Part 4 out of 7
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 chairman.
"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
"'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
"'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 bank-account.
"'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 themselves.
"'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
"'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
"'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,
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:
TICKLER NO. 3
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 member.
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 adoring.
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:
Get an ax,
Who, who? The U.!
The Babbitts invited the McKelveys to dinner, in early December, and the
McKelveys not only accepted but, after changing the date once or twice,
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
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
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
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
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
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 round."
They did not speak of the McKelveys again.
It was a shame, at this worried time, to have to think about the Overbrooks.
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.
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
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
"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
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,
"No! Gee! No! Honest, I didn't! Just made a bluff about having him to lunch
"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 letters.
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 music.
Nothing gave Babbitt more purification and publicity than his labors for the
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 bowls.
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
"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. Eathorne.
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
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.
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
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." IV
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
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 himself.
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 toddy?"
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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 elsewhere.
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."
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 overnight.
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
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 time."
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
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 her.
"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
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
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
"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
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, he 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
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?"
"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,
"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 on."
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
"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 sewer!"
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
"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
"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.
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