He was too languid to respond as he desired. He said what was to be said about the Christian bearing of crosses, and went out to clean the car. Dully, patiently, he scraped linty grease from the drip-pan, gouged at the mud caked on the wheels. He used up many minutes in washing his hands; scoured them with gritty kitchen soap; rejoiced in hurting his plump knuckles. “Damn soft hands—like a woman’s. Aah!”
At dinner, when his wife began the inevitable, he bellowed, “I forbid any of you to say a word about Paul! I’ll ’tend to all the talking about this that’s necessary, hear me? There’s going to be one house in this scandal-mongering town to-night that isn’t going to spring the holier-than-thou. And throw those filthy evening papers out of the house!”
But he himself read the papers, after dinner.
Before nine he set out for the house of Lawyer Maxwell. He was received without cordiality. “Well?” said Maxwell.
“I want to offer my services in the trial. I’ve got an idea. Why couldn’t I go on the stand and swear I was there, and she pulled the gun first and he wrestled with her and the gun went off accidentally?”
“And perjure yourself?”
“Huh? Yes, I suppose it would be perjury. Oh—Would it help?”
“But, my dear fellow! Perjury!”
“Oh, don’t be a fool! Excuse me, Maxwell; I didn’t mean to get your goat. I just mean: I’ve known and you’ve known many and many a case of perjury, just to annex some rotten little piece of real estate, and here where it’s a case of saving Paul from going to prison, I’d perjure myself black in the face.”
“No. Aside from the ethics of the matter, I’m afraid it isn’t practicable. The prosecutor would tear your testimony to pieces. It’s known that only Riesling and his wife were there at the time.”
“Then, look here! Let me go on the stand and swear—and this would be the God’s truth—that she pestered him till he kind of went crazy.”
“No. Sorry. Riesling absolutely refuses to have any testimony reflecting on his wife. He insists on pleading guilty.”
“Then let me get up and testify something—whatever you say. Let me do something!”
“I’m sorry, Babbitt, but the best thing you can do—I hate to say it, but you could help us most by keeping strictly out of it.”
Babbitt, revolving his hat like a defaulting poor tenant, winced so visibly that Maxwell condescended:
“I don’t like to hurt your feelings, but you see we both want to do our best for Riesling, and we mustn’t consider any other factor. The trouble with you, Babbitt, is that you’re one of these fellows who talk too readily. You like to hear your own voice. If there were anything for which I could put you in the witness-box, you’d get going and give the whole show away. Sorry. Now I must look over some papers—So sorry.”