But he could not stir them. It was a dinner without a soul. For no reason that was clear to Babbitt, heaviness was over them and they spoke laboriously and unwillingly.
He concentrated on Lucille McKelvey, carefully not looking at her blanched lovely shoulder and the tawny silken bared which supported her frock.
“I suppose you’ll be going to Europe pretty soon again, won’t you?” he invited.
“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 there.”
“No, what I really go for is: there’s a little trattoria on the Via della Scrofa where you get the best fettuccine in the world.”
“Oh, I—Yes. That must be nice to try that. Yes.”
At a quarter to ten McKelvey discovered with profound regret that his wife had a headache. He said blithely, as Babbitt helped him with his coat, “We must lunch together some time, and talk over the old days.”
When the others had labored out, at half-past ten, Babbitt turned to his wife, pleading, “Charley said he had a corking time and we must lunch—said they wanted to have us up to the house for dinner before long.”
She achieved, “Oh, it’s just been one of those quiet evenings that are often so much more enjoyable than noisy parties where everybody talks at once and doesn’t really settle down to-nice quiet enjoyment.”
But from his cot on the sleeping-porch he heard her weeping, slowly, without hope.
For a month they watched the social columns, and waited for a return dinner-invitation.
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.