousand a year, say, and an automobile and a nice little
family in a bungalow on the edge of town, that makes the wheels of
progress go round!

“'That's the type of fellow that's ruling America to-day; in fact, it's
the ideal type to which the entire world must tend, if there's to be a
decent, well-balanced, Christian, go-ahead future for this little old
planet! Once in a while I just naturally sit back and size up this Solid
American Citizen, with a whale of a lot of satisfaction.

“'Our Ideal Citizen—I picture him first and foremost as being busier
than a bird-dog, not wasting a lot of good time in day-dreaming or going
to sassiety teas or kicking about things that are none of his business,
but putting the zip into some store or profession or art. At night he
lights up a good cigar, and climbs into the little old 'bus, and maybe
cusses the carburetor, and shoots out home. He mows the lawn, or sneaks in
some practice putting, and then he's ready for dinner. After dinner he
tells the kiddies a story, or takes the family to the movies, or plays a
few fists of bridge, or reads the evening paper, and a chapter or two of
some good lively Western novel if he has a taste for literature, and maybe
the folks next-door drop in and they sit and visit about their friends and
the topics of the day. Then he goes happily to bed, his conscience clear,
having contributed his mite to the prosperity of the city and to his own

“'In politics and religion this Sane Citizen is the canniest man on earth;
and in the arts he invariably has a natural taste which makes him pick out
the best, every time. In no country in the world will you find so many
reproductions of the Old Masters and of well-known paintings on parlor
walls as in these United States. No country has anything like our number
of phonographs, with not only dance records and comic but also the best
operas, such as Verdi, rendered by the world's highest-paid singers.

“'In other countries, art and literature are left to a lot of shabby bums
living in attics and feeding on booze and spaghetti, but in America the
successful writer or picture-painter is indistinguishable from any other
decent business man; and I, for one, am only too glad that the man who has
the rare skill to season his message with interesting reading matter and
who shows both purpose and pep in handling his literary wares has a chance
to drag down his fifty thousand bucks a year, to mingle with the biggest
executives on terms of perfect equality, and to show as big a house and as
swell a car as any Captain of Industry! But, mind you, it's the
appreciation of the Regular Guy who I have been depicting which has made
this possible, and you got to hand as much credit to him as to the authors

“'Finally, but most important, our Standardized Citizen, even if he is a
bachelor, is a lover of the Little Ones, a supporter of the hearthstone
which is the basic foundation of our civilization, first, last, and all
the time, and the thing that most distinguishes us from the decayed
nations of Europe.

“'I have never yet toured Europe—and as a matter of fact, I don't
know that I care to such an awful lot, as long as there's our own mighty
cities and mountains to be seen—but, the way I figure it out, there
must be a good many of our own sort of folks abroad. Indeed, one of the
most enthusiastic Rotarians I ever met boosted the tenets of
one-hundred-per-cent pep in a burr that smacked o' bonny Scutlond and all
ye bonny braes o' Bobby Burns. But same time, one thing that distinguishes
us from our good brothers, the hustlers over there, is that they're
willing to take a lot off the snobs and journalists and politicians, while
the modern American business man knows how to talk right up for himself,
knows how to make it good and plenty clear that he intends to run the
works. He doesn't have to call in some highbrow hired-man when it's
necessary for him to answer the crooked critics of the sane and efficient
life. He's not dumb, like the old-fashioned merchant. He's got a
vocabulary and a punch.

“'With all modesty, I want to stand up here as a representative business
man and gently whisper, “Here's our kind of folks! Here's the
specifications of the Standardized American Citizen! Here's the new
generation of Americans: fellows with hair on their chests and smiles in
their eyes and adding-machines in their offices. We're not doing any
boasting, but we like ourselves first-rate, and if you don't like us, look
out—better get under cover before the cyclone hits town!”

“'So! In my clumsy way I have tried to sketch the Real He-man, the fellow
with Zip and Bang. And it's because Zenith has so large a proportion of
such men that it's the most stable, the greatest of our cities. New York
also has its thousands of Real Folks, but New York is cursed with
unnumbered foreigners. So are Chicago and San Francisco. Oh, we have a
golden roster of cities—Detroit and Cleveland with their renowned
factories, Cincinnati with its great machine-tool and soap products,
Pittsburg and Birmingham with their steel, Kansas City and Minneapolis and
Omaha that open their bountiful gates on the bosom of the ocean-like
wheatlands, and countless other magnificent sister-cities, for, by the
last census, there were no less than sixty-eight glorious American burgs
with a population of over one hundred thousand! And all these cities stand
together for power and purity, and against foreign ideas and communism—Atlanta
with Hartford, Rochester with Denver, Milwaukee with Indianapolis, Los
Angeles with Scranton, Portland, Maine, with Portland, Oregon. A good live
wire from Baltimore or Seattle or Duluth is the twin-brother of every like
fellow booster from Buffalo or Akron, Fort Worth or Oskaloosa!

“'But it's here in Zenith, the home for manly men and womanly women and
bright kids, that you find the largest proportion of these Regular Guys,
and that's what sets it in a class by itself; that's why Zenith will be
remembered in history as having set the pace for a civilization that shall
endure when the old time-killing ways are gone forever and the day of
earnest efficient endeavor shall have dawned all round the world!

“'Some time I hope folks will quit handing all the credit to a lot of
moth-eaten, mildewed, out-of-date, old, European dumps, and give proper
credit to the famous Zenith spirit, that clean fighting determination to
win Success that has made the little old Zip City celebrated in every land
and clime, wherever condensed milk and pasteboard cartons are known!
Believe me, the world has fallen too long for these worn-out countries
that aren't producing anything but bootblacks and scenery and booze, that
haven't got one bathroom per hundred people, and that don't know a
loose-leaf ledger from a slip-cover; and it's just about time for some
Zenithite to get his back up and holler for a show-down!

“'I tell you, Zenith and her sister-cities are producing a new type of
civilization. There are many resemblances between Zenith and these other
burgs, and I'm darn glad of it! The extraordinary, growing, and sane
standardization of stores, offices, streets, hotels, clothes, and
newspapers throughout the United States shows how strong and enduring a
type is ours.

“'I always like to remember a piece that Chum Frink wrote for the
newspapers about his lecture-tours. It is doubtless familiar to many of
you, but if you will permit me, I'll take a chance and read it. It's one
of the classic poems, like “If” by Kipling, or Ella Wheeler Wilcox's “The
Man Worth While”; and I always carry this clipping of it in my note-book:

“When I am out upon the road, a poet with a pedler's load I mostly sing a
hearty song, and take a chew and hike along, a-handing out my samples fine
of Cheero Brand of sweet sunshine, and peddling optimistic pokes and
stable lines of japes and jokes to Lyceums and other folks, to Rotarys,
Kiwanis' Clubs, and feel I ain't like other dubs. And then old Major Silas
Satan, a brainy cuss who's always waitin', he gives his tail a lively
quirk, and gets in quick his dirty work. He fills me up with mullygrubs;
my hair the backward way he rubs; he makes me lonelier than a hound, on
Sunday when the folks ain't round. And then b' gosh, I would prefer to
never be a lecturer, a-ridin' round in classy cars and smoking fifty-cent
cigars, and never more I want to roam; I simply want to be back home,
a-eatin' flap jacks, hash, and ham, with folks who savvy whom I am!

“But when I get that lonely spell, I simply seek the best hotel, no matter
in what town I be—St. Paul, Toledo, or K.C., in Washington,
Schenectady, in Louisville or Albany. And at that inn it hits my dome that
I again am right at home. If I should stand a lengthy spell in front of
that first-class hotel, that to the drummers loves to cater, across from
some big film theayter; if I should look around and buzz, and wonder in
what town I was, I swear that I could never tell! For all the crowd would
be so swell, in just the same fine sort of jeans they wear at home, and
all the queens with spiffy bonnets on their beans, and all the fellows
standing round a-talkin' always, I'll be bound, the same good jolly kind
of guff, 'bout autos, politics and stuff and baseball players of renown
that Nice Guys talk in my home town!

“Then when I entered that hotel, I'd look around and say, “Well, well!”
For there would be the same news-stand, same magazines and candies grand,
same smokes of famous standard brand, I'd find at home, I'll tell! And
when I saw the jolly bunch come waltzing in for eats at lunch, and
squaring up in natty duds to platters large of French Fried spuds, why
then I'd stand right up and bawl, “I've never left my home at all!” And
all replete I'd sit me down beside some guy in derby brown upon a lobby
chair of plush, and murmur to him in a rush, “Hello, Bill, tell me, good
old scout, how is your stock a-holdin' out?” Then we'd be off, two solid
pals, a-chatterin' like giddy gals of flivvers, weather, home, and wives,
lodge-brothers then for all our lives! So when Sam Satan makes you blue,
good friend, that's what I'd up and do, for in these States where'er you
roam, you never leave your home sweet home.”

“'Yes, sir, these other burgs are our true partners in the great game of
vital living. But let's not have any mistake about this. I claim that
Zenith is the best partner and the fastest-growing partner of the whole
caboodle. I trust I may be pardoned if I give a few statistics to back up
my claims. If they are old stuff to any of you, yet the tidings of
prosperity, like the good news of the Bible, never become tedious to the
ears of a real hustler, no matter how oft the sweet story is told! Every
intelligent person knows that Zenith manufactures more condensed milk and
evaporated cream, more paper boxes, and more lighting-fixtures, than any
other city in the United States, if not in the world. But it is not so
universally known that we also stand second in the manufacture of
package-butter, sixth in the giant realm of motors and automobiles, and
somewhere about third in cheese, leather findings, tar roofing, breakfast
food, and overalls!

“'Our greatness, however, lies not alone in punchful prosperity but
equally in that public spirit, that forward-looking idealism and
brotherhood, which has marked Zenith ever since its foundation by the
Fathers. We have a right, indeed we have a duty toward our fair city, to
announce broadcast the facts about our high schools, characterized by
their complete plants and the finest school-ventilating systems in the
country, bar none; our magnificent new hotels and banks and the paintings
and carved marble in their lobbies; and the Second National Tower, the
second highest business building in any inland city in the entire country.
When I add that we have an unparalleled number of miles of paved streets,
bathrooms vacuum cleaners, and all the other signs of civilization; that
our library and art museum are well supported and housed in convenient and
roomy buildings; that our park-system is more than up to par, with its
handsome driveways adorned with grass, shrubs, and statuary, then I give
but a hint of the all round unlimited greatness of Zenith!

“'I believe, however, in keeping the best to the last. When I remind you
that we have one motor car for every five and seven-eighths persons in the
city, then I give a rock-ribbed practical indication of the kind of
progress and braininess which is synonymous with the name Zenith!

“'But the way of the righteous is not all roses. Before I close I must
call your attention to a problem we have to face, this coming year. The
worst menace to sound government is not the avowed socialists but a lot of
cowards who work under cover—the long-haired gentry who call
themselves “liberals” and “radicals” and “non-partisan” and
“intelligentsia” and God only knows how many other trick names!
Irresponsible teachers and professors constitute the worst of this whole
gang, and I am ashamed to say that several of them are on the faculty of
our great State University! The U. is my own Alma Mater, and I am proud to
be known as an alumni, but there are certain instructors there who seem to
think we ought to turn the conduct of the nation over to hoboes and

“'Those profs are the snakes to be scotched—they and all their
milk-and-water ilk! The American business man is generous to a fault. But
one thing he does demand of all teachers and lecturers and journalists: if
we're going to pay them our good money, they've got to help us by selling
efficiency and whooping it up for rational prosperity! And when it comes
to these blab-mouth, fault-finding, pessimistic, cynical University
teachers, let me tell you that during this golden coming year it's just as
much our duty to bring influence to have those cusses fired as it is to
sell all the real estate and gather in all the good shekels we can.

“'Not till that is done will our sons and daughters see that the ideal of
American manhood and culture isn't a lot of cranks sitting around chewing
the rag about their Rights and their Wrongs, but a God-fearing, hustling,
successful, two-fisted Regular Guy, who belongs to some church with pep
and piety to it, who belongs to the Boosters or the Rotarians or the
Kiwanis, to the Elks or Moose or Red Men or Knights of Columbus or any one
of a score of organizations of good, jolly, kidding, laughing, sweating,
upstanding, lend-a-handing Royal Good Fellows, who plays hard and works
hard, and whose answer to his critics is a square-toed boot that'll teach
the grouches and smart alecks to respect the He-man and get out and root
for Uncle Samuel, U.S.A.!'”


Babbitt promised to become a recognized orator. He entertained a Smoker of
the Men's Club of the Chatham Road presbyterian Church with Irish, Jewish,
and Chinese dialect stories.

But in nothing was he more clearly revealed as the Prominent Citizen than
in his lecture on “Brass Tacks Facts on Real Estate,” as delivered before
the class in Sales Methods at the Zenith Y.M.C.A.

The Advocate-Times reported the lecture so fully that Vergil Gunch said to
Babbitt, “You're getting to be one of the classiest spellbinders in town.
Seems 's if I couldn't pick up a paper without reading about your
well-known eloquence. All this guff ought to bring a lot of business into
your office. Good work! Keep it up!”

“Go on, quit your kidding,” said Babbitt feebly, but at this tribute from
Gunch, himself a man of no mean oratorical fame, he expanded with delight
and wondered how, before his vacation, he could have questioned the joys
of being a solid citizen.


HIS march to greatness was not without disastrous stumbling.

Fame did not bring the social advancement which the Babbitts deserved.
They were not asked to join the Tonawanda Country Club nor invited to the
dances at the Union. Himself, Babbitt fretted, he didn't “care a fat hoot
for all these highrollers, but the wife would kind of like to be Among
Those Present.” He nervously awaited his university class-dinner and an
evening of furious intimacy with such social leaders as Charles McKelvey
the millionaire contractor, Max Kruger the banker, Irving Tate the
tool-manufacturer, and Adelbert Dobson the fashionable interior decorator.
Theoretically he was their friend, as he had been in college, and when he
encountered them they still called him “Georgie,” but he didn't seem to
encounter them often, and they never invited him to dinner (with champagne
and a butler) at their houses on Royal Ridge.

All the week before the class-dinner he thought of them. “No reason why we
shouldn't become real chummy now!”


Like all true American diversions and spiritual outpourings, the dinner of
the men of the Class of 1896 was thoroughly organized. The
dinner-committee hammered like a sales-corporation. Once a week they sent
out reminders:


Old man, are you going to be with us at the livest Friendship Feed the
alumni of the good old U have ever known? The alumnae of '08 turned out
60% strong. Are we boys going to be beaten by a bunch of skirts? Come on,
fellows, let's work up some real genuine enthusiasm and all boost together
for the snappiest dinner yet! Elegant eats, short ginger-talks, and
memories shared together of the brightest, gladdest days of life.

The dinner was held in a private room at the Union Club. The club was a
dingy building, three pretentious old dwellings knocked together, and the
entrance-hall resembled a potato cellar, yet the Babbitt who was free of
the magnificence of the Athletic Club entered with embarrassment. He
nodded to the doorman, an ancient proud negro with brass buttons and a
blue tail-coat, and paraded through the hall, trying to look like a

Sixty men had come to the dinner. They made islands and eddies in the
hall; they packed the elevator and the corners of the private dining-room.
They tried to be intimate and enthusiastic. They appeared to one another
exactly as they had in college—as raw youngsters whose present
mustaches, baldnesses, paunches, and wrinkles were but jovial disguises
put on for the evening. “You haven't changed a particle!” they marveled.
The men whom they could not recall they addressed, “Well, well, great to
see you again, old man. What are you—Still doing the same thing?”

Some one was always starting a cheer or a college song, and it was always
thinning into silence. Despite their resolution to be democratic they
divided into two sets: the men with dress-clothes and the men without.
Babbitt (extremely in dress-clothes) went from one group to the other.
Though he was, almost frankly, out for social conquest, he sought Paul
Riesling first. He found him alone, neat and silent.

Paul sighed, “I'm no good at this handshaking and 'well, look who's here'

“Rats now, Paulibus, loosen up and be a mixer! Finest bunch of boys on
earth! Say, you seem kind of glum. What's matter?”

“Oh, the usual. Run-in with Zilla.”

“Come on! Let's wade in and forget our troubles.”

He kept Paul beside him, but worked toward the spot where Charles McKelvey
stood warming his admirers like a furnace.

McKelvey had been the hero of the Class of '96; not only football captain
and hammer-thrower but debater, and passable in what the State University
considered scholarship. He had gone on, had captured the
construction-company once owned by the Dodsworths, best-known pioneer
family of Zenith. He built state capitols, skyscrapers, railway terminals.
He was a heavy-shouldered, big-chested man, but not sluggish. There was a
quiet humor in his eyes, a syrup-smooth quickness in his speech, which
intimidated politicians and warned reporters; and in his presence the most
intelligent scientist or the most sensitive artist felt thin-blooded,
unworldly, and a little shabby. He was, particularly when he was
influencing legislatures or hiring labor-spies, very easy and lovable and
gorgeous. He was baronial; he was a peer in the rapidly crystallizing
American aristocracy, inferior only to the haughty Old Families. (In
Zenith, an Old Family is one which came to town before 1840.) His power
was the greater because he was not hindered by scruples, by either the
vice or the virtue of the older Puritan tradition.

McKelvey was being placidly merry now with the great, the manufacturers
and bankers, the land-owners and lawyers and surgeons who had chauffeurs
and went to Europe. Babbitt squeezed among them. He liked McKelvey's smile
as much as the social advancement to be had from his favor. If in Paul's
company he felt ponderous and protective, with McKelvey he felt slight and

He heard McKelvey say to Max Kruger, the banker, “Yes, we'll put up Sir
Gerald Doak.” Babbitt's democratic love for titles became a rich relish.
“You know, he's one of the biggest iron-men in England, Max. Horribly
well-off.... Why, hello, old Georgie! Say, Max, George Babbitt is getting
fatter than I am!”

The chairman shouted, “Take your seats, fellows!”

“Shall we make a move, Charley?” Babbitt said casually to McKelvey.

“Right. Hello, Paul! How's the old fiddler? Planning to sit anywhere
special, George? Come on, let's grab some seats. Come on, Max. Georgie, I
read about your speeches in the campaign. Bully work!”

After that, Babbitt would have followed him through fire. He was
enormously busy during the dinner, now bumblingly cheering Paul, now
approaching McKelvey with “Hear, you're going to build some piers in
Brooklyn,” now noting how enviously the failures of the class, sitting by
themselves in a weedy group, looked up to him in his association with the
nobility, now warming himself in the Society Talk of McKelvey and Max
Kruger. They spoke of a “jungle dance” for which Mona Dodsworth had
decorated her house with thousands of orchids. They spoke, with an
excellent imitation of casualness, of a dinner in Washington at which
McKelvey had met a Senator, a Balkan princess, and an English
major-general. McKelvey called the princess “Jenny,” and let it be known
that he had danced with her.

Babbitt was thrilled, but not so weighted with awe as to be silent. If he
was not invited by them to dinner, he was yet accustomed to talking with
bank-presidents, congressmen, and clubwomen who entertained poets. He was
bright and referential with McKelvey:

“Say, Charley, juh remember in Junior year how we chartered a sea-going
hack and chased down to Riverdale, to the big show Madame Brown used to
put on? Remember how you beat up that hick constabule that tried to run us
in, and we pinched the pants-pressing sign and took and hung it on Prof.
Morrison's door? Oh, gosh, those were the days!”

Those, McKelvey agreed, were the days.

Babbitt had reached “It isn't the books you study in college but the
friendships you make that counts” when the men at head of the table broke
into song. He attacked McKelvey:

“It's a shame, uh, shame to drift apart because our, uh, business
activities lie in different fields. I've enjoyed talking over the good old
days. You and Mrs. McKelvey must come to dinner some night.”

Vaguely, “Yes, indeed—”

“Like to talk to you about the growth of real estate out beyond your
Grantsville warehouse. I might be able to tip you off to a thing or two,

“Splendid! We must have dinner together, Georgie. Just let me know. And it
will be a great pleasure to have your wife and you at the house,” said
McKelvey, much less vaguely.

Then the chairman's voice, that prodigious voice which once had roused
them to cheer defiance at rooters from Ohio or Michigan or Indiana,
whooped, “Come on, you wombats! All together in the long yell!” Babbitt
felt that life would never be sweeter than now, when he joined with Paul
Riesling and the newly recovered hero, McKelvey, in:

Baaaaaattle-ax Get an ax, Bal-ax, Get-nax, Who, who? The U.! Hooroo!


The Babbitts invited the McKelveys to dinner, in early December, and the
McKelveys not only accepted but, after changing the date once or twice,
actually came.

The Babbitts somewhat thoroughly discussed the details of the dinner, from
the purchase of a bottle of champagne to the number of salted almonds to
be placed before each person. Especially did they mention the matter of
the other guests. To the last Babbitt held out for giving Paul Riesling
the benefit of being with the McKelveys. “Good old Charley would like Paul
and Verg Gunch better than some highfalutin' Willy boy,” he insisted, but
Mrs. Babbitt interrupted his observations with, “Yes—perhaps—I
think I'll try to get some Lynnhaven oysters,” and when she was quite
ready she invited Dr. J. T. Angus, the oculist, and a dismally respectable
lawyer named Maxwell, with their glittering wives.

Neither Angus nor Maxwell belonged to the Elks or to the Athletic Club;
neither of them had ever called Babbitt “brother” or asked his opinions on
carburetors. The only “human people” whom she invited, Babbitt raged, were
the Littlefields; and Howard Littlefield at times became so statistical
that Babbitt longed for the refreshment of Gunch's, “Well, old
lemon-pie-face, what's the good word?”

Immediately after lunch Mrs. Babbitt began to set the table for the
seven-thirty dinner to the McKelveys, and Babbitt was, by order, home at
four. But they didn't find anything for him to do, and three times Mrs.
Babbitt scolded, “Do please try to keep out of the way!” He stood in the
door of the garage, his lips drooping, and wished that Littlefield or Sam
Doppelbrau or somebody would come along and talk to him. He saw Ted
sneaking about the corner of the house.

“What's the matter, old man?” said Babbitt.

“Is that you, thin, owld one? Gee, Ma certainly is on the warpath! I told
her Rone and I would jus' soon not be let in on the fiesta to-night, and
she bit me. She says I got to take a bath, too. But, say, the Babbitt men
will be some lookers to-night! Little Theodore in a dress-suit!”

“The Babbitt men!” Babbitt liked the sound of it. He put his arm about the
boy's shoulder. He wished that Paul Riesling had a daughter, so that Ted
might marry her. “Yes, your mother is kind of rouncing round, all right,”
he said, and they laughed together, and sighed together, and dutifully
went in to dress.

The McKelveys were less than fifteen minutes late.

Babbitt hoped that the Doppelbraus would see the McKelveys' limousine, and
their uniformed chauffeur, waiting in front.

The dinner was well cooked and incredibly plentiful, and Mrs. Babbitt had
brought out her grandmother's silver candlesticks. Babbitt worked hard. He
was good. He told none of the jokes he wanted to tell. He listened to the
others. He started Maxwell off with a resounding, “Let's hear about your
trip to the Yellowstone.” He was laudatory, extremely laudatory. He found
opportunities to remark that Dr. Angus was a benefactor to humanity,
Maxwell and Howard Littlefield profound scholars, Charles McKelvey an
inspiration to ambitious youth, and Mrs. McKelvey an adornment to the
social circles of Zenith, Washington, New York, Paris, and numbers of
other places.

But he could not stir them. It was a dinner without a soul. For no reason
that was clear to Babbitt, heaviness was over them and they spoke
laboriously and unwillingly.

He concentrated on Lucille McKelvey, carefully not looking at her blanched
lovely shoulder and the tawny silken bared which supported her frock.

“I suppose you'll be going to Europe pretty soon again, won't you?” he

“I'd like awfully to run over to Rome for a few weeks.”

“I suppose you see a lot of pictures and music and curios and everything

“No, what I really go for is: there's a little trattoria on the Via della
Scrofa where you get the best fettuccine in the world.”

“Oh, I—Yes. That must be nice to try that. Yes.”

At a quarter to ten McKelvey discovered with profound regret that his wife
had a headache. He said blithely, as Babbitt helped him with his coat, “We
must lunch together some time, and talk over the old days.”

When the others had labored out, at half-past ten, Babbitt turned to his
wife, pleading, “Charley said he had a corking time and we must lunch—said
they wanted to have us up to the house for dinner before long.”

She achieved, “Oh, it's just been one of those quiet evenings that are
often so much more enjoyable than noisy parties where everybody talks at
once and doesn't really settle down to-nice quiet enjoyment.”

But from his cot on the sleeping-porch he heard her weeping, slowly,
without hope.


For a month they watched the social columns, and waited for a return

As the hosts of Sir Gerald Doak, the McKelveys were headlined all the week
after the Babbitts' dinner. Zenith ardently received Sir Gerald (who had
come to America to buy coal). The newspapers interviewed him on
prohibition, Ireland, unemployment, naval aviation, the rate of exchange,
tea-drinking versus whisky-drinking, the psychology of American women, and
daily life as lived by English county families. Sir Gerald seemed to have
heard of all those topics. The McKelveys gave him a Singhalese dinner, and
Miss Elnora Pearl Bates, society editor of the Advocate-Times, rose to her
highest lark-note. Babbitt read aloud at breakfast-table:

'Twixt the original and Oriental decorations, the strange and delicious
food, and the personalities both of the distinguished guests, the charming
hostess and the noted host, never has Zenith seen a more recherche affair
than the Ceylon dinner-dance given last evening by Mr. and Mrs. Charles
McKelvey to Sir Gerald Doak. Methought as we—fortunate one!—were
privileged to view that fairy and foreign scene, nothing at Monte Carlo or
the choicest ambassadorial sets of foreign capitals could be more lovely.
It is not for nothing that Zenith is in matters social rapidly becoming
known as the choosiest inland city in the country.

Though he is too modest to admit it, Lord Doak gives a cachet to our smart
quartier such as it has not received since the ever-memorable visit of the
Earl of Sittingbourne. Not only is he of the British peerage, but he is
also, on dit, a leader of the British metal industries. As he comes from
Nottingham, a favorite haunt of Robin Hood, though now, we are informed by
Lord Doak, a live modern city of 275,573 inhabitants, and important lace
as well as other industries, we like to think that perhaps through his
veins runs some of the blood, both virile red and bonny blue, of that
earlier lord o' the good greenwood, the roguish Robin.

The lovely Mrs. McKelvey never was more fascinating than last evening in
her black net gown relieved by dainty bands of silver and at her exquisite
waist a glowing cluster of Aaron Ward roses.

Babbitt said bravely, “I hope they don't invite us to meet this Lord Doak
guy. Darn sight rather just have a nice quiet little dinner with Charley
and the Missus.”

At the Zenith Athletic Club they discussed it amply. “I s'pose we'll have
to call McKelvey 'Lord Chaz' from now on,” said Sidney Finkelstein.

“It beats all get-out,” meditated that man of data, Howard Littlefield,
“how hard it is for some people to get things straight. Here they call
this fellow 'Lord Doak' when it ought to be 'Sir Gerald.'”

Babbitt marvelled, “Is that a fact! Well, well! 'Sir Gerald,' eh? That's
what you call um, eh? Well, sir, I'm glad to know that.”

Later he informed his salesmen, “It's funnier 'n a goat the way some folks
that, just because they happen to lay up a big wad, go entertaining famous
foreigners, don't have any more idea 'n a rabbit how to address 'em so's
to make 'em feel at home!”

That evening, as he was driving home, he passed McKelvey's limousine and
saw Sir Gerald, a large, ruddy, pop-eyed, Teutonic Englishman whose
dribble of yellow mustache gave him an aspect sad and doubtful. Babbitt
drove on slowly, oppressed by futility. He had a sudden, unexplained, and
horrible conviction that the McKelveys were laughing at him.

He betrayed his depression by the violence with which he informed his
wife, “Folks that really tend to business haven't got the time to waste on
a bunch like the McKelveys. This society stuff is like any other hobby; if
you devote yourself to it, you get on. But I like to have a chance to
visit with you and the children instead of all this idiotic chasing

They did not speak of the McKelveys again.


It was a shame, at this worried time, to have to think about the

Ed Overbrook was a classmate of Babbitt who had been a failure. He had a
large family and a feeble insurance business out in the suburb of
Dorchester. He was gray and thin and unimportant. He had always been gray
and thin and unimportant. He was the person whom, in any group, you forgot
to introduce, then introduced with extra enthusiasm. He had admired
Babbitt's good-fellowship in college, had admired ever since his power in
real estate, his beautiful house and wonderful clothes. It pleased
Babbitt, though it bothered him with a sense of responsibility. At the
class-dinner he had seen poor Overbrook, in a shiny blue serge
business-suit, being diffident in a corner with three other failures. He
had gone over and been cordial: “Why, hello, young Ed! I hear you're
writing all the insurance in Dorchester now. Bully work!”

They recalled the good old days when Overbrook used to write poetry.
Overbrook embarrassed him by blurting, “Say, Georgie, I hate to think of
how we been drifting apart. I wish you and Mrs. Babbitt would come to
dinner some night.”

Babbitt boomed, “Fine! Sure! Just let me know. And the wife and I want to
have you at the house.” He forgot it, but unfortunately Ed Overbrook did
not. Repeatedly he telephoned to Babbitt, inviting him to dinner. “Might
as well go and get it over,” Babbitt groaned to his wife. “But don't it
simply amaze you the way the poor fish doesn't know the first thing about
social etiquette? Think of him 'phoning me, instead of his wife sitting
down and writing us a regular bid! Well, I guess we're stuck for it.
That's the trouble with all this class-brother hooptedoodle.”

He accepted Overbrook's next plaintive invitation, for an evening two
weeks off. A dinner two weeks off, even a family dinner, never seems so
appalling, till the two weeks have astoundingly disappeared and one comes
dismayed to the ambushed hour. They had to change the date, because of
their own dinner to the McKelveys, but at last they gloomily drove out to
the Overbrooks' house in Dorchester.

It was miserable from the beginning. The Overbrooks had dinner at
six-thirty, while the Babbitts never dined before seven. Babbitt permitted
himself to be ten minutes late. “Let's make it as short as possible. I
think we'll duck out quick. I'll say I have to be at the office extra
early to-morrow,” he planned.

The Overbrook house was depressing. It was the second story of a wooden
two-family dwelling; a place of baby-carriages, old hats hung in the hall,
cabbage-smell, and a Family Bible on the parlor table. Ed Overbrook and
his wife were as awkward and threadbare as usual, and the other guests
were two dreadful families whose names Babbitt never caught and never
desired to catch. But he was touched, and disconcerted, by the tactless
way in which Overbrook praised him: “We're mighty proud to have old George
here to-night! Of course you've all read about his speeches and oratory in
the papers—and the boy's good-looking, too, eh?—but what I
always think of is back in college, and what a great old mixer he was, and
one of the best swimmers in the class.”

Babbitt tried to be jovial; he worked at it; but he could find nothing to
interest him in Overbrook's timorousness, the blankness of the other
guests, or the drained stupidity of Mrs. Overbrook, with her spectacles,
drab skin, and tight-drawn hair. He told his best Irish story, but it sank
like soggy cake. Most bleary moment of all was when Mrs. Overbrook,
peering out of her fog of nursing eight children and cooking and
scrubbing, tried to be conversational.

“I suppose you go to Chicago and New York right along, Mr. Babbitt,” she

“Well, I get to Chicago fairly often.”

“It must be awfully interesting. I suppose you take in all the theaters.”

“Well, to tell the truth, Mrs. Overbrook, thing that hits me best is a
great big beefsteak at a Dutch restaurant in the Loop!”

They had nothing more to say. Babbitt was sorry, but there was no hope;
the dinner was a failure. At ten, rousing out of the stupor of meaningless
talk, he said as cheerily as he could, “'Fraid we got to be starting, Ed.
I've got a fellow coming to see me early to-morrow.” As Overbrook helped
him with his coat, Babbitt said, “Nice to rub up on the old days! We must
have lunch together, P.D.Q.”

Mrs. Babbitt sighed, on their drive home, “It was pretty terrible. But how
Mr. Overbrook does admire you!”

“Yep. Poor cuss! Seems to think I'm a little tin archangel, and the
best-looking man in Zenith.”

“Well, you're certainly not that but—Oh, Georgie, you don't suppose
we have to invite them to dinner at our house now, do we?”

“Ouch! Gaw, I hope not!”

“See here, now, George! You didn't say anything about it to Mr. Overbrook,
did you?”

“No! Gee! No! Honest, I didn't! Just made a bluff about having him to
lunch some time.”

“Well.... Oh, dear.... I don't want to hurt their feelings. But I don't
see how I could stand another evening like this one. And suppose somebody
like Dr. and Mrs. Angus came in when we had the Overbrooks there, and
thought they were friends of ours!”

For a week they worried, “We really ought to invite Ed and his wife, poor
devils!” But as they never saw the Overbrooks, they forgot them, and after
a month or two they said, “That really was the best way, just to let it
slide. It wouldn't be kind to THEM to have them here. They'd feel so out
of place and hard-up in our home.”

They did not speak of the Overbrooks again.


THE certainty that he was not going to be accepted by the McKelveys made
Babbitt feel guilty and a little absurd. But he went more regularly to the
Elks; at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon he was oratorical regarding the
wickedness of strikes; and again he saw himself as a Prominent Citizen.

His clubs and associations were food comfortable to his spirit.

Of a decent man in Zenith it was required that he should belong to one,
preferably two or three, of the innumerous “lodges” and
prosperity-boosting lunch-clubs; to the Rotarians, the Kiwanis, or the
Boosters; to the Oddfellows, Moose, Masons, Red Men, Woodmen, Owls,
Eagles, Maccabees, Knights of Pythias, Knights of Columbus, and other
secret orders characterized by a high degree of heartiness, sound morals,
and reverence for the Constitution. There were four reasons for joining
these orders: It was the thing to do. It was good for business, since
lodge-brothers frequently became customers. It gave to Americans unable to
become Geheimrate or Commendatori such unctuous honorifics as High Worthy
Recording Scribe and Grand Hoogow to add to the commonplace distinctions
of Colonel, Judge, and Professor. And it permitted the swaddled American
husband to stay away from home for one evening a week. The lodge was his
piazza, his pavement cafe. He could shoot pool and talk man-talk and be
obscene and valiant.

Babbitt was what he called a “joiner” for all these reasons.

Behind the gold and scarlet banner of his public achievements was the dun
background of office-routine: leases, sales-contracts, lists of properties
to rent. The evenings of oratory and committees and lodges stimulated him
like brandy, but every morning he was sandy-tongued. Week by week he
accumulated nervousness. He was in open disagreement with his outside
salesman, Stanley Graff; and once, though her charms had always kept him
nickeringly polite to her, he snarled at Miss McGoun for changing his

But in the presence of Paul Riesling he relaxed. At least once a week they
fled from maturity. On Saturday they played golf, jeering, “As a golfer,
you're a fine tennis-player,” or they motored all Sunday afternoon,
stopping at village lunchrooms to sit on high stools at a counter and
drink coffee from thick cups. Sometimes Paul came over in the evening with
his violin, and even Zilla was silent as the lonely man who had lost his
way and forever crept down unfamiliar roads spun out his dark soul in


Nothing gave Babbitt more purification and publicity than his labors for
the Sunday School.

His church, the Chatham Road Presbyterian, was one of the largest and
richest, one of the most oaken and velvety, in Zenith. The pastor was the
Reverend John Jennison Drew, M.A., D.D., LL.D. (The M.A. and the D.D. were
from Elbert University, Nebraska, the LL.D. from Waterbury College,
Oklahoma.) He was eloquent, efficient, and versatile. He presided at
meetings for the denunciation of unions or the elevation of domestic
service, and confided to the audiences that as a poor boy he had carried
newspapers. For the Saturday edition of the Evening Advocate he wrote
editorials on “The Manly Man's Religion” and “The Dollars and Sense Value
of Christianity,” which were printed in bold type surrounded by a wiggly
border. He often said that he was “proud to be known as primarily a
business man” and that he certainly was not going to “permit the old Satan
to monopolize all the pep and punch.” He was a thin, rustic-faced young
man with gold spectacles and a bang of dull brown hair, but when he hurled
himself into oratory he glowed with power. He admitted that he was too
much the scholar and poet to imitate the evangelist, Mike Monday, yet he
had once awakened his fold to new life, and to larger collections, by the
challenge, “My brethren, the real cheap skate is the man who won't lend to
the Lord!”

He had made his church a true community center. It contained everything
but a bar. It had a nursery, a Thursday evening supper with a short bright
missionary lecture afterward, a gymnasium, a fortnightly motion-picture
show, a library of technical books for young workmen—though,
unfortunately, no young workman ever entered the church except to wash the
windows or repair the furnace—and a sewing-circle which made short
little pants for the children of the poor while Mrs. Drew read aloud from
earnest novels.

Though Dr. Drew's theology was Presbyterian, his church-building was
gracefully Episcopalian. As he said, it had the “most perdurable features
of those noble ecclesiastical monuments of grand Old England which stand
as symbols of the eternity of faith, religious and civil.” It was built of
cheery iron-spot brick in an improved Gothic style, and the main
auditorium had indirect lighting from electric globes in lavish alabaster

On a December morning when the Babbitts went to church, Dr. John Jennison
Drew was unusually eloquent. The crowd was immense. Ten brisk young
ushers, in morning coats with white roses, were bringing folding chairs up
from the basement. There was an impressive musical program, conducted by
Sheldon Smeeth, educational director of the Y.M.C.A., who also sang the
offertory. Babbitt cared less for this, because some misguided person had
taught young Mr. Smeeth to smile, smile, smile while he was singing, but
with all the appreciation of a fellow-orator he admired Dr. Drew's sermon.
It had the intellectual quality which distinguished the Chatham Road
congregation from the grubby chapels on Smith Street.

“At this abundant harvest-time of all the year,” Dr. Drew chanted, “when,
though stormy the sky and laborious the path to the drudging wayfarer, yet
the hovering and bodiless spirit swoops back o'er all the labors and
desires of the past twelve months, oh, then it seems to me there sounds
behind all our apparent failures the golden chorus of greeting from those
passed happily on; and lo! on the dim horizon we see behind dolorous
clouds the mighty mass of mountains—mountains of melody, mountains
of mirth, mountains of might!”

“I certainly do like a sermon with culture and thought in it,” meditated

At the end of the service he was delighted when the pastor, actively
shaking hands at the door, twittered, “Oh, Brother Babbitt, can you wait a
jiffy? Want your advice.”

“Sure, doctor! You bet!”

“Drop into my office. I think you'll like the cigars there.” Babbitt did
like the cigars. He also liked the office, which was distinguished from
other offices only by the spirited change of the familiar wall-placard to
“This is the Lord's Busy Day.” Chum Frink came in, then William W.

Mr. Eathorne was the seventy-year-old president of the First State Bank of
Zenith. He still wore the delicate patches of side-whiskers which had been
the uniform of bankers in 1870. If Babbitt was envious of the Smart Set of
the McKelveys, before William Washington Eathorne he was reverent. Mr.
Eathorne had nothing to do with the Smart Set. He was above it. He was the
great-grandson of one of the five men who founded Zenith, in 1792, and he
was of the third generation of bankers. He could examine credits, make
loans, promote or injure a man's business. In his presence Babbitt
breathed quickly and felt young.

The Reverend Dr. Drew bounced into the room and flowered into speech:

“I've asked you gentlemen to stay so I can put a proposition before you.
The Sunday School needs bucking up. It's the fourth largest in Zenith, but
there's no reason why we should take anybody's dust. We ought to be first.
I want to request you, if you will, to form a committee of advice and
publicity for the Sunday School; look it over and make any suggestions for
its betterment, and then, perhaps, see that the press gives us some
attention—give the public some really helpful and constructive news
instead of all these murders and divorces.”

“Excellent,” said the banker.

Babbitt and Frink were enchanted to join him.


If you had asked Babbitt what his religion was, he would have answered in
sonorous Boosters'-Club rhetoric, “My religion is to serve my fellow men,
to honor my brother as myself, and to do my bit to make life happier for
one and all.” If you had pressed him for more detail, he would have
announced, “I'm a member of the Presbyterian Church, and naturally, I
accept its doctrines.” If you had been so brutal as to go on, he would
have protested, “There's no use discussing and arguing about religion; it
just stirs up bad feeling.”

Actually, the content of his theology was that there was a supreme being
who had tried to make us perfect, but presumably had failed; that if one
was a Good Man he would go to a place called Heaven (Babbitt unconsciously
pictured it as rather like an excellent hotel with a private garden), but
if one was a Bad Man, that is, if he murdered or committed burglary or
used cocaine or had mistresses or sold non-existent real estate, he would
be punished. Babbitt was uncertain, however, about what he called “this
business of Hell.” He explained to Ted, “Of course I'm pretty liberal; I
don't exactly believe in a fire-and-brimstone Hell. Stands to reason,
though, that a fellow can't get away with all sorts of Vice and not get
nicked for it, see how I mean?”

Upon this theology he rarely pondered. The kernel of his practical
religion was that it was respectable, and beneficial to one's business, to
be seen going to services; that the church kept the Worst Elements from
being still worse; and that the pastor's sermons, however dull they might
seem at the time of taking, yet had a voodooistic power which “did a
fellow good—kept him in touch with Higher Things.”

His first investigations for the Sunday School Advisory Committee did not
inspire him.

He liked the Busy Folks' Bible Class, composed of mature men and women and
addressed by the old-school physician, Dr. T. Atkins Jordan, in a
sparkling style comparable to that of the more refined humorous
after-dinner speakers, but when he went down to the junior classes he was
disconcerted. He heard Sheldon Smeeth, educational director of the
Y.M.C.A. and leader of the church-choir, a pale but strenuous young man
with curly hair and a smile, teaching a class of sixteen-year-old boys.
Smeeth lovingly admonished them, “Now, fellows, I'm going to have a Heart
to Heart Talk Evening at my house next Thursday. We'll get off by
ourselves and be frank about our Secret Worries. You can just tell old
Sheldy anything, like all the fellows do at the Y. I'm going to explain
frankly about the horrible practises a kiddy falls into unless he's guided
by a Big Brother, and about the perils and glory of Sex.” Old Sheldy
beamed damply; the boys looked ashamed; and Babbitt didn't know which way
to turn his embarrassed eyes.

Less annoying but also much duller were the minor classes which were being
instructed in philosophy and Oriental ethnology by earnest spinsters. Most
of them met in the highly varnished Sunday School room, but there was an
overflow to the basement, which was decorated with varicose water-pipes
and lighted by small windows high up in the oozing wall. What Babbitt saw,
however, was the First Congregational Church of Catawba. He was back in
the Sunday School of his boyhood. He smelled again that polite stuffiness
to be found only in church parlors; he recalled the case of drab Sunday
School books: “Hetty, a Humble Heroine” and “Josephus, a Lad of
Palestine;” he thumbed once more the high-colored text-cards which no boy
wanted but no boy liked to throw away, because they were somehow sacred;
he was tortured by the stumbling rote of thirty-five years ago, as in the
vast Zenith church he listened to:

“Now, Edgar, you read the next verse. What does it mean when it says it's
easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye? What does this teach us?
Clarence! Please don't wiggle so! If you had studied your lesson you
wouldn't be so fidgety. Now, Earl, what is the lesson Jesus was trying to
teach his disciples? The one thing I want you to especially remember,
boys, is the words, 'With God all things are possible.' Just think of that
always—Clarence, PLEASE pay attention—just say 'With God all
things are possible' whenever you feel discouraged, and, Alec, will you
read the next verse; if you'd pay attention you wouldn't lose your place!”

Drone—drone—drone—gigantic bees that boomed in a cavern
of drowsiness—

Babbitt started from his open-eyed nap, thanked the teacher for “the
privilege of listening to her splendid teaching,” and staggered on to the
next circle.

After two weeks of this he had no suggestions whatever for the Reverend
Dr. Drew.

Then he discovered a world of Sunday School journals, an enormous and busy
domain of weeklies and monthlies which were as technical, as practical and
forward-looking, as the real-estate columns or the shoe-trade magazines.
He bought half a dozen of them at a religious book-shop and till after
midnight he read them and admired.

He found many lucrative tips on “Focusing Appeals,” “Scouting for New
Members,” and “Getting Prospects to Sign up with the Sunday School.” He
particularly liked the word “prospects,” and he was moved by the rubric:

“The moral springs of the community's life lie deep in its Sunday Schools—its
schools of religious instruction and inspiration. Neglect now means loss
of spiritual vigor and moral power in years to come.... Facts like the
above, followed by a straight-arm appeal, will reach folks who can never
be laughed or jollied into doing their part.”

Babbitt admitted, “That's so. I used to skin out of the ole Sunday School
at Catawba every chance I got, but same time, I wouldn't be where I am
to-day, maybe, if it hadn't been for its training in—in moral power.
And all about the Bible. (Great literature. Have to read some of it again,
one of these days).”

How scientifically the Sunday School could be organized he learned from an
article in the Westminster Adult Bible Class:

“The second vice-president looks after the fellowship of the class. She
chooses a group to help her. These become ushers. Every one who comes gets
a glad hand. No one goes away a stranger. One member of the group stands
on the doorstep and invites passers-by to come in.”

Perhaps most of all Babbitt appreciated the remarks by William H. Ridgway
in the Sunday School Times:

“If you have a Sunday School class without any pep and get-up-and-go in
it, that is, without interest, that is uncertain in attendance, that acts
like a fellow with the spring fever, let old Dr. Ridgway write you a
prescription. Rx. Invite the Bunch for Supper.”

The Sunday School journals were as well rounded as they were practical.
They neglected none of the arts. As to music the Sunday School Times
advertised that C. Harold Lowden, “known to thousands through his sacred
compositions,” had written a new masterpiece, “entitled 'Yearning for
You.' The poem, by Harry D. Kerr, is one of the daintiest you could
imagine and the music is indescribably beautiful. Critics are agreed that
it will sweep the country. May be made into a charming sacred song by
substituting the hymn words, 'I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.'”

Even manual training was adequately considered. Babbitt noted an ingenious
way of illustrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

“Model for Pupils to Make. Tomb with Rolling Door.—Use a square
covered box turned upside down. Pull the cover forward a little to form a
groove at the bottom. Cut a square door, also cut a circle of cardboard to
more than cover the door. Cover the circular door and the tomb thickly
with stiff mixture of sand, flour and water and let it dry. It was the
heavy circular stone over the door the women found 'rolled away' on Easter
morning. This is the story we are to 'Go-tell.'”

In their advertisements the Sunday School journals were thoroughly
efficient. Babbitt was interested in a preparation which “takes the place
of exercise for sedentary men by building up depleted nerve tissue,
nourishing the brain and the digestive system.” He was edified to learn
that the selling of Bibles was a hustling and strictly competitive
industry, and as an expert on hygiene he was pleased by the Sanitary
Communion Outfit Company's announcement of “an improved and satisfactory
outfit throughout, including highly polished beautiful mahogany tray. This
tray eliminates all noise, is lighter and more easily handled than others
and is more in keeping with the furniture of the church than a tray of any
other material.”


He dropped the pile of Sunday School journals.

He pondered, “Now, there's a real he-world. Corking!

“Ashamed I haven't sat in more. Fellow that's an influence in the
community—shame if he doesn't take part in a real virile hustling
religion. Sort of Christianity Incorporated, you might say.

“But with all reverence.

“Some folks might claim these Sunday School fans are undignified and
unspiritual and so on. Sure! Always some skunk to spring things like that!
Knocking and sneering and tearing-down—so much easier than building
up. But me, I certainly hand it to these magazines. They've brought ole
George F. Babbitt into camp, and that's the answer to the critics!

“The more manly and practical a fellow is, the more he ought to lead the
enterprising Christian life. Me for it! Cut out this carelessness and
boozing and—Rone! Where the devil you been? This is a fine time o'
night to be coming in!”



THERE are but three or four old houses in Floral Heights, and in Floral
Heights an old house is one which was built before 1880. The largest of
these is the residence of William Washington Eathorne, president of the
First State Bank.

The Eathorne Mansion preserves the memory of the “nice parts” of Zenith as
they appeared from 1860 to 1900. It is a red brick immensity with gray
sandstone lintels and a roof of slate in courses of red, green, and
dyspeptic yellow. There are two anemic towers, one roofed with copper, the
other crowned with castiron ferns. The porch is like an open tomb; it is
supported by squat granite pillars above which hang frozen cascades of
brick. At one side of the house is a huge stained-glass window in the
shape of a keyhole.

But the house has an effect not at all humorous. It embodies the heavy
dignity of those Victorian financiers who ruled the generation between the
pioneers and the brisk “sales-engineers” and created a somber oligarchy by
gaining control of banks, mills, land, railroads, mines. Out of the dozen
contradictory Zeniths which together make up the true and complete Zenith,
none is so powerful and enduring yet none so unfamiliar to the citizens as
the small, still, dry, polite, cruel Zenith of the William Eathornes; and
for that tiny hierarchy the other Zeniths unwittingly labor and
insignificantly die.

Most of the castles of the testy Victorian tetrarchs are gone now or
decayed into boarding-houses, but the Eathorne Mansion remains virtuous
and aloof, reminiscent of London, Back Bay, Rittenhouse Square. Its marble
steps are scrubbed daily, the brass plate is reverently polished, and the
lace curtains are as prim and superior as William Washington Eathorne

With a certain awe Babbitt and Chum Frink called on Eathorne for a meeting
of the Sunday School Advisory Committee; with uneasy stillness they
followed a uniformed maid through catacombs of reception-rooms to the
library. It was as unmistakably the library of a solid old banker as
Eathorne's side-whiskers were the side-whiskers of a solid old banker. The
books were most of them Standard Sets, with the correct and traditional
touch of dim blue, dim gold, and glossy calf-skin. The fire was exactly
correct and traditional; a small, quiet, steady fire, reflected by
polished fire-irons. The oak desk was dark and old and altogether perfect;
the chairs were gently supercilious.

Eathorne's inquiries as to the healths of Mrs. Babbitt, Miss Babbitt, and
the Other Children were softly paternal, but Babbitt had nothing with
which to answer him. It was indecent to think of using the “How's tricks,
ole socks?” which gratified Vergil Gunch and Frink and Howard Littlefield—men
who till now had seemed successful and urbane. Babbitt and Frink sat
politely, and politely did Eathorne observe, opening his thin lips just
wide enough to dismiss the words, “Gentlemen, before we begin our
conference—you may have felt the cold in coming here—so good
of you to save an old man the journey—shall we perhaps have a whisky

So well trained was Babbitt in all the conversation that befits a Good
Fellow that he almost disgraced himself with “Rather than make trouble,
and always providin' there ain't any enforcement officers hiding in the
waste-basket—” The words died choking in his throat. He bowed in
flustered obedience. So did Chum Frink.

Eathorne rang for the maid.

The modern and luxurious Babbitt had never seen any one ring for a servant
in a private house, except during meals. Himself, in hotels, had rung for
bell-boys, but in the house you didn't hurt Matilda's feelings; you went
out in the hall and shouted for her. Nor had he, since prohibition, known
any one to be casual about drinking. It was extraordinary merely to sip
his toddy and not cry, “Oh, maaaaan, this hits me right where I live!” And
always, with the ecstasy of youth meeting greatness, he marveled, “That
little fuzzy-face there, why, he could make me or break me! If he told my
banker to call my loans—! Gosh! That quarter-sized squirt! And
looking like he hadn't got a single bit of hustle to him! I wonder—Do
we Boosters throw too many fits about pep?”

From this thought he shuddered away, and listened devoutly to Eathorne's
ideas on the advancement of the Sunday School, which were very clear and
very bad.

Diffidently Babbitt outlined his own suggestions:

“I think if you analyze the needs of the school, in fact, going right at
it as if it was a merchandizing problem, of course the one basic and
fundamental need is growth. I presume we're all agreed we won't be
satisfied till we build up the biggest darn Sunday School in the whole
state, so the Chatham Road Presbyterian won't have to take anything off
anybody. Now about jazzing up the campaign for prospects: they've already
used contesting teams, and given prizes to the kids that bring in the most
members. And they made a mistake there: the prizes were a lot of folderols
and doodads like poetry books and illustrated Testaments, instead of
something a real live kid would want to work for, like real cash or a
speedometer for his motor cycle. Course I suppose it's all fine and dandy
to illustrate the lessons with these decorated book-marks and blackboard
drawings and so on, but when it comes down to real he-hustling, getting
out and drumming up customers—or members, I mean, why, you got to
make it worth a fellow's while.

“Now, I want to propose two stunts: First, divide the Sunday School into
four armies, depending on age. Everybody gets a military rank in his own
army according to how many members he brings in, and the duffers that lie
down on us and don't bring in any, they remain privates. The pastor and
superintendent rank as generals. And everybody has got to give salutes and
all the rest of that junk, just like a regular army, to make 'em feel it's
worth while to get rank.

“Then, second: Course the school has its advertising committee, but, Lord,
nobody ever really works good—nobody works well just for the love of
it. The thing to do is to be practical and up-to-date, and hire a real
paid press-agent for the Sunday School-some newspaper fellow who can give
part of his time.”

“Sure, you bet!” said Chum Frink.

“Think of the nice juicy bits he could get in!” Babbitt crowed. “Not only
the big, salient, vital facts, about how fast the Sunday School—and
the collection—is growing, but a lot of humorous gossip and kidding:
about how some blowhard fell down on his pledge to get new members, or the
good time the Sacred Trinity class of girls had at their wieniewurst
party. And on the side, if he had time, the press-agent might even boost
the lessons themselves—do a little advertising for all the Sunday
Schools in town, in fact. No use being hoggish toward the rest of 'em,
providing we can keep the bulge on 'em in membership. Frinstance, he might
get the papers to—Course I haven't got a literary training like
Frink here, and I'm just guessing how the pieces ought to be written, but
take frinstance, suppose the week's lesson is about Jacob; well, the
press-agent might get in something that would have a fine moral, and yet
with a trick headline that'd get folks to read it—say like: 'Jake
Fools the Old Man; Makes Getaway with Girl and Bankroll.' See how I mean?
That'd get their interest! Now, course, Mr. Eathorne, you're conservative,
and maybe you feel these stunts would be undignified, but honestly, I
believe they'd bring home the bacon.”

Eathorne folded his hands on his comfortable little belly and purred like
an aged pussy:

“May I say, first, that I have been very much pleased by your analysis of
the situation, Mr. Babbitt. As you surmise, it's necessary in My Position
to be conservative, and perhaps endeavor to maintain a certain standard of
dignity. Yet I think you'll find me somewhat progressive. In our bank, for
example, I hope I may say that we have as modern a method of publicity and
advertising as any in the city. Yes, I fancy you'll find us oldsters quite
cognizant of the shifting spiritual values of the age. Yes, oh yes. And
so, in fact, it pleases me to be able to say that though personally I
might prefer the sterner Presbyterianism of an earlier era—”

Babbitt finally gathered that Eathorne was willing.

Chum Frink suggested as part-time press-agent one Kenneth Escott, reporter
on the Advocate-Times.

They parted on a high plane of amity and Christian helpfulness.

Babbitt did not drive home, but toward the center of the city. He wished
to be by himself and exult over the beauty of intimacy with William
Washington Eathorne.


A snow-blanched evening of ringing pavements and eager lights.

Great golden lights of trolley-cars sliding along the packed snow of the
roadway. Demure lights of little houses. The belching glare of a distant
foundry, wiping out the sharp-edged stars. Lights of neighborhood drug
stores where friends gossiped, well pleased, after the day's work.

The green light of a police-station, and greener radiance on the snow; the
drama of a patrol-wagon—gong beating like a terrified heart,
headlights scorching the crystal-sparkling street, driver not a chauffeur
but a policeman proud in uniform, another policeman perilously dangling on
the step at the back, and a glimpse of the prisoner. A murderer, a
burglar, a coiner cleverly trapped?

An enormous graystone church with a rigid spire; dim light in the Parlors,
and cheerful droning of choir-practise. The quivering green mercury-vapor
light of a photo-engraver's loft. Then the storming lights of down-town;
parked cars with ruby tail-lights; white arched entrances to movie
theaters, like frosty mouths of winter caves; electric signs—serpents
and little dancing men of fire; pink-shaded globes and scarlet jazz music
in a cheap up-stairs dance-hall; lights of Chinese restaurants, lanterns
painted with cherry-blossoms and with pagodas, hung against lattices of
lustrous gold and black. Small dirty lamps in small stinking lunchrooms.
The smart shopping-district, with rich and quiet light on crystal pendants
and furs and suave surfaces of polished wood in velvet-hung reticent
windows. High above the street, an unexpected square hanging in the
darkness, the window of an office where some one was working late, for a
reason unknown and stimulating. A man meshed in bankruptcy, an ambitious
boy, an oil-man suddenly become rich?

The air was shrewd, the snow was deep in uncleared alleys, and beyond the
city, Babbitt knew, were hillsides of snow-drift among wintry oaks, and
the curving ice-enchanted river.

He loved his city with passionate wonder. He lost the accumulated
weariness of business—worry and expansive oratory; he felt young and
potential. He was ambitious. It was not enough to be a Vergil Gunch, an
Orville Jones. No. “They're bully fellows, simply lovely, but they haven't
got any finesse.” No. He was going to be an Eathorne; delicately rigorous,
coldly powerful.

“That's the stuff. The wallop in the velvet mitt. Not let anybody get
fresh with you. Been getting careless about my diction. Slang. Colloquial.
Cut it out. I was first-rate at rhetoric in college. Themes on—Anyway,
not bad. Had too much of this hooptedoodle and good-fellow stuff. I—Why
couldn't I organize a bank of my own some day? And Ted succeed me!”

He drove happily home, and to Mrs. Babbitt he was a William Washington
Eathorne, but she did not notice it.


Young Kenneth Escott, reporter on the Advocate-Times was appointed
press-agent of the Chatham Road Presbyterian Sunday School. He gave six
hours a week to it. At least he was paid for giving six hours a week. He
had friends on the Press and the Gazette and he was not (officially) known
as a press-agent. He procured a trickle of insinuating items about
neighborliness and the Bible, about class-suppers, jolly but educational,
and the value of the Prayer-life in attaining financial success.

The Sunday School adopted Babbitt's system of military ranks. Quickened by
this spiritual refreshment, it had a boom. It did not become the largest
school in Zenith—the Central Methodist Church kept ahead of it by
methods which Dr. Drew scored as “unfair, undignified, un-American,
ungentlemanly, and unchristian”—but it climbed from fourth place to
second, and there was rejoicing in heaven, or at least in that portion of
heaven included in the parsonage of Dr. Drew, while Babbitt had much
praise and good repute.

He had received the rank of colonel on the general staff of the school. He
was plumply pleased by salutes on the street from unknown small boys; his
ears were tickled to ruddy ecstasy by hearing himself called “Colonel;”
and if he did not attend Sunday School merely to be thus exalted,
certainly he thought about it all the way there.

He was particularly pleasant to the press-agent, Kenneth Escott; he took
him to lunch at the Athletic Club and had him at the house for dinner.

Like many of the cocksure young men who forage about cities in apparent
contentment and who express their cynicism in supercilious slang, Escott
was shy and lonely. His shrewd starveling face broadened with joy at
dinner, and he blurted, “Gee whillikins, Mrs. Babbitt, if you knew how
good it is to have home eats again!”

Escott and Verona liked each other. All evening they “talked about ideas.”
They discovered that they were Radicals. True, they were sensible about
it. They agreed that all communists were criminals; that this vers libre
was tommy-rot; and that while there ought to be universal disarmament, of
course Great Britain and the United States must, on behalf of oppressed
small nations, keep a navy equal to the tonnage of all the rest of the
world. But they were so revolutionary that they predicted (to Babbitt's
irritation) that there would some day be a Third Party which would give
trouble to the Republicans and Democrats.

Escott shook hands with Babbitt three times, at parting.

Babbitt mentioned his extreme fondness for Eathorne.

Within a week three newspapers presented accounts of Babbitt's sterling
labors for religion, and all of them tactfully mentioned William
Washington Eathorne as his collaborator.

Nothing had brought Babbitt quite so much credit at the Elks, the Athletic
Club, and the Boosters'. His friends had always congratulated him on his
oratory, but in their praise was doubt, for even in speeches advertising
the city there was something highbrow and degenerate, like writing poetry.
But now Orville Jones shouted across the Athletic dining-room, “Here's the
new director of the First State Bank!” Grover Butterbaugh, the eminent
wholesaler of plumbers' supplies, chuckled, “Wonder you mix with common
folks, after holding Eathorne's hand!” And Emil Wengert, the jeweler, was
at last willing to discuss buying a house in Dorchester.


When the Sunday School campaign was finished, Babbitt suggested to Kenneth
Escott, “Say, how about doing a little boosting for Doc Drew personally?”

Escott grinned. “You trust the doc to do a little boosting for himself,
Mr. Babbitt! There's hardly a week goes by without his ringing up the
paper to say if we'll chase a reporter up to his Study, he'll let us in on
the story about the swell sermon he's going to preach on the wickedness of
short skirts, or the authorship of the Pentateuch. Don't you worry about
him. There's just one better publicity-grabber in town, and that's this
Dora Gibson Tucker that runs the Child Welfare and the Americanization
League, and the only reason she's got Drew beaten is because she has got
SOME brains!”

“Well, now Kenneth, I don't think you ought to talk that way about the
doctor. A preacher has to watch his interests, hasn't he? You remember
that in the Bible about—about being diligent in the Lord's business,
or something?”

“All right, I'll get something in if you want me to, Mr. Babbitt, but I'll
have to wait till the managing editor is out of town, and then blackjack
the city editor.”

Thus it came to pass that in the Sunday Advocate-Times, under a picture of
Dr. Drew at his earnestest, with eyes alert, jaw as granite, and rustic
lock flamboyant, appeared an inscription—a wood-pulp tablet
conferring twenty-four hours' immortality:

The Rev. Dr. John Jennison Drew, M.A., pastor of the beautiful Chatham
Road Presbyterian Church in lovely Floral Heights, is a wizard
soul-winner. He holds the local record for conversions. During his
shepherdhood an average of almost a hundred sin-weary persons per year
have declared their resolve to lead a new life and have found a harbor of
refuge and peace.

Everything zips at the Chatham Road Church. The subsidiary organizations
are keyed to the top-notch of efficiency. Dr. Drew is especially keen on
good congregational singing. Bright cheerful hymns are used at every
meeting, and the special Sing Services attract lovers of music and
professionals from all parts of the city.

On the popular lecture platform as well as in the pulpit Dr. Drew is a
renowned word-painter, and during the course of the year he receives
literally scores of invitations to speak at varied functions both here and


Babbitt let Dr. Drew know that he was responsible for this tribute. Dr.
Drew called him “brother,” and shook his hand a great many times.

During the meetings of the Advisory Committee, Babbitt had hinted that he
would be charmed to invite Eathorne to dinner, but Eathorne had murmured,
“So nice of you—old man, now—almost never go out.” Surely
Eathorne would not refuse his own pastor. Babbitt said boyishly to Drew:

“Say, doctor, now we've put this thing over, strikes me it's up to the
dominie to blow the three of us to a dinner!”

“Bully! You bet! Delighted!” cried Dr. Drew, in his manliest way. (Some
one had once told him that he talked like the late President Roosevelt.)

“And, uh, say, doctor, be sure and get Mr. Eathorne to come. Insist on it.
It's, uh—I think he sticks around home too much for his own health.”

Eathorne came.

It was a friendly dinner. Babbitt spoke gracefully of the stabilizing and
educational value of bankers to the community. They were, he said, the
pastors of the fold of commerce. For the first time Eathorne departed from
the topic of Sunday Schools, and asked Babbitt about the progress of his
business. Babbitt answered modestly, almost filially.

A few months later, when he had a chance to take part in the Street
Traction Company's terminal deal, Babbitt did not care to go to his own
bank for a loan. It was rather a quiet sort of deal and, if it had come
out, the Public might not have understood. He went to his friend Mr.
Eathorne; he was welcomed, and received the loan as a private venture; and
they both profited in their pleasant new association.

After that, Babbitt went to church regularly, except on spring Sunday
mornings which were obviously meant for motoring. He announced to Ted, “I
tell you, boy, there's no stronger bulwark of sound conservatism than the
evangelical church, and no better place to make friends who'll help you to
gain your rightful place in the community than in your own church-home!”



THOUGH he saw them twice daily, though he knew and amply discussed every
detail of their expenditures, yet for weeks together Babbitt was no more
conscious of his children than of the buttons on his coat-sleeves.

The admiration of Kenneth Escott made him aware of Verona.

She had become secretary to Mr. Gruensberg of the Gruensberg Leather
Company; she did her work with the thoroughness of a mind which reveres
details and never quite understands them; but she was one of the people
who give an agitating impression of being on the point of doing something
desperate—of leaving a job or a husband—without ever doing it.
Babbitt was so hopeful about Escott's hesitant ardors that he became the
playful parent. When he returned from the Elks he peered coyly into the
living-room and gurgled, “Has our Kenny been here to-night?” He never
credited Verona's protest, “Why, Ken and I are just good friends, and we
only talk about Ideas. I won't have all this sentimental nonsense, that
would spoil everything.”

It was Ted who most worried Babbitt.

With conditions in Latin and English but with a triumphant record in
manual training, basket-ball, and the organization of dances, Ted was
struggling through his Senior year in the East Side High School. At home
he was interested only when he was asked to trace some subtle ill in the
ignition system of the car. He repeated to his tut-tutting father that he
did not wish to go to college or law-school, and Babbitt was equally
disturbed by this “shiftlessness” and by Ted's relations with Eunice
Littlefield, next door.

Though she was the daughter of Howard Littlefield, that wrought-iron
fact-mill, that horse-faced priest of private ownership, Eunice was a
midge in the sun. She danced into the house, she flung herself into
Babbitt's lap when he was reading, she crumpled his paper, and laughed at
him when he adequately explained that he hated a crumpled newspaper as he
hated a broken sales-contract. She was seventeen now. Her ambition was to
be a cinema actress. She did not merely attend the showing of every
“feature film;” she also read the motion-picture magazines, those
extraordinary symptoms of the Age of Pep—monthlies and weeklies gorgeously
illustrated with portraits of young women who had recently been manicure
girls, not very skilful manicure girls, and who, unless their every
grimace had been arranged by a director, could not have acted in the
Easter cantata of the Central Methodist Church; magazines reporting, quite
seriously, in “interviews” plastered with pictures of riding-breeches and
California bungalows, the views on sculpture and international politics of
blankly beautiful, suspiciously beautiful young men; outlining the plots
of films about pure prostitutes and kind-hearted train-robbers; and giving
directions for making bootblacks into Celebrated Scenario Authors

These authorities Eunice studied. She could, she frequently did, tell
whether it was in November or December, 1905, that Mack Harker? the
renowned screen cowpuncher and badman, began his public career as chorus
man in “Oh, You Naughty Girlie.” On the wall of her room, her father
reported, she had pinned up twenty-one photographs of actors. But the
signed portrait of the most graceful of the movie heroes she carried in
her young bosom.

Babbitt was bewildered by this worship of new gods, and he suspected that
Eunice smoked cigarettes. He smelled the cloying reek from up-stairs, and
heard her giggling with Ted. He never inquired. The agreeable child
dismayed him. Her thin and charming face was sharpened by bobbed hair; her
skirts were short, her stockings were rolled, and, as she flew after Ted,
above the caressing silk were glimpses of soft knees which made Babbitt
uneasy, and wretched that she should consider him old. Sometimes, in the
veiled life of his dreams, when the fairy child came running to him she
took on the semblance of Eunice Littlefield.

Ted was motor-mad as Eunice was movie-mad.

A thousand sarcastic refusals did not check his teasing for a car of his
own. However lax he might be about early rising and the prosody of Vergil,
he was tireless in tinkering. With three other boys he bought a rheumatic
Ford chassis, built an amazing racer-body out of tin and pine, went
skidding round corners in the perilous craft, and sold it at a profit.
Babbitt gave him a motor-cycle, and every Saturday afternoon, with seven
sandwiches and a bottle of Coca-Cola in his pockets, and Eunice perched
eerily on the rumble seat, he went roaring off to distant towns.

Usually Eunice and he were merely neighborhood chums, and quarreled with a
wholesome and violent lack of delicacy; but now and then, after the color
and scent of a dance, they were silent together and a little furtive, and
Babbitt was worried.

Babbitt was an average father. He was affectionate, bullying, opinionated,
ignorant, and rather wistful. Like most parents, he enjoyed the game of
waiting till the victim was clearly wrong, then virtuously pouncing. He
justified himself by croaking, “Well, Ted's mother spoils him. Got to be
somebody who tells him what's what, and me, I'm elected the goat. Because
I try to bring him up to be a real, decent, human being and not one of
these sapheads and lounge-lizards, of course they all call me a grouch!”

Throughout, with the eternal human genius for arriving by the worst
possible routes at surprisingly tolerable goals, Babbitt loved his son and
warmed to his companionship and would have sacrificed everything for him—if
he could have been sure of proper credit.


Ted was planning a party for his set in the Senior Class.

Babbitt meant to be helpful and jolly about it. From his memory of
high-school pleasures back in Catawba he suggested the nicest games: Going
to Boston, and charades with stew-pans for helmets, and word-games in
which you were an Adjective or a Quality. When he was most enthusiastic he
discovered that they weren't paying attention; they were only tolerating
him. As for the party, it was as fixed and standardized as a Union Club
Hop. There was to be dancing in the living-room, a noble collation in the
dining-room, and in the hall two tables of bridge for what Ted called “the
poor old dumb-bells that you can't get to dance hardly more 'n half the

Every breakfast was monopolized by conferences on the affair. No one
listened to Babbitt's bulletins about the February weather or to his
throat-clearing comments on the headlines. He said furiously, “If I may be
PERMITTED to interrupt your engrossing private CONVERSATION—Juh hear
what I SAID?”

“Oh, don't be a spoiled baby! Ted and I have just as much right to talk as
you have!” flared Mrs. Babbitt.

On the night of the party he was permitted to look on, when he was not
helping Matilda with the Vecchia ice cream and the petits fours. He was
deeply disquieted. Eight years ago, when Verona had given a high-school
party, the children had been featureless gabies. Now they were men and
women of the world, very supercilious men and women; the boys condescended
to Babbitt, they wore evening-clothes, and with hauteur they accepted
cigarettes from silver cases. Babbitt had heard stories of what the
Athletic Club called “goings on” at young parties; of girls “parking”
their corsets in the dressing-room, of “cuddling” and “petting,” and a
presumable increase in what was known as Immorality. To-night he believed
the stories. These children seemed bold to him, and cold. The girls wore
misty chiffon, coral velvet, or cloth of gold, and around their dipping
bobbed hair were shining wreaths. He had it, upon urgent and secret
inquiry, that no corsets were known to be parked upstairs; but certainly
these eager bodies were not stiff with steel. Their stockings were of
lustrous silk, their slippers costly and unnatural, their lips carmined
and their eyebrows penciled. They danced cheek to cheek with the boys, and
Babbitt sickened with apprehension and unconscious envy.

Worst of them all was Eunice Littlefield, and maddest of all the boys was
Ted. Eunice was a flying demon. She slid the length of the room; her
tender shoulders swayed; her feet were deft as a weaver's shuttle; she
laughed, and enticed Babbitt to dance with her.

Then he discovered the annex to the party.

The boys and girls disappeared occasionally, and he remembered rumors of
their drinking together from hip-pocket flasks. He tiptoed round the
house, and in each of the dozen cars waiting in the street he saw the
points of light from cigarettes, from each of them heard high giggles. He
wanted to denounce them but (standing in the snow, peering round the dark
corner) he did not dare. He tried to be tactful. When he had returned to
the front hall he coaxed the boys, “Say, if any of you fellows are
thirsty, there's some dandy ginger ale.”

“Oh! Thanks!” they condescended.

He sought his wife, in the pantry, and exploded, “I'd like to go in there
and throw some of those young pups out of the house! They talk down to me
like I was the butler! I'd like to—”

“I know,” she sighed; “only everybody says, all the mothers tell me,
unless you stand for them, if you get angry because they go out to their
cars to have a drink, they won't come to your house any more, and we
wouldn't want Ted left out of things, would we?”

He announced that he would be enchanted to have Ted left out of things,
and hurried in to be polite, lest Ted be left out of things.

But, he resolved, if he found that the boys were drinking, he would—well,
he'd “hand 'em something that would surprise 'em.” While he was trying to
be agreeable to large-shouldered young bullies he was earnestly sniffing
at them. Twice he caught the reek of prohibition-time whisky, but then, it
was only twice—

Dr. Howard Littlefield lumbered in.

He had come, in a mood of solemn parental patronage, to look on. Ted and
Eunice were dancing, moving together like one body. Littlefield gasped. He
called Eunice. There was a whispered duologue, and Littlefield explained
to Babbitt that Eunice's mother had a headache and needed her. She went
off in tears. Babbitt looked after them furiously. “That little devil!
Getting Ted into trouble! And Littlefield, the conceited old gas-bag,
acting like it was Ted that was the bad influence!”

Later he smelled whisky on Ted's breath.

After the civil farewell to the guests, the row was terrific, a thorough
Family Scene, like an avalanche, devastating and without reticences.
Babbitt thundered, Mrs. Babbitt wept, Ted was unconvincingly defiant, and
Verona in confusion as to whose side she was taking.

For several months there was coolness between the Babbitts and the
Littlefields, each family sheltering their lamb from the wolf-cub next
door. Babbitt and Littlefield still spoke in pontifical periods about
motors and the senate, but they kept bleakly away from mention of their
families. Whenever Eunice came to the house she discussed with pleasant
intimacy the fact that she had been forbidden to come to the house; and
Babbitt tried, with no success whatever, to be fatherly and advisory with


“Gosh all fishhooks!” Ted wailed to Eunice, as they wolfed hot chocolate,
lumps of nougat, and an assortment of glace nuts, in the mosaic splendor
of the Royal Drug Store, “it gets me why Dad doesn't just pass out from
being so poky. Every evening he sits there, about half-asleep, and if Rone
or I say, 'Oh, come on, let's do something,' he doesn't even take the
trouble to think about it. He just yawns and says, 'Naw, this suits me
right here.' He doesn't know there's any fun going on anywhere. I suppose
he must do some thinking, same as you and I do, but gosh, there's no way
of telling it. I don't believe that outside of the office and playing a
little bum golf on Saturday he knows there's anything in the world to do
except just keep sitting there—sitting there every night—not wanting
to go anywhere—not wanting to do anything—thinking us kids are
crazy—sitting there—Lord!”


If he was frightened by Ted's slackness, Babbitt was not sufficiently
frightened by Verona. She was too safe. She lived too much in the neat
little airless room of her mind. Kenneth Escott and she were always under
foot. When they were not at home, conducting their cautiously radical
courtship over sheets of statistics, they were trudging off to lectures by
authors and Hindu philosophers and Swedish lieutenants.

“Gosh,” Babbitt wailed to his wife, as they walked home from the Fogartys'
bridge-party, “it gets me how Rone and that fellow can be so poky. They
sit there night after night, whenever he isn't working, and they don't
know there's any fun in the world. All talk and discussion—Lord!
Sitting there—sitting there—night after night—not
wanting to do anything—thinking I'm crazy because I like to go out
and play a fist of cards—sitting there—gosh!”

Then round the swimmer, bored by struggling through the perpetual surf of
family life, new combers swelled.


Babbitt's father- and mother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. Thompson,
rented their old house in the Bellevue district and moved to the Hotel
Hatton, that glorified boarding-house filled with widows, red-plush
furniture, and the sound of ice-water pitchers. They were lonely there,
and every other Sunday evening the Babbitts had to dine with them, on
fricasseed chicken, discouraged celery, and cornstarch ice cream, and
afterward sit, polite and restrained, in the hotel lounge, while a young
woman violinist played songs from the German via Broadway.

Then Babbitt's own mother came down from Catawba to spend three weeks.

She was a kind woman and magnificently uncomprehending. She congratulated
the convention-defying Verona on being a “nice, loyal home-body without
all these Ideas that so many girls seem to have nowadays;” and when Ted
filled the differential with grease, out of pure love of mechanics and
filthiness, she rejoiced that he was “so handy around the house—and
helping his father and all, and not going out with the girls all the time
and trying to pretend he was a society fellow.”

Babbitt loved his mother, and sometimes he rather liked her, but he was
annoyed by her Christian Patience, and he was reduced to pulpiness when
she discoursed about a quite mythical hero called “Your Father”:

“You won't remember it, Georgie, you were such a little fellow at the time—my,
I remember just how you looked that day, with your goldy brown curls and
your lace collar, you always were such a dainty child, and kind of puny
and sickly, and you loved pretty things so much and the red tassels on
your little bootees and all—and Your Father was taking us to church
and a man stopped us and said 'Major'—so many of the neighbors used
to call Your Father 'Major;' of course he was only a private in The War
but everybody knew that was because of the jealousy of his captain and he
ought to have been a high-ranking officer, he had that natural ability to
command that so very, very few men have—and this man came out into
the road and held up his hand and stopped the buggy and said, 'Major,' he
said, 'there's a lot of the folks around here that have decided to support
Colonel Scanell for congress, and we want you to join us. Meeting people
the way you do in the store, you could help us a lot.'

“Well, Your Father just looked at him and said, 'I certainly shall do
nothing of the sort. I don't like his politics,' he said. Well, the man—Captain
Smith they used to call him, and heaven only knows why, because he hadn't
the shadow or vestige of a right to be called 'Captain' or any other title—this
Captain Smith said, 'We'll make it hot for you if you don't stick by your
friends, Major.' Well, you know how Your Father was, and this Smith knew
it too; he knew what a Real Man he was, and he knew Your Father knew the
political situation from A to Z, and he ought to have seen that here was
one man he couldn't impose on, but he went on trying to and hinting and
trying till Your Father spoke up and said to him, 'Captain Smith,' he
said, 'I have a reputation around these parts for being one who is amply
qualified to mind his own business and let other folks mind theirs!' and
with that he drove on and left the fellow standing there in the road like
a bump on a log!”

Babbitt was most exasperated when she revealed his boyhood to the
children. He had, it seemed, been fond of barley-sugar; had worn the
“loveliest little pink bow in his curls” and corrupted his own name to
“Goo-goo.” He heard (though he did not officially hear) Ted admonishing
Tinka, “Come on now, kid; stick the lovely pink bow in your curls and beat
it down to breakfast, or Goo-goo will jaw your head off.”

Babbitt's half-brother, Martin, with his wife and youngest baby, came down
from Catawba for two days. Martin bred cattle and ran the dusty
general-store. He was proud of being a freeborn independent American of
the good old Yankee stock; he was proud of being honest, blunt, ugly, and
disagreeable. His favorite remark was “How much did you pay for that?” He
regarded Verona's books, Babbitt's silver pencil, and flowers on the table
as citified extravagances, and said so. Babbitt would have quarreled with
him but for his gawky wife and the baby, whom Babbitt teased and poked
fingers at and addressed:

“I think this baby's a bum, yes, sir, I think this little baby's a bum,
he's a bum, yes, sir, he's a bum, that's what he is, he's a bum, this
baby's a bum, he's nothing but an old bum, that's what he is—a bum!”

All the while Verona and Kenneth Escott held long inquiries into
epistemology; Ted was a disgraced rebel; and Tinka, aged eleven, was
demanding that she be allowed to go to the movies thrice a week, “like all
the girls.”

Babbitt raged, “I'm sick of it! Having to carry three generations. Whole
damn bunch lean on me. Pay half of mother's income, listen to Henry T.,
listen to Myra's worrying, be polite to Mart, and get called an old grouch
for trying to help the children. All of 'em depending on me and picking on
me and not a damn one of 'em grateful! No relief, and no credit, and no
help from anybody. And to keep it up for—good Lord, how long?”

He enjoyed being sick in February; he was delighted by their consternation
that he, the rock, should give way.

He had eaten a questionable clam. For two days he was languorous and
petted and esteemed. He was allowed to snarl “Oh, let me alone!” without
reprisals. He lay on the sleeping-porch and watched the winter sun slide
along the taut curtains, turning their ruddy khaki to pale blood red. The
shadow of the draw-rope was dense black, in an enticing ripple on the
canvas. He found pleasure in the curve of it, sighed as the fading light
blurred it. He was conscious of life, and a little sad. With no Vergil
Gunches before whom to set his face in resolute optimism, he beheld, and
half admitted that he beheld, his way of life as incredibly mechanical.
Mechanical business—a brisk selling of badly built houses.
Mechanical religion—a dry, hard church, shut off from the real life
of the streets, inhumanly respectable as a top-hat. Mechanical golf and
dinner-parties and bridge and conversation. Save with Paul Riesling,
mechanical friendships—back-slapping and jocular, never daring to
essay the test of quietness.

He turned uneasily in bed.

He saw the years, the brilliant winter days and all the long sweet
afternoons which were meant for summery meadows, lost in such brittle
pretentiousness. He thought of telephoning about leases, of cajoling men
he hated, of making business calls and waiting in dirty anterooms—hat
on knee, yawning at fly-specked calendars, being polite to office-boys.

“I don't hardly want to go back to work,” he prayed. “I'd like to—I
don't know.”

But he was back next day, busy and of doubtful temper.



THE Zenith Street Traction Company planned to build car-repair shops in
the suburb of Dorchester, but when they came to buy the land they found it
held, on options, by the Babbitt-Thompson Realty Company. The
purchasing-agent, the first vice-president, and even the president of the
Traction Company protested against the Babbitt price. They mentioned their
duty toward stockholders, they threatened an appeal to the courts, though
somehow the appeal to the courts was never carried out and the officials
found it wiser to compromise with Babbitt. Carbon copies of the
correspondence are in the company's files, where they may be viewed by any
public commission.

Just after this Babbitt deposited three thousand dollars in the bank, the
purchasing-agent of the Street Traction Company bought a five thousand
dollar car, the first vice-president built a home in Devon Woods, and the
president was appointed minister to a foreign country.

To obtain the options, to tie up one man's land without letting his
neighbor know, had been an unusual strain on Babbitt. It was necessary to
introduce rumors about planning garages and stores, to pretend that he
wasn't taking any more options, to wait and look as bored as a
poker-player at a time when the failure to secure a key-lot threatened his
whole plan. To all this was added a nerve-jabbing quarrel with his secret
associates in the deal. They did not wish Babbitt and Thompson to have any
share in the deal except as brokers. Babbitt rather agreed. “Ethics of the
business-broker ought to strictly represent his principles and not get in
on the buying,” he said to Thompson.

“Ethics, rats! Think I'm going to see that bunch of holy grafters get away
with the swag and us not climb in?” snorted old Henry.

“Well, I don't like to do it. Kind of double-crossing.”

“It ain't. It's triple-crossing. It's the public that gets double-crossed.
Well, now we've been ethical and got it out of our systems, the question
is where we can raise a loan to handle some of the property for ourselves,
on the Q. T. We can't go to our bank for it. Might come out.”

“I could see old Eathorne. He's close as the tomb.”

“That's the stuff.”

Eathorne was glad, he said, to “invest in character,” to make Babbitt the
loan and see to it that the loan did not appear on the books of the bank.
Thus certain of the options which Babbitt and Thompson obtained were on
parcels of real estate which they themselves owned, though the property
did not appear in their names.

In the midst of closing this splendid deal, which stimulated business and
public confidence by giving an example of increased real-estate activity,
Babbitt was overwhelmed to find that he had a dishonest person working for

The dishonest one was Stanley Graff, the outside salesman.

For some time Babbitt had been worried about Graff. He did not keep his
word to tenants. In order to rent a house he would promise repairs which
the owner had not authorized. It was suspected that he juggled inventories
of furnished houses so that when the tenant left he had to pay for
articles which had never been in the house and the price of which Graff
put into his pocket. Babbitt had not been able to prove these suspicions,
and though he had rather planned to discharge Graff he had never quite
found time for it.

Now into Babbitt's private room charged a red-faced man, panting, “Look
here! I've come to raise particular merry hell, and unless you have that
fellow pinched, I will!” “What's—Calm down, o' man. What's trouble?”

“Trouble! Huh! Here's the trouble—”

“Sit down and take it easy! They can hear you all over the building!”

“This fellow Graff you got working for you, he leases me a house. I was in
yesterday and signs the lease, all O.K., and he was to get the owner's
signature and mail me the lease last night. Well, and he did. This morning
I comes down to breakfast and the girl says a fellow had come to the house
right after the early delivery and told her he wanted an envelope that had
been mailed by mistake, big long envelope with 'Babbitt-Thompson' in the
corner of it. Sure enough, there it was, so she lets him have it. And she
describes the fellow to me, and it was this Graff. So I 'phones to him and
he, the poor fool, he admits it! He says after my lease was all signed he
got a better offer from another fellow and he wanted my lease back. Now
what you going to do about it?”

“Your name is—?”

“William Varney—W. K. Varney.”

“Oh, yes. That was the Garrison house.” Babbitt sounded the buzzer. When
Miss McGoun came in, he demanded, “Graff gone out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Will you look through his desk and see if there is a lease made out to
Mr. Varney on the Garrison house?” To Varney: “Can't tell you how sorry I
am this happened. Needless to say, I'll fire Graff the minute he comes in.
And of course your lease stands. But there's one other thing I'd like to
do. I'll tell the owner not to pay us the commission but apply it to your
rent. No! Straight! I want to. To be frank, this thing shakes me up bad. I
suppose I've always been a Practical Business Man. Probably I've told one
or two fairy stories in my time, when the occasion called for it—you
know: sometimes you have to lay things on thick, to impress boneheads. But
this is the first time I've ever had to accuse one of my own employees of
anything more dishonest than pinching a few stamps. Honest, it would hurt
me if we profited by it. So you'll let me hand you the commission? Good!”


He walked through the February city, where trucks flung up a spattering of
slush and the sky was dark above dark brick cornices. He came back
miserable. He, who respected the law, had broken it by concealing the
Federal crime of interception of the mails. But he could not see Graff go
to jail and his wife suffer. Worse, he had to discharge Graff and this was
a part of office routine which he feared. He liked people so much, he so
much wanted them to like him that he could not bear insulting them.

Miss McGoun dashed in to whisper, with the excitement of an approaching
scene, “He's here!”

“Mr. Graff? Ask him to come in.”

He tried to make himself heavy and calm in his chair, and to keep his eyes
expressionless. Graff stalked in—a man of thirty-five, dapper,
eye-glassed, with a foppish mustache.

“Want me?” said Graff.

“Yes. Sit down.”

Graff continued to stand, grunting, “I suppose that old nut Varney has
been in to see you. Let me explain about him. He's a regular tightwad, and
he sticks out for every cent, and he practically lied to me about his
ability to pay the rent—I found that out just after we signed up.
And then another fellow comes along with a better offer for the house, and
I felt it was my duty to the firm to get rid of Varney, and I was so
worried about it I skun up there and got back the lease. Honest, Mr.
Babbitt, I didn't intend to pull anything crooked. I just wanted the firm
to have all the commis—”

“Wait now, Stan. This may all be true, but I've been having a lot of
complaints about you. Now I don't s'pose you ever mean to do wrong, and I
think if you just get a good lesson that'll jog you up a little, you'll
turn out a first-class realtor yet. But I don't see how I can keep you

Graff leaned against the filing-cabinet, his hands in his pockets, and
laughed. “So I'm fired! Well, old Vision and Ethics, I'm tickled to death!
But I don't want you to think you can get away with any holier-than-thou
stuff. Sure I've pulled some raw stuff—a little of it—but how
could I help it, in this office?”

“Now, by God, young man—”

“Tut, tut! Keep the naughty temper down, and don't holler, because
everybody in the outside office will hear you. They're probably listening
right now. Babbitt, old dear, you're crooked in the first place and a damn
skinflint in the second. If you paid me a decent salary I wouldn't have to
steal pennies off a blind man to keep my wife from starving. Us married
just five months, and her the nicest girl living, and you keeping us flat
broke all the time, you damned old thief, so you can put money away for
your saphead of a son and your wishywashy fool of a daughter! Wait, now!
You'll by God take it, or I'll bellow so the whole office will hear it!
And crooked—Say, if I told the prosecuting attorney what I know
about this last Street Traction option steal, both you and me would go to
jail, along with some nice, clean, pious, high-up traction guns!”

“Well, Stan, looks like we were coming down to cases. That deal—There
was nothing crooked about it. The only way you can get progress is for the
broad-gauged men to get things done; and they got to be rewarded—”

“Oh, for Pete's sake, don't get virtuous on me! As I gather it, I'm fired.
All right. It's a good thing for me. And if I catch you knocking me to any
other firm, I'll squeal all I know about you and Henry T. and the dirty
little lickspittle deals that you corporals of industry pull off for the
bigger and brainier crooks, and you'll get chased out of town. And me—you're
right, Babbitt, I've been going crooked, but now I'm going straight, and
the first step will be to get a job in some office where the boss doesn't
talk about Ideals. Bad luck, old dear, and you can stick your job up the

Babbitt sat for a long time, alternately raging, “I'll have him arrested,”
and yearning “I wonder—No, I've never done anything that wasn't
necessary to keep the Wheels of Progress moving.”

Next day he hired in Graff's place Fritz Weilinger, the salesman of his
most injurious rival, the East Side Homes and Development Company, and
thus at once annoyed his competitor and acquired an excellent man. Young
Fritz was a curly-headed, merry, tennis-playing youngster. He made
customers welcome to the office. Babbitt thought of him as a son, and in
him had much comfort.


An abandoned race-track on the outskirts of Chicago, a plot excellent for
factory sites, was to be sold, and Jake Offut asked Babbitt to bid on it
for him. The strain of the Street Traction deal and his disappointment in
Stanley Graff had so shaken Babbitt that he found it hard to sit at his
desk and concentrate. He proposed to his family, “Look here, folks! Do you
know who's going to trot up to Chicago for a couple of days—just
week-end; won't lose but one day of school—know who's going with
that celebrated business-ambassador, George F. Babbitt? Why, Mr. Theodore
Roosevelt Babbitt!”

“Hurray!” Ted shouted, and “Oh, maybe the Babbitt men won't paint that lil
ole town red!”

And, once away from the familiar implications of home, they were two men
together. Ted was young only in his assumption of oldness, and the only
realms, apparently, in which Babbitt had a larger and more grown-up
knowledge than Ted's were the details of real estate and the phrases of
politics. When the other sages of the Pullman smoking-compartment had left
them to themselves, Babbitt's voice did not drop into the playful and
otherwise offensive tone in which one addresses children but continued its
overwhelming and monotonous rumble, and Ted tried to imitate it in his
strident tenor:

“Gee, dad, you certainly did show up that poor boot when he got flip about
the League of Nations!”

“Well, the trouble with a lot of these fellows is, they simply don't know
what they're talking about. They don't get down to facts.... What do you
think of Ken Escott?”

“I'll tell you, dad: it strikes me Ken is a nice lad; no special faults
except he smokes too much; but slow, Lord! Why, if we don't give him a
shove the poor dumb-bell never will propose! And Rone just as bad. Slow.”

“Yes, I guess you're right. They're slow. They haven't either one of 'em
got our pep.”

“That's right. They're slow. I swear, dad, I don't know how Rone got into
our family! I'll bet, if the truth were known, you were a bad old egg when
you were a kid!”

“Well, I wasn't so slow!”

“I'll bet you weren't! I'll bet you didn't miss many tricks!”

“Well, when I was out with the girls I didn't spend all the time telling
'em about the strike in the knitting industry!”

They roared together, and together lighted cigars.

“What are we going to do with 'em?” Babbitt consulted.

“Gosh, I don't know. I swear, sometimes I feel like taking Ken aside and
putting him over the jumps and saying to him, 'Young fella me lad, are you
going to marry young Rone, or are you going to talk her to death? Here you
are getting on toward thirty, and you're only making twenty or twenty-five
a week. When you going to develop a sense of responsibility and get a
raise? If there's anything that George F. or I can do to help you, call on
us, but show a little speed, anyway!'”

“Well, at that, it might not be so bad if you or I talked to him, except
he might not understand. He's one of these high brows. He can't come down
to cases and lay his cards on the table and talk straight out from the
shoulder, like you or I can.”

“That's right, he's like all these highbrows.”

“That's so, like all of 'em.”

“That's a fact.”

They sighed, and were silent and thoughtful and happy.

The conductor came in. He had once called at Babbitt's office, to ask
about houses. “H' are you, Mr. Babbitt! We going to have you with us to
Chicago? This your boy?”

“Yes, this is my son Ted.”

“Well now, what do you know about that! Here I been thinking you were a
youngster yourself, not a day over forty, hardly, and you with this great
big fellow!”

“Forty? Why, brother, I'll never see forty-five again!”

“Is that a fact! Wouldn't hardly 'a' thought it!”

“Yes, sir, it's a bad give-away for the old man when he has to travel with
a young whale like Ted here!”

“You're right, it is.” To Ted: “I suppose you're in college now?”

Proudly, “No, not till next fall. I'm just kind of giving the diff'rent
colleges the once-over now.”

As the conductor went on his affable way, huge watch-chain jingling
against his blue chest, Babbitt and Ted gravely considered colleges. They
arrived at Chicago late at night; they lay abed in the morning, rejoicing,
“Pretty nice not to have to get up and get down to breakfast, heh?” They
were staying at the modest Eden Hotel, because Zenith business men always
stayed at the Eden, but they had dinner in the brocade and crystal
Versailles Room of the Regency Hotel. Babbitt ordered Blue Point oysters
with cocktail sauce, a tremendous steak with a tremendous platter of
French fried potatoes, two pots of coffee, apple pie with ice cream for
both of them and, for Ted, an extra piece of mince pie.

“Hot stuff! Some feed, young fella!” Ted admired.

“Huh! You stick around with me, old man, and I'll show you a good time!”

They went to a musical comedy and nudged each other at the matrimonial
jokes and the prohibition jokes; they paraded the lobby, arm in arm,
between acts, and in the glee of his first release from the shame which
dissevers fathers and sons Ted chuckled, “Dad, did you ever hear the one
about the three milliners and the judge?”

When Ted had returned to Zenith, Babbitt was lonely. As he was trying to
make alliance between Offutt and certain Milwaukee interests which wanted
the race-track plot, most of his time was taken up in waiting for
telephone calls.... Sitting on the edge of his bed, holding the portable
telephone, asking wearily, “Mr. Sagen not in yet? Didn' he leave any
message for me? All right, I'll hold the wire.” Staring at a stain on the
wall, reflecting that it resembled a shoe, and being bored by this
twentieth discovery that it resembled a shoe. Lighting a cigarette; then,
bound to the telephone with no ashtray in reach, wondering what to do with
this burning menace and anxiously trying to toss it into the tiled
bathroom. At last, on the telephone, “No message, eh? All right, I'll call
up again.”

One afternoon he wandered through snow-rutted streets of which he had
never heard, streets of small tenements and two-family houses and marooned
cottages. It came to him that he had nothing to do, that there was nothing
he wanted to do. He was bleakly lonely in the evening, when he dined by
himself at the Regency Hotel. He sat in the lobby afterward, in a plush
chair bedecked with the Saxe-Coburg arms, lighting a cigar and looking for
some one who would come and play with him and save him from thinking. In
the chair next to him (showing the arms of Lithuania) was a half-familiar
man, a large red-faced man with pop eyes and a deficient yellow mustache.
He seemed kind and insignificant, and as lonely as Babbitt himself. He
wore a tweed suit and a reluctant orange tie.

It came to Babbitt with a pyrotechnic crash. The melancholy stranger was
Sir Gerald Doak.

Instinctively Babbitt rose, bumbling, “How 're you, Sir Gerald? 'Member we
met in Zenith, at Charley McKelvey's? Babbitt's my name—real

“Oh! How d' you do.” Sir Gerald shook hands flabbily.

Embarrassed, standing, wondering how he could retreat, Babbitt maundered,
“Well, I suppose you been having a great trip since we saw you in Zenith.”

“Quite. British Columbia and California and all over the place,” he said
doubtfully, looking at Babbitt lifelessly.

“How did you find business conditions in British Columbia? Or I suppose
maybe you didn't look into 'em. Scenery and sport and so on?”

“Scenery? Oh, capital. But business conditions—You know, Mr.
Babbitt, they're having almost as much unemployment as we are.” Sir Gerald
was speaking warmly now.

“So? Business conditions not so doggone good, eh?”

“No, business conditions weren't at all what I'd hoped to find them.”

“Not good, eh?”

“No, not—not really good.”

“That's a darn shame. Well—I suppose you're waiting for somebody to
take you out to some big shindig, Sir Gerald.”

“Shindig? Oh. Shindig. No, to tell you the truth, I was wondering what the
deuce I could do this evening. Don't know a soul in Tchicahgo. I wonder if
you happen to know whether there's a good theater in this city?”

“Good? Why say, they're running grand opera right now! I guess maybe you'd
like that.”

“Eh? Eh? Went to the opera once in London. Covent Garden sort of thing.
Shocking! No, I was wondering if there was a good cinema-movie.”

Babbitt was sitting down, hitching his chair over, shouting, “Movie? Say,
Sir Gerald, I supposed of course you had a raft of dames waiting to lead
you out to some soiree—”

“God forbid!”

“—but if you haven't, what do you say you and me go to a movie?
There's a peach of a film at the Grantham: Bill Hart in a bandit picture.”

“Right-o! Just a moment while I get my coat.”

Swollen with greatness, slightly afraid lest the noble blood of Nottingham
change its mind and leave him at any street corner, Babbitt paraded with
Sir Gerald Doak to the movie palace and in silent bliss sat beside him,
trying not to be too enthusiastic, lest the knight despise his adoration
of six-shooters and broncos. At the end Sir Gerald murmured, “Jolly good
picture, this. So awfully decent of you to take me. Haven't enjoyed myself
so much for weeks. All these Hostesses—they never let you go to the

“The devil you say!” Babbitt's speech had lost the delicate refinement and
all the broad A's with which he had adorned it, and become hearty and
natural. “Well, I'm tickled to death you liked it, Sir Gerald.”

They crawled past the knees of fat women into the aisle; they stood in the
lobby waving their arms in the rite of putting on overcoats. Babbitt
hinted, “Say, how about a little something to eat? I know a place where we
could get a swell rarebit, and we might dig up a little drink—that
is, if you ever touch the stuff.”

“Rather! But why don't you come to my room? I've some Scotch—not
half bad.”

“Oh, I don't want to use up all your hootch. It's darn nice of you, but—You
probably want to hit the hay.”

Sir Gerald was transformed. He was beefily yearning. “Oh really, now; I
haven't had a decent evening for so long! Having to go to all these
dances. No chance to discuss business and that sort of thing. Do be a good
chap and come along. Won't you?”

“Will I? You bet! I just thought maybe—Say, by golly, it does do a
fellow good, don't it, to sit and visit about business conditions, after
he's been to these balls and masquerades and banquets and all that society
stuff. I often feel that way in Zenith. Sure, you bet I'll come.”

“That's awfully nice of you.” They beamed along the street. “Look here,
old chap, can you tell me, do American cities always keep up this dreadful
social pace? All these magnificent parties?”

“Go on now, quit your kidding! Gosh, you with court balls and functions
and everything—”

“No, really, old chap! Mother and I—Lady Doak, I should say, we
usually play a hand of bezique and go to bed at ten. Bless my soul, I
couldn't keep up your beastly pace! And talking! All your American women,
they know so much—culture and that sort of thing. This Mrs. McKelvey—your

“Yuh, old Lucile. Good kid.”

“—she asked me which of the galleries I liked best in Florence. Or
was it in Firenze? Never been in Italy in my life! And primitives. Did I
like primitives. Do you know what the deuce a primitive is?”

“Me? I should say not! But I know what a discount for cash is.”

“Rather! So do I, by George! But primitives!”

“Yuh! Primitives!”

They laughed with the sound of a Boosters' luncheon.

Sir Gerald's room was, except for his ponderous and durable English bags,
very much like the room of George F. Babbitt; and quite in the manner of
Babbitt he disclosed a huge whisky flask, looked proud and hospitable, and
chuckled, “Say, when, old chap.”

It was after the third drink that Sir Gerald proclaimed, “How do you
Yankees get the notion that writing chaps like Bertrand Shaw and this
Wells represent us? The real business England, we think those chaps are
traitors. Both our countries have their comic Old Aristocracy—you
know, old county families, hunting people and all that sort of thing—and
we both have our wretched labor leaders, but we both have a backbone of
sound business men who run the whole show.”

“You bet. Here's to the real guys!”

“I'm with you! Here's to ourselves!”

It was after the fourth drink that Sir Gerald asked humbly, “What do you
think of North Dakota mortgages?” but it was not till after the fifth that
Babbitt began to call him “Jerry,” and Sir Gerald confided, “I say, do you
mind if I pull off my boots?” and ecstatically stretched his knightly
feet, his poor, tired, hot, swollen feet out on the bed.

After the sixth, Babbitt irregularly arose. “Well, I better be hiking
along. Jerry, you're a regular human being! I wish to thunder we'd been
better acquainted in Zenith. Lookit. Can't you come back and stay with me
a while?”

“So sorry—must go to New York to-morrow. Most awfully sorry, old
boy. I haven't enjoyed an evening so much since I've been in the States.
Real talk. Not all this social rot. I'd never have let them give me the
beastly title—and I didn't get it for nothing, eh?—if I'd
thought I'd have to talk to women about primitives and polo! Goodish thing
to have in Nottingham, though; annoyed the mayor most frightfully when I
got it; and of course the missus likes it. But nobody calls me 'Jerry' now—”
He was almost weeping. “—and nobody in the States has treated me
like a friend till to-night! Good-by, old chap, good-by! Thanks awfully!”

“Don't mention it, Jerry. And remember whenever you get to Zenith, the
latch-string is always out.”

“And don't forget, old boy, if you ever come to Nottingham, Mother and I
will be frightfully glad to see you. I shall tell the fellows in
Nottingham your ideas about Visions and Real Guys—at our next Rotary
Club luncheon.”


Babbitt lay abed at his hotel, imagining the Zenith Athletic Club asking
him, “What kind of a time d'you have in Chicago?” and his answering, “Oh,
fair; ran around with Sir Gerald Doak a lot;” picturing himself meeting
Lucile McKelvey and admonishing her, “You're all right, Mrs. Mac, when you
aren't trying to pull this highbrow pose. It's just as Gerald Doak says to
me in Chicago—oh, yes, Jerry's an old friend of mine—the wife
and I are thinking of running over to England to stay with Jerry in his
castle, next year—and he said to me, 'Georgie, old bean, I like
Lucile first-rate, but you and me, George, we got to make her get over
this highty-tighty hooptediddle way she's got.”

But that evening a thing happened which wrecked his pride.


At the Regency Hotel cigar-counter he fell to talking with a salesman of
pianos, and they dined together. Babbitt was filled with friendliness and
well-being. He enjoyed the gorgeousness of the dining-room: the
chandeliers, the looped brocade curtains, the portraits of French kings
against panels of gilded oak. He enjoyed the crowd: pretty women, good
solid fellows who were “liberal spenders.”

He gasped. He stared, and turned away, and stared again. Three tables off,
with a doubtful sort of woman, a woman at once coy and withered, was Paul
Riesling, and Paul was supposed to be in Akron, selling tar-roofing. The
woman was tapping his hand, mooning at him and giggling. Babbitt felt that
he had encountered something involved and harmful. Paul was talking with
the rapt eagerness of a man who is telling his troubles. He was
concentrated on the woman's faded eyes. Once he held her hand and once,
blind to the other guests, he puckered his lips as though he was
pretending to kiss her. Babbitt had so strong an impulse to go to Paul
that he could feel his body uncoiling, his shoulders moving, but he felt,
desperately, that he must be diplomatic, and not till he saw Paul paying
the check did he bluster to the piano-salesman, “By golly—friend of mine
over there—'scuse me second—just say hello to him.”

He touched Paul's shoulder, and cried, “Well, when did you hit town?”

Paul glared up at him, face hardening. “Oh, hello, George. Thought you'd
gone back to Zenith.” He did not introduce his companion. Babbitt peeped
at her. She was a flabbily pretty, weakly flirtatious woman of forty-two
or three, in an atrocious flowery hat. Her rouging was thorough but

“Where you staying, Paulibus?”

The woman turned, yawned, examined her nails. She seemed accustomed to not
being introduced.

Paul grumbled, “Campbell Inn, on the South Side.”

“Alone?” It sounded insinuating.

“Yes! Unfortunately!” Furiously Paul turned toward the woman, smiling with
a fondness sickening to Babbitt. “May! Want to introduce you. Mrs. Arnold,
this is my old-acquaintance, George Babbitt.”

“Pleasmeech,” growled Babbitt, while she gurgled, “Oh, I'm very pleased to
meet any friend of Mr. Riesling's, I'm sure.”

Babbitt demanded, “Be back there later this evening, Paul? I'll drop down
and see you.”

“No, better—We better lunch together to-morrow.”

“All right, but I'll see you to-night, too, Paul. I'll go down to your
hotel, and I'll wait for you!”



HE sat smoking with the piano-salesman, clinging to the warm refuge of
gossip, afraid to venture into thoughts of Paul. He was the more affable
on the surface as secretly he became more apprehensive, felt more hollow.
He was certain that Paul was in Chicago without Zilla's knowledge, and
that he was doing things not at all moral and secure. When the salesman
yawned that he had to write up his orders, Babbitt left him, left the
hotel, in leisurely calm. But savagely he said “Campbell Inn!” to the
taxi-driver. He sat agitated on the slippery leather seat, in that chill
dimness which smelled of dust and perfume and Turkish cigarettes. He did
not heed the snowy lake-front, the dark spaces and sudden bright corners
in the unknown land south of the Loop.

The office of the Campbell Inn was hard, bright, new; the night clerk
harder and brighter. “Yep?” he said to Babbitt.

“Mr. Paul Riesling registered here?”


“Is he in now?”


“Then if you'll give me his key, I'll wait for him.”

“Can't do that, brother. Wait down here if you wanna.”

Babbitt had spoken with the deference which all the Clan of Good Fellows
give to hotel clerks. Now he said with snarling abruptness:

“I may have to wait some time. I'm Riesling's brother-in-law. I'll go up
to his room. D' I look like a sneak-thief?”

His voice was low and not pleasant. With considerable haste the clerk took
down the key, protesting, “I never said you looked like a sneak-thief.
Just rules of the hotel. But if you want to—”

On his way up in the elevator Babbitt wondered why he was here. Why
shouldn't Paul be dining with a respectable married woman? Why had he lied
to the clerk about being Paul's brother-in-law? He had acted like a child.
He must be careful not to say foolish dramatic things to Paul. As he
settled down he tried to look pompous and placid. Then the thought—Suicide.
He'd been dreading that, without knowing it. Paul would be just the person
to do something like that. He must be out of his head or he wouldn't be
confiding in that—that dried-up hag.

Zilla (oh, damn Zilla! how gladly he'd throttle that nagging fiend of a
woman!)—she'd probably succeeded at last, and driven Paul crazy.

Suicide. Out there in the lake, way out, beyond the piled ice along the
shore. It would be ghastly cold to drop into the water to-night.

Or—throat cut—in the bathroom—

Babbitt flung into Paul's bathroom. It was empty. He smiled, feebly.

He pulled at his choking collar, looked at his watch, opened the window to
stare down at the street, looked at his watch, tried to read the evening
paper lying on the glass-topped bureau, looked again at his watch. Three
minutes had gone by since he had first looked at it.

And he waited for three hours.

He was sitting fixed, chilled, when the doorknob turned. Paul came in

“Hello,” Paul said. “Been waiting?”

“Yuh, little while.”


“Well what? Just thought I'd drop in to see how you made out in Akron.”

“I did all right. What difference does it make?”

“Why, gosh, Paul, what are you sore about?”

“What are you butting into my affairs for?”

“Why, Paul, that's no way to talk! I'm not butting into nothing. I was so
glad to see your ugly old phiz that I just dropped in to say howdy.”

“Well, I'm not going to have anybody following me around and trying to
boss me. I've had all of that I'm going to stand!”

“Well, gosh, I'm not—”

“I didn't like the way you looked at May Arnold, or the snooty way you

“Well, all right then! If you think I'm a buttinsky, then I'll just butt
in! I don't know who your May Arnold is, but I know doggone good and well
that you and her weren't talking about tar-roofing, no, nor about playing
the violin, neither! If you haven't got any moral consideration for
yourself, you ought to have some for your position in the community. The
idea of your going around places gawping into a female's eyes like a
love-sick pup! I can understand a fellow slipping once, but I don't
propose to see a fellow that's been as chummy with me as you have getting
started on the downward path and sneaking off from his wife, even as
cranky a one as Zilla, to go woman-chasing—”

“Oh, you're a perfectly moral little husband!”

“I am, by God! I've never looked at any woman except Myra since I've been
married—practically—and I never will! I tell you there's
nothing to immorality. It don't pay. Can't you see, old man, it just makes
Zilla still crankier?”

Slight of resolution as he was of body, Paul threw his snow-beaded
overcoat on the floor and crouched on a flimsy cane chair. “Oh, you're an
old blowhard, and you know less about morality than Tinka, but you're all
right, Georgie. But you can't understand that—I'm through. I can't
go Zilla's hammering any longer. She's made up her mind that I'm a devil,
and—Reg'lar Inquisition. Torture. She enjoys it. It's a game to see
how sore she can make me. And me, either it's find a little comfort, any
comfort, anywhere, or else do something a lot worse. Now this Mrs. Arnold,
she's not so young, but she's a fine woman and she understands a fellow,
and she's had her own troubles.”

“Yea! I suppose she's one of these hens whose husband 'doesn't understand

“I don't know. Maybe. He was killed in the war.”

Babbitt lumbered up, stood beside Paul patting his shoulder, making soft
apologetic noises.

“Honest, George, she's a fine woman, and she's had one hell of a time. We
manage to jolly each other up a lot. We tell each other we're the dandiest
pair on earth. Maybe we don't believe it, but it helps a lot to have
somebody with whom you can be perfectly simple, and not all this

“And that's as far as you go?”

“It is not! Go on! Say it!”

“Well, I don't—I can't say I like it, but—” With a burst which
left him feeling large and shining with generosity, “it's none of my darn
business! I'll do anything I can for you, if there's anything I can do.”

“There might be. I judge from Zilla's letters that 've been forwarded from
Akron that she's getting suspicious about my staying away so long. She'd
be perfectly capable of having me shadowed, and of coming to Chicago and
busting into a hotel dining-room and bawling me out before everybody.”

“I'll take care of Zilla. I'll hand her a good fairy-story when I get back
to Zenith.”

“I don't know—I don't think you better try it. You're a good fellow,
but I don't know that diplomacy is your strong point.” Babbitt looked
hurt, then irritated. “I mean with women! With women, I mean. Course they
got to go some to beat you in business diplomacy, but I just mean with
women. Zilla may do a lot of rough talking, but she's pretty shrewd. She'd
have the story out of you in no time.”

“Well, all right, but—” Babbitt was still pathetic at not being
allowed to play Secret Agent. Paul soothed:

“Course maybe you might tell her you'd been in Akron and seen me there.”

“Why, sure, you bet! Don't I have to go look at that candy-store property
in Akron? Don't I? Ain't it a shame I have to stop off there when I'm so
anxious to get home? Ain't it a regular shame? I'll say it is! I'll say
it's a doggone shame!”

“Fine. But for glory hallelujah's sake don't go putting any fancy fixings
on the story. When men lie they always try to make it too artistic, and
that's why women get suspicious. And—Let's have a drink, Georgie.
I've got some gin and a little vermouth.”

The Paul who normally refused a second cocktail took a second now, and a
third. He became red-eyed and thick-tongued. He was embarrassingly jocular
and salacious.

In the taxicab Babbitt incredulously found tears crowding into his eyes.


He had not told Paul of his plan but he did stop at Akron, between trains,
for the one purpose of sending to Zilla a postcard with “Had to come here
for the day, ran into Paul.” In Zenith he called on her. If for public
appearances Zilla was over-coiffed, over-painted, and resolutely corseted,
for private misery she wore a filthy blue dressing-gown and torn stockings
thrust into streaky pink satin mules. Her face was sunken. She seemed to
have but half as much hair as Babbitt remembered, and that half was
stringy. She sat in a rocker amid a debris of candy-boxes and cheap
magazines, and she sounded dolorous when she did not sound derisive. But
Babbitt was exceedingly breezy:

“Well, well, Zil, old dear, having a good loaf while hubby's away? That's
the ideal I'll bet a hat Myra never got up till ten, while I was in
Chicago. Say, could I borrow your thermos—just dropped in to see if
I could borrow your thermos bottle. We're going to have a toboggan party—want
to take some coffee mit. Oh, did you get my card from Akron, saying I'd
run into Paul?”

“Yes. What was he doing?”

“How do you mean?” He unbuttoned his overcoat, sat tentatively on the arm
of a chair.

“You know how I mean!” She slapped the pages of a magazine with an
irritable clatter. “I suppose he was trying to make love to some hotel
waitress or manicure girl or somebody.”

“Hang it, you're always letting on that Paul goes round chasing skirts. He
doesn't, in the first place, and if he did, it would prob'ly be because
you keep hinting at him and dinging at him so much. I hadn't meant to,
Zilla, but since Paul is away, in Akron—”

“He really is in Akron? I know he has some horrible woman that he writes
to in Chicago.”

“Didn't I tell you I saw him in Akron? What 're you trying to do? Make me
out a liar?”

“No, but I just—I get so worried.”

“Now, there you are! That's what gets me! Here you love Paul, and yet you
plague him and cuss him out as if you hated him. I simply can't understand
why it is that the more some folks love people, the harder they try to
make 'em miserable.”

“You love Ted and Rone—I suppose—and yet you nag them.”

“Oh. Well. That. That's different. Besides, I don't nag 'em. Not what
you'd call nagging. But zize saying: Now, here's Paul, the nicest, most
sensitive critter on God's green earth. You ought to be ashamed of
yourself the way you pan him. Why, you talk to him like a washerwoman. I'm
surprised you can act so doggone common, Zilla!”

She brooded over her linked fingers. “Oh, I know. I do go and get mean
sometimes, and I'm sorry afterwards. But, oh, Georgie, Paul is so
aggravating! Honestly, I've tried awfully hard, these last few years, to
be nice to him, but just because I used to be spiteful—or I seemed
so; I wasn't, really, but I used to speak up and say anything that came
into my head—and so he made up his mind that everything was my
fault. Everything can't always be my fault, can it? And now if I get to
fussing, he just turns silent, oh, so dreadfully silent, and he won't look
at me—he just ignores me. He simply isn't human! And he deliberately
keeps it up till I bust out and say a lot of things I don't mean. So
silent—Oh, you righteous men! How wicked you are! How rotten

They thrashed things over and over for half an hour. At the end, weeping
drably, Zilla promised to restrain herself.

Paul returned four days later, and the Babbitts and Rieslings went
festively to the movies and had chop suey at a Chinese restaurant. As they
walked to the restaurant through a street of tailor shops and barber
shops, the two wives in front, chattering about cooks, Babbitt murmured to
Paul, “Zil seems a lot nicer now.”

“Yes, she has been, except once or twice. But it's too late now. I just—I'm
not going to discuss it, but I'm afraid of her. There's nothing left. I
don't ever want to see her. Some day I'm going to break away from her.


THE International Organization of Boosters' Clubs has become a
world-force for optimism, manly pleasantry, and good business. Chapters
are to be found now in thirty countries. Nine hundred and twenty of the
thousand chapters, however, are in the United States.

None of these is more ardent than the Zenith Boosters' Club.

The second March lunch of the Zenith Boosters was the most important of
the year, as it was to be followed by the annual election of officers.
There was agitation abroad. The lunch was held in the ballroom of the
O'Hearn House. As each of the four hundred Boosters entered he took from a
wall-board a huge celluloid button announcing his name, his nick name, and
his business. There was a fine of ten cents for calling a Fellow Booster
by anything but his nickname at a lunch, and as Babbitt jovially checked
his hat the air was radiant with shouts of “Hello, Chet!” and “How're you,
Shorty!” and “Top o' the mornin', Mac!”

They sat at friendly tables for eight, choosing places by lot. Babbitt was
with Albert Boos the merchant tailor, Hector Seybolt of the Little
Sweetheart Condensed Milk Company, Emil Wengert the jeweler, Professor
Pumphrey of the Riteway Business College, Dr. Walter Gorbutt, Roy
Teegarten the photographer, and Ben Berkey the photo-engraver. One of the
merits of the Boosters' Club was that only two persons from each
department of business were permitted to join, so that you at once
encountered the Ideals of other occupations, and realized the metaphysical
oneness of all occupations—plumbing and portrait-painting, medicine
and the manufacture of chewing-gum.

Babbitt's table was particularly happy to-day, because Professor Pumphrey
had just had a birthday, and was therefore open to teasing.

“Let's pump Pump about how old he is!” said Emil Wengert.

“No, let's paddle him with a dancing-pump!” said Ben Berkey.

But it was Babbitt who had the applause, with “Don't talk about pumps to
that guy! The only pump he knows is a bottle! Honest, they tell me he's
starting a class in home-brewing at the ole college!”

At each place was the Boosters' Club booklet, listing the members. Though
the object of the club was good-fellowship, yet they never lost sight of
the importance of doing a little more business. After each name was the
member's occupation. There were scores of advertisements in the booklet,
and on one page the admonition: “There's no rule that you have to trade
with your Fellow Boosters, but get wise, boy—what's the use of
letting all this good money get outside of our happy fambly?” And at each
place, to-day, there was a present; a card printed in artistic red and


Service finds its finest opportunity and development only in its broadest
and deepest application and the consideration of its perpetual action upon
reaction. I believe the highest type of Service, like the most progressive
tenets of ethics, senses unceasingly and is motived by active adherence
and loyalty to that which is the essential principle of Boosterism—Good
Citizenship in all its factors and aspects.


Compliments of Dadbury Petersen Advertising Corp.

“Ads, not Fads, at Dad's”

The Boosters all read Mr. Peterson's aphorism and said they understood it

The meeting opened with the regular weekly “stunts.” Retiring President
Vergil Gunch was in the chair, his stiff hair like a hedge, his voice like
a brazen gong of festival. Members who had brought guests introduced them
publicly. “This tall red-headed piece of misinformation is the sporting
editor of the Press,” said Willis Ijams; and H. H. Hazen, the druggist,
chanted, “Boys, when you're on a long motor tour and finally get to a
romantic spot or scene and draw up and remark to the wife, 'This is
certainly a romantic place,' it sends a glow right up and down your
vertebrae. Well, my guest to-day is from such a place, Harper's Ferry,
Virginia, in the beautiful Southland, with memories of good old General
Robert E. Lee and of that brave soul, John Brown who, like every good
Booster, goes marching on—”

There were two especially distinguished guests: the leading man of the
“Bird of Paradise” company, playing this week at the Dodsworth Theater,
and the mayor of Zenith, the Hon. Lucas Prout.

Vergil Gunch thundered, “When we manage to grab this celebrated Thespian
off his lovely aggregation of beautiful actresses—and I got to admit
I butted right into his dressing-room and told him how the Boosters
appreciated the high-class artistic performance he's giving us—and
don't forget that the treasurer of the Dodsworth is a Booster and will
appreciate our patronage—and when on top of that we yank Hizzonor
out of his multifarious duties at City Hall, then I feel we've done
ourselves proud, and Mr. Prout will now say a few words about the problems
and duties—”

By rising vote the Boosters decided which was the handsomest and which the
ugliest guest, and to each of them was given a bunch of carnations,
donated, President Gunch noted, by Brother Booster H. G. Yeager, the
Jennifer Avenue florist.

Each week, in rotation, four Boosters were privileged to obtain the
pleasures of generosity and of publicity by donating goods or services to
four fellow-members, chosen by lot. There was laughter, this week, when it
was announced that one of the contributors was Barnabas Joy, the
undertaker. Everybody whispered, “I can think of a coupla good guys to be
buried if his donation is a free funeral!”

Through all these diversions the Boosters were lunching on chicken
croquettes, peas, fried potatoes, coffee, apple pie, and American cheese.
Gunch did not lump the speeches. Presently he called on the visiting
secretary of the Zenith Rotary Club, a rival organization. The secretary
had the distinction of possessing State Motor Car License Number 5.

The Rotary secretary laughingly admitted that wherever he drove in the
state so low a number created a sensation, and “though it was pretty nice
to have the honor, yet traffic cops remembered it only too darn well, and
sometimes he didn't know but what he'd almost as soon have just plain
B56,876 or something like that. Only let any doggone Booster try to get
Number 5 away from a live Rotarian next year, and watch the fur fly! And
if they'd permit him, he'd wind up by calling for a cheer for the Boosters
and Rotarians and the Kiwanis all together!”

Babbitt sighed to Professor Pumphrey, “Be pretty nice to have as low a
number as that! Everybody 'd say, 'He must be an important guy!' Wonder
how he got it? I'll bet he wined and dined the superintendent of the Motor
License Bureau to a fare-you-well!”

Then Chum Frink addressed them:

“Some of you may feel that it's out of place here to talk on a strictly
highbrow and artistic subject, but I want to come out flatfooted and ask
you boys to O.K. the proposition of a Symphony Orchestra for Zenith. Now,
where a lot of you make your mistake is in assuming that if you don't like
classical music and all that junk, you ought to oppose it. Now, I want to
confess that, though I'm a literary guy by profession, I don't care a rap
for all this long-haired music. I'd rather listen to a good jazz band any
time than to some piece by Beethoven that hasn't any more tune to it than
a bunch of fighting cats, and you couldn't whistle it to save your life!
But that isn't the point. Culture has become as necessary an adornment and
advertisement for a city to-day as pavements or bank-clearances. It's
Culture, in theaters and art-galleries and so on, that brings thousands of
visitors to New York every year and, to be frank, for all our splendid
attainments we haven't yet got the Culture of a New York or Chicago or
Boston—or at least we don't get the credit for it. The thing to do
then, as a live bunch of go-getters, is to CAPITALIZE CULTURE; to go right
out and grab it.

“Pictures and books are fine for those that have the time to study 'em,
but they don't shoot out on the road and holler 'This is what little old
Zenith can put up in the way of Culture.' That's precisely what a Symphony
Orchestra does do. Look at the credit Minneapolis and Cincinnati get. An
orchestra with first-class musickers and a swell conductor—and I
believe we ought to do the thing up brown and get one of the highest-paid
conductors on the market, providing he ain't a Hun—it goes right
into Beantown and New York and Washington; it plays at the best theaters
to the most cultured and moneyed people; it gives such class-advertising
as a town can get in no other way; and the guy who is so short-sighted as
to crab this orchestra proposition is passing up the chance to impress the
glorious name of Zenith on some big New York millionaire that might-that
might establish a branch factory here!

“I could also go into the fact that for our daughters who show an interest
in highbrow music and may want to teach it, having an A1 local
organization is of great benefit, but let's keep this on a practical
basis, and I call on you good brothers to whoop it up for Culture and a
World-beating Symphony Orchestra!”

They applauded.

To a rustle of excitement President Gunch proclaimed, “Gentlemen, we will
now proceed to the annual election of officers.” For each of the six
offices, three candidates had been chosen by a committee. The second name
among the candidates for vice-president was Babbitt's.

He was surprised. He looked self-conscious. His heart pounded. He was
still more agitated when the ballots were counted and Gunch said, “It's a
pleasure to announce that Georgie Babbitt will be the next assistant
gavel-wielder. I know of no man who stands more stanchly for common sense
and enterprise than good old George. Come on, let's give him our best long

As they adjourned, a hundred men crushed in to slap his back. He had never
known a higher moment. He drove away in a blur of wonder. He lunged into
his office, chuckling to Miss McGoun, “Well, I guess you better
congratulate your boss! Been elected vice-president of the Boosters!”

He was disappointed. She answered only, “Yes—Oh, Mrs. Babbitt's been
trying to get you on the 'phone.” But the new salesman, Fritz Weilinger,
said, “By golly, chief, say, that's great, that's perfectly great! I'm
tickled to death! Congratulations!”

Babbitt called the house, and crowed to his wife, “Heard you were trying
to get me, Myra. Say, you got to hand it to little Georgie, this time!
Better talk careful! You are now addressing the vice-president of the
Boosters' Club!”

“Oh, Georgie—”

“Pretty nice, huh? Willis Ijams is the new president, but when he's away,
little ole Georgie takes the gavel and whoops 'em up and introduces the
speakers—no matter if they're the governor himself—and—”

“George! Listen!”

“—It puts him in solid with big men like Doc Dilling and—”

“George! Paul Riesling—”

“Yes, sure, I'll 'phone Paul and let him know about it right away.”

“Georgie! LISTEN! Paul's in jail. He shot his wife, he shot Zilla, this
noon. She may not live.”



HE drove to the City Prison, not blindly, but with unusual fussy care at
corners, the fussiness of an old woman potting plants. It kept him from
facing the obscenity of fate.

The attendant said, “Naw, you can't see any of the prisoners till

It was three. For half an hour Babbitt sat looking at a calendar and a
clock on a whitewashed wall. The chair was hard and mean and creaky.
People went through the office and, he thought, stared at him. He felt a
belligerent defiance which broke into a wincing fear of this machine which
was grinding Paul—Paul——

Exactly at half-past three he sent in his name.

The attendant returned with “Riesling says he don't want to see you.”

“You're crazy! You didn't give him my name! Tell him it's George wants to
see him, George Babbitt.”

“Yuh, I told him, all right, all right! He said he didn't want to see

“Then take me in anyway.”

“Nothing doing. If you ain't his lawyer, if he don't want to see you,
that's all there is to it.”

“But, my GOD—Say, let me see the warden.”

“He's busy. Come on, now, you—” Babbitt reared over him. The
attendant hastily changed to a coaxing “You can come back and try
to-morrow. Probably the poor guy is off his nut.”

Babbitt drove, not at all carefully or fussily, sliding viciously past
trucks, ignoring the truckmen's curses, to the City Hall; he stopped with
a grind of wheels against the curb, and ran up the marble steps to the
office of the Hon. Mr. Lucas Prout, the mayor. He bribed the mayor's
doorman with a dollar; he was instantly inside, demanding, “You remember
me, Mr. Prout? Babbitt—vice-president of the Boosters—campaigned
for you? Say, have you heard about poor Riesling? Well, I want an order on
the warden or whatever you call um of the City Prison to take me back and
see him. Good. Thanks.”

In fifteen minutes he was pounding down the prison corridor to a cage
where Paul Riesling sat on a cot, twisted like an old beggar, legs
crossed, arms in a knot, biting at his clenched fist.

Paul looked up blankly as the keeper unlocked the cell, admitted Babbitt,
and left them together. He spoke slowly: “Go on! Be moral!”

Babbitt plumped on the couch beside him. “I'm not going to be moral! I
don't care what happened! I just want to do anything I can. I'm glad Zilla
got what was coming to her.”

Paul said argumentatively, “Now, don't go jumping on Zilla. I've been
thinking; maybe she hasn't had any too easy a time. Just after I shot her—I
didn't hardly mean to, but she got to deviling me so I went crazy, just
for a second, and pulled out that old revolver you and I used to shoot
rabbits with, and took a crack at her. Didn't hardly mean to—After
that, when I was trying to stop the blood—It was terrible what it
did to her shoulder, and she had beautiful skin—Maybe she won't die.
I hope it won't leave her skin all scarred. But just afterward, when I was
hunting through the bathroom for some cotton to stop the blood, I ran onto
a little fuzzy yellow duck we hung on the tree one Christmas, and I
remembered she and I'd been awfully happy then—Hell. I can't hardly
believe it's me here.” As Babbitt's arm tightened about his shoulder, Paul
sighed, “I'm glad you came. But I thought maybe you'd lecture me, and when
you've committed a murder, and been brought here and everything—there
was a big crowd outside the apartment house, all staring, and the cops
took me through it—Oh, I'm not going to talk about it any more.”

But he went on, in a monotonous, terrified insane mumble. To divert him
Babbitt said, “Why, you got a scar on your cheek.”

“Yes. That's where the cop hit me. I suppose cops get a lot of fun out of
lecturing murderers, too. He was a big fellow. And they wouldn't let me
help carry Zilla down to the ambulance.”

“Paul! Quit it! Listen: she won't die, and when it's all over you and I'll
go off to Maine again. And maybe we can get that May Arnold to go along.
I'll go up to Chicago and ask her. Good woman, by golly. And afterwards
I'll see that you get started in business out West somewhere, maybe
Seattle—they say that's a lovely city.”

Paul was half smiling. It was Babbitt who rambled now. He could not tell
whether Paul was heeding, but he droned on till the coming of Paul's
lawyer, P. J. Maxwell, a thin, busy, unfriendly man who nodded at Babbitt
and hinted, “If Riesling and I could be alone for a moment—”

Babbitt wrung Paul's hands, and waited in the office till Maxwell came
pattering out. “Look, old man, what can I do?” he begged.

“Nothing. Not a thing. Not just now,” said Maxwell. “Sorry. Got to hurry.
And don't try to see him. I've had the doctor give him a shot of morphine,
so he'll sleep.”

It seemed somehow wicked to return to the office. Babbitt felt as though
he had just come from a funeral. He drifted out to the City Hospital to
inquire about Zilla. She was not likely to die, he learned. The bullet
from Paul's huge old .44 army revolver had smashed her shoulder and torn
upward and out.

He wandered home and found his wife radiant with the horified interest we
have in the tragedies of our friends. “Of course Paul isn't altogether to
blame, but this is what comes of his chasing after other women instead of
bearing his cross in a Christian way,” she exulted.

He was too languid to respond as he desired. He said what was to be said
about the Christian bearing of crosses, and went out to clean the car.
Dully, patiently, he scraped linty grease from the drip-pan, gouged at the
mud caked on the wheels. He used up many minutes in washing his hands;
scoured them with gritty kitchen soap; rejoiced in hurting his plump
knuckles. “Damn soft hands—like a woman's. Aah!”

At dinner, when his wife began the inevitable, he bellowed, “I forbid any
of you to say a word about Paul! I'll 'tend to all the talking about this
that's necessary, hear me? There's going to be one house in this
scandal-mongering town to-night that isn't going to spring the
holier-than-thou. And throw those filthy evening papers out of the house!”

But he himself read the papers, after dinner.

Before nine he set out for the house of Lawyer Maxwell. He was received
without cordiality. “Well?” said Maxwell.

“I want to offer my services in the trial. I've got an idea. Why couldn't
I go on the stand and swear I was there, and she pulled the gun first and
he wrestled with her and the gun went off accidentally?”

“And perjure yourself?”

“Huh? Yes, I suppose it would be perjury. Oh—Would it help?”

“But, my dear fellow! Perjury!”

“Oh, don't be a fool! Excuse me, Maxwell; I didn't mean to get your goat.
I just mean: I've known and you've known many and many a case of perjury,
just to annex some rotten little piece of real estate, and here where it's
a case of saving Paul from going to prison, I'd perjure myself black in
the face.”

“No. Aside from the ethics of the matter, I'm afraid it isn't practicable.
The prosecutor would tear your testimony to pieces. It's known that only
Riesling and his wife were there at the time.”

“Then, look here! Let me go on the stand and swear—and this would be
the God's truth—that she pestered him till he kind of went crazy.”

“No. Sorry. Riesling absolutely refuses to have any testimony reflecting
on his wife. He insists on pleading guilty.”

“Then let me get up and testify something—whatever you say. Let me

“I'm sorry, Babbitt, but the best thing you can do—I hate to say it,
but you could help us most by keeping strictly out of it.”

Babbitt, revolving his hat like a defaulting poor tenant, winced so
visibly that Maxwell condescended:

“I don't like to hurt your feelings, but you see we both want to do our
best for Riesling, and we mustn't consider any other factor. The trouble
with you, Babbitt, is that you're one of these fellows who talk too
readily. You like to hear your own voice. If there were anything for which
I could put you in the witness-box, you'd get going and give the whole
show away. Sorry. Now I must look over some papers—So sorry.”


He spent most of the next morning nerving himself to face the garrulous
world of the Athletic Club. They would talk about Paul; they would be
lip-licking and rotten. But at the Roughnecks' Table they did not mention
Paul. They spoke with zeal of the coming baseball season. He loved them as
he never had before.


He had, doubtless from some story-book, pictured Paul's trial as a long
struggle, with bitter arguments, a taut crowd, and sudden and overwhelming
new testimony. Actually, the trial occupied less than fifteen minutes,
largely filled with the evidence of doctors that Zilla would recover and
that Paul must have been temporarily insane. Next day Paul was sentenced
to three years in the State Penitentiary and taken off—quite
undramatically, not handcuffed, merely plodding in a tired way beside a
cheerful deputy sheriff—and after saying good-by to him at the
station Babbitt returned to his office to realize that he faced a world
which, without Paul, was meaningless.



HE was busy, from March to June. He kept himself from the bewilderment of
thinking. His wife and the neighbors were generous. Every evening he
played bridge or attended the movies, and the days were blank of face and

In June, Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went East, to stay with relatives, and
Babbitt was free to do—he was not quite sure what.

All day long after their departure he thought of the emancipated house in
which he could, if he desired, go mad and curse the gods without having to
keep up a husbandly front. He considered, “I could have a reg'lar party
to-night; stay out till two and not do any explaining afterwards. Cheers!”
He telephoned to Vergil Gunch, to Eddie Swanson. Both of them were engaged
for the evening, and suddenly he was bored by having to take so much
trouble to be riotous.

He was silent at dinner, unusually kindly to Ted and Verona, hesitating
but not disapproving when Verona stated her opinion of Kenneth Escott's
opinion of Dr. John Jennison Drew's opinion of the opinions of the
evolutionists. Ted was working in a garage through the summer vacation,
and he related his daily triumphs: how he had found a cracked ball-race,
what he had said to the Old Grouch, what he had said to the foreman about
the future of wireless telephony.

Ted and Verona went to a dance after dinner. Even the maid was out. Rarely
had Babbitt been alone in the house for an entire evening. He was
restless. He vaguely wanted something more diverting than the newspaper
comic strips to read. He ambled up to Verona's room, sat on her maidenly
blue and white bed, humming and grunting in a solid-citizen manner as he
examined her books: Conrad's “Rescue,” a volume strangely named “Figures
of Earth,” poetry (quite irregular poetry, Babbitt thought) by Vachel
Lindsay, and essays by H. L. Mencken—highly improper essays, making
fun of the church and all the decencies. He liked none of the books. In
them he felt a spirit of rebellion against niceness and solid-citizenship.
These authors—and he supposed they were famous ones, too—did
not seem to care about telling a good story which would enable a fellow to
forget his troubles. He sighed. He noted a book, “The Three Black
Pennies,” by Joseph Hergesheimer. Ah, that was something like it! It would
be an adventure story, maybe about counterfeiting—detectives
sneaking up on the old house at night. He tucked the book under his arm,
he clumped down-stairs and solemnly began to read, under the piano-lamp:

“A twilight like blue dust sifted into the shallow fold of the thickly
wooded hills. It was early October, but a crisping frost had already
stamped the maple trees with gold, the Spanish oaks were hung with patches
of wine red, the sumach was brilliant in the darkening underbrush. A
pattern of wild geese, flying low and unconcerned above the hills, wavered
against the serene ashen evening. Howat Penny, standing in the comparative
clearing of a road, decided that the shifting regular flight would not
come close enough for a shot.... He had no intention of hunting the geese.
With the drooping of day his keenness had evaporated; an habitual
indifference strengthened, permeating him....”

There it was again: discontent with the good common ways. Babbitt laid
down the book and listened to the stillness. The inner doors of the house
were open. He heard from the kitchen the steady drip of the refrigerator,
a rhythm demanding and disquieting. He roamed to the window. The summer
evening was foggy and, seen through the wire screen, the street lamps were
crosses of pale fire. The whole world was abnormal. While he brooded,
Verona and Ted came in and went up to bed. Silence thickened in the
sleeping house. He put on his hat, his respectable derby, lighted a cigar,
and walked up and down before the house, a portly, worthy, unimaginative
figure, humming “Silver Threads among the Gold.” He casually considered,
“Might call up Paul.” Then he remembered. He saw Paul in a jailbird's
uniform, but while he agonized he didn't believe the tale. It was part of
the unreality of this fog-enchanted evening.

If she were here Myra would be hinting, “Isn't it late, Georgie?” He
tramped in forlorn and unwanted freedom. Fog hid the house now. The world
was uncreated, a chaos without turmoil or desire.

Through the mist came a man at so feverish a pace that he seemed to dance
with fury as he entered the orb of glow from a street-lamp. At each step
he brandished his stick and brought it down with a crash. His glasses on
their broad pretentious ribbon banged against his stomach. Babbitt
incredulously saw that it was Chum Frink.

Frink stopped, focused his vision, and spoke with gravity:

“There's another fool. George Babbitt. Lives for renting howshes—houses.
Know who I am? I'm traitor to poetry. I'm drunk. I'm talking too much. I
don't care. Know what I could 've been? I could 've been a Gene Field or a
James Whitcomb Riley. Maybe a Stevenson. I could 've. Whimsies.
'Magination. Lissen. Lissen to this. Just made it up:

     Glittering summery meadowy noise
Of beetles and bums and respectable boys.

Hear that? Whimzh—whimsy. I made that up. I don't know what it
means! Beginning good verse. Chile's Garden Verses. And whadi write?
Tripe! Cheer-up poems. All tripe! Could have written—Too late!”

He darted on with an alarming plunge, seeming always to pitch forward yet
never quite falling. Babbitt would have been no more astonished and no
less had a ghost skipped out of the fog carrying his head. He accepted
Frink with vast apathy; he grunted, “Poor boob!” and straightway forgot

He plodded into the house, deliberately went to the refrigerator and
rifled it. When Mrs. Babbitt was at home, this was one of the major
household crimes. He stood before the covered laundry tubs, eating a
chicken leg and half a saucer of raspberry jelly, and grumbling over a
clammy cold boiled potato. He was thinking. It was coming to him that
perhaps all life as he knew it and vigorously practised it was futile;
that heaven as portrayed by the Reverend Dr. John Jennison Drew was
neither probable nor very interesting; that he hadn't much pleasure out of
making money; that it was of doubtful worth to rear children merely that
they might rear children who would rear children. What was it all about?
What did he want?

He blundered into the living-room, lay on the davenport, hands behind his

What did he want? Wealth? Social position? Travel? Servants? Yes, but only

“I give it up,” he sighed.

But he did know that he wanted the presence of Paul Riesling; and from
that he stumbled into the admission that he wanted the fairy girl—in
the flesh. If there had been a woman whom he loved, he would have fled to
her, humbled his forehead on her knees.

He thought of his stenographer, Miss McGoun. He thought of the prettiest
of the manicure girls at the Hotel Thornleigh barber shop. As he fell
asleep on the davenport he felt that he had found something in life, and
that he had made a terrifying, thrilling break with everything that was
decent and normal.


He had forgotten, next morning, that he was a conscious rebel, but he was
irritable in the office and at the eleven o'clock drive of telephone calls
and visitors he did something he had often desired and never dared: he
left the office without excuses to those slave-drivers his employees, and
went to the movies. He enjoyed the right to be alone. He came out with a
vicious determination to do what he pleased.

As he approached the Roughnecks' Table at the club, everybody laughed.

“Well, here's the millionaire!” said Sidney Finkelstein.

“Yes, I saw him in his Locomobile!” said Professor Pumphrey.

“Gosh, it must be great to be a smart guy like Georgie!” moaned Vergil
Gunch. “He's probably stolen all of Dorchester. I'd hate to leave a poor
little defenseless piece of property lying around where he could get his
hooks on it!”

They had, Babbitt perceived, “something on him.” Also, they “had their
kidding clothes on.” Ordinarily he would have been delighted at the honor
implied in being chaffed, but he was suddenly touchy. He grunted, “Yuh,
sure; maybe I'll take you guys on as office boys!” He was impatient as the
jest elaborately rolled on to its denouement.

“Of course he may have been meeting a girl,” they said, and “No, I think
he was waiting for his old roommate, Sir Jerusalem Doak.”

He exploded, “Oh, spring it, spring it, you boneheads! What's the great

“Hurray! George is peeved!” snickered Sidney Finkelstein, while a grin
went round the table. Gunch revealed the shocking truth: He had seen
Babbitt coming out of a motion-picture theater—at noon!

They kept it up. With a hundred variations, a hundred guffaws, they said
that he had gone to the movies during business-hours. He didn't so much
mind Gunch, but he was annoyed by Sidney Finkelstein, that brisk, lean,
red-headed explainer of jokes. He was bothered, too, by the lump of ice in
his glass of water. It was too large; it spun round and burned his nose
when he tried to drink. He raged that Finkelstein was like that lump of
ice. But he won through; he kept up his banter till they grew tired of the
superlative jest and turned to the great problems of the day.

He reflected, “What's the matter with me to-day? Seems like I've got an
awful grouch. Only they talk so darn much. But I better steer careful and
keep my mouth shut.”

As they lighted their cigars he mumbled, “Got to get back,” and on a
chorus of “If you WILL go spending your mornings with lady ushers at the
movies!” he escaped. He heard them giggling. He was embarrassed. While he
was most bombastically agreeing with the coat-man that the weather was
warm, he was conscious that he was longing to run childishly with his
troubles to the comfort of the fairy child.


He kept Miss McGoun after he had finished dictating. He searched for a
topic which would warm her office impersonality into friendliness.

“Where you going on your vacation?” he purred.

“I think I'll go up-state to a farm do you want me to have the Siddons
lease copied this afternoon?”

“Oh, no hurry about it.... I suppose you have a great time when you get
away from us cranks in the office.”

She rose and gathered her pencils. “Oh, nobody's cranky here I think I can
get it copied after I do the letters.”

She was gone. Babbitt utterly repudiated the view that he had been trying
to discover how approachable was Miss McGoun. “Course! knew there was
nothing doing!” he said.


Eddie Swanson, the motor-car agent who lived across the street from
Babbitt, was giving a Sunday supper. His wife Louetta, young Louetta who
loved jazz in music and in clothes and laughter, was at her wildest. She
cried, “We'll have a real party!” as she received the guests. Babbitt had
uneasily felt that to many men she might be alluring; now he admitted that
to himself she was overwhelmingly alluring. Mrs. Babbitt had never quite
approved of Louetta; Babbitt was glad that she was not here this evening.

He insisted on helping Louetta in the kitchen: taking the chicken
croquettes from the warming-oven, the lettuce sandwiches from the ice-box.
He held her hand, once, and she depressingly didn't notice it. She
caroled, “You're a good little mother's-helper, Georgie. Now trot in with
the tray and leave it on the side-table.”

He wished that Eddie Swanson would give them cocktails; that Louetta would
have one. He wanted—Oh, he wanted to be one of these Bohemians you
read about. Studio parties. Wild lovely girls who were independent. Not
necessarily bad. Certainly not! But not tame, like Floral Heights. How
he'd ever stood it all these years—

Eddie did not give them cocktails. True, they supped with mirth, and with
several repetitions by Orville Jones of “Any time Louetta wants to come
sit on my lap I'll tell this sandwich to beat it!” but they were
respectable, as befitted Sunday evening. Babbitt had discreetly preempted
a place beside Louetta on the piano bench. While he talked about motors,
while he listened with a fixed smile to her account of the film she had
seen last Wednesday, while he hoped that she would hurry up and finish her
description of the plot, the beauty of the leading man, and the luxury of
the setting, he studied her. Slim waist girdled with raw silk, strong
brows, ardent eyes, hair parted above a broad forehead—she meant
youth to him and a charm which saddened. He thought of how valiant a
companion she would be on a long motor tour, exploring mountains,
picnicking in a pine grove high above a valley. Her frailness touched him;
he was angry at Eddie Swanson for the incessant family bickering. All at
once he identified Louetta with the fairy girl. He was startled by the
conviction that they had always had a romantic attraction for each other.

“I suppose you're leading a simply terrible life, now you're a widower,”
she said.

“You bet! I'm a bad little fellow and proud of it. Some evening you slip
Eddie some dope in his coffee and sneak across the road and I'll show you
how to mix a cocktail,” he roared.

“Well, now, I might do it! You never can tell!”

“Well, whenever you're ready, you just hang a towel out of the attic
window and I'll jump for the gin!”

Every one giggled at this naughtiness. In a pleased way Eddie Swanson
stated that he would have a physician analyze his coffee daily. The others
were diverted to a discussion of the more agreeable recent murders, but
Babbitt drew Louetta back to personal things:

“That's the prettiest dress I ever saw in my life.”

“Do you honestly like it?”

“Like it? Why, say, I'm going to have Kenneth Escott put a piece in the
paper saying that the swellest dressed woman in the U. S. is Mrs. E.
Louetta Swanson.”

“Now, you stop teasing me!” But she beamed. “Let's dance a little. George,
you've got to dance with me.”

Even as he protested, “Oh, you know what a rotten dancer I am!” he was
lumbering to his feet.

“I'll teach you. I can teach anybody.”

Her eyes were moist, her voice was jagged with excitement. He was
convinced that he had won her. He clasped her, conscious of her smooth
warmth, and solemnly he circled in a heavy version of the one-step. He
bumped into only one or two people. “Gosh, I'm not doing so bad; hittin'
'em up like a regular stage dancer!” he gloated; and she answered busily,
“Yes—yes—I told you I could teach anybody—DON'T TAKE

For a moment he was robbed of confidence; with fearful concentration he
sought to keep time to the music. But he was enveloped again by her
enchantment. “She's got to like me; I'll make her!” he vowed. He tried to
kiss the lock beside her ear. She mechanically moved her head to avoid it,
and mechanically she murmured, “Don't!”

For a moment he hated her, but after the moment he was as urgent as ever.
He danced with Mrs. Orville Jones, but he watched Louetta swooping down
the length of the room with her husband. “Careful! You're getting
foolish!” he cautioned himself, the while he hopped and bent his solid
knees in dalliance with Mrs. Jones, and to that worthy lady rumbled, “Gee,
it's hot!” Without reason, he thought of Paul in that shadowy place where
men never dance. “I'm crazy to-night; better go home,” he worried, but he
left Mrs. Jones and dashed to Louetta's lovely side, demanding, “The next
is mine.”

“Oh, I'm so hot; I'm not going to dance this one.”

“Then,” boldly, “come out and sit on the porch and get all nice and cool.”


In the tender darkness, with the clamor in the house behind them, he
resolutely took her hand. She squeezed his once, then relaxed.

“Louetta! I think you're the nicest thing I know!”

“Well, I think you're very nice.”

“Do you? You got to like me! I'm so lonely!”

“Oh, you'll be all right when your wife comes home.”

“No, I'm always lonely.”

She clasped her hands under her chin, so that he dared not touch her. He

“When I feel punk and—” He was about to bring in the tragedy of
Paul, but that was too sacred even for the diplomacy of love. “—when
I get tired out at the office and everything, I like to look across the
street and think of you. Do you know I dreamed of you, one time!”

“Was it a nice dream?”


“Oh, well, they say dreams go by opposites! Now I must run in.”

She was on her feet.

“Oh, don't go in yet! Please, Louetta!”

“Yes, I must. Have to look out for my guests.”

“Let 'em look out for 'emselves!”

“I couldn't do that.” She carelessly tapped his shoulder and slipped away.

But after two minutes of shamed and childish longing to sneak home he was
snorting, “Certainly I wasn't trying to get chummy with her! Knew there
was nothing doing, all the time!” and he ambled in to dance with Mrs.
Orville Jones, and to avoid Louetta, virtuously and conspicuously.



HIS visit to Paul was as unreal as his night of fog and questioning.
Unseeing he went through prison corridors stinking of carbolic acid to a
room lined with pale yellow settees pierced in rosettes, like the
shoe-store benches he had known as a boy. The guard led in Paul. Above his
uniform of linty gray, Paul's face was pale and without expression. He
moved timorously in response to the guard's commands; he meekly pushed
Babbitt's gifts of tobacco and magazines across the table to the guard for
examination. He had nothing to say but “Oh, I'm getting used to it” and
“I'm working in the tailor shop; the stuff hurts my fingers.”

Babbitt knew that in this place of death Paul was already dead. And as he
pondered on the train home something in his own self seemed to have died:
a loyal and vigorous faith in the goodness of the world, a fear of public
disfavor, a pride in success. He was glad that his wife was away. He
admitted it without justifying it. He did not care.


Her card read “Mrs. Daniel Judique.” Babbitt knew of her as the widow of a
wholesale paper-dealer. She must have been forty or forty-two but he
thought her younger when he saw her in the office, that afternoon. She had
come to inquire about renting an apartment, and he took her away from the
unskilled girl accountant. He was nervously attracted by her smartness.
She was a slender woman, in a black Swiss frock dotted with white, a
cool-looking graceful frock. A broad black hat shaded her face. Her eyes
were lustrous, her soft chin of an agreeable plumpness, and her cheeks an
even rose. Babbitt wondered afterward if she was made up, but no man
living knew less of such arts.

She sat revolving her violet parasol. Her voice was appealing without
being coy. “I wonder if you can help me?”

“Be delighted.”

“I've looked everywhere and—I want a little flat, just a bedroom, or
perhaps two, and sitting-room and kitchenette and bath, but I want one
that really has some charm to it, not these dingy places or these new ones
with terrible gaudy chandeliers. And I can't pay so dreadfully much. My
name's Tanis Judique.”

“I think maybe I've got just the thing for you. Would you like to chase
around and look at it now?”

“Yes. I have a couple of hours.”

In the new Cavendish Apartments, Babbitt had a flat which he had been
holding for Sidney Finkelstein, but at the thought of driving beside this
agreeable woman he threw over his friend Finkelstein, and with a note of
gallantry he proclaimed, “I'll let you see what I can do!”

He dusted the seat of the car for her, and twice he risked death in
showing off his driving.

“You do know how to handle a car!” she said.

He liked her voice. There was, he thought, music in it and a hint of
culture, not a bouncing giggle like Louetta Swanson's.

He boasted, “You know, there's a lot of these fellows that are so scared
and drive so slow that they get in everybody's way. The safest driver is a
fellow that knows how to handle his machine and yet isn't scared to speed
up when it's necessary, don't you think so?”

“Oh, yes!”

“I bet you drive like a wiz.”

“Oh, no—I mean—not really. Of course, we had a car—I
mean, before my husband passed on—and I used to make believe drive
it, but I don't think any woman ever learns to drive like a man.”

“Well, now, there's some mighty good woman drivers.”

“Oh, of course, these women that try to imitate men, and play golf and
everything, and ruin their complexions and spoil their hands!”

“That's so. I never did like these mannish females.”

“I mean—of course, I admire them, dreadfully, and I feel so weak and
useless beside them.”

“Oh, rats now! I bet you play the piano like a wiz.”

“Oh, no—I mean—not really.”

“Well, I'll bet you do!” He glanced at her smooth hands, her diamond and
ruby rings. She caught the glance, snuggled her hands together with a
kittenish curving of slim white fingers which delighted him, and yearned:

“I do love to play—I mean—I like to drum on the piano, but I
haven't had any real training. Mr. Judique used to say I would 've been a
good pianist if I'd had any training, but then, I guess he was just
flattering me.”

“I'll bet he wasn't! I'll bet you've got temperament.”

“Oh—Do you like music, Mr Babbitt?”

“You bet I do! Only I don't know 's I care so much for all this classical

“Oh, I do! I just love Chopin and all those.”

“Do you, honest? Well, of course, I go to lots of these highbrow concerts,
but I do like a good jazz orchestra, right up on its toes, with the fellow
that plays the bass fiddle spinning it around and beating it up with the

“Oh, I know. I do love good dance music. I love to dance, don't you, Mr.

“Sure, you bet. Not that I'm very darn good at it, though.”

“Oh, I'm sure you are. You ought to let me teach you. I can teach anybody
to dance.”

“Would you give me a lesson some time?”

“Indeed I would.”

“Better be careful, or I'll be taking you up on that proposition. I'll be
coming up to your flat and making you give me that lesson.”

“Ye-es.” She was not offended, but she was non-committal. He warned
himself, “Have some sense now, you chump! Don't go making a fool of
yourself again!” and with loftiness he discoursed:

“I wish I could dance like some of these young fellows, but I'll tell you:
I feel it's a man's place to take a full, you might say, a creative share
in the world's work and mold conditions and have something to show for his
life, don't you think so?”

“Oh, I do!”

“And so I have to sacrifice some of the things I might like to tackle,
though I do, by golly, play about as good a game of golf as the next

“Oh, I'm sure you do.... Are you married?”

“Uh—yes.... And, uh, of course official duties I'm the
vice-president of the Boosters' Club, and I'm running one of the
committees of the State Association of Real Estate Boards, and that means
a lot of work and responsibility—and practically no gratitude for

“Oh, I know! Public men never do get proper credit.”

They looked at each other with a high degree of mutual respect, and at the
Cavendish Apartments he helped her out in a courtly manner, waved his hand
at the house as though he were presenting it to her, and ponderously
ordered the elevator boy to “hustle and get the keys.” She stood close to
him in the elevator, and he was stirred but cautious.

It was a pretty flat, of white woodwork and soft blue walls. Mrs. Judique
gushed with pleasure as she agreed to take it, and as they walked down the
hall to the elevator she touched his sleeve, caroling, “Oh, I'm so glad I
went to you! It's such a privilege to meet a man who really Understands.
Oh! The flats SOME people have showed me!”

He had a sharp instinctive belief that he could put his arm around her,
but he rebuked himself and with excessive politeness he saw her to the
car, drove her home. All the way back to his office he raged:

“Glad I had some sense for once.... Curse it, I wish I'd tried. She's a
darling! A corker! A reg'lar charmer! Lovely eyes and darling lips and
that trim waist—never get sloppy, like some women.... No, no, no!
She's a real cultured lady. One of the brightest little women I've met
these many moons. Understands about Public Topics and—But, darn it,
why didn't I try? . . . Tanis!”


He was harassed and puzzled by it, but he found that he was turning toward
youth, as youth. The girl who especially disturbed him—though he had
never spoken to her—was the last manicure girl on the right in the
Pompeian Barber Shop. She was small, swift, black-haired, smiling. She was
nineteen, perhaps, or twenty. She wore thin salmon-colored blouses which
exhibited her shoulders and her black-ribboned camisoles.

He went to the Pompeian for his fortnightly hair-trim. As always, he felt
disloyal at deserting his neighbor, the Reeves Building Barber Shop. Then,
for the first time, he overthrew his sense of guilt. “Doggone it, I don't
have to go here if I don't want to! I don't own the Reeves Building! These
barbers got nothing on me! I'll doggone well get my hair cut where I
doggone well want to! Don't want to hear anything more about it! I'm
through standing by people—unless I want to. It doesn't get you
anywhere. I'm through!”

The Pompeian Barber Shop was in the basement of the Hotel Thornleigh,
largest and most dynamically modern hotel in Zenith. Curving marble steps
with a rail of polished brass led from the hotel-lobby down to the barber
shop. The interior was of black and white and crimson tiles, with a
sensational ceiling of burnished gold, and a fountain in which a massive
nymph forever emptied a scarlet cornucopia. Forty barbers and nine
manicure girls worked desperately, and at the door six colored porters
lurked to greet the customers, to care reverently for their hats and
collars, to lead them to a place of waiting where, on a carpet like a
tropic isle in the stretch of white stone floor, were a dozen leather
chairs and a table heaped with magazines.

Babbitt's porter was an obsequious gray-haired negro who did him an honor
highly esteemed in the land of Zenith—greeted him by name. Yet
Babbitt was unhappy. His bright particular manicure girl was engaged. She
was doing the nails of an overdressed man and giggling with him. Babbitt
hated him. He thought of waiting, but to stop the powerful system of the
Pompeian was inconceivable, and he was instantly wafted into a chair.

About him was luxury, rich and delicate. One votary was having a
violet-ray facial treatment, the next an oil shampoo. Boys wheeled about
miraculous electrical massage-machines. The barbers snatched steaming
towels from a machine like a howitzer of polished nickel and disdainfully
flung them away after a second's use. On the vast marble shelf facing the
chairs were hundreds of tonics, amber and ruby and emerald. It was
flattering to Babbitt to have two personal slaves at once—the barber
and the bootblack. He would have been completely happy if he could also
have had the manicure girl. The barber snipped at his hair and asked his
opinion of the Havre de Grace races, the baseball season, and Mayor Prout.
The young negro bootblack hummed “The Camp Meeting Blues” and polished in
rhythm to his tune, drawing the shiny shoe-rag so taut at each stroke that
it snapped like a banjo string. The barber was an excellent salesman. He
made Babbitt feel rich and important by his manner of inquiring, “What is
your favorite tonic, sir? Have you time to-day, sir, for a facial massage?
Your scalp is a little tight; shall I give you a scalp massage?”

Babbitt's best thrill was in the shampoo. The barber made his hair creamy
with thick soap, then (as Babbitt bent over the bowl, muffled in towels)
drenched it with hot water which prickled along his scalp, and at last ran
the water ice-cold. At the shock, the sudden burning cold on his skull,
Babbitt's heart thumped, his chest heaved, and his spine was an electric
wire. It was a sensation which broke the monotony of life. He looked
grandly about the shop as he sat up. The barber obsequiously rubbed his
wet hair and bound it in a towel as in a turban, so that Babbitt resembled
a plump pink calif on an ingenious and adjustable throne. The barber
begged (in the manner of one who was a good fellow yet was overwhelmed by
the splendors of the calif), “How about a little Eldorado Oil Rub, sir?
Very beneficial to the scalp, sir. Didn't I give you one the last time?”

He hadn't, but Babbitt agreed, “Well, all right.”

With quaking eagerness he saw that his manicure girl was free.

“I don't know, I guess I'll have a manicure after all,” he droned, and
excitedly watched her coming, dark-haired, smiling, tender, little. The
manicuring would have to be finished at her table, and he would be able to
talk to her without the barber listening. He waited contentedly, not
trying to peep at her, while she filed his nails and the barber shaved him
and smeared on his burning cheeks all the interesting mixtures which the
pleasant minds of barbers have devised through the revolving ages. When
the barber was done and he sat opposite the girl at her table, he admired
the marble slab of it, admired the sunken set bowl with its tiny silver
taps, and admired himself for being able to frequent so costly a place.
When she withdrew his wet hand from the bowl, it was so sensitive from the
warm soapy water that he was abnormally aware of the clasp of her firm
little paw. He delighted in the pinkness and glossiness of her nails. Her
hands seemed to him more adorable than Mrs. Judique's thin fingers, and
more elegant. He had a certain ecstasy in the pain when she gnawed at the
cuticle of his nails with a sharp knife. He struggled not to look at the
outline of her young bosom and her shoulders, the more apparent under a
film of pink chiffon. He was conscious of her as an exquisite thing, and
when he tried to impress his personality on her he spoke as awkwardly as a
country boy at his first party:

“Well, kinda hot to be working to-day.”

“Oh, yes, it is hot. You cut your own nails, last time, didn't you!”

“Ye-es, guess I must 've.”

“You always ought to go to a manicure.”

“Yes, maybe that's so. I—”

“There's nothing looks so nice as nails that are looked after good. I
always think that's the best way to spot a real gent. There was an auto
salesman in here yesterday that claimed you could always tell a fellow's
class by the car he drove, but I says to him, 'Don't be silly,' I says;
'the wisenheimers grab a look at a fellow's nails when they want to tell
if he's a tin-horn or a real gent!”'

“Yes, maybe there's something to that. Course, that is—with a pretty
kiddy like you, a man can't help coming to get his mitts done.”

“Yeh, I may be a kid, but I'm a wise bird, and I know nice folks when I
see um—I can read character at a glance—and I'd never talk so
frank with a fellow if I couldn't see he was a nice fellow.”

She smiled. Her eyes seemed to him as gentle as April pools. With great
seriousness he informed himself that “there were some roughnecks who would
think that just because a girl was a manicure girl and maybe not awful
well educated, she was no good, but as for him, he was a democrat, and
understood people,” and he stood by the assertion that this was a fine
girl, a good girl—but not too uncomfortably good. He inquired in a
voice quick with sympathy:

“I suppose you have a lot of fellows who try to get fresh with you.”

“Say, gee, do I! Say, listen, there's some of these cigar-store sports
that think because a girl's working in a barber shop, they can get away
with anything. The things they saaaaaay! But, believe me, I know how to
hop those birds! I just give um the north and south and ask um, 'Say, who
do you think you're talking to?' and they fade away like love's young
nightmare and oh, don't you want a box of nail-paste? It will keep the
nails as shiny as when first manicured, harmless to apply and lasts for

“Sure, I'll try some. Say—Say, it's funny; I've been coming here
ever since the shop opened and—” With arch surprise. “—I don't
believe I know your name!”

“Don't you? My, that's funny! I don't know yours!”

“Now you quit kidding me! What's the nice little name?”

“Oh, it ain't so darn nice. I guess it's kind of kike. But my folks ain't
kikes. My papa's papa was a nobleman in Poland, and there was a gentleman
in here one day, he was kind of a count or something—”

“Kind of a no-account, I guess you mean!”

“Who's telling this, smarty? And he said he knew my papa's papa's folks in
Poland and they had a dandy big house. Right on a lake!” Doubtfully,
“Maybe you don't believe it?”

“Sure. No. Really. Sure I do. Why not? Don't think I'm kidding you, honey,
but every time I've noticed you I've said to myself, 'That kid has Blue
Blood in her veins!'”

“Did you, honest?”

“Honest I did. Well, well, come on—now we're friends—what's
the darling little name?”

“Ida Putiak. It ain't so much-a-much of a name. I always say to Ma, I say,
'Ma, why didn't you name me Doloress or something with some class to it?'”

“Well, now, I think it's a scrumptious name. Ida!”

“I bet I know your name!”

“Well, now, not necessarily. Of course—Oh, it isn't so specially
well known.”

“Aren't you Mr. Sondheim that travels for the Krackajack Kitchen Kutlery

“I am not! I'm Mr. Babbitt, the real-estate broker!”

“Oh, excuse me! Oh, of course. You mean here in Zenith.”

“Yep.” With the briskness of one whose feelings have been hurt.

“Oh, sure. I've read your ads. They're swell.”

“Um, well—You might have read about my speeches.”

“Course I have! I don't get much time to read but—I guess you think
I'm an awfully silly little nit!”

“I think you're a little darling!”

“Well—There's one nice thing about this job. It gives a girl a
chance to meet some awfully nice gentlemen and improve her mind with
conversation, and you get so you can read a guy's character at the first

“Look here, Ida; please don't think I'm getting fresh—” He was hotly
reflecting that it would be humiliating to be rejected by this child, and
dangerous to be accepted. If he took her to dinner, if he were seen by
censorious friends—But he went on ardently: “Don't think I'm getting
fresh if I suggest it would be nice for us to go out and have a little
dinner together some evening.”

“I don't know as I ought to but—My gentleman-friend's always wanting
to take me out. But maybe I could to-night.”


There was no reason, he assured himself, why he shouldn't have a quiet
dinner with a poor girl who would benefit by association with an educated
and mature person like himself. But, lest some one see them and not
understand, he would take her to Biddlemeier's Inn, on the outskirts of
the city. They would have a pleasant drive, this hot lonely evening, and
he might hold her hand—no, he wouldn't even do that. Ida was
complaisant; her bare shoulders showed it only too clearly; but he'd be
hanged if he'd make love to her merely because she expected it.

Then his car broke down; something had happened to the ignition. And he
HAD to have the car this evening! Furiously he tested the spark-plugs,
stared at the commutator. His angriest glower did not seem to stir the
sulky car, and in disgrace it was hauled off to a garage. With a renewed
thrill he thought of a taxicab. There was something at once wealthy and
interestingly wicked about a taxicab.

But when he met her, on a corner two blocks from the Hotel Thornleigh, she
said, “A taxi? Why, I thought you owned a car!”

“I do. Of course I do! But it's out of commission to-night.”

“Oh,” she remarked, as one who had heard that tale before.

All the way out to Biddlemeier's Inn he tried to talk as an old friend,
but he could not pierce the wall of her words. With interminable
indignation she narrated her retorts to “that fresh head-barber” and the
drastic things she would do to him if he persisted in saying that she was
“better at gassing than at hoof-paring.”

At Biddlemeier's Inn they were unable to get anything to drink. The
head-waiter refused to understand who George F. Babbitt was. They sat
steaming before a vast mixed grill, and made conversation about baseball.
When he tried to hold Ida's hand she said with bright friendliness,
“Careful! That fresh waiter is rubbering.” But they came out into a
treacherous summer night, the air lazy and a little moon above
transfigured maples.

“Let's drive some other place, where we can get a drink and dance!” he

“Sure, some other night. But I promised Ma I'd be home early to-night.”

“Rats! It's too nice to go home.”

“I'd just love to, but Ma would give me fits.”

He was trembling. She was everything that was young and exquisite. He put
his arm about her. She snuggled against his shoulder, unafraid, and he was
triumphant. Then she ran down the steps of the Inn, singing, “Come on,
Georgie, we'll have a nice drive and get cool.”

It was a night of lovers. All along the highway into Zenith, under the low
and gentle moon, motors were parked and dim figures were clasped in
revery. He held out hungry hands to Ida, and when she patted them he was
grateful. There was no sense of struggle and transition; he kissed her and
simply she responded to his kiss, they two behind the stolid back of the

Her hat fell off, and she broke from his embrace to reach for it.

“Oh, let it be!” he implored.

“Huh? My hat? Not a chance!”

He waited till she had pinned it on, then his arm sank about her. She drew
away from it, and said with maternal soothing, “Now, don't be a silly boy!
Mustn't make Ittle Mama scold! Just sit back, dearie, and see what a swell
night it is. If you're a good boy, maybe I'll kiss you when we say
nighty-night. Now give me a cigarette.”

He was solicitous about lighting her cigarette and inquiring as to her
comfort. Then he sat as far from her as possible. He was cold with
failure. No one could have told Babbitt that he was a fool with more
vigor, precision, and intelligence than he himself displayed. He reflected
that from the standpoint of the Rev. Dr. John Jennison Drew he was a
wicked man, and from the standpoint of Miss Ida Putiak, an old bore who
had to be endured as the penalty attached to eating a large dinner.

“Dearie, you aren't going to go and get peevish, are you?”

She spoke pertly. He wanted to spank her. He brooded, “I don't have to
take anything off this gutter-pup! Darn immigrant! Well, let's get it over
as quick as we can, and sneak home and kick ourselves for the rest of the

He snorted, “Huh? Me peevish? Why, you baby, why should I be peevish? Now,
listen, Ida; listen to Uncle George. I want to put you wise about this
scrapping with your head-barber all the time. I've had a lot of experience
with employees, and let me tell you it doesn't pay to antagonize—”

At the drab wooden house in which she lived he said good-night briefly and
amiably, but as the taxicab drove off he was praying “Oh, my God!”



HE awoke to stretch cheerfully as he listened to the sparrows, then to
remember that everything was wrong; that he was determined to go astray,
and not in the least enjoying the process. Why, he wondered, should he be
in rebellion? What was it all about? “Why not be sensible; stop all this
idiotic running around, and enjoy himself with his family, his business,
the fellows at the club?” What was he getting out of rebellion? Misery and
shame—the shame of being treated as an offensive small boy by a
ragamuffin like Ida Putiak! And yet—Always he came back to “And
yet.” Whatever the misery, he could not regain contentment with a world
which, once doubted, became absurd.

Only, he assured himself, he was “through with this chasing after girls.”

By noontime he was not so sure even of that. If in Miss McGoun, Louetta
Swanson, and Ida he had failed to find the lady kind and lovely, it did
not prove that she did not exist. He was hunted by the ancient thought
that somewhere must exist the not impossible she who would understand him,
value him, and make him happy.


Mrs. Babbitt returned in August.

On her previous absences he had missed her reassuring buzz and of her
arrival he had made a fête. Now, though he dared not hurt her by letting a
hint of it appear in his letters, he was sorry that she was coming before
he had found himself, and he was embarrassed by the need of meeting her
and looking joyful.

He loitered down to the station; he studied the summer-resort posters,
lest he have to speak to acquaintances and expose his uneasiness. But he
was well trained. When the train clanked in he was out on the cement
platform, peering into the chair-cars, and as he saw her in the line of
passengers moving toward the vestibule he waved his hat. At the door he
embraced her, and announced, “Well, well, well, well, by golly, you look
fine, you look fine.” Then he was aware of Tinka. Here was something, this
child with her absurd little nose and lively eyes, that loved him,
believed him great, and as he clasped her, lifted and held her till she
squealed, he was for the moment come back to his old steady self.

Tinka sat beside him in the car, with one hand on the steering-wheel,
pretending to help him drive, and he shouted back to his wife, “I'll bet
the kid will be the best chuffer in the family! She holds the wheel like
an old professional!”

All the while he was dreading the moment when he would be alone with his
wife and she would patiently expect him to be ardent.


There was about the house an unofficial theory that he was to take his
vacation alone, to spend a week or ten days in Catawba, but he was nagged
by the memory that a year ago he had been with Paul in Maine. He saw
himself returning; finding peace there, and the presence of Paul, in a
life primitive and heroic. Like a shock came the thought that he actually
could go. Only, he couldn't, really; he couldn't leave his business, and
“Myra would think it sort of funny, his going way off there alone. Course
he'd decided to do whatever he darned pleased, from now on, but still—to
go way off to Maine!”

He went, after lengthy meditations.

With his wife, since it was inconceivable to explain that he was going to
seek Paul's spirit in the wilderness, he frugally employed the lie
prepared over a year ago and scarcely used at all. He said that he had to
see a man in New York on business. He could not have explained even to
himself why he drew from the bank several hundred dollars more than he
needed, nor why he kissed Tinka so tenderly, and cried, “God bless you,
baby!” From the train he waved to her till she was but a scarlet spot
beside the brown bulkier presence of Mrs. Babbitt, at the end of a steel
and cement aisle ending in vast barred gates. With melancholy he looked
back at the last suburb of Zenith.

All the way north he pictured the Maine guides: simple and strong and
daring, jolly as they played stud-poker in their unceiled shack, wise in
woodcraft as they tramped the forest and shot the rapids. He particularly
remembered Joe Paradise, half Yankee, half Indian. If he could but take up
a backwoods claim with a man like Joe, work hard with his hands, be free
and noisy in a flannel shirt, and never come back to this dull decency!

Or, like a trapper in a Northern Canada movie, plunge through the forest,
make camp in the Rockies, a grim and wordless caveman! Why not? He COULD
do it! There'd be enough money at home for the family to live on till
Verona was married and Ted self-supporting. Old Henry T. would look out
for them. Honestly! Why NOT? Really LIVE—

He longed for it, admitted that he longed for it, then almost believed
that he was going to do it. Whenever common sense snorted, “Nonsense!
Folks don't run away from decent families and partners; just simply don't
do it, that's all!” then Babbitt answered pleadingly, “Well, it wouldn't
take any more nerve than for Paul to go to jail and—Lord, how I'd'
* like to do it! Moccasins—six-gun—frontier town—gamblers—sleep under
the stars—be a regular man, with he-men like Joe Paradise—gosh!”

So he came to Maine, again stood on the wharf before the camp-hotel, again
spat heroically into the delicate and shivering water, while the pines
rustled, the mountains glowed, and a trout leaped and fell in a sliding
circle. He hurried to the guides' shack as to his real home, his real
friends, long missed. They would be glad to see him. They would stand up
and shout? “Why, here's Mr. Babbitt! He ain't one of these ordinary
sports! He's a real guy!”

In their boarded and rather littered cabin the guides sat about the greasy
table playing stud-poker with greasy cards: half a dozen wrinkled men in
old trousers and easy old felt hats. They glanced up and nodded. Joe
Paradise, the swart aging man with the big mustache, grunted, “How do.
Back again?”

Silence, except for the clatter of chips.

Babbitt stood beside them, very lonely. He hinted, after a period of
highly concentrated playing, “Guess I might take a hand, Joe.”

“Sure. Sit in. How many chips you want? Let's see; you were here with your
wife, last year, wa'n't you?” said Joe Paradise.

That was all of Babbitt's welcome to the old home.

He played for half an hour before he spoke again. His head was reeking
with the smoke of pipes and cheap cigars, and he was weary of pairs and
four-flushes, resentful of the way in which they ignored him. He flung at

“Working now?”


“Like to guide me for a few days?”

“Well, jus' soon. I ain't engaged till next week.”

Only thus did Joe recognize the friendship Babbitt was offering him.
Babbitt paid up his losses and left the shack rather childishly. Joe
raised his head from the coils of smoke like a seal rising from surf,
grunted, “I'll come 'round t'morrow,” and dived down to his three aces.

Neither in his voiceless cabin, fragrant with planks of new-cut pine, nor
along the lake, nor in the sunset clouds which presently eddied behind the
lavender-misted mountains, could Babbitt find the spirit of Paul as a
reassuring presence. He was so lonely that after supper he stopped to talk
with an ancient old lady, a gasping and steadily discoursing old lady, by
the stove in the hotel-office. He told her of Ted's presumable future
triumphs in the State University and of Tinka's remarkable vocabulary till
he was homesick for the home he had left forever.

Through the darkness, through that Northern pine-walled silence, he
blundered down to the lake-front and found a canoe. There were no paddles
in it but with a board, sitting awkwardly amidships and poking at the
water rather than paddling, he made his way far out on the lake. The
lights of the hotel and the cottages became yellow dots, a cluster of
glow-worms at the base of Sachem Mountain. Larger and ever more
imperturbable was the mountain in the star-filtered darkness, and the lake
a limitless pavement of black marble. He was dwarfed and dumb and a little
awed, but that insignificance freed him from the pomposities of being Mr.
George F. Babbitt of Zenith; saddened and freed his heart. Now he was
conscious of the presence of Paul, fancied him (rescued from prison, from
Zilla and the brisk exactitudes of the tar-roofing business) playing his
violin at the end of the canoe. He vowed, “I will go on! I'll never go
back! Now that Paul's out of it, I don't want to see any of those damn
people again! I was a fool to get sore because Joe Paradise didn't jump up
and hug me. He's one of these woodsmen; too wise to go yelping and talking
your arm off like a cityman. But get him back in the mountains, out on the
trail—! That's real living!”


Joe reported at Babbitt's cabin at nine the next morning. Babbitt greeted
him as a fellow caveman:

“Well, Joe, how d' you feel about hitting the trail, and getting away from
these darn soft summerites and these women and all?”

“All right, Mr. Babbitt.”

“What do you say we go over to Box Car Pond—they tell me the shack
there isn't being used—and camp out?”

“Well, all right, Mr. Babbitt, but it's nearer to Skowtuit Pond, and you
can get just about as good fishing there.”

“No, I want to get into the real wilds.”

“Well, all right.”

“We'll put the old packs on our backs and get into the woods and really

“I think maybe it would be easier to go by water, through Lake Chogue. We
can go all the way by motor boat—flat-bottom boat with an Evinrude.”

“No, sir! Bust up the quiet with a chugging motor? Not on your life! You
just throw a pair of socks in the old pack, and tell 'em what you want for
eats. I'll be ready soon 's you are.”

“Most of the sports go by boat, Mr. Babbitt. It's a long walk.

“Look here, Joe: are you objecting to walking?”

“Oh, no, I guess I can do it. But I haven't tramped that far for sixteen
years. Most of the sports go by boat. But I can do it if you say so—I
guess.” Joe walked away in sadness.

Babbitt had recovered from his touchy wrath before Joe returned. He
pictured him as warming up and telling the most entertaining stories. But
Joe had not yet warmed up when they took the trail. He persistently kept
behind Babbitt, and however much his shoulders ached from the pack,
however sorely he panted, Babbitt could hear his guide panting equally.
But the trail was satisfying: a path brown with pine-needles and rough
with roots, among the balsams, the ferns, the sudden groves of white
birch. He became credulous again, and rejoiced in sweating. When he
stopped to rest he chuckled, “Guess we're hitting it up pretty good for a
couple o' old birds, eh?”

“Uh-huh,” admitted Joe.

“This is a mighty pretty place. Look, you can see the lake down through
the 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

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 people?”

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 will!”

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

“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.”

“That's fine.”

“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 ideals.”

“But of course we visionaries do rather get beaten. Doesn't it bother

“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 Beecher Ingram.”

“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 cosmopolitan.

Suddenly, in his new spiritual grandeur, he was sorry for Zilla Riesling,
and understood her as these ordinary fellows at the Boosters' Club never


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

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

“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 devil—”

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

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


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 Babbitt.

“I'd like to know how it hasn't! The Engineers can play on any of the

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 Senator.

Among the great lawyers whom he mentioned was Seneca Doane.

“But, gee whiz,” Ted marveled, “I thought you always said this Doane was a
reg'lar nut!”

“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 heaved bricks.

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 yourself!”

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.”

“Maybe, but—”

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,

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,

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 with “kidding.”

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 Babbitt.

“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


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 able—”

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

“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

“All right.”

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 your trouble.”

“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 spot-light.

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 it.

“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.

“Heavens, no!”

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
sun-tinted pool.

“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

“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 so?”

“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

“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,

“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

“'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
his convictions!”

“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

“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

“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

“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 dates already.”

“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

“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! I'll 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

“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

“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 a wood-fire.”

“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

“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 it!”

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 couldn't.

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 fresh air?”

“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

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 some?”

“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

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

“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, not 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 grunted.

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,

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

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 drinks.

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 Carrie Nork.

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

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 'em—”

“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

“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

“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

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

“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 first doubting.

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 drinking.”

“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

“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

“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 promised.”


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 Episcopalianism.

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

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

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 Affirmation—”

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—”

“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 just shudder!”

“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 to happen.”

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 independence?”

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, should think.”

“Oh! You're going out again?”

“Again! What do you mean 'again'! Haven't hardly been out of the house for
a week!”

“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 be nice?”

“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 Troubles:

“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

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 between them.

“I, uh—” he labored. “It strikes me—it strikes me that
unemployment is lessening.”

“Maybe Pete will get a decent job, then.”


Desperately he essayed, “What's the trouble, old honey? You seem kind of
quiet to-night.”

“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

“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

“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

“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 I?”

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

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 operation.”

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

“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



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

“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!”

“You did!”

“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

“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

“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

“Well, well, great pleasure, have chairs, what c'n I do for you?” he

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 commerce.

“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 think quick!”

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 discomfort.

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


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

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 longing.

“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, whipped.

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 either!”

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 trouble, hon?”

“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

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

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 jiffy.”

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 each other.

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 squealed:

“Ouch! Jesus!”

“Why, George Babbitt, I won't have you cursing and swearing and

“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 mark!”

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


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' League.

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 employers.

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 “unidentified mob.”


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 from evil—”

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

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, Sheldy?”

“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

“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

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

“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 the trapping.

“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

“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 horror.

“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, Esquiress.”

“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 mother-in-law.”

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

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 you?”

“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.