He helped her in the tiny white kitchen; he washed the lettuce, he opened the olive bottle. She ordered him to set the table, and as he trotted into the living-room, as he hunted through the buffet for knives and forks, he felt utterly at home.
“Now the only other thing,” he announced, “is what you’re going to wear. I can’t decide whether you’re to put on your swellest evening gown, or let your hair down and put on short skirts and make-believe you’re a little girl.”
“I’m going to dine just as I am, in this old chiffon rag, and if you can’t stand poor Tanis that way, you can go to the club for dinner!”
“Stand you!” He patted her shoulder. “Child, you’re the brainiest and the loveliest and finest woman I’ve ever met! Come now, Lady Wycombe, if you’ll take the Duke of Zenith’s arm, we will proambulate in to the magnolious feed!”
“Oh, you do say the funniest, nicest things!”
When they had finished the picnic supper he thrust his head out of the window and reported, “It’s turned awful chilly, and I think it’s going to rain. You don’t want to go to the movies.”
“I wish we had a fireplace! I wish it was raining like all get-out to-night, and we were in a funny little old-fashioned cottage, and the trees thrashing like everything outside, and a great big log fire and—I’ll tell you! Let’s draw this couch up to the radiator, and stretch our feet out, and pretend it’s a wood-fire.”
“Oh, I think that’s pathetic! You big child!”
But they did draw up to the radiator, and propped their feet against it—his clumsy black shoes, her patent-leather slippers. In the dimness they talked of themselves; of how lonely she was, how bewildered he, and how wonderful that they had found each other. As they fell silent the room was stiller than a country lane. There was no sound from the street save the whir of motor-tires, the rumble of a distant freight-train. Self-contained was the room, warm, secure, insulated from the harassing world.
He was absorbed by a rapture in which all fear and doubting were smoothed away; and when he reached home, at dawn, the rapture had mellowed to contentment serene and full of memories.
The assurance of Tanis Judique’s friendship fortified Babbitt’s self-approval. At the Athletic Club he became experimental. Though Vergil Gunch was silent, the others at the Roughnecks’ Table came to accept Babbitt as having, for no visible reason, “turned crank.” They argued windily with him, and he was cocky, and enjoyed the spectacle of his interesting martyrdom. He even praised Seneca Doane. Professor Pumphrey said that was carrying a joke too far; but Babbitt argued, “No! Fact! I tell you he’s got one of the keenest intellects in the country. Why, Lord Wycombe said that—”