Ed Overbrook was a classmate of Babbitt who had been a failure. He had a large family and a feeble insurance business out in the suburb of Dorchester. He was gray and thin and unimportant. He had always been gray and thin and unimportant. He was the person whom, in any group, you forgot to introduce, then introduced with extra enthusiasm. He had admired Babbitt’s good-fellowship in college, had admired ever since his power in real estate, his beautiful house and wonderful clothes. It pleased Babbitt, though it bothered him with a sense of responsibility. At the class-dinner he had seen poor Overbrook, in a shiny blue serge business-suit, being diffident in a corner with three other failures. He had gone over and been cordial: “Why, hello, young Ed! I hear you’re writing all the insurance in Dorchester now. Bully work!”
They recalled the good old days when Overbrook used to write poetry. Overbrook embarrassed him by blurting, “Say, Georgie, I hate to think of how we been drifting apart. I wish you and Mrs. Babbitt would come to dinner some night.”
Babbitt boomed, “Fine! Sure! Just let me know. And the wife and I want to have you at the house.” He forgot it, but unfortunately Ed Overbrook did not. Repeatedly he telephoned to Babbitt, inviting him to dinner. “Might as well go and get it over,” Babbitt groaned to his wife. “But don’t it simply amaze you the way the poor fish doesn’t know the first thing about social etiquette? Think of him ’phoning me, instead of his wife sitting down and writing us a regular bid! Well, I guess we’re stuck for it. That’s the trouble with all this class-brother hooptedoodle.”
He accepted Overbrook’s next plaintive invitation, for an evening two weeks off. A dinner two weeks off, even a family dinner, never seems so appalling, till the two weeks have astoundingly disappeared and one comes dismayed to the ambushed hour. They had to change the date, because of their own dinner to the McKelveys, but at last they gloomily drove out to the Overbrooks’ house in Dorchester.
It was miserable from the beginning. The Overbrooks had dinner at six-thirty, while the Babbitts never dined before seven. Babbitt permitted himself to be ten minutes late. “Let’s make it as short as possible. I think we’ll duck out quick. I’ll say I have to be at the office extra early to-morrow,” he planned.
The Overbrook house was depressing. It was the second story of a wooden two-family dwelling; a place of baby-carriages, old hats hung in the hall, cabbage-smell, and a Family Bible on the parlor table. Ed Overbrook and his wife were as awkward and threadbare as usual, and the other guests were two dreadful families whose names Babbitt never caught and never desired to catch. But he was touched, and disconcerted, by the tactless way in which Overbrook praised him: “We’re mighty proud to have old George here to-night! Of course you’ve all read about his speeches and oratory in the papers—and the boy’s good-looking, too, eh?—but what I always think of is back in college, and what a great old mixer he was, and one of the best swimmers in the class.”