These authorities Eunice studied. She could, she frequently did, tell whether it was in November or December, 1905, that Mack Harker? the renowned screen cowpuncher and badman, began his public career as chorus man in “Oh, You Naughty Girlie.” On the wall of her room, her father reported, she had pinned up twenty-one photographs of actors. But the signed portrait of the most graceful of the movie heroes she carried in her young bosom.
Babbitt was bewildered by this worship of new gods, and he suspected that Eunice smoked cigarettes. He smelled the cloying reek from up-stairs, and heard her giggling with Ted. He never inquired. The agreeable child dismayed him. Her thin and charming face was sharpened by bobbed hair; her skirts were short, her stockings were rolled, and, as she flew after Ted, above the caressing silk were glimpses of soft knees which made Babbitt uneasy, and wretched that she should consider him old. Sometimes, in the veiled life of his dreams, when the fairy child came running to him she took on the semblance of Eunice Littlefield.
Ted was motor-mad as Eunice was movie-mad.
A thousand sarcastic refusals did not check his teasing for a car of his own. However lax he might be about early rising and the prosody of Vergil, he was tireless in tinkering. With three other boys he bought a rheumatic Ford chassis, built an amazing racer-body out of tin and pine, went skidding round corners in the perilous craft, and sold it at a profit. Babbitt gave him a motor-cycle, and every Saturday afternoon, with seven sandwiches and a bottle of Coca-Cola in his pockets, and Eunice perched eerily on the rumble seat, he went roaring off to distant towns.
Usually Eunice and he were merely neighborhood chums, and quarreled with a wholesome and violent lack of delicacy; but now and then, after the color and scent of a dance, they were silent together and a little furtive, and Babbitt was worried.
Babbitt was an average father. He was affectionate, bullying, opinionated, ignorant, and rather wistful. Like most parents, he enjoyed the game of waiting till the victim was clearly wrong, then virtuously pouncing. He justified himself by croaking, “Well, Ted’s mother spoils him. Got to be somebody who tells him what’s what, and me, I’m elected the goat. Because I try to bring him up to be a real, decent, human being and not one of these sapheads and lounge-lizards, of course they all call me a grouch!”
Throughout, with the eternal human genius for arriving by the worst possible routes at surprisingly tolerable goals, Babbitt loved his son and warmed to his companionship and would have sacrificed everything for him—if he could have been sure of proper credit.
Ted was planning a party for his set in the Senior Class.