If Babbitt had not been certain about Vergil Gunch's avoiding him, there could be little doubt about William Washington Eathorne, next morning. When Babbitt was driving down to the office he overtook Eathorne's car, with the great banker sitting in anemic solemnity behind his chauffeur. Babbitt waved and cried, "Mornin'!" Eathorne looked at him deliberately, hesitated, and gave him a nod more contemptuous than a direct cut.
Babbitt's partner and father-in-law came in at ten:
"George, what's this I hear about some song and dance you gave Colonel Snow about not wanting to join the G.C.L.? What the dickens you trying to do? Wreck the firm? You don't suppose these Big Guns will stand your bucking them and springing all this 'liberal' poppycock you been getting off lately, do you?"
"Oh, rats, Henry T., you been reading bum fiction. There ain't any such a thing as these plots to keep folks from being liberal. This is a free country. A man can do anything he wants to."
"Course th' ain't any plots. Who said they was? Only if folks get an idea you're scatter-brained and unstable, you don't suppose they'll want to do business with you, do you? One little rumor about your being a crank would do more to ruin this business than all the plots and stuff that these fool story-writers could think up in a month of Sundays."
That afternoon, when the old reliable Conrad Lyte, the merry miser, Conrad Lyte, appeared, and Babbitt suggested his buying a parcel of land in the new residential section of Dorchester, Lyte said hastily, too hastily, "No, no, don't want to go into anything new just now."
A week later Babbitt learned, through Henry Thompson, that the officials of the Street Traction Company were planning another real-estate coup, and that Sanders, Torrey and Wing, not the Babbitt-Thompson Company, were to handle it for them. "I figure that Jake Offutt is kind of leery about the way folks are talking about you. Of course Jake is a rock-ribbed old die-hard, and he probably advised the Traction fellows to get some other broker. George, you got to do something!" trembled Thompson.
And, in a rush, Babbitt agreed. All nonsense the way people misjudged him, but still — He determined to join the Good Citizens' League the next time he was asked, and in furious resignation he waited. He wasn't asked. They ignored him. He did not have the courage to go to the League and beg in, and he took refuge in a shaky boast that he had "gotten away with bucking the whole city. Nobody could dictate to him how he was going to think and act!"
He was jarred as by nothing else when the paragon of stenographers, Miss McGoun, suddenly left him, though her reasons were excellent — she needed a rest, her sister was sick, she might not do any more work for six months. He was uncomfortable with her successor, Miss Havstad. What Miss Havstad's given name was, no one in the office ever knew. It seemed improbable that she had a given name, a lover, a powder-puff, or a digestion. She was so impersonal, this slight, pale, industrious Swede, that it was vulgar to think of her as going to an ordinary home to eat hash. She was a perfectly oiled and enameled machine, and she ought, each evening, to have been dusted off and shut in her desk beside her too-slim, too-frail pencil points. She took dictation swiftly, her typing was perfect, but Babbitt became jumpy when he tried to work with her. She made him feel puffy, and at his best-beloved daily jokes she looked gently inquiring. He longed for Miss McGoun's return, and thought of writing to her.
Then he heard that Miss McGoun had, a week after leaving him, gone over to his dangerous competitors, Sanders, Torrey and Wing.
He was not merely annoyed; he was frightened. "Why did she quit, then?" he worried. "Did she have a hunch my business is going on the rocks? And it was Sanders got the Street Traction deal. Rats — sinking ship!"
Gray fear loomed always by him now. He watched Fritz Weilinger, the young salesman, and wondered if he too would leave. Daily he fancied slights. He noted that he was not asked to speak at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner. When Orville Jones gave a large poker party and he was not invited, he was certain that he had been snubbed. He was afraid to go to lunch at the Athletic Club, and afraid not to go. He believed that he was spied on; that when he left the table they whispered about him. Everywhere he heard the rustling whispers: in the offices of clients, in the bank when he made a deposit, in his own office, in his own home. Interminably he wondered what They were saying of him. All day long in imaginary conversations he caught them marveling, "Babbitt? Why, say, he's a regular anarchist! You got to admire the fellow for his nerve, the way he turned liberal and, by golly, just absolutely runs his life to suit himself, but say, he's dangerous, that's what he is, and he's got to be shown up."
He was so twitchy that when he rounded a corner and chanced on two acquaintances talking — whispering — his heart leaped, and he stalked by like an embarrassed schoolboy. When he saw his neighbors Howard Littlefield and Orville Jones together, he peered at them, went indoors to escape their spying, and was miserably certain that they had been whispering — plotting — whispering.