After that, Babbitt went to church regularly, except on spring Sunday mornings which were obviously meant for motoring. He announced to Ted, “I tell you, boy, there’s no stronger bulwark of sound conservatism than the evangelical church, and no better place to make friends who’ll help you to gain your rightful place in the community than in your own church-home!”
Though he saw them twice daily, though he knew and amply discussed every detail of their expenditures, yet for weeks together Babbitt was no more conscious of his children than of the buttons on his coat-sleeves.
The admiration of Kenneth Escott made him aware of Verona.
She had become secretary to Mr. Gruensberg of the Gruensberg Leather Company; she did her work with the thoroughness of a mind which reveres details and never quite understands them; but she was one of the people who give an agitating impression of being on the point of doing something desperate—of leaving a job or a husband—without ever doing it. Babbitt was so hopeful about Escott’s hesitant ardors that he became the playful parent. When he returned from the Elks he peered coyly into the living-room and gurgled, “Has our Kenny been here to-night?” He never credited Verona’s protest, “Why, Ken and I are just good friends, and we only talk about Ideas. I won’t have all this sentimental nonsense, that would spoil everything.”
It was Ted who most worried Babbitt.
With conditions in Latin and English but with a triumphant record in manual training, basket-ball, and the organization of dances, Ted was struggling through his Senior year in the East Side High School. At home he was interested only when he was asked to trace some subtle ill in the ignition system of the car. He repeated to his tut-tutting father that he did not wish to go to college or law-school, and Babbitt was equally disturbed by this “shiftlessness” and by Ted’s relations with Eunice Littlefield, next door.
Though she was the daughter of Howard Littlefield, that wrought-iron fact-mill, that horse-faced priest of private ownership, Eunice was a midge in the sun. She danced into the house, she flung herself into Babbitt’s lap when he was reading, she crumpled his paper, and laughed at him when he adequately explained that he hated a crumpled newspaper as he hated a broken sales-contract. She was seventeen now. Her ambition was to be a cinema actress. She did not merely attend the showing of every “feature film;” she also read the motion-picture magazines, those extraordinary symptoms of the Age of Pep-monthlies and weeklies gorgeously illustrated with portraits of young women who had recently been manicure girls, not very skilful manicure girls, and who, unless their every grimace had been arranged by a director, could not have acted in the Easter cantata of the Central Methodist Church; magazines reporting, quite seriously, in “interviews” plastered with pictures of riding-breeches and California bungalows, the views on sculpture and international politics of blankly beautiful, suspiciously beautiful young men; outlining the plots of films about pure prostitutes and kind-hearted train-robbers; and giving directions for making bootblacks into Celebrated Scenario Authors overnight.