As he approached the Roughnecks’ Table at the club, everybody laughed.
“Well, here’s the millionaire!” said Sidney Finkelstein.
“Yes, I saw him in his Locomobile!” said Professor Pumphrey.
“Gosh, it must be great to be a smart guy like Georgie!” moaned Vergil Gunch. “He’s probably stolen all of Dorchester. I’d hate to leave a poor little defenseless piece of property lying around where he could get his hooks on it!”
They had, Babbitt perceived, “something on him.” Also, they “had their kidding clothes on.” Ordinarily he would have been delighted at the honor implied in being chaffed, but he was suddenly touchy. He grunted, “Yuh, sure; maybe I’ll take you guys on as office boys!” He was impatient as the jest elaborately rolled on to its denouement.
“Of course he may have been meeting a girl,” they said, and “No, I think he was waiting for his old roommate, Sir Jerusalem Doak.”
He exploded, “Oh, spring it, spring it, you boneheads! What’s the great joke?”
“Hurray! George is peeved!” snickered Sidney Finkelstein, while a grin went round the table. Gunch revealed the shocking truth: He had seen Babbitt coming out of a motion-picture theater—at noon!
They kept it up. With a hundred variations, a hundred guffaws, they said that he had gone to the movies during business-hours. He didn’t so much mind Gunch, but he was annoyed by Sidney Finkelstein, that brisk, lean, red-headed explainer of jokes. He was bothered, too, by the lump of ice in his glass of water. It was too large; it spun round and burned his nose when he tried to drink. He raged that Finkelstein was like that lump of ice. But he won through; he kept up his banter till they grew tired of the superlative jest and turned to the great problems of the day.
He reflected, “What’s the matter with me to-day? Seems like I’ve got an awful grouch. Only they talk so darn much. But I better steer careful and keep my mouth shut.”
As they lighted their cigars he mumbled, “Got to get back,” and on a chorus of “If you will go spending your mornings with lady ushers at the movies!” he escaped. He heard them giggling. He was embarrassed. While he was most bombastically agreeing with the coat-man that the weather was warm, he was conscious that he was longing to run childishly with his troubles to the comfort of the fairy child.
He kept Miss McGoun after he had finished dictating. He searched for a topic which would warm her office impersonality into friendliness.
“Where you going on your vacation?” he purred.
“I think I’ll go up-state to a farm do you want me to have the Siddons lease copied this afternoon?”
“Oh, no hurry about it.... I suppose you have a great time when you get away from us cranks in the office.”
She rose and gathered her pencils. “Oh, nobody’s cranky here I think I can get it copied after I do the letters.”