Babbitt tried to be jovial; he worked at it; but he could find nothing to interest him in Overbrook’s timorousness, the blankness of the other guests, or the drained stupidity of Mrs. Overbrook, with her spectacles, drab skin, and tight-drawn hair. He told his best Irish story, but it sank like soggy cake. Most bleary moment of all was when Mrs. Overbrook, peering out of her fog of nursing eight children and cooking and scrubbing, tried to be conversational.
“I suppose you go to Chicago and New York right along, Mr. Babbitt,” she prodded.
“Well, I get to Chicago fairly often.”
“It must be awfully interesting. I suppose you take in all the theaters.”
“Well, to tell the truth, Mrs. Overbrook, thing that hits me best is a great big beefsteak at a Dutch restaurant in the Loop!”
They had nothing more to say. Babbitt was sorry, but there was no hope; the dinner was a failure. At ten, rousing out of the stupor of meaningless talk, he said as cheerily as he could, “’Fraid we got to be starting, Ed. I’ve got a fellow coming to see me early to-morrow.” As Overbrook helped him with his coat, Babbitt said, “Nice to rub up on the old days! We must have lunch together, P.D.Q.”
Mrs. Babbitt sighed, on their drive home, “It was pretty terrible. But how Mr. Overbrook does admire you!”
“Yep. Poor cuss! Seems to think I’m a little tin archangel, and the best-looking man in Zenith.”
“Well, you’re certainly not that but—Oh, Georgie, you don’t suppose we have to invite them to dinner at our house now, do we?”
“Ouch! Gaw, I hope not!”
“See here, now, George! You didn’t say anything about it to Mr. Overbrook, did you?”
“No! Gee! No! Honest, I didn’t! Just made a bluff about having him to lunch some time.”
“Well.... Oh, dear.... I don’t want to hurt their feelings. But I don’t see how I could stand another evening like this one. And suppose somebody like Dr. and Mrs. Angus came in when we had the Overbrooks there, and thought they were friends of ours!”
For a week they worried, “We really ought to invite Ed and his wife, poor devils!” But as they never saw the Overbrooks, they forgot them, and after a month or two they said, “That really was the best way, just to let it slide. It wouldn’t be kind to them to have them here. They’d feel so out of place and hard-up in our home.”
They did not speak of the Overbrooks again.
The certainty that he was not going to be accepted by the McKelveys made Babbitt feel guilty and a little absurd. But he went more regularly to the Elks; at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon he was oratorical regarding the wickedness of strikes; and again he saw himself as a Prominent Citizen.
His clubs and associations were food comfortable to his spirit.