He spent most of the next morning nerving himself to face the garrulous world of the Athletic Club. They would talk about Paul; they would be lip-licking and rotten. But at the Roughnecks’ Table they did not mention Paul. They spoke with zeal of the coming baseball season. He loved them as he never had before.
He had, doubtless from some story-book, pictured Paul’s trial as a long struggle, with bitter arguments, a taut crowd, and sudden and overwhelming new testimony. Actually, the trial occupied less than fifteen minutes, largely filled with the evidence of doctors that Zilla would recover and that Paul must have been temporarily insane. Next day Paul was sentenced to three years in the State Penitentiary and taken off—quite undramatically, not handcuffed, merely plodding in a tired way beside a cheerful deputy sheriff—and after saying good-by to him at the station Babbitt returned to his office to realize that he faced a world which, without Paul, was meaningless.
He was busy, from March to June. He kept himself from the bewilderment of thinking. His wife and the neighbors were generous. Every evening he played bridge or attended the movies, and the days were blank of face and silent.
In June, Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went East, to stay with relatives, and Babbitt was free to do—he was not quite sure what.
All day long after their departure he thought of the emancipated house in which he could, if he desired, go mad and curse the gods without having to keep up a husbandly front. He considered, “I could have a reg’lar party to-night; stay out till two and not do any explaining afterwards. Cheers!” He telephoned to Vergil Gunch, to Eddie Swanson. Both of them were engaged for the evening, and suddenly he was bored by having to take so much trouble to be riotous.
He was silent at dinner, unusually kindly to Ted and Verona, hesitating but not disapproving when Verona stated her opinion of Kenneth Escott’s opinion of Dr. John Jennison Drew’s opinion of the opinions of the evolutionists. Ted was working in a garage through the summer vacation, and he related his daily triumphs: how he had found a cracked ball-race, what he had said to the Old Grouch, what he had said to the foreman about the future of wireless telephony.
Ted and Verona went to a dance after dinner. Even the maid was out. Rarely had Babbitt been alone in the house for an entire evening. He was restless. He vaguely wanted something more diverting than the newspaper comic strips to read. He ambled up to Verona’s room, sat on her maidenly blue and white bed, humming and grunting in a solid-citizen manner as he examined her books: Conrad’s “Rescue,” a volume strangely named “Figures of Earth,” poetry (quite irregular poetry, Babbitt