“Oh! Thanks!” they condescended.
He sought his wife, in the pantry, and exploded, “I’d like to go in there and throw some of those young pups out of the house! They talk down to me like I was the butler! I’d like to—”
“I know,” she sighed; “only everybody says, all the mothers tell me, unless you stand for them, if you get angry because they go out to their cars to have a drink, they won’t come to your house any more, and we wouldn’t want Ted left out of things, would we?”
He announced that he would be enchanted to have Ted left out of things, and hurried in to be polite, lest Ted be left out of things.
But, he resolved, if he found that the boys were drinking, he would—well, he’d “hand ’em something that would surprise ’em.” While he was trying to be agreeable to large-shouldered young bullies he was earnestly sniffing at them Twice he caught the reek of prohibition-time whisky, but then, it was only twice—
Dr. Howard Littlefield lumbered in.
He had come, in a mood of solemn parental patronage, to look on. Ted and Eunice were dancing, moving together like one body. Littlefield gasped. He called Eunice. There was a whispered duologue, and Littlefield explained to Babbitt that Eunice’s mother had a headache and needed her. She went off in tears. Babbitt looked after them furiously. “That little devil! Getting Ted into trouble! And Littlefield, the conceited old gas-bag, acting like it was Ted that was the bad influence!”
Later he smelled whisky on Ted’s breath.
After the civil farewell to the guests, the row was terrific, a thorough Family Scene, like an avalanche, devastating and without reticences. Babbitt thundered, Mrs. Babbitt wept, Ted was unconvincingly defiant, and Verona in confusion as to whose side she was taking.
For several months there was coolness between the Babbitts and the Littlefields, each family sheltering their lamb from the wolf-cub next door. Babbitt and Littlefield still spoke in pontifical periods about motors and the senate, but they kept bleakly away from mention of their families. Whenever Eunice came to the house she discussed with pleasant intimacy the fact that she had been forbidden to come to the house; and Babbitt tried, with no success whatever, to be fatherly and advisory with her.
“Gosh all fishhooks!” Ted wailed to Eunice, as they wolfed hot chocolate, lumps of nougat, and an assortment of glace nuts, in the mosaic splendor of the Royal Drug Store, “it gets me why Dad doesn’t just pass out from being so poky. Every evening he sits there, about half-asleep, and if Rone or I say, ‘Oh, come on, let’s do something,’ he doesn’t even take the trouble to think about it. He just yawns and says, ‘Naw, this suits me right here.’ He doesn’t know there’s any fun going on anywhere. I suppose he must do some thinking, same as you and I do, but gosh, there’s no way of telling it. I don’t believe that outside of the office and playing a little bum golf on Saturday he knows there’s anything in the world to do except just keep sitting there-sitting there every night—not wanting to go anywhere—not wanting to do anything—thinking us kids are crazy—sitting there—Lord!”