Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 30-31

"If she were here, and I went on raising cain like I been doing, she'd have a fit. I got to get hold of myself. I got to learn to play around and yet not make a fool of myself. I can do it, too, if folks like Verg Gunch 'll let me alone, and Myra 'll stay away. But — poor kid, she sounds lonely. Lord, I don't want to hurt her!"

"If she were here, and I went on raising cain like I been doing, she'd have a fit. I got to get hold of myself. I got to learn to play around and yet not make a fool of myself. I can do it, too, if folks like Verg Gunch 'll let me alone, and Myra 'll stay away. But — poor kid, she sounds lonely. Lord, I don't want to hurt her!"

Impulsively he wrote that they missed her, and her next letter said happily that she was coming home.

He persuaded himself that he was eager to see her. He bought roses for the house, he ordered squab for dinner, he had the car cleaned and polished. All the way home from the station with her he was adequate in his accounts of Ted's success in basket-ball at the university, but before they reached Floral Heights there was nothing more to say, and already he felt the force of her stolidity, wondered whether he could remain a good husband and still sneak out of the house this evening for half an hour with the Bunch. When he had housed the car he blundered upstairs, into the familiar talcum-scented warmth of her presence, blaring, "Help you unpack your bag?"

"No, I can do it."

Slowly she turned, holding up a small box, and slowly she said, "I brought you a present, just a new cigar-case. I don't know if you'd care to have it — "

She was the lonely girl, the brown appealing Myra Thompson, whom he had married, and he almost wept for pity as he kissed her and besought, "Oh, honey, honey, CARE to have it? Of course I do! I'm awful proud you brought it to me. And I needed a new case badly."

He wondered how he would get rid of the case he had bought the week before.

"And you really are glad to see me back?"

"Why, you poor kiddy, what you been worrying about?"

"Well, you didn't seem to miss me very much."

By the time he had finished his stint of lying they were firmly bound again. By ten that evening it seemed improbable that she had ever been away. There was but one difference: the problem of remaining a respectable husband, a Floral Heights husband, yet seeing Tanis and the Bunch with frequency. He had promised to telephone to Tanis that evening, and now it was melodramatically impossible. He prowled about the telephone, impulsively thrusting out a hand to lift the receiver, but never quite daring to risk it. Nor could he find a reason for slipping down to the drug store on Smith Street, with its telephone-booth. He was laden with responsibility till he threw it off with the speculation: "Why the deuce should I fret so about not being able to 'phone Tanis? She can get along without me. I don't owe her anything. She's a fine girl, but I've given her just as much as she has me. . . . Oh, damn these women and the way they get you all tied up in complications!"

II

For a week he was attentive to his wife, took her to the theater, to dinner at the Littlefields'; then the old weary dodging and shifting began and at least two evenings a week he spent with the Bunch. He still made pretense of going to the Elks and to committee-meetings but less and less did he trouble to have his excuses interesting, less and less did she affect to believe them. He was certain that she knew he was associating with what Floral Heights called "a sporty crowd," yet neither of them acknowledged it. In matrimonial geography the distance between the first mute recognition of a break and the admission thereof is as great as the distance between the first naive faith and the first doubting.

As he began to drift away he also began to see her as a human being, to like and dislike her instead of accepting her as a comparatively movable part of the furniture, and he compassionated that husband-and-wife relation which, in twenty-five years of married life, had become a separate and real entity. He recalled their high lights the summer vacation in Virginia meadows under the blue wall of the mountains; their motor tour through Ohio, and the exploration of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus; the birth of Verona; their building of this new house, planned to comfort them through a happy old age — chokingly they had said that it might be the last home either of them would ever have. Yet his most softening remembrance of these dear moments did not keep him from barking at dinner, "Yep, going out f' few hours. Don't sit up for me."

He did not dare now to come home drunk, and though he rejoiced in his return to high morality and spoke with gravity to Pete and Fulton Bemis about their drinking, he prickled at Myra's unexpressed criticisms and sulkily meditated that a "fellow couldn't ever learn to handle himself if he was always bossed by a lot of women."

He no longer wondered if Tanis wasn't a bit worn and sentimental. In contrast to the complacent Myra he saw her as swift and air-borne and radiant, a fire-spirit tenderly stooping to the hearth, and however pitifully he brooded on his wife, he longed to be with Tanis.

Then Mrs. Babbitt tore the decent cloak from her unhappiness and the astounded male discovered that she was having a small determined rebellion of her own.

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