“There’s another fool. George Babbitt. Lives for renting howshes—houses. Know who I am? I’m traitor to poetry. I’m drunk. I’m talking too much. I don’t care. Know what I could ’ve been? I could ’ve been a Gene Field or a James Whitcomb Riley. Maybe a Stevenson. I could ’ve. Whimsies. ’Magination. Lissen. Lissen to this. Just made it up:
Glittering summery meadowy
Of beetles and bums and respectable boys.
Hear that? Whimzh—whimsy. I made that up. I don’t know what it means! Beginning good verse. Chile’s Garden Verses. And whadi write? Tripe! Cheer-up poems. All tripe! Could have written—Too late!”
He darted on with an alarming plunge, seeming always to pitch forward yet never quite falling. Babbitt would have been no more astonished and no less had a ghost skipped out of the fog carrying his head. He accepted Frink with vast apathy; he grunted, “Poor boob!” and straightway forgot him.
He plodded into the house, deliberately went to the refrigerator and rifled it. When Mrs. Babbitt was at home, this was one of the major household crimes. He stood before the covered laundry tubs, eating a chicken leg and half a saucer of raspberry jelly, and grumbling over a clammy cold boiled potato. He was thinking. It was coming to him that perhaps all life as he knew it and vigorously practised it was futile; that heaven as portrayed by the Reverend Dr. John Jennison Drew was neither probable nor very interesting; that he hadn’t much pleasure out of making money; that it was of doubtful worth to rear children merely that they might rear children who would rear children. What was it all about? What did he want?
He blundered into the living-room, lay on the davenport, hands behind his head.
What did he want? Wealth? Social position? Travel? Servants? Yes, but only incidentally.
“I give it up,” he sighed.
But he did know that he wanted the presence of Paul Riesling; and from that he stumbled into the admission that he wanted the fairy girl—in the flesh. If there had been a woman whom he loved, he would have fled to her, humbled his forehead on her knees.
He thought of his stenographer, Miss McGoun. He thought of the prettiest of the manicure girls at the Hotel Thornleigh barber shop. As he fell asleep on the davenport he felt that he had found something in life, and that he had made a terrifying, thrilling break with everything that was decent and normal.
He had forgotten, next morning, that he was a conscious rebel, but he was irritable in the office and at the eleven o’clock drive of telephone calls and visitors he did something he had often desired and never dared: he left the office without excuses to those stave-drivers his employees, and went to the movies. He enjoyed the right to be alone. He came out with a vicious determination to do what he pleased.