“Sure. Sit in. How many chips you want? Let’s see; you were here with your wife, last year, wa’n’t you?” said Joe Paradise.
That was all of Babbitt’s welcome to the old home.
He played for half an hour before he spoke again. His head was reeking with the smoke of pipes and cheap cigars, and he was weary of pairs and four-flushes, resentful of the way in which they ignored him. He flung at Joe:
“Like to guide me for a few days?”
“Well, jus’ soon. I ain’t engaged till next week.”
Only thus did Joe recognize the friendship Babbitt was offering him. Babbitt paid up his losses and left the shack rather childishly. Joe raised his head from the coils of smoke like a seal rising from surf, grunted, “I’ll come ’round t’morrow,” and dived down to his three aces.
Neither in his voiceless cabin, fragrant with planks of new-cut pine, nor along the lake, nor in the sunset clouds which presently eddied behind the lavender-misted mountains, could Babbitt find the spirit of Paul as a reassuring presence. He was so lonely that after supper he stopped to talk with an ancient old lady, a gasping and steadily discoursing old lady, by the stove in the hotel-office. He told her of Ted’s presumable future triumphs in the State University and of Tinka’s remarkable vocabulary till he was homesick for the home he had left forever.
Through the darkness, through that Northern pine-walled silence, he blundered down to the lake-front and found a canoe. There were no paddles in it but with a board, sitting awkwardly amidships and poking at the water rather than paddling, he made his way far out on the lake. The lights of the hotel and the cottages became yellow dots, a cluster of glow-worms at the base of Sachem Mountain. Larger and ever more imperturbable was the mountain in the star-filtered darkness, and the lake a limitless pavement of black marble. He was dwarfed and dumb and a little awed, but that insignificance freed him from the pomposities of being Mr. George F. Babbitt of Zenith; saddened and freed his heart. Now he was conscious of the presence of Paul, fancied him (rescued from prison, from Zilla and the brisk exactitudes of the tar-roofing business) playing his violin at the end of the canoe. He vowed, “I will go on! I’ll never go back! Now that Paul’s out of it, I don’t want to see any of those damn people again! I was a fool to get sore because Joe Paradise didn’t jump up and hug me. He’s one of these woodsmen; too wise to go yelping and talking your arm off like a cityman. But get him back in the mountains, out on the trail—! That’s real living!”
Joe reported at Babbitt’s cabin at nine the next morning. Babbitt greeted him as a fellow caveman:
“Well, Joe, how d’ you feel about hitting the trail, and getting away from these darn soft summerites and these women and all?”