They were buying their Maine tackle at Ijams Brothers’, the Sporting Goods Mart, with the help of Willis Ijams, fellow member of the Boosters’ Club. Babbitt was completely mad. He trumpeted and danced. He muttered to Paul, “Say, this is pretty good, eh? To be buying the stuff, eh? And good old Willis Ijams himself coming down on the floor to wait on us! Say, if those fellows that are getting their kit for the North Lakes knew we were going clear up to Maine, they’d have a fit, eh? . . . Well, come on, Brother Ijams—Willis, I mean. Here’s your chance! We’re a couple of easy marks! Whee! Let me at it! I’m going to buy out the store!”
He gloated on fly-rods and gorgeous rubber hip-boots, on tents with celluloid windows and folding chairs and ice-boxes. He simple-heartedly wanted to buy all of them. It was the Paul whom he was always vaguely protecting who kept him from his drunken desires.
But even Paul lightened when Willis Ijams, a salesman with poetry and diplomacy, discussed flies. “Now, of course, you boys know.” he said, “the great scrap is between dry flies and wet flies. Personally, I’m for dry flies. More sporting.”
“That’s so. Lots more sporting,” fulminated Babbitt, who knew very little about flies either wet or dry.
“Now if you’ll take my advice, Georgie, you’ll stock up well on these pale evening dims, and silver sedges, and red ants. Oh, boy, there’s a fly, that red ant!”
“You bet! That’s what it is—a fly!” rejoiced Babbitt.
“Yes, sir, that red ant,” said Ijams, “is a real honest-to-God fly!”
“Oh, I guess ole Mr. Trout won’t come a-hustling when I drop one of those red ants on the water!” asserted Babbitt, and his thick wrists made a rapturous motion of casting.
“Yes, and the landlocked salmon will take it, too,” said Ijams, who had never seen a landlocked salmon.
“Salmon! Trout! Say, Paul, can you see Uncle George with his khaki pants on haulin’ ’em in, some morning ’bout seven? Whee!”
They were on the New York express, incredibly bound for Maine, incredibly without their families. They were free, in a man’s world, in the smoking-compartment of the Pullman.
Outside the car window was a glaze of darkness stippled with the gold of infrequent mysterious lights. Babbitt was immensely conscious, in the sway and authoritative clatter of the train, of going, of going on. Leaning toward Paul he grunted, “Gosh, pretty nice to be hiking, eh?”
The small room, with its walls of ocher-colored steel, was filled mostly with the sort of men he classified as the Best Fellows You’ll Ever Meet—Real Good Mixers. There were four of them on the long seat; a fat man with a shrewd fat face, a knife-edged man in a green velour hat, a very young young man with an imitation amber cigarette-holder, and Babbitt. Facing them, on two movable leather chairs, were Paul and a lanky, old-fashioned man, very cunning, with wrinkles bracketing his mouth. They all read newspapers or trade journals, boot-and-shoe journals, crockery journals, and waited for the joys of conversation. It was the very young man, now making his first journey by Pullman, who began it.