“Why, Eunice, that isn’t a nice way to speak of your papa,” Babbitt observed, in the best Floral Heights manner, but he was happy for the first time in weeks. He pictured himself as the veteran liberal strengthened by the loyalty of the young generation. They went out to rifle the ice-box. Babbitt gloated, “If your mother caught us at this, we’d certainly get our come-uppance!” and Eunice became maternal, scrambled a terrifying number of eggs for them, kissed Babbitt on the ear, and in the voice of a brooding abbess marveled, “It beats the devil why feminists like me still go on nursing these men!”
Thus stimulated, Babbitt was reckless when he encountered Sheldon Smeeth, educational director of the Y.M.C.A. and choir-leader of the Chatham Road Church. With one of his damp hands Smeeth imprisoned Babbitt’s thick paw while he chanted, “Brother Babbitt, we haven’t seen you at church very often lately. I know you’re busy with a multitude of details, but you mustn’t forget your dear friends at the old church home.”
Babbitt shook off the affectionate clasp—Sheldy liked to hold hands for a long time—and snarled, “Well, I guess you fellows can run the show without me. Sorry, Smeeth; got to beat it. G’day.”
But afterward he winced, “If that white worm had the nerve to try to drag me back to the Old Church Home, then the holy outfit must have been doing a lot of talking about me, too.”
He heard them whispering—whispering—Dr. John Jennison Drew, Cholmondeley Frink, even William Washington Eathorne. The independence seeped out of him and he walked the streets alone, afraid of men’s cynical eyes and the incessant hiss of whispering.
He tried to explain to his wife, as they prepared for bed, how objectionable was Sheldon Smeeth, but all her answer was, “He has such a beautiful voice—so spiritual. I don’t think you ought to speak of him like that just because you can’t appreciate music!” He saw her then as a stranger; he stared bleakly at this plump and fussy woman with the broad bare arms, and wondered how she had ever come here.
In his chilly cot, turning from aching side to side, he pondered of Tanis. “He’d been a fool to lose her. He had to have somebody he could really talk to. He’d—oh, he’d bust if he went on stewing about things by himself. And Myra, useless to expect her to understand. Well, rats, no use dodging the issue. Darn shame for two married people to drift apart after all these years; darn rotten shame; but nothing could bring them together now, as long as he refused to let Zenith bully him into taking orders—and he was by golly not going to let anybody bully him into anything, or wheedle him or coax him either!”
He woke at three, roused by a passing motor, and struggled out of bed for a drink of water. As he passed through the bedroom he heard his wife groan. His resentment was night-blurred; he was solicitous in inquiring, “What’s the trouble, hon?”