But Paul desired to see a liner. “Always wanted to go to Europe—and, by thunder, I will, too, some day before I past out,” he sighed.
From a rough wharf on the North River they stared at the stern of the Aquitania and her stacks and wireless antenna lifted above the dock-house which shut her in.
“By golly,” Babbitt droned, “wouldn’t be so bad to go over to the Old Country and take a squint at all these ruins, and the place where Shakespeare was born. And think of being able to order a drink whenever you wanted one! Just range up to a bar and holler out loud, ’Gimme a cocktail, and darn the police!’ Not bad at all. What juh like to see, over there, Paulibus?”
Paul did not answer. Babbitt turned. Paul was standing with clenched fists, head drooping, staring at the liner as in terror. His thin body, seen against the summer-glaring planks of the wharf, was childishly meager.
Again, “What would you hit for on the other side, Paul?”
Scowling at the steamer, his breast heaving, Paul whispered, “Oh, my God!” While Babbitt watched him anxiously he snapped, “Come on, let’s get out of this,” and hastened down the wharf, not looking back.
“That’s funny,” considered Babbitt. “The boy didn’t care for seeing the ocean boats after all. I thought he’d be interested in ’em.”
Though he exulted, and made sage speculations about locomotive horse-power, as their train climbed the Maine mountain-ridge and from the summit he looked down the shining way among the pines; though he remarked, “Well, by golly!” when he discovered that the station at Katadumcook, the end of the line, was an aged freight-car; Babbitt’s moment of impassioned release came when they sat on a tiny wharf on Lake Sunasquam, awaiting the launch from the hotel. A raft had floated down the lake; between the logs and the shore, the water was transparent, thin-looking, flashing with minnows. A guide in black felt hat with trout-flies in the band, and flannel shirt of a peculiarly daring blue, sat on a log and whittled and was silent. A dog, a good country dog, black and woolly gray, a dog rich in leisure and in meditation, scratched and grunted and slept. The thick sunlight was lavish on the bright water, on the rim of gold-green balsam boughs, the silver birches and tropic ferns, and across the lake it burned on the sturdy shoulders of the mountains. Over everything was a holy peace.
Silent, they loafed on the edge of the wharf, swinging their legs above the water. The immense tenderness of the place sank into Babbitt, and he murmured, “I’d just like to sit here—the rest of my life—and whittle—and sit. And never hear a typewriter. Or Stan Graff fussing in the ’phone. Or Rone and Ted scrapping. Just sit. Gosh!”
He patted Paul’s shoulder. “How does it strike you, old snoozer?”
“Oh, it’s darn good, Georgie. There’s something sort of eternal about it.”