She was to be gone a week. The first twenty-four hours passed gloomily for Babcock. Then he began to take notice. He noticed that the county fair was fixed for the following days. He had hoped to carry Selma there, but, as she was not to be had, it seemed to him sensible to get what enjoyment from it he could alone. Then it happened that a former companion of his bachelor days and his bachelor habits, a commercial traveller, whom he had not seen since his marriage, appeared on the scene.
“The very man for me!” he ejaculated, jubilantly.
The obscurity of this remark was presently made clear to his friend, who had hoped perhaps to enjoy a snug evening at Babcock’s domestic hearth, but who was not averse to playing a different part—that of cheering up a father who had lost his baby, and whose wife had left him in the lurch. He assured Babcock that a regular old time outing—a shaking up—would do him good, and Babcock was ready to agree with him, intending thereby a free-handed two days at the fair. As has been intimated, his manner of life before marriage had not been irreproachable, but he had been glad of an opportunity to put an end to the mildly riotous and coarse bouts which disfigured his otherwise commonplace existence. He had no intention now of misbehaving himself, but he felt the need of being enlivened. His companion was a man who delighted in what he called a lark, and whose only method of insuring a lark was by starting in with whiskey and keeping it up. That had been also Babcock’s former conception of a good time, and though he had dimly in mind that he was now a husband and church-member, he strove to conduct himself in such a manner as to maintain his self-respect without becoming a spoil sport.
During the first day at the fair Babcock managed to preserve this nice distinction. On the second, he lost account of his conduct, and by the late afternoon was sauntering with his friend among the booths in the company of two suspicions looking women. With these same women the pair of revellers drove off in top buggies just before dusk, and vanished in the direction of the open country.
Babcock returned to his home twenty-four hours later like a whipped cur. He was disgusted with himself. It seemed to him incredible that he should have fallen so low. He had sinned against his wife and his own self-respect without excuse; for it was no excuse that he had let himself be led to drink too much. His heart ached and his cheek burned at the recollection of his two days of debauchery. What was to be done? If only he were able to cut this ugly sore in his soul out with a knife and have done with it forever! But that was impossible. It stared him in the face, a haunting reality. In his distress he asked himself whether he would not go to Mr. Glynn and make a clean breast of it; but his practical instincts answered him that he would none the less have made a beast of himself. He held his head between his hands, and stared dejectedly at his desk. Some relief came to him at last only from the reflection that it was a single fault, and that it need never—it should never be repeated. Selma need not know, and he would henceforth avoid all such temptations. Terrible as it was, it was a slip, not a deliberate fault, and his love for his wife was not in question.