“Ye-es, I suppose—”
“How about it? Going to join us in the Good Citizens’ League?”
“I’ll have to think it over, Verg.”
“All right, just as you say.” Babbitt was relieved to be let off so easily, but Gunch went on: “George, I don’t know what’s come over you; none of us do; and we’ve talked a lot about you. For a while we figured out you’d been upset by what happened to poor Riesling, and we forgave you for any fool thing you said, but that’s old stuff now, George, and we can’t make out what’s got into you. Personally, I’ve always defended you, but I must say it’s getting too much for me. All the boys at the Athletic Club and the Boosters’ are sore, the way you go on deliberately touting Doane and his bunch of hell-hounds, and talking about being liberal—which means being wishy-washy—and even saying this preacher guy Ingram isn’t a professional free-love artist. And then the way you been carrying on personally! Joe Pumphrey says he saw you out the other night with a gang of totties, all stewed to the gills, and here to-day coming right into the Thornleigh with a—well, she may be all right and a perfect lady, but she certainly did look like a pretty gay skirt for a fellow with his wife out of town to be taking to lunch. Didn’t look well. What the devil has come over you, George?”
“Strikes me there’s a lot of fellows that know more about my personal business than I do myself!”
“Now don’t go getting sore at me because I come out flatfooted like a friend and say what I think instead of tattling behind your back, the way a whole lot of ’em do. I tell you George, you got a position in the community, and the community expects you to live up to it. And—Better think over joining the Good Citizens’ League. See you about it later.”
He was gone.
That evening Babbitt dined alone. He saw all the Clan of Good Fellows peering through the restaurant window, spying on him. Fear sat beside him, and he told himself that to-night he would not go to Tanis’s flat; and he did not go . . . till late.
The summer before, Mrs. Babbitt’s letters had crackled with desire to return to Zenith. Now they said nothing of returning, but a wistful “I suppose everything is going on all right without me” among her dry chronicles of weather and sicknesses hinted to Babbitt that he hadn’t been very urgent about her coming. He worried it:
“If she were here, and I went on raising cain like I been doing, she’d have a fit. I got to get hold of myself. I got to learn to play around and yet not make a fool of myself. I can do it, too, if folks like Verg Gunch ’ll let me alone, and Myra ’ll stay away. But—poor kid, she sounds lonely. Lord, I don’t want to hurt her!”
Impulsively he wrote that they missed her, and her next letter said happily that she was coming home.