“Why, you old humbug! Fishing for compliments when I ought to be packing your bag! Me, sure, I’m young and handsome and a regular village cut-up and—” He could not go on. He sobbed again; and in muttered incoherencies they found each other.
As he packed, his brain was curiously clear and swift. He’d have no more wild evenings, he realized. He admitted that he would regret them. A little grimly he perceived that this had been his last despairing fling before the paralyzed contentment of middle-age. Well, and he grinned impishly, “it was one doggone good party while it lasted!” And—how much was the operation going to cost? “I ought to have fought that out with Dilling. But no, damn it, I don’t care how much it costs!”
The motor ambulance was at the door. Even in his grief the Babbitt who admired all technical excellences was interested in the kindly skill with which the attendants slid Mrs. Babbitt upon a stretcher and carried her down-stairs. The ambulance was a huge, suave, varnished, white thing. Mrs. Babbitt moaned, “It frightens me. It’s just like a hearse, just like being put in a hearse. I want you to stay with me.”
“I’ll be right up front with the driver,” Babbitt promised.
“No, I want you to stay inside with me.” To the attendants: “Can’t he be inside?”
“Sure, ma’am, you bet. There’s a fine little camp-stool in there,” the older attendant said, with professional pride.
He sat beside her in that traveling cabin with its cot, its stool, its active little electric radiator, and its quite unexplained calendar, displaying a girl eating cherries, and the name of an enterprising grocer. But as he flung out his hand in hopeless cheerfulness it touched the radiator, and he squealed:
“Why, George Babbitt, I won’t have you cursing and swearing and blaspheming!”
“I know, awful sorry but—Gosh all fish-hooks, look how I burned my hand! Gee whiz, it hurts! It hurts like the mischief! Why, that damn radiator is hot as—it’s hot as—it’s hotter ’n the hinges of Hades! Look! You can see the mark!”
So, as they drove up to St. Mary’s Hospital, with the nurses already laying out the instruments for an operation to save her life, it was she who consoled him and kissed the place to make it well, and though he tried to be gruff and mature, he yielded to her and was glad to be babied.
The ambulance whirled under the hooded carriage-entrance of the hospital, and instantly he was reduced to a zero in the nightmare succession of cork-floored halls, endless doors open on old women sitting up in bed, an elevator, the anesthetizing room, a young interne contemptuous of husbands. He was permitted to kiss his wife; he saw a thin dark nurse fit the cone over her mouth and nose; he stiffened at a sweet and treacherous odor; then he was driven out, and on a high stool in a laboratory he sat dazed, longing to