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 your advice.”
“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?”