He went, after lengthy meditations.
With his wife, since it was inconceivable to explain that he was going to seek Paul’s spirit in the wilderness, he frugally employed the lie prepared over a year ago and scarcely used at all. He said that he had to see a man in New York on business. He could not have explained even to himself why he drew from the bank several hundred dollars more than he needed, nor why he kissed Tinka so tenderly, and cried, “God bless you, baby!” From the train he waved to her till she was but a scarlet spot beside the brown bulkier presence of Mrs. Babbitt, at the end of a steel and cement aisle ending in vast barred gates. With melancholy he looked back at the last suburb of Zenith.
All the way north he pictured the Maine guides: simple and strong and daring, jolly as they played stud-poker in their unceiled shack, wise in woodcraft as they tramped the forest and shot the rapids. He particularly remembered Joe Paradise, half Yankee, half Indian. If he could but take up a backwoods claim with a man like Joe, work hard with his hands, be free and noisy in a flannel shirt, and never come back to this dull decency!
Or, like a trapper in a Northern Canada movie, plunge through the forest, make camp in the Rockies, a grim and wordless caveman! Why not? He could do it! There’d be enough money at home for the family to live on till Verona was married and Ted self-supporting. Old Henry T. would look out for them. Honestly! Why not? Really live—
He longed for it, admitted that he longed for it, then almost believed that he was going lo do it. Whenever common sense snorted, “Nonsense! Folks don’t run away from decent families and partners; just simply don’t do it, that’s all!” then Babbitt answered pleadingly, “Well, it wouldn’t take any more nerve than for Paul to go to jail and—Lord, how I’d’ like to do it! Moccasins-six-gun-frontier town-gamblers—sleep under the stars—be a regular man, with he-men like Joe Paradise—gosh!”
So he came to Maine, again stood on the wharf before the camp-hotel, again spat heroically into the delicate and shivering water, while the pines rustled, the mountains glowed, and a trout leaped and fell in a sliding circle. He hurried to the guides’ shack as to his real home, his real friends, long missed. They would be glad to see him. They would stand up and shout? “Why, here’s Mr. Babbitt! He ain’t one of these ordinary sports! He’s a real guy!”
In their boarded and rather littered cabin the guides sat about the greasy table playing stud-poker with greasy cards: half a dozen wrinkled men in old trousers and easy old felt hats. They glanced up and nodded. Joe Paradise, the swart aging man with the big mustache, grunted, “How do. Back again?”
Silence, except for the clatter of chips.
Babbitt stood beside them, very lonely. He hinted, after a period of highly concentrated playing, “Guess I might take a hand, Joe.”