He awoke toward dusk, to find Joe efficiently cooking bacon and eggs and flapjacks for supper, and his admiration of the woodsman returned. He sat on a stump and felt virile.
“Joe, what would you do if you had a lot of money? Would you stick to guiding, or would you take a claim ’way back in the woods and be independent of people?”
For the first time Joe brightened. He chewed his cud a second, and bubbled, “I’ve often thought of that! If I had the money, I’d go down to Tinker’s Falls and open a swell shoe store.”
After supper Joe proposed a game of stud-poker but Babbitt refused with brevity, and Joe contentedly went to bed at eight. Babbitt sat on the stump, facing the dark pond, slapping mosquitos. Save the snoring guide, there was no other human being within ten miles. He was lonelier than he had ever been in his life. Then he was in Zenith.
He was worrying as to whether Miss McGoun wasn’t paying too much for carbon paper. He was at once resenting and missing the persistent teasing at the Roughnecks’ Table. He was wondering what Zilla Riesling was doing now. He was wondering whether, after the summer’s maturity of being a garageman, Ted would “get busy” in the university. He was thinking of his wife. “If she would only—if she wouldn’t be so darn satisfied with just settling down—No! I won’t! I won’t go back! I’ll be fifty in three years. Sixty in thirteen years. I’m going to have some fun before it’s too late. I don’t care! I will!”
He thought of Ida Putiak, of Louetta Swanson, of that nice widow—what was her name?—Tanis Judique?—the one for whom he’d found the flat. He was enmeshed in imaginary conversations. Then:
“Gee, I can’t seem to get away from thinking about folks!”
Thus it came to him merely to run away was folly, because he could never run away from himself.
That moment he started for Zenith. In his journey there was no appearance of flight, but he was fleeing, and four days afterward he was on the Zenith train. He knew that he was slinking back not because it was what he longed to do but because it was all he could do. He scanned again his discovery that he could never run away from Zenith and family and office, because in his own brain he bore the office and the family and every street and disquiet and illusion of Zenith.
“But I’m going to—oh, I’m going to start something!” he vowed, and he tried to make it valiant.