“They got just as much right to march as anybody else! They own the streets as much as Clarence Drum or the American Legion does!” Babbitt grumbled. “Of course, they’re—they’re a bad element, but—Oh, rats!”
At the Athletic Club, Babbitt was silent during lunch, while the others fretted, “I don’t know what the world’s coming to,” or solaced their spirits with “kidding.”
Captain Clarence Drum came swinging by, splendid in khaki.
“How’s it going, Captain?” inquired Vergil Gunch.
“Oh, we got ’em stopped. We worked ’em off on side streets and separated ’em and they got discouraged and went home.”
“Fine work. No violence.”
“Fine work nothing!” groaned Mr. Drum. “If I had my way, there’d be a whole lot of violence, and I’d start it, and then the whole thing would be over. I don’t believe in standing back and wet-nursing these fellows and letting the disturbances drag on. I tell you these strikers are nothing in God’s world but a lot of bomb-throwing socialists and thugs, and the only way to handle ’em is with a club! That’s what I’d do; beat up the whole lot of ’em!”
Babbitt heard himself saying, “Oh, rats, Clarence, they look just about like you and me, and I certainly didn’t notice any bombs.”
Drum complained, “Oh, you didn’t, eh? Well, maybe you’d like to take charge of the strike! Just tell Colonel Nixon what innocents the strikers are! He’d be glad to hear about it!” Drum strode on, while all the table stared at Babbitt.
“What’s the idea? Do you want us to give those hell-hounds love and kisses, or what?” said Orville Jones.
“Do you defend a lot of hoodlums that are trying to take the bread and butter away from our families?” raged Professor Pumphrey.
Vergil Gunch intimidatingly said nothing. He put on sternness like a mask; his jaw was hard, his bristly short hair seemed cruel, his silence was a ferocious thunder. While the others assured Babbitt that they must have misunderstood him, Gunch looked as though he had understood only too well. Like a robed judge he listened to Babbitt’s stammering:
“No, sure; course they’re a bunch of toughs. But I just mean—Strikes me it’s bad policy to talk about clubbing ’em. Cabe Nixon doesn’t. He’s got the fine Italian hand. And that’s why he’s colonel. Clarence Drum is jealous of him.”
“Well,” said Professor Pumphrey, “you hurt Clarence’s feelings, George. He’s been out there all morning getting hot and dusty, and no wonder he wants to beat the tar out of those sons of guns!”
Gunch said nothing, and watched; and Babbitt knew that he was being watched.
As he was leaving the club Babbitt heard Chum Frink protesting to Gunch, “—don’t know what’s got into him. Last Sunday Doc Drew preached a corking sermon about decency in business and Babbitt kicked about that, too. Near ’s I can figure out—”