"Eh? Eh? Went to the opera once in London. Covent Garden sort of thing. Shocking! No, I was wondering if there was a good cinema-movie."
Babbitt was sitting down, hitching his chair over, shouting, "Movie? Say, Sir Gerald, I supposed of course you had a raft of dames waiting to lead you out to some soiree — "
" — but if you haven't, what do you say you and me go to a movie? There's a peach of a film at the Grantham: Bill Hart in a bandit picture."
"Right-o! Just a moment while I get my coat."
Swollen with greatness, slightly afraid lest the noble blood of Nottingham change its mind and leave him at any street corner, Babbitt paraded with Sir Gerald Doak to the movie palace and in silent bliss sat beside him, trying not to be too enthusiastic, lest the knight despise his adoration of six-shooters and broncos. At the end Sir Gerald murmured, "Jolly good picture, this. So awfully decent of you to take me. Haven't enjoyed myself so much for weeks. All these Hostesses — they never let you go to the cinema!"
"The devil you say!" Babbitt's speech had lost the delicate refinement and all the broad A's with which he had adorned it, and become hearty and natural. "Well, I'm tickled to death you liked it, Sir Gerald."
They crawled past the knees of fat women into the aisle; they stood in the lobby waving their arms in the rite of putting on overcoats. Babbitt hinted, "Say, how about a little something to eat? I know a place where we could get a swell rarebit, and we might dig up a little drink — that is, if you ever touch the stuff."
"Rather! But why don't you come to my room? I've some Scotch — not half bad."
"Oh, I don't want to use up all your hootch. It's darn nice of you, but — You probably want to hit the hay."
Sir Gerald was transformed. He was beefily yearning. "Oh really, now; I haven't had a decent evening for so long! Having to go to all these dances. No chance to discuss business and that sort of thing. Do be a good chap and come along. Won't you?"
"Will I? You bet! I just thought maybe — Say, by golly, it does do a fellow good, don't it, to sit and visit about business conditions, after he's been to these balls and masquerades and banquets and all that society stuff. I often feel that way in Zenith. Sure, you bet I'll come."
"That's awfully nice of you." They beamed along the street. "Look here, old chap, can you tell me, do American cities always keep up this dreadful social pace? All these magnificent parties?"
"Go on now, quit your kidding! Gosh, you with court balls and functions and everything — "
"No, really, old chap! Mother and I — Lady Doak, I should say, we usually play a hand of bezique and go to bed at ten. Bless my soul, I couldn't keep up your beastly pace! And talking! All your American women, they know so much — culture and that sort of thing. This Mrs. McKelvey — your friend — "
"Yuh, old Lucile. Good kid."
" — she asked me which of the galleries I liked best in Florence. Or was it in Firenze? Never been in Italy in my life! And primitives. Did I like primitives. Do you know what the deuce a primitive is?"
"Me? I should say not! But I know what a discount for cash is."
"Rather! So do I, by George! But primitives!"
They laughed with the sound of a Boosters' luncheon.
Sir Gerald's room was, except for his ponderous and durable English bags, very much like the room of George F. Babbitt; and quite in the manner of Babbitt he disclosed a huge whisky flask, looked proud and hospitable, and chuckled, "Say, when, old chap."
It was after the third drink that Sir Gerald proclaimed, "How do you Yankees get the notion that writing chaps like Bertrand Shaw and this Wells represent us? The real business England, we think those chaps are traitors. Both our countries have their comic Old Aristocracy — you know, old county families, hunting people and all that sort of thing — and we both have our wretched labor leaders, but we both have a backbone of sound business men who run the whole show."
"You bet. Here's to the real guys!"
"I'm with you! Here's to ourselves!"
It was after the fourth drink that Sir Gerald asked humbly, "What do you think of North Dakota mortgages?" but it was not till after the fifth that Babbitt began to call him "Jerry," and Sir Gerald confided, "I say, do you mind if I pull off my boots?" and ecstatically stretched his knightly feet, his poor, tired, hot, swollen feet out on the bed.
After the sixth, Babbitt irregularly arose. "Well, I better be hiking along. Jerry, you're a regular human being! I wish to thunder we'd been better acquainted in Zenith. Lookit. Can't you come back and stay with me a while?"
"So sorry — must go to New York to-morrow. Most awfully sorry, old boy. I haven't enjoyed an evening so much since I've been in the States. Real talk. Not all this social rot. I'd never have let them give me the beastly title — and I didn't get it for nothing, eh? — if I'd thought I'd have to talk to women about primitives and polo! Goodish thing to have in Nottingham, though; annoyed the mayor most frightfully when I got it; and of course the missus likes it. But nobody calls me 'Jerry' now — " He was almost weeping. " — and nobody in the States has treated me like a friend till to-night! Good-by, old chap, good-by! Thanks awfully!"
"Don't mention it, Jerry. And remember whenever you get to Zenith, the latch-string is always out."
"And don't forget, old boy, if you ever come to Nottingham, Mother and I will be frightfully glad to see you. I shall tell the fellows in Nottingham your ideas about Visions and Real Guys — at our next Rotary Club luncheon."
Babbitt lay abed at his hotel, imagining the Zenith Athletic Club asking him, "What kind of a time d'you have in Chicago?" and his answering, "Oh, fair; ran around with Sir Gerald Doak a lot;" picturing himself meeting Lucile McKelvey and admonishing her, "You're all right, Mrs. Mac, when you aren't trying to pull this highbrow pose. It's just as Gerald Doak says to me in Chicago — oh, yes, Jerry's an old friend of mine — the wife and I are thinking of running over to England to stay with Jerry in his castle, next year — and he said to me, 'Georgie, old bean, I like Lucile first-rate, but you and me, George, we got to make her get over this highty-tighty hooptediddle way she's got."
But that evening a thing happened which wrecked his pride.
At the Regency Hotel cigar-counter he fell to talking with a salesman of pianos, and they dined together. Babbitt was filled with friendliness and well-being. He enjoyed the gorgeousness of the dining-room: the chandeliers, the looped brocade curtains, the portraits of French kings against panels of gilded oak. He enjoyed the crowd: pretty women, good solid fellows who were "liberal spenders."
He gasped. He stared, and turned away, and stared again. Three tables off, with a doubtful sort of woman, a woman at once coy and withered, was Paul Riesling, and Paul was supposed to be in Akron, selling tar-roofing. The woman was tapping his hand, mooning at him and giggling. Babbitt felt that he had encountered something involved and harmful. Paul was talking with the rapt eagerness of a man who is telling his troubles. He was concentrated on the woman's faded eyes. Once he held her hand and once, blind to the other guests, he puckered his lips as though he was pretending to kiss her. Babbitt had so strong an impulse to go to Paul that he could feel his body uncoiling, his shoulders moving, but he felt, desperately, that he must be diplomatic, and not till he saw Paul paying the check did he bluster to the piano-salesman, "By golly-friend of mine over there — 'scuse me second — just say hello to him."
He touched Paul's shoulder, and cried, "Well, when did you hit town?"
Paul glared up at him, face hardening. "Oh, hello, George. Thought you'd gone back to Zenith." He did not introduce his companion. Babbitt peeped at her. She was a flabbily pretty, weakly flirtatious woman of forty-two or three, in an atrocious flowery hat. Her rouging was thorough but unskilful.
"Where you staying, Paulibus?"
The woman turned, yawned, examined her nails. She seemed accustomed to not being introduced.
Paul grumbled, "Campbell Inn, on the South Side."
"Alone?" It sounded insinuating.
"Yes! Unfortunately!" Furiously Paul turned toward the woman, smiling with a fondness sickening to Babbitt. "May! Want to introduce you. Mrs. Arnold, this is my old-acquaintance, George Babbitt."
"Pleasmeech," growled Babbitt, while she gurgled, "Oh, I'm very pleased to meet any friend of Mr. Riesling's, I'm sure."
Babbitt demanded, "Be back there later this evening, Paul? I'll drop down and see you."
"No, better — We better lunch together to-morrow."
"All right, but I'll see you to-night, too, Paul. I'll go down to your hotel, and I'll wait for you!"