Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 27-28

"Well, he swells up like a pouter-pigeon and he hollers, so 's you could hear him way up in the reading-room, 'Yes, sure; I told the strike-leaders where they got off, and so they went home.'


"'Well,' I says to him, 'glad there wasn't any violence.'

"'Yes,' he says, 'but if I hadn't kept my eye skinned there would 've been. All those fellows had bombs in their pockets. They're reg'lar anarchists.'

"'Oh, rats, Clarence,' I says, 'I looked 'em all over carefully, and they didn't have any more bombs 'n a rabbit,' I says. 'Course,' I says, 'they're foolish, but they're a good deal like you and me, after all.'

"And then Vergil Gunch or somebody — no, it was Chum Frink — you know, this famous poet — great pal of mine — he says to me, 'Look here,' he says, 'do you mean to say you advocate these strikes?' Well, I was so disgusted with a fellow whose mind worked that way that I swear, I had a good mind to not explain at all — just ignore him — "

"Oh, that's so wise!" said Mrs. Judique.

" — but finally I explains to him: 'If you'd done as much as I have on Chamber of Commerce committees and all,' I says, 'then you'd have the right to talk! But same time,' I says, 'I believe in treating your opponent like a gentleman!' Well, sir, that held 'em! Frink — Chum I always call him — he didn't have another word to say. But at that, I guess some of 'em kind o' thought I was too liberal. What do you think?"

"Oh, you were so wise. And courageous! I love a man to have the courage of his convictions!"

"But do you think it was a good stunt? After all, some of these fellows are so darn cautious and narrow-minded that they're prejudiced against a fellow that talks right out in meeting."

"What do you care? In the long run they're bound to respect a man who makes them think, and with your reputation for oratory you — "

"What do you know about my reputation for oratory?"

"Oh, I'm not going to tell you everything I know! But seriously, you don't realize what a famous man you are."

"Well — Though I haven't done much orating this fall. Too kind of bothered by this Paul Riesling business, I guess. But — Do you know, you're the first person that's really understood what I was getting at, Tanis — Listen to me, will you! Fat nerve I've got, calling you Tanis!"

"Oh, do! And shall I call you George? Don't you think it's awfully nice when two people have so much — what shall I call it? — so much analysis that they can discard all these stupid conventions and understand each other and become acquainted right away, like ships that pass in the night?"

"I certainly do! I certainly do!"

He was no longer quiescent in his chair; he wandered about the room, he dropped on the couch beside her. But as he awkwardly stretched his hand toward her fragile, immaculate fingers, she said brightly, "Do give me a cigarette. Would you think poor Tanis was dreadfully naughty if she smoked?"

"Lord, no! I like it!"

He had often and weightily pondered flappers smoking in Zenith restaurants, but he knew only one woman who smoked — Mrs. Sam Doppelbrau, his flighty neighbor. He ceremoniously lighted Tanis's cigarette, looked for a place to deposit the burnt match, and dropped it into his pocket.

"I'm sure you want a cigar, you poor man!" she crooned.

"Do you mind one?"

"Oh, no! I love the smell of a good cigar; so nice and — so nice and like a man. You'll find an ash-tray in my bedroom, on the table beside the bed, if you don't mind getting it."

He was embarrassed by her bedroom: the broad couch with a cover of violet silk, mauve curtains striped with gold. Chinese Chippendale bureau, and an amazing row of slippers, with ribbon-wound shoe-trees, and primrose stockings lying across them. His manner of bringing the ash-tray had just the right note of easy friendliness, he felt. "A boob like Verg Gunch would try to get funny about seeing her bedroom, but I take it casually." He was not casual afterward. The contentment of companionship was gone, and he was restless with desire to touch her hand. But whenever he turned toward her, the cigarette was in his way. It was a shield between them. He waited till she should have finished, but as he rejoiced at her quick crushing of its light on the ashtray she said, "Don't you want to give me another cigarette?" and hopelessly he saw the screen of pale smoke and her graceful tilted hand again between them. He was not merely curious now to find out whether she would let him hold her hand (all in the purest friendship, naturally), but agonized with need of it.

On the surface appeared none of all this fretful drama. They were talking cheerfully of motors, of trips to California, of Chum Frink. Once he said delicately, "I do hate these guys — I hate these people that invite themselves to meals, but I seem to have a feeling I'm going to have supper with the lovely Mrs. Tanis Judique to-night. But I suppose you probably have seven dates already."

"Well, I was thinking some of going to the movies. Yes, I really think I ought to get out and get some fresh air."

She did not encourage him to stay, but never did she discourage him. He considered, "I better take a sneak! She WILL let me stay — there IS something doing — and I mustn't get mixed up with — I mustn't — I've got to beat it." Then, "No. it's too late now."

Suddenly, at seven, brushing her cigarette away, brusquely taking her hand:

"Tanis! Stop teasing me! You know we — Here we are, a couple of lonely birds, and we're awful happy together. Anyway I am! Never been so happy! Do let me stay! Ill gallop down to the delicatessen and buy some stuff — cold chicken maybe — or cold turkey — and we can have a nice little supper, and afterwards, if you want to chase me out, I'll be good and go like a lamb."

"Well — yes — it would be nice," she said.

Nor did she withdraw her hand. He squeezed it, trembling, and blundered toward his coat. At the delicatessen he bought preposterous stores of food, chosen on the principle of expensiveness. From the drug store across the street he telephoned to his wife, "Got to get a fellow to sign a lease before he leaves town on the midnight. Won't be home till late. Don't wait up for me. Kiss Tinka good-night." He expectantly lumbered back to the flat.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At the end of the novel, Babbitt rotely endorses the notion that America's world-famous equality




Quiz