HIS wife was up when he came in. "Did you have a good time?" she sniffed.
"I did not. I had a rotten time! Anything else I got to explain?"
"George, how can you speak like — Oh, I don't know what's come over you!"
"Good Lord, there's nothing come over me! Why do you look for trouble all the time?" He was warning himself, "Careful! Stop being so disagreeable. Course she feels it, being left alone here all evening." But he forgot his warning as she went on:
"Why do you go out and see all sorts of strange people? I suppose you'll say you've been to another committee-meeting this evening!"
"Nope. I've been calling on a woman. We sat by the fire and kidded each other and had a whale of a good time, if you want to know!"
"Well — From the way you say it, I suppose it's my fault you went there! I probably sent you!"
"Well, upon my word — "
"You hate 'strange people' as you call 'em. If you had your way, I'd be as much of an old stick-in-the-mud as Howard Littlefield. You never want to have anybody with any git to 'em at the house; you want a bunch of old stiffs that sit around and gas about the weather. You're doing your level best to make me old. Well, let me tell you, I'm not going to have — "
Overwhelmed she bent to his unprecedented tirade, and in answer she mourned:
"Oh, dearest, I don't think that's true. I don't mean to make you old, I know. Perhaps you're partly right. Perhaps I am slow about getting acquainted with new people. But when you think of all the dear good times we have, and the supper-parties and the movies and all — "
With true masculine wiles he not only convinced himself that she had injured him but, by the loudness of his voice and the brutality of his attack, he convinced her also, and presently he had her apologizing for his having spent the evening with Tanis. He went up to bed well pleased, not only the master but the martyr of the household. For a distasteful moment after he had lain down he wondered if he had been altogether just. "Ought to be ashamed, bullying her. Maybe there is her side to things. Maybe she hasn't had such a bloomin' hectic time herself. But I don't care! Good for her to get waked up a little. And I'm going to keep free. Of her and Tanis and the fellows at the club and everybody. I'm going to run my own life!"
In this mood he was particularly objectionable at the Boosters' Club lunch next day. They were addressed by a congressman who had just returned from an exhaustive three-months study of the finances, ethnology, political systems, linguistic divisions, mineral resources, and agriculture of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, and Bulgaria. He told them all about those subjects, together with three funny stories about European misconceptions of America and some spirited words on the necessity of keeping ignorant foreigners out of America.
"Say, that was a mighty informative talk. Real he-stuff," said Sidney Finkelstein.
But the disaffected Babbitt grumbled, "Four-flusher! Bunch of hot air! And what's the matter with the immigrants? Gosh, they aren't all ignorant, and I got a hunch we're all descended from immigrants ourselves."
"Oh, you make me tired!" said Mr. Finkelstein.
Babbitt was aware that Dr. A. I. Dilling was sternly listening from across the table. Dr. Dilling was one of the most important men in the Boosters'. He was not a physician but a surgeon, a more romantic and sounding occupation. He was an intense large man with a boiling of black hair and a thick black mustache. The newspapers often chronicled his operations; he was professor of surgery in the State University; he went to dinner at the very best houses on Royal Ridge; and he was said to be worth several hundred thousand dollars. It was dismaying to Babbitt to have such a person glower at him. He hastily praised the congressman's wit, to Sidney Finkelstein, but for Dr. Dilling's benefit.
That afternoon three men shouldered into Babbitt's office with the air of a Vigilante committee in frontier days. They were large, resolute, big-jawed men, and they were all high lords in the land of Zenith — Dr. Dilling the surgeon, Charles McKelvey the contractor, and, most dismaying of all, the white-bearded Colonel Rutherford Snow, owner of the Advocate-Times. In their whelming presence Babbitt felt small and insignificant.
"Well, well, great pleasure, have chairs, what c'n I do for you?" he babbled.
They neither sat nor offered observations on the weather.
"Babbitt," said Colonel Snow, "we've come from the Good Citizens' League. We've decided we want you to join. Vergil Gunch says you don't care to, but I think we can show you a new light. The League is going to combine with the Chamber of Commerce in a campaign for the Open Shop, so it's time for you to put your name down."
In his embarrassment Babbitt could not recall his reasons for not wishing to join the League, if indeed he had ever definitely known them, but he was passionately certain that he did not wish to join, and at the thought of their forcing him he felt a stirring of anger against even these princes of commerce.