“Colonel, that strikes me as my private business.”
“Possibly, but we want to have an understanding. You’ve stood in, you and your father-in-law, with some of the most substantial and forward-looking interests in town, like my friends of the Street Traction Company, and my papers have given you a lot of boosts. Well, you can’t expect the decent citizens to go on aiding you if you intend to side with precisely the people who are trying to undermine us.”
Babbitt was frightened, but he had an agonized instinct that if he yielded in this he would yield in everything. He protested:
“You’re exaggerating, Colonel. I believe in being broad-minded and liberal, but, of course, I’m just as much agin the cranks and blatherskites and labor unions and so on as you are. But fact is, I belong to so many organizations now that I can’t do ’em justice, and I want to think it over before I decide about coming into the G.C.L.”
Colonel Snow condescended, “Oh, no, I’m not exaggerating! Why the doctor here heard you cussing out and defaming one of the finest types of Republican congressmen, just this noon! And you have entirely the wrong idea about ‘thinking over joining.’ We’re not begging you to join the G.C.L.—we’re permitting you to join. I’m not sure, my boy, but what if you put it off it’ll be too late. I’m not sure we’ll want you then. Better think quick—better think quick!”
The three Vigilantes, formidable in their righteousness, stared at him in a taut silence. Babbitt waited through. He thought nothing at all, he merely waited, while in his echoing head buzzed, “I don’t want to join—I don’t want to join—I don’t want to.”
“All right. Sorry for you!” said Colonel Snow, and the three men abruptly turned their beefy backs.
As Babbitt went out to his car that evening he saw Vergil Gunch coming down the block. He raised his hand in salutation, but Gunch ignored it and crossed the street. He was certain that Gunch had seen him. He drove home in sharp discomfort.
His wife attacked at once: “Georgie dear, Muriel Frink was in this afternoon, and she says that Chum says the committee of this Good Citizens’ League especially asked you to join and you wouldn’t. Don’t you think it would be better? You know all the nicest people belong, and the League stands for—”
“I know what the League stands for! It stands for the suppression of free speech and free thought and everything else! I don’t propose to be bullied and rushed into joining anything, and it isn’t a question of whether it’s a good league or a bad league or what the hell kind of a league it is; it’s just a question of my refusing to be told I got to—”
“But dear, if you don’t join, people might criticize you.”
“Let ’em criticize!”
“But I mean nice people!”
“Rats, I—Matter of fact, this whole League is just a fad. It’s like all these other organizations that start off with such a rush and let on they’re going to change the whole works, and pretty soon they peter out and everybody forgets all about ’em!”