Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 13-14

The guests drove off; the garden shivered into quiet. But Mrs. Crosby Knowlton sighed as she looked at a marble seat warm from five hundred summers of Amalfi. On the face of a winged sphinx which supported it some one had drawn a mustache in lead-pencil. Crumpled paper napkins were dumped among the Michaelmas daisies. On the walk, like shredded lovely flesh, were the petals of the last gallant rose. Cigarette stubs floated in the goldfish pool, trailing an evil stain as they swelled and disintegrated, and beneath the marble seat, the fragments carefully put together, was a smashed teacup.


VI

As he rode back to the hotel Babbitt reflected, "Myra would have enjoyed all this social agony." For himself he cared less for the garden party than for the motor tours which the Monarch Chamber of Commerce had arranged. Indefatigably he viewed water-reservoirs, suburban trolley-stations, and tanneries. He devoured the statistics which were given to him, and marveled to his roommate, W. A. Rogers, "Of course this town isn't a patch on Zenith; it hasn't got our outlook and natural resources; but did you know — I nev' did till to-day — that they manufactured seven hundred and sixty-three million feet of lumber last year? What d' you think of that!"

He was nervous as the time for reading his paper approached. When he stood on the low platform before the convention, he trembled and saw only a purple haze. But he was in earnest, and when he had finished the formal paper he talked to them, his hands in his pockets, his spectacled face a flashing disk, like a plate set up on edge in the lamplight. They shouted "That's the stuff!" and in the discussion afterward they referred with impressiveness to "our friend and brother, Mr. George F. Babbitt." He had in fifteen minutes changed from a minor delegate to a personage almost as well known as that diplomat of business, Cecil Rountree. After the meeting, delegates from all over the state said, "Hower you, Brother Babbitt?" Sixteen complete strangers called him "George," and three men took him into corners to confide, "Mighty glad you had the courage to stand up and give the Profession a real boost. Now I've always maintained — "

Next morning, with tremendous casualness, Babbitt asked the girl at the hotel news-stand for the newspapers from Zenith. There was nothing in the Press, but in the Advocate-Times, on the third page — He gasped. They had printed his picture and a half-column account. The heading was "Sensation at Annual Land-men's Convention. G. F. Babbitt, Prominent Ziptown Realtor, Keynoter in Fine Address."

He murmured reverently, "I guess some of the folks on Floral Heights will sit up and take notice now, and pay a little attention to old Georgie!"

VII

It was the last meeting. The delegations were presenting the claims of their several cities to the next year's convention. Orators were announcing that "Galop de Vache, the Capital City, the site of Kremer College and of the Upholtz Knitting Works, is the recognized center of culture and high-class enterprise;" and that "Hamburg, the Big Little City with the Logical Location, where every man is open-handed and every woman a heaven-born hostess, throws wide to you her hospitable gates."

In the midst of these more diffident invitations, the golden doors of the ballroom opened with a blatting of trumpets, and a circus parade rolled in. It was composed of the Zenith brokers, dressed as cowpunchers, bareback riders, Japanese jugglers. At the head was big Warren Whitby, in the bearskin and gold-and-crimson coat of a drum-major. Behind him, as a clown, beating a bass drum, extraordinarily happy and noisy, was Babbitt.

Warren Whitby leaped on the platform, made merry play with his baton, and observed, "Boyses and girlses, the time has came to get down to cases. A dyed-in-the-wool Zenithite sure loves his neighbors, but we've made up our minds to grab this convention off our neighbor burgs like we've grabbed the condensed-milk business and the paper-box business and — "

J. Harry Barmhill, the convention chairman, hinted, "We're grateful to you, Mr. Uh, but you must give the other boys a chance to hand in their bids now."

A fog-horn voice blared, "In Eureka we'll promise free motor rides through the prettiest country — "

Running down the aisle, clapping his hands, a lean bald young man cried, "I'm from Sparta! Our Chamber of Commerce has wired me they've set aside eight thousand dollars, in real money, for the entertainment of the convention!"

A clerical-looking man rose to clamor, "Money talks! Move we accept the bid from Sparta!"

It was accepted.

VIII

The Committee on Resolutions was reporting. They said that Whereas Almighty God in his beneficent mercy had seen fit to remove to a sphere of higher usefulness some thirty-six realtors of the state the past year, Therefore it was the sentiment of this convention assembled that they were sorry God had done it, and the secretary should be, and hereby was, instructed to spread these resolutions on the minutes, and to console the bereaved families by sending them each a copy.

A second resolution authorized the president of the S.A.R.E.B. to spend fifteen thousand dollars in lobbying for sane tax measures in the State Legislature. This resolution had a good deal to say about Menaces to Sound Business and clearing the Wheels of Progress from ill-advised and shortsighted obstacles.

The Committee on Committees reported, and with startled awe Babbitt learned that he had been appointed a member of the Committee on Torrens Titles.

He rejoiced, "I said it was going to be a great year! Georgie, old son, you got big things ahead of you! You're a natural-born orator and a good mixer and — Zowie!"

IX

There was no formal entertainment provided for the last evening. Babbitt had planned to go home, but that afternoon the Jered Sassburgers of Pioneer suggested that Babbitt and W. A. Rogers have tea with them at the Catalpa Inn.

Teas were not unknown to Babbitt — his wife and he earnestly attended them at least twice a year — but they were sufficiently exotic to make him feel important. He sat at a glass-covered table in the Art Room of the Inn, with its painted rabbits, mottoes lettered on birch bark, and waitresses being artistic in Dutch caps; he ate insufficient lettuce sandwiches, and was lively and naughty with Mrs. Sassburger, who was as smooth and large-eyed as a cloak-model. Sassburger and he had met two days before, so they were calling each other "Georgie" and "Sassy."

Sassburger said prayerfully, "Say, boys, before you go, seeing this is the last chance, I've GOT IT, up in my room, and Miriam here is the best little mixelogist in the Stati Unidos like us Italians say."

With wide flowing gestures, Babbitt and Rogers followed the Sassburgers to their room. Mrs. Sassburger shrieked, "Oh, how terrible!" when she saw that she had left a chemise of sheer lavender crepe on the bed. She tucked it into a bag, while Babbitt giggled, "Don't mind us; we're a couple o' little divvils!"

Sassburger telephoned for ice, and the bell-boy who brought it said, prosaically and unprompted, "Highball glasses or cocktail?" Miriam Sassburger mixed the cocktails in one of those dismal, nakedly white water-pitchers which exist only in hotels. When they had finished the first round she proved by intoning "Think you boys could stand another — you got a dividend coming" that, though she was but a woman, she knew the complete and perfect rite of cocktail-drinking.

Outside, Babbitt hinted to Rogers, "Say, W. A., old rooster, it comes over me that I could stand it if we didn't go back to the lovin' wives, this handsome ABEND, but just kind of stayed in Monarch and threw a party, heh?"

"George, you speak with the tongue of wisdom and sagashiteriferousness. El Wing's wife has gone on to Pittsburg. Let's see if we can't gather him in."

At half-past seven they sat in their room, with Elbert Wing and two up-state delegates. Their coats were off, their vests open, their faces red, their voices emphatic. They were finishing a bottle of corrosive bootlegged whisky and imploring the bell-boy, "Say, son, can you get us some more of this embalming fluid?" They were smoking large cigars and dropping ashes and stubs on the carpet. With windy guffaws they were telling stories. They were, in fact, males in a happy state of nature.

Babbitt sighed, "I don't know how it strikes you hellions, but personally I like this busting loose for a change, and kicking over a couple of mountains and climbing up on the North Pole and waving the aurora borealis around."

The man from Sparta, a grave, intense youngster, babbled, "Say! I guess I'm as good a husband as the run of the mill, but God, I do get so tired of going home every evening, and nothing to see but the movies. That's why I go out and drill with the National Guard. I guess I got the nicest little wife in my burg, but — Say! Know what I wanted to do as a kid? Know what I wanted to do? Wanted to be a big chemist. Tha's what I wanted to do. But Dad chased me out on the road selling kitchenware, and here I'm settled down — settled for LIFE — not a chance! Oh, who the devil started this funeral talk? How 'bout 'nother lil drink? 'And a-noth-er drink wouldn' do 's 'ny harmmmmmmm.'"

"Yea. Cut the sob-stuff," said W. A. Rogers genially. "You boys know I'm the village songster? Come on nowsing up:

Said the old Obadiah to the young Obadiah, 'I am dry, Obadiah, I am dry.' Said the young Obadiah to the old Obadiah, 'So am I, Obadiah, so am I.'"

X

They had dinner in the Moorish Grillroom of the Hotel Sedgwick. Somewhere, somehow, they seemed to have gathered in two other comrades: a manufacturer of fly-paper and a dentist. They all drank whisky from tea-cups, and they were humorous, and never listened to one another, except when W. A. Rogers "kidded" the Italian waiter.

"Say, Gooseppy," he said innocently, "I want a couple o' fried elephants' ears."

"Sorry, sir, we haven't any."

"Huh? No elephants' ears? What do you know about that!" Rogers turned to Babbitt. "Pedro says the elephants' ears are all out!"

"Well, I'll be switched!" said the man from Sparta, with difficulty hiding his laughter.

"Well, in that case, Carlo, just bring me a hunk o' steak and a couple o' bushels o' French fried potatoes and some peas," Rogers went on. "I suppose back in dear old sunny It' the Eyetalians get their fresh garden peas out of the can."

"No, sir, we have very nice peas in Italy."

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