“I hope they’re decent girls. Course Ted’s no longer a kid, and I wouldn’t want him to, uh, get mixed up and everything.”
“George: I wonder if you oughtn’t to take him aside and tell him about—Things!” She blushed and lowered her eyes.
“Well, I don’t know. Way I figure it, Myra, no sense suggesting a lot of Things to a boy’s mind. Think up enough devilment by himself. But I wonder—It’s kind of a hard question. Wonder what Littlefield thinks about it?”
“Course Papa agrees with you. He says all this—Instruction is—He says ’tisn’t decent.”
“Oh, he does, does he! Well, let me tell you that whatever Henry T. Thompson thinks—about morals, I mean, though course you can’t beat the old duffer—”
“Why, what a way to talk of Papa!”
“—simply can’t beat him at getting in on the ground floor of a deal, but let me tell you whenever he springs any ideas about higher things and education, then I know I think just the opposite. You may not regard me as any great brain-shark, but believe me, I’m a regular college president, compared with Henry T.! Yes sir, by golly, I’m going to take Ted aside and tell him why I lead a strictly moral life.”
“Oh, will you? When?”
“When? When? What’s the use of trying to pin me down to When and Why and Where and How and When? That’s the trouble with women, that’s why they don’t make high-class executives; they haven’t any sense of diplomacy. When the proper opportunity and occasion arises so it just comes in natural, why then I’ll have a friendly little talk with him and—and—Was that Tinka hollering up-stairs? She ought to been asleep, long ago.”
He prowled through the living-room, and stood in the sun-parlor, that glass-walled room of wicker chairs and swinging couch in which they loafed on Sunday afternoons. Outside only the lights of Doppelbrau’s house and the dim presence of Babbitt’s favorite elm broke the softness of April night.
“Good visit with the boy. Getting over feeling cranky, way I did this morning. And restless. Though, by golly, I will have a few days alone with Paul in Maine! . . . That devil Zilla! . . . But . . . Ted’s all right. Whole family all right. And good business. Not many fellows make four hundred and fifty bucks, practically half of a thousand dollars easy as I did to-day! Maybe when we all get to rowing it’s just as much my fault as it is theirs. Oughtn’t to get grouchy like I do. But—Wish I’d been a pioneer, same as my grand-dad. But then, wouldn’t have a house like this. I—Oh, gosh, I don’t know!”
He thought moodily of Paul Riesling, of their youth together, of the girls they had known.
When Babbitt had graduated from the State University, twenty-four years ago, he had intended to be a lawyer. He had been a ponderous debater in college; he felt that he was an orator; he saw himself becoming governor of the state. While he read law he worked as a real-estate salesman. He saved money, lived in a boarding-house, supped on poached egg on hash. The lively Paul Riesling (who was certainly going off to Europe to study violin, next month or next year) was his refuge till Paul was bespelled by Zilla Colbeck, who laughed and danced and drew men after her plump and gaily wagging finger.