They did not talk much. The nervous loquacity and opinionation of the Zenith Athletic Club dropped from them. But when they did talk they slipped into the naive intimacy of college days. Once they drew their canoe up to the bank of Sunasquam Water, a stream walled in by the dense green of the hardhack. The sun roared on the green jungle but in the shade was sleepy peace, and the water was golden and rippling. Babbitt drew his hand through the cool flood, and mused:
“We never thought we’d come to Maine together!”
“No. We’ve never done anything the way we thought we would. I expected to live in Germany with my granddad’s people, and study the fiddle.”
“That’s so. And remember how I wanted to be a lawyer and go into politics? I still think I might have made a go of it. I’ve kind of got the gift of the gab—anyway, I can think on my feet, and make some kind of a spiel on most anything, and of course that’s the thing you need in politics. By golly, Ted’s going to law-school, even if I didn’t! Well—I guess it’s worked out all right. Myra’s been a fine wife. And Zilla means well, Paulibus.”
“Yes. Up here, I figure out all sorts of plans to keep her amused. I kind of feel life is going to be different, now that we’re getting a good rest and can go back and start over again.”
“I hope so, old boy.” Shyly: “Say, gosh, it’s been awful nice to sit around and loaf and gamble and act regular, with you along, you old horse-thief!”
“Well, you know what it means to me, Georgie. Saved my life.”
The shame of emotion overpowered them; they cursed a little, to prove they were good rough fellows; and in a mellow silence, Babbitt whistling while Paul hummed, they paddled back to the hotel.
Though it was Paul who had seemed overwrought, Babbitt who had been the protecting big brother, Paul became clear-eyed and merry, while Babbitt sank into irritability. He uncovered layer on layer of hidden weariness. At first he had played nimble jester to Paul and for him sought amusements; by the end of the week Paul was nurse, and Babbitt accepted favors with the condescension one always shows a patient nurse.
The day before their families arrived, the women guests at the hotel bubbled, “Oh, isn’t it nice! You must be so excited;” and the proprieties compelled Babbitt and Paul to look excited. But they went to bed early and grumpy.
When Myra appeared she said at once, “Now, we want you boys to go on playing around just as if we weren’t here.”
The first evening, he stayed out for poker with the guides, and she said in placid merriment, “My! You’re a regular bad one!” The second evening, she groaned sleepily, “Good heavens, are you going to be out every single night?” The third evening, he didn’t play poker.
He was tired now in every cell. “Funny! Vacation doesn’t seem to have done me a bit of good,” he lamented. “Paul’s frisky as a colt, but I swear, I’m crankier and nervouser than when I came up here.”