“Pleasmeech,” growled Babbitt, while she gurgled, “Oh, I’m very pleased to meet any friend of Mr. Riesling’s, I’m sure.”
Babbitt demanded, “Be back there later this evening, Paul? I’ll drop down and see you.”
“No, better—We better lunch together to-morrow.”
“All right, but I’ll see you to-night, too, Paul. I’ll go down to your hotel, and I’ll wait for you!”
He sat smoking with the piano-salesman, clinging to the warm refuge of gossip, afraid to venture into thoughts of Paul. He was the more affable on the surface as secretly he became more apprehensive, felt more hollow. He was certain that Paul was in Chicago without Zilla’s knowledge, and that he was doing things not at all moral and secure. When the salesman yawned that he had to write up his orders, Babbitt left him, left the hotel, in leisurely calm. But savagely he said “Campbell Inn!” to the taxi-driver. He sat agitated on the slippery leather seat, in that chill dimness which smelled of dust and perfume and Turkish cigarettes. He did not heed the snowy lake-front, the dark spaces and sudden bright corners in the unknown land south of the Loop.
The office of the Campbell Inn was hard, bright, new; the night clerk harder and brighter. “Yep?” he said to Babbitt.
“Mr. Paul Riesling registered here?”
“Is he in now?”
“Then if you’ll give me his key, I’ll wait for him.”
“Can’t do that, brother. Wait down here if you wanna.”
Babbitt had spoken with the deference which all the Clan of Good Fellows give to hotel clerks. Now he said with snarling abruptness:
“I may have to wait some time. I’m Riesling’s brother-in-law. I’ll go up to his room. D’ I look like a sneak-thief?”
His voice was low and not pleasant. With considerable haste the clerk took down the key, protesting, “I never said you looked like a sneak-thief. Just rules of the hotel. But if you want to—”
On his way up in the elevator Babbitt wondered why he was here. Why shouldn’t Paul be dining with a respectable married woman? Why had he lied to the clerk about being Paul’s brother-in-law? He had acted like a child. He must be careful not to say foolish dramatic things to Paul. As he settled down he tried to look pompous and placid. Then the thought—Suicide. He’d been dreading that, without knowing it. Paul would be just the person to do something like that. He must be out of his head or he wouldn’t be confiding in that—that dried-up hag.
Zilla (oh, damn Zilla! how gladly he’d throttle that nagging fiend of a woman!)—she’d probably succeeded at last, and driven Paul crazy.
Suicide. Out there in the lake, way out, beyond the piled ice along the shore. It would be ghastly cold to drop into the water to-night.