At that moment in Zenith, three hundred and forty or fifty thousand Ordinary People were asleep, a vast unpenetrated shadow. In the slum beyond the railroad tracks, a young man who for six months had sought work turned on the gas and killed himself and his wife.
At that moment Lloyd Mallam, the poet, owner of the Hafiz Book Shop, was finishing a rondeau to show how diverting was life amid the feuds of medieval Florence, but how dull it was in so obvious a place as Zenith.
And at that moment George F. Babbitt turned ponderously in bed—the last turn, signifying that he’d had enough of this worried business of falling asleep and was about it in earnest.
Instantly he was in the magic dream. He was somewhere among unknown people who laughed at him. He slipped away, ran down the paths of a midnight garden, and at the gate the fairy child was waiting. Her dear and tranquil hand caressed his cheek. He was gallant and wise and well-beloved; warm ivory were her arms; and beyond perilous moors the brave sea glittered.
The great events of Babbitt’s spring were the secret buying of real-estate options in Linton for certain street-traction officials, before the public announcement that the Linton Avenue Car Line would be extended, and a dinner which was, as he rejoiced to his wife, not only “a regular society spread but a real sure-enough highbrow affair, with some of the keenest intellects and the brightest bunch of little women in town.” It was so absorbing an occasion that he almost forgot his desire to run off to Maine with Paul Riesling.
Though he had been born in the village of Catawba, Babbitt had risen to that metropolitan social plane on which hosts have as many as four people at dinner without planning it for more than an evening or two. But a dinner of twelve, with flowers from the florist’s and all the cut-glass out, staggered even the Babbitts.
For two weeks they studied, debated, and arbitrated the list of guests.
Babbitt marveled, “Of course we’re up-to-date ourselves, but still, think of us entertaining a famous poet like Chum Frink, a fellow that on nothing but a poem or so every day and just writing a few advertisements pulls down fifteen thousand berries a year!”
“Yes, and Howard Littlefield. Do you know, the other evening Eunice told me her papa speaks three languages!” said Mrs. Babbitt.
“Huh! That’s nothing! So do I—American, baseball, and poker!”
“I don’t think it’s nice to be funny about a matter like that. Think how wonderful it must be to speak three languages, and so useful and—And with people like that, I don’t see why we invite the Orville Joneses.”
“Well now, Orville is a mighty up-and-coming fellow!”
“Yes, I know, but—A laundry!”