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’ bunk.”
“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!”