No one could long be serious in the presence of Vergil Gunch. “Ask Dant’ how Jack Shakespeare and old Verg’—the guy they named after me—are gettin’ along, and don’t they wish they could get into the movie game!” he blared, and instantly all was mirth. Mrs. Jones shrieked, and Eddie Swanson desired to know whether Dante didn’t catch cold with nothing on but his wreath.
The pleased Dante made humble answer.
But Babbitt—the curst discontent was torturing him again, and heavily, in the impersonal darkness, he pondered, “I don’t—We’re all so flip and think we’re so smart. There’d be—A fellow like Dante—I wish I’d read some of his pieces. I don’t suppose I ever will, now.”
He had, without explanation, the impression of a slaggy cliff and on it, in silhouette against menacing clouds, a lone and austere figure. He was dismayed by a sudden contempt for his surest friends. He grasped Louetta Swanson’s hand, and found the comfort of human warmth. Habit came, a veteran warrior; and he shook himself. “What the deuce is the matter with me, this evening?”
He patted Louetta’s hand, to indicate that he hadn’t meant anything improper by squeezing it, and demanded of Frink, “Say, see if you can get old Dant’ to spiel us some of his poetry. Talk up to him. Tell him, ’Buena giorna, senor, com sa va, wie geht’s? Keskersaykersa a little pome, senor?’”
The lights were switched on; the women sat on the fronts of their chairs in that determined suspense whereby a wife indicates that as soon as the present speaker has finished, she is going to remark brightly to her husband, “Well, dear, I think per-HAPS it’s about time for us to be saying good-night.” For once Babbitt did not break out in blustering efforts to keep the party going. He had—there was something he wished to think out—But the psychical research had started them off again. ("Why didn’t they go home! Why didn’t they go home!”) Though he was impressed by the profundity of the statement, he was only half-enthusiastic when Howard Littlefield lectured, “The United States is the only nation in which the government is a Moral Ideal and not just a social arrangement.” ("True—true—weren’t they ever going home?”) He was usually delighted to have an “inside view” of the momentous world of motors but to-night he scarcely listened to Eddie Swanson’s revelation: “If you want to go above the Javelin class, the Zeeco is a mighty good buy. Couple weeks ago, and mind you, this was a fair, square test, they took a Zeeco stock touring-car and they slid up the Tonawanda hill on high, and fellow told me—” ("Zeeco good boat but—Were they planning to stay all night?”)
They really were going, with a flutter of “We did have the best time!”
Most aggressively friendly of all was Babbitt, yet as he burbled he was reflecting, “I got through it, but for a while there I didn’t hardly think I’d last out.” He prepared to taste that most delicate pleasure of the host: making fun of his guests in the relaxation of midnight. As the door closed he yawned voluptuously, chest out, shoulders wriggling, and turned cynically to his wife.