He who had once controlled or seemed to control his life in a progress unimpassioned but diligent and sane was for that fortnight borne on a current of desire and very bad whisky and all the complications of new acquaintances, those furious new intimates who demand so much more attention than old friends. Each morning he gloomily recognized his idiocies of the evening before. With his head throbbing, his tongue and lips stinging from cigarettes, he incredulously counted the number of drinks he had taken, and groaned, “I got to quit!” He had ceased saying, “I will quit!” for however resolute he might be at dawn, he could not, for a single evening, check his drift.
He had met Tanis’s friends; he had, with the ardent haste of the Midnight People, who drink and dance and rattle and are ever afraid to be silent, been adopted as a member of her group, which they called “The Bunch.” He first met them after a day when he had worked particularly hard and when he hoped to be quiet with Tanis and slowly sip her admiration.
From down the hall he could hear shrieks and the grind of a phonograph. As Tanis opened the door he saw fantastic figures dancing in a haze of cigarette smoke. The tables and chairs were against the wall.
“Oh, isn’t this dandy!” she gabbled at him. “Carrie Nork had the loveliest idea. She decided it was time for a party, and she ’phoned the Bunch and told ’em to gather round. . . . George, this is Carrie.”
“Carrie” was, in the less desirable aspects of both, at once matronly and spinsterish. She was perhaps forty; her hair was an unconvincing ash-blond; and if her chest was flat, her hips were ponderous. She greeted Babbitt with a giggling “Welcome to our little midst! Tanis says you’re a real sport.”
He was apparently expected to dance, to be boyish and gay with Carrie, and he did his unforgiving best. He towed her about the room, bumping into other couples, into the radiator, into chair-legs cunningly ambushed. As he danced he surveyed the rest of the Bunch: A thin young woman who looked capable, conceited, and sarcastic. Another woman whom he could never quite remember. Three overdressed and slightly effeminate young men—soda-fountain clerks, or at least born for that profession. A man of his own age, immovable, self-satisfied, resentful of Babbitt’s presence.
When he had finished his dutiful dance Tanis took him aside and begged, “Dear, wouldn’t you like to do something for me? I’m all out of booze, and the Bunch want to celebrate. Couldn’t you just skip down to Healey Hanson’s and get some?”
“Sure,” he said, trying not to sound sullen.
“I’ll tell you: I’ll get Minnie Sonntag to drive down with you.” Tanis was pointing to the thin, sarcastic young woman.
Miss Sonntag greeted him with an astringent “How d’you do, Mr. Babbitt. Tanis tells me you’re a very prominent man, and I’m honored by being allowed to drive with you. Of course I’m not accustomed to associating with society people like you, so I don’t know how to act in such exalted circles!”