It was she who was mature and protective now. “Why, of course! You shall run off by yourself! Why don’t you get Paul to go along, and you boys just fish and have a good time?” She patted his shoulder—reaching up to it—while he shook with palsied helplessness, and in that moment was not merely by habit fond of her but clung to her strength.
She cried cheerily, “Now up-stairs you go, and pop into bed. We’ll fix it all up. I’ll see to the doors. Now skip!”
For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom.
No apartment-house in Zenith had more resolutely experimented in condensation than the Revelstoke Arms, in which Paul and Zilla Riesling had a flat. By sliding the beds into low closets the bedrooms were converted into living-rooms. The kitchens were cupboards each containing an electric range, a copper sink, a glass refrigerator, and, very intermittently, a Balkan maid. Everything about the Arms was excessively modern, and everything was compressed—except the garages.
The Babbitts were calling on the Rieslings at the Arms. It was a speculative venture to call on the Rieslings; interesting and sometimes disconcerting. Zilla was an active, strident, full-blown, high-bosomed blonde. When she condescended to be good-humored she was nervously amusing. Her comments on people were saltily satiric and penetrative of accepted hypocrisies. “That’s so!” you said, and looked sheepish. She danced wildly, and called on the world to be merry, but in the midst of it she would turn indignant. She was always becoming indignant. Life was a plot against her and she exposed it furiously.
She was affable to-night. She merely hinted that Orville Jones wore a toupe, that Mrs. T. Cholmondeley Frink’s singing resembled a Ford going into high, and that the Hon. Otis Deeble, mayor of Zenith and candidate for Congress, was a flatulent fool (which was quite true). The Babbitts and Rieslings sat doubtfully on stone-hard brocade chairs in the small living-room of the flat, with its mantel unprovided with a fireplace, and its strip of heavy gilt fabric upon a glaring new player-piano, till Mrs. Riesling shrieked, “Come on! Let’s put some pep in it! Get out your fiddle, Paul, and I’ll try to make Georgie dance decently.”
The Babbitts were in earnest. They were plotting for the escape to Maine. But when Mrs. Babbitt hinted with plump smilingness, “Does Paul get as tired after the winter’s work as Georgie does?” then Zilla remembered an injury; and when Zilla Riesling remembered an injury the world stopped till something had been done about it.