Babbitt was vaguely frightened.
He saw a crowd listening to a man who was talking from the rostrum of a kitchen-chair. He stopped his car. From newspaper pictures he knew that the speaker must be the notorious freelance preacher, Beecher Ingram, of whom Seneca Doane had spoken. Ingram was a gaunt man with flamboyant hair, weather-beaten cheeks, and worried eyes. He was pleading:
“—if those telephone girls can hold out, living on one meal a day, doing their own washing, starving and smiling, you big hulking men ought to be able—”
Babbitt saw that from the sidewalk Vergil Gunch was watching him. In vague disquiet he started the car and mechanically drove on, while Gunch’s hostile eyes seemed to follow him all the way.
“There’s a lot of these fellows,” Babbitt was complaining to his wife, “that think if workmen go on strike they’re a regular bunch of fiends. Now, of course, it’s a fight between sound business and the destructive element, and we got to lick the stuffin’s out of ’em when they challenge us, but doggoned if I see why we can’t fight like gentlemen and not go calling ’em dirty dogs and saying they ought to be shot down.”
“Why, George,” she said placidly, “I thought you always insisted that all strikers ought to be put in jail.”
“I never did! Well, I mean—Some of ’em, of course. Irresponsible leaders. But I mean a fellow ought to be broad-minded and liberal about things like—”
“But dearie, I thought you always said these so-called ‘liberal’ people were the worst of—”
“Rats! Woman never can understand the different definitions of a word. Depends on how you mean it. And it don’t pay to be too cocksure about anything. Now, these strikers: Honest, they’re not such bad people. Just foolish. They don’t understand the complications of merchandizing and profit, the way we business men do, but sometimes I think they’re about like the rest of us, and no more hogs for wages than we are for profits.”
“George! If people were to hear you talk like that—of course I know you; I remember what a wild crazy boy you were; I know you don’t mean a word you say—but if people that didn’t understand you were to hear you talking, they’d think you were a regular socialist!”
“What do I care what anybody thinks? And let me tell you right now—I want you to distinctly understand I never was a wild crazy kid, and when I say a thing, I mean it, and I stand by it and—Honest, do you think people would think I was too liberal if I just said the strikers were decent?”
“Of course they would. But don’t worry, dear; I know you don’t mean a word of it. Time to trot up to bed now. Have you enough covers for to-night?”
On the sleeping-porch he puzzled, “She doesn’t understand me. Hardly understand myself. Why can’t I take things easy, way I used to?