“Oh, now, Zilla, the idea!” Mrs. Babbitt was maternal and fussy. She was no older than Zilla, but she seemed so—at first. She was placid and puffy and mature, where Zilla, at forty-five, was so bleached and tight-corseted that you knew only that she was older than she looked. “The idea of talking to poor Paul like that!”
“Poor Paul is right! We’d both be poor, we’d be in the poorhouse, if I didn’t jazz him up!”
“Why, now, Zilla, Georgie and I were just saying how hard Paul’s been working all year, and we were thinking it would be lovely if the Boys could run off by themselves. I’ve been coaxing George to go up to Maine ahead of the rest of us, and get the tired out of his system before we come, and I think it would be lovely if Paul could manage to get away and join him.”
At this exposure of his plot to escape, Paul was startled out of impassivity. He rubbed his fingers. His hands twitched.
Zilla bayed, “Yes! You’re lucky! You can let George go, and not have to watch him. Fat old Georgie! Never peeps at another woman! Hasn’t got the spunk!”
“The hell I haven’t!” Babbitt was fervently defending his priceless immorality when Paul interrupted him—and Paul looked dangerous. He rose quickly; he said gently to Zilla:
“I suppose you imply I have a lot of sweethearts.”
“Yes, I do!”
“Well, then, my dear, since you ask for it—There hasn’t been a time in the last ten years when I haven’t found some nice little girl to comfort me, and as long as you continue your amiability I shall probably continue to deceive you. It isn’t hard. You’re so stupid.”
Zilla gibbered; she howled; words could not be distinguished in her slaver of abuse.
Then the bland George F. Babbitt was transformed. If Paul was dangerous, if Zilla was a snake-locked fury, if the neat emotions suitable to the Revelstoke Arms had been slashed into raw hatreds, it was Babbitt who was the most formidable. He leaped up. He seemed very large. He seized Zilla’s shoulder. The cautions of the broker were wiped from his face, and his voice was cruel:
“I’ve had enough of all this damn nonsense! I’ve known you for twenty-five years, Zil, and I never knew you to miss a chance to take your disappointments out on Paul. You’re not wicked. You’re worse. You’re a fool. And let me tell you that Paul is the finest boy God ever made. Every decent person is sick and tired of your taking advantage of being a woman and springing every mean innuendo you can think of. Who the hell are you that a person like Paul should have to ask your permission to go with me? You act like you were a combination of Queen Victoria and Cleopatra. You fool, can’t you see how people snicker at you, and sneer at you?”
Zilla was sobbing, “I’ve never—I’ve never—nobody ever talked to me like this in all my life!”
“No, but that’s the way they talk behind your back! Always! They say you’re a scolding old woman. Old, by God!”