Babbitt lay abed at his hotel, imagining the Zenith Athletic Club asking him, “What kind of a time d’you have in Chicago?” and his answering, “Oh, fair; ran around with Sir Gerald Doak a lot;” picturing himself meeting Lucile McKelvey and admonishing her, “You’re all right, Mrs. Mac, when you aren’t trying to pull this highbrow pose. It’s just as Gerald Doak says to me in Chicago—oh, yes, Jerry’s an old friend of mine—the wife and I are thinking of running over to England to stay with Jerry in his castle, next year—and he said to me, ’Georgie, old bean, I like Lucile first-rate, but you and me, George, we got to make her get over this highty-tighty hooptediddle way she’s got.”
But that evening a thing happened which wrecked his pride.
At the Regency Hotel cigar-counter he fell to talking with a salesman of pianos, and they dined together. Babbitt was filled with friendliness and well-being. He enjoyed the gorgeousness of the dining-room: the chandeliers, the looped brocade curtains, the portraits of French kings against panels of gilded oak. He enjoyed the crowd: pretty women, good solid fellows who were “liberal spenders.”
He gasped. He stared, and turned away, and stared again. Three tables off, with a doubtful sort of woman, a woman at once coy and withered, was Paul Riesling, and Paul was supposed to be in Akron, selling tar-roofing. The woman was tapping his hand, mooning at him and giggling. Babbitt felt that he had encountered something involved and harmful. Paul was talking with the rapt eagerness of a man who is telling his troubles. He was concentrated on the woman’s faded eyes. Once he held her hand and once, blind to the other guests, he puckered his lips as though he was pretending to kiss her. Babbitt had so strong an impulse to go to Paul that he could feel his body uncoiling, his shoulders moving, but he felt, desperately, that he must be diplomatic, and not till he saw Paul paying the check did he bluster to the piano-salesman, “By golly-friend of mine over there—’scuse me second—just say hello to him.”
He touched Paul’s shoulder, and cried, “Well, when did you hit town?”
Paul glared up at him, face hardening. “Oh, hello, George. Thought you’d gone back to Zenith.” He did not introduce his companion. Babbitt peeped at her. She was a flabbily pretty, weakly flirtatious woman of forty-two or three, in an atrocious flowery hat. Her rouging was thorough but unskilful.
“Where you staying, Paulibus?”
The woman turned, yawned, examined her nails. She seemed accustomed to not being introduced.
Paul grumbled, “Campbell Inn, on the South Side.”
“Alone?” It sounded insinuating.
“Yes! Unfortunately!” Furiously Paul turned toward the woman, smiling with a fondness sickening to Babbitt. “May! Want to introduce you. Mrs. Arnold, this is my old-acquaintance, George Babbitt.”