Babbitt raged, “I’m sick of it! Having to carry three generations. Whole damn bunch lean on me. Pay half of mother’s income, listen to Henry T., listen to Myra’s worrying, be polite to Mart, and get called an old grouch for trying to help the children. All of ’em depending on me and picking on me and not a damn one of ’em grateful! No relief, and no credit, and no help from anybody. And to keep it up for—good Lord, how long?”
He enjoyed being sick in February; he was delighted by their consternation that he, the rock, should give way.
He had eaten a questionable clam. For two days he was languorous and petted and esteemed. He was allowed to snarl “Oh, let me alone!” without reprisals. He lay on the sleeping-porch and watched the winter sun slide along the taut curtains, turning their ruddy khaki to pale blood red. The shadow of the draw-rope was dense black, in an enticing ripple on the canvas. He found pleasure in the curve of it, sighed as the fading light blurred it. He was conscious of life, and a little sad. With no Vergil Gunches before whom to set his face in resolute optimism, he beheld, and half admitted that he beheld, his way of life as incredibly mechanical. Mechanical business—a brisk selling of badly built houses. Mechanical religion—a dry, hard church, shut off from the real life of the streets, inhumanly respectable as a top-hat. Mechanical golf and dinner-parties and bridge and conversation. Save with Paul Riesling, mechanical friendships—back-slapping and jocular, never daring to essay the test of quietness.
He turned uneasily in bed.
He saw the years, the brilliant winter days and all the long sweet afternoons which were meant for summery meadows, lost in such brittle pretentiousness. He thought of telephoning about leases, of cajoling men he hated, of making business calls and waiting in dirty anterooms—hat on knee, yawning at fly-specked calendars, being polite to office-boys.
“I don’t hardly want to go back to work,” he prayed. “I’d like to—I don’t know.”
But he was back next day, busy and of doubtful temper.
The Zenith Street Traction Company planned to build car-repair shops in the suburb of Dorchester, but when they came to buy the land they found it held, on options, by the Babbitt-Thompson Realty Company. The purchasing-agent, the first vice-president, and even the president of the Traction Company protested against the Babbitt price. They mentioned their duty toward stockholders, they threatened an appeal to the courts, though somehow the appeal to the courts was never carried out and the officials found it wiser to compromise with Babbitt. Carbon copies of the correspondence are in the company’s files, where they may be viewed by any public commission.
Just after this Babbitt deposited three thousand dollars in the bank, the purchasing-agent of the Street Traction Company bought a five thousand dollar car, he first vice-president built a home in Devon Woods, and the president was appointed minister to a foreign country.