“Oh, it is, Mr. Swanson. It’s a sweet frock,” Mrs. Babbitt protested.
“There now, do you see, smarty! You’re such an authority on clothes!” Louetta raged, while the guests ruminated and peeped at her shoulders.
“That’s all right now,” said Swanson. “I’m authority enough so I know it was a waste of money, and it makes me tired to see you not wearing out a whole closetful of clothes you got already. I’ve expressed my idea about this before, and you know good and well you didn’t pay the least bit of attention. I have to camp on your trail to get you to do anything—”
There was much more of it, and they all assisted, all but Babbitt. Everything about him was dim except his stomach, and that was a bright scarlet disturbance. “Had too much grub; oughtn’t to eat this stuff,” he groaned—while he went on eating, while he gulped down a chill and glutinous slice of the ice-cream brick, and cocoanut cake as oozy as shaving-cream. He felt as though he had been stuffed with clay; his body was bursting, his throat was bursting, his brain was hot mud; and only with agony did he continue to smile and shout as became a host on Floral Heights.
He would, except for his guests, have fled outdoors and walked off the intoxication of food, but in the haze which filled the room they sat forever, talking, talking, while he agonized, “Darn fool to be eating all this—not ’nother mouthful,” and discovered that he was again tasting the sickly welter of melted ice cream on his plate. There was no magic in his friends; he was not uplifted when Howard Littlefield produced from his treasure-house of scholarship the information that the chemical symbol for raw rubber is C10H16, which turns into isoprene, or 2C5H8. Suddenly, without precedent, Babbitt was not merely bored but admitting that he was bored. It was ecstasy to escape from the table, from the torture of a straight chair, and loll on the davenport in the living-room.
The others, from their fitful unconvincing talk, their expressions of being slowly and painfully smothered, seemed to be suffering from the toil of social life and the horror of good food as much as himself. All of them accepted with relief the suggestion of bridge.
Babbitt recovered from the feeling of being boiled. He won at bridge. He was again able to endure Vergil Gunch’s inexorable heartiness. But he pictured loafing with Paul Riesling beside a lake in Maine. It was as overpowering and imaginative as homesickness. He had never seen Maine, yet he beheld the shrouded mountains, the tranquil lake of evening. “That boy Paul’s worth all these ballyhooing highbrows put together,” he muttered; and, “I’d like to get away from—everything.”
Even Louetta Swanson did not rouse him.