It was drawled out, broken by shouts from the neighboring tables, by mechanical love-making to the waitress, by stertorous grunts as the coffee filled him with dizziness and indigestion. He was apologetic and doubtful, and it was Paul, with his thin voice, who pierced the fog:
"Good Lord, George, you don't suppose it's any novelty to me to find that we hustlers, that think we're so all-fired successful, aren't getting much out of it? You look as if you expected me to report you as seditious! You know what my own life's been."
"I know, old man."
"I ought to have been a fiddler, and I'm a pedler of tar-roofing! And Zilla — Oh, I don't want to squeal, but you know as well as I do about how inspiring a wife she is.... Typical instance last evening: We went to the movies. There was a big crowd waiting in the lobby, us at the tail-end. She began to push right through it with her 'Sir, how dare you?' manner — Honestly, sometimes when I look at her and see how she's always so made up and stinking of perfume and looking for trouble and kind of always yelping, 'I tell yuh I'm a lady, damn yuh!' — why, I want to kill her! Well, she keeps elbowing through the crowd, me after her, feeling good and ashamed, till she's almost up to the velvet rope and ready to be the next let in. But there was a little squirt of a man there — probably been waiting half an hour — I kind of admired the little cuss — and he turns on Zilla and says, perfectly polite, 'Madam, why are you trying to push past me?' And she simply — God, I was so ashamed! — she rips out at him, 'You're no gentleman,' and she drags me into it and hollers, 'Paul, this person insulted me!' and the poor skate he got ready to fight.
"I made out I hadn't heard them — sure! same as you wouldn't hear a boiler-factory! — and I tried to look away — I can tell you exactly how every tile looks in the ceiling of that lobby; there's one with brown spots on it like the face of the devil — and all the time the people there — they were packed in like sardines — they kept making remarks about us, and Zilla went right on talking about the little chap, and screeching that 'folks like him oughtn't to be admitted in a place that's SUPPOSED to be for ladies and gentlemen,' and 'Paul, will you kindly call the manager, so I can report this dirty rat?' and — Oof! Maybe I wasn't glad when I could sneak inside and hide in the dark!
"After twenty-four years of that kind of thing, you don't expect me to fall down and foam at the mouth when you hint that this sweet, clean, respectable, moral life isn't all it's cracked up to be, do you? I can't even talk about it, except to you, because anybody else would think I was yellow. Maybe I am. Don't care any longer.... Gosh, you've had to stand a lot of whining from me, first and last, Georgie!"
"Rats, now, Paul, you've never really what you could call whined. Sometimes — I'm always blowing to Myra and the kids about what a whale of a realtor I am, and yet sometimes I get a sneaking idea I'm not such a Pierpont Morgan as I let on to be. But if I ever do help by jollying you along, old Paulski, I guess maybe Saint Pete may let me in after all!"
"Yuh, you're an old blow-hard, Georgie, you cheerful cut-throat, but you've certainly kept me going."
"Why don't you divorce Zilla?"
"Why don't I! If I only could! If she'd just give me the chance! You couldn't hire her to divorce me, no, nor desert me. She's too fond of her three squares and a few pounds of nut-center chocolates in between. If she'd only be what they call unfaithful to me! George, I don't want to be too much of a stinker; back in college I'd 've thought a man who could say that ought to be shot at sunrise. But honestly, I'd be tickled to death if she'd really go making love with somebody. Fat chance! Of course she'll flirt with anything — you know how she holds hands and laughs — that laugh — that horrible brassy laugh — the way she yaps, 'You naughty man, you better be careful or my big husband will be after you!' — and the guy looking me over and thinking, 'Why, you cute little thing, you run away now or I'll spank you!' And she'll let him go just far enough so she gets some excitement out of it and then she'll begin to do the injured innocent and have a beautiful time wailing, 'I didn't think you were that kind of a person.' They talk about these demi-vierges in stories — "
" — but the wise, hard, corseted, old married women like Zilla are worse than any bobbed-haired girl that ever went boldly out into this-here storm of life — and kept her umbrella slid up her sleeve! But rats, you know what Zilla is. How she nags — nags — nags. How she wants everything I can buy her, and a lot that I can't, and how absolutely unreasonable she is, and when I get sore and try to have it out with her she plays the Perfect Lady so well that even I get fooled and get all tangled up in a lot of 'Why did you say's' and 'I didn't mean's.' I'll tell you, Georgie: You know my tastes are pretty fairly simple — in the matter of food, at least. Course, as you're always complaining, I do like decent cigars — not those Flor de Cabagos you're smoking — "
"That's all right now! That's a good two-for. By the way, Paul, did I tell you I decided to practically cut out smok — "
"Yes you — At the same time, if I can't get what I like, why, I can do without it. I don't mind sitting down to burnt steak, with canned peaches and store cake for a thrilling little dessert afterwards, but I do draw the line at having to sympathize with Zilla because she's so rotten bad-tempered that the cook has quit, and she's been so busy sitting in a dirty lace negligee all afternoon, reading about some brave manly Western hero, that she hasn't had time to do any cooking. You're always talking about 'morals' — meaning monogamy, I suppose. You've been the rock of ages to me, all right, but you're essentially a simp. You — "
"Where d' you get that 'simp,' little man? Let me tell you — "
" — love to look earnest and inform the world that it's the 'duty of responsible business men to be strictly moral, as an example to the community.' In fact you're so earnest about morality, old Georgie, that I hate to think how essentially immoral you must be underneath. All right, you can — "