“You bet. That’s a fact,” they observed, and passed on to lighter topics. They rapidly reviewed motor-car prices, tire-mileage, oil-stocks, fishing, and the prospects for the wheat-crop in Dakota.
But the fat man was impatient at this waste of time. He was a veteran traveler and free of illusions. Already he had asserted that he was “an old he-one.” He leaned forward, gathered in their attention by his expression of sly humor, and grumbled, “Oh, hell, boys, let’s cut out the formality and get down to the stories!”
They became very lively and intimate.
Paul and the boy vanished. The others slid forward on the long seat, unbuttoned their vests, thrust their feet up on the chairs, pulled the stately brass cuspidors nearer, and ran the green window-shade down on its little trolley, to shut them in from the uncomfortable strangeness of night. After each bark of laughter they cried, “Say, jever hear the one about—” Babbitt was expansive and virile. When the train stopped at an important station, the four men walked up and down the cement platform, under the vast smoky train-shed roof, like a stormy sky, under the elevated footways, beside crates of ducks and sides of beef, in the mystery of an unknown city. They strolled abreast, old friends and well content. At the long-drawn “Alllll aboarrrrrd”—like a mountain call at dusk—they hastened back into the smoking-compartment, and till two of the morning continued the droll tales, their eyes damp with cigar-smoke and laughter. When they parted they shook hands, and chuckled, “Well, sir, it’s been a great session. Sorry to bust it up. Mighty glad to met you.”
Babbitt lay awake in the close hot tomb of his Pullman berth, shaking with remembrance of the fat man’s limerick about the lady who wished to be wild. He raised the shade; he lay with a puffy arm tucked between his head and the skimpy pillow, looking out on the sliding silhouettes of trees, and village lamps like exclamation-points. He was very happy.
They had four hours in New York between trains. The one thing Babbitt wished to see was the Pennsylvania Hotel, which had been built since his last visit. He stared up at it, muttering, “Twenty-two hundred rooms and twenty-two hundred baths! That’s got everything in the world beat. Lord, their turnover must be—well, suppose price of rooms is four to eight dollars a day, and I suppose maybe some ten and—four times twenty-two hundred-say six times twenty-two hundred—well, anyway, with restaurants and everything, say summers between eight and fifteen thousand a day. Every day! I never thought I’d see a thing like that! Some town! Of course the average fellow in Zenith has got more Individual Initiative than the fourflushers here, but I got to hand it to New York. Yes, sir, town, you’re all right—some ways. Well, old Paulski, I guess we’ve seen everything that’s worth while. How’ll we kill the rest of the time? Movie?”