They talked to the secretary of the Zenith Foundry Company about an interesting artistic project—a cast-iron fence for Linden Lane Cemetery. They drove on to the Zeeco Motor Company and interviewed the sales-manager, Noel Ryland, about a discount on a Zeeco car for Thompson. Babbitt and Ryland were fellow-members of the Boosters’ Club, and no Booster felt right if he bought anything from another Booster without receiving a discount. But Henry Thompson growled, “Oh, t’ hell with ’em! I’m not going to crawl around mooching discounts, not from nobody.” It was one of the differences between Thompson, the old-fashioned, lean Yankee, rugged, traditional, stage type of American business man, and Babbitt, the plump, smooth, efficient, up-to-the-minute and otherwise perfected modern. Whenever Thompson twanged, “Put your John Hancock on that line,” Babbitt was as much amused by the antiquated provincialism as any proper Englishman by any American. He knew himself to be of a breeding altogether more esthetic and sensitive than Thompson’s. He was a college graduate, he played golf, he often smoked cigarettes instead of cigars, and when he went to Chicago he took a room with a private bath. “The whole thing is,” he explained to Paul Riesling, “these old codgers lack the subtlety that you got to have to-day.”
This advance in civilization could be carried too far, Babbitt perceived. Noel Ryland, sales-manager of the Zeeco, was a frivolous graduate of Princeton, while Babbitt was a sound and standard ware from that great department-store, the State University. Ryland wore spats, he wrote long letters about City Planning and Community Singing, and, though he was a Booster, he was known to carry in his pocket small volumes of poetry in a foreign language. All this was going too far. Henry Thompson was the extreme of insularity, and Noel Ryland the extreme of frothiness, while between them, supporting the state, defending the evangelical churches and domestic brightness and sound business, were Babbitt and his friends.
With this just estimate of himself—and with the promise of a discount on Thompson’s car—he returned to his office in triumph.
But as he went through the corridor of the Reeves Building he sighed, “Poor old Paul! I got to—Oh, damn Noel Ryland! Damn Charley McKelvey! Just because they make more money than I do, they think they’re so superior. I wouldn’t be found dead in their stuffy old Union Club! I—Somehow, to-day, I don’t feel like going back to work. Oh well—”
He answered telephone calls, he read the four o’clock mail, he signed his morning’s letters, he talked to a tenant about repairs, he fought with Stanley Graff.
Young Graff, the outside salesman, was always hinting that he deserved an increase of commission, and to-day he complained, “I think I ought to get a bonus if I put through the Heiler sale. I’m chasing around and working on it every single evening, almost.”