If he was frightened by Ted’s slackness, Babbitt was not sufficiently frightened by Verona. She was too safe. She lived too much in the neat little airless room of her mind. Kenneth Escott and she were always under foot. When they were not at home, conducting their cautiously radical courtship over sheets of statistics, they were trudging off to lectures by authors and Hindu philosophers and Swedish lieutenants.
“Gosh,” Babbitt wailed to his wife, as they walked home from the Fogartys’ bridge-party, “it gets me how Rone and that fellow can be so poky. They sit there night after night, whenever he isn’t working, and they don’t know there’s any fun in the world. All talk and discussion—Lord! Sitting there—sitting there—night after night—not wanting to do anything—thinking I’m crazy because I like to go out and play a fist of cards—sitting there—gosh!”
Then round the swimmer, bored by struggling through the perpetual surf of family life, new combers swelled.
Babbitt’s father- and mother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. Thompson, rented their old house in the Bellevue district and moved to the Hotel Hatton, that glorified boarding-house filled with widows, red-plush furniture, and the sound of ice-water pitchers. They were lonely there, and every other Sunday evening the Babbitts had to dine with them, on fricasseed chicken, discouraged celery, and cornstarch ice cream, and afterward sit, polite and restrained, in the hotel lounge, while a young woman violinist played songs from the German via Broadway.
Then Babbitt’s own mother came down from Catawba to spend three weeks.
She was a kind woman and magnificently uncomprehending. She congratulated the convention-defying Verona on being a “nice, loyal home-body without all these Ideas that so many girls seem to have nowadays;” and when Ted filled the differential with grease, out of pure love of mechanics and filthiness, she rejoiced that he was “so handy around the house—and helping his father and all, and not going out with the girls all the time and trying to pretend he was a society fellow.”
Babbitt loved his mother, and sometimes he rather liked her, but he was annoyed by her Christian Patience, and he was reduced to pulpiness when she discoursed about a quite mythical hero called “Your Father”:
“You won’t remember it, Georgie, you were such a little fellow at the time—my, I remember just how you looked that day, with your goldy brown curls and your lace collar, you always were such a dainty child, and kind of puny and sickly, and you loved pretty things so much and the red tassels on your little bootees and all—and Your Father was taking us to church and a man stopped us and said ’Major’—so many of the neighbors used to call Your Father ‘Major;’ of course he was only a private in The War but everybody