He awoke to stretch cheerfully as he listened to the sparrows, then to remember that everything was wrong; that he was determined to go astray, and not in the least enjoying the process. Why, he wondered, should he be in rebellion? What was it all about? “Why not be sensible; stop all this idiotic running around, and enjoy himself with his family, his business, the fellows at the club?” What was he getting out of rebellion? Misery and shame—the shame of being treated as an offensive small boy by a ragamuffin like Ida Putiak! And yet—Always he came back to “And yet.” Whatever the misery, he could not regain contentment with a world which, once doubted, became absurd.
Only, he assured himself, he was “through with this chasing after girls.”
By noontime he was not so sure even of that. If in Miss McGoun, Louetta Swanson, and Ida he had failed to find the lady kind and lovely, it did not prove that she did not exist. He was hunted by the ancient thought that somewhere must exist the not impossible she who would understand him, value him, and make him happy.
Mrs. Babbitt returned in August.
On her previous absences he had missed her reassuring buzz and of her arrival he had made a fete. Now, though he dared not hurt her by letting a hint of it appear in his letters, he was sorry that she was coming before he had found himself, and he was embarrassed by the need of meeting her and looking joyful.
He loitered down to the station; he studied the summer-resort posters, lest he have to speak to acquaintances and expose his uneasiness. But he was well trained. When the train clanked in he was out on the cement platform, peering into the chair-cars, and as he saw her in the line of passengers moving toward the vestibule he waved his hat. At the door he embraced her, and announced, “Well, well, well, well, by golly, you look fine, you look fine.” Then he was aware of Tinka. Here was something, this child with her absurd little nose and lively eyes, that loved him, believed him great, and as he clasped her, lifted and held her till she squealed, he was for the moment come back to his old steady self.
Tinka sat beside him in the car, with one hand on the steering-wheel, pretending to help him drive, and he shouted back to his wife, “I’ll bet the kid will be the best chuffer in the family! She holds the wheel like an old professional!”
All the while he was dreading the moment when he would be alone with his wife and she would patiently expect him to be ardent.
There was about the house an unofficial theory that he was to take his vacation alone, to spend a week or ten days in Catawba, but he was nagged by the memory that a year ago he had been with Paul in Maine. He saw himself returning; finding peace there, and the presence of Paul, in a life primitive and heroic. Like a shock came the thought that he actually could go. Only, he couldn’t, really; he couldn’t leave his business, and “Myra would think it sort of funny, his going way off there alone. Course he’d decided to do whatever he darned pleased, from now on, but still—to go way off to Maine!”