WHEN he was away from her, while he kicked about the garage and swept the snow off the running-board and examined a cracked hose-connection, he repented, he was alarmed and astonished that he could have flared out at his wife, and thought fondly how much more lasting she was than the flighty Bunch. He went in to mumble that he was "sorry, didn't mean to be grouchy," and to inquire as to her interest in movies. But in the darkness of the movie theater he brooded that he'd "gone and tied himself up to Myra all over again." He had some satisfaction in taking it out on Tanis Judique. "Hang Tanis anyway! Why'd she gone and got him into these mix-ups and made him all jumpy and nervous and cranky? Too many complications! Cut 'em out!"
He wanted peace. For ten days he did not see Tanis nor telephone to her, and instantly she put upon him the compulsion which he hated. When he had stayed away from her for five days, hourly taking pride in his resoluteness and hourly picturing how greatly Tanis must miss him, Miss McGoun reported, "Mrs. Judique on the 'phone. Like t' speak t' you 'bout some repairs."
Tanis was quick and quiet:
"Mr. Babbitt? Oh, George, this is Tanis. I haven't seen you for weeks — days, anyway. You aren't sick, are you?"
"No, just been terribly rushed. I, uh, I think there'll be a big revival of building this year. Got to, uh, got to work hard."
"Of course, my man! I want you to. You know I'm terribly ambitious for you; much more than I am for myself. I just don't want you to forget poor Tanis. Will you call me up soon?"
"Sure! Sure! You bet!"
"Please do. I sha'n't call you again."
He meditated, "Poor kid! . . . But gosh, she oughtn't to 'phone me at the office.... She's a wonder — sympathy 'ambitious for me.' . . . But gosh, I won't be made and compelled to call her up till I get ready. Darn these women, the way they make demands! It'll be one long old time before I see her! . . . But gosh, I'd like to see her to-night — sweet little thing.... Oh, cut that, son! Now you've broken away, be wise!"
She did not telephone again, nor he, but after five more days she wrote to him:
Have I offended you? You must know, dear, I didn't mean to. I'm so lonely and I need somebody to cheer me up. Why didn't you come to the nice party we had at Carrie's last evening I remember she invited you. Can't you come around here to-morrow Thur evening? I shall be alone and hope to see you.
His reflections were numerous:
"Doggone it, why can't she let me alone? Why can't women ever learn a fellow hates to be bulldozed? And they always take advantage of you by yelling how lonely they are.
"Now that isn't nice of you, young fella. She's a fine, square, straight girl, and she does get lonely. She writes a swell hand. Nice-looking stationery. Plain. Refined. I guess I'll have to go see her. Well, thank God, I got till to-morrow night free of her, anyway.
"She's nice but — Hang it, I won't be MADE to do things! I'm not married to her. No, nor by golly going to be!
"Oh, rats, I suppose I better go see her."
Thursday, the to-morrow of Tanis's note, was full of emotional crises. At the Roughnecks' Table at the club, Verg Gunch talked of the Good Citizens' League and (it seemed to Babbitt) deliberately left him out of the invitations to join. Old Mat Penniman, the general utility man at Babbitt's office, had Troubles, and came in to groan about them: his oldest boy was "no good," his wife was sick, and he had quarreled with his brother-in-law. Conrad Lyte also had Troubles, and since Lyte was one of his best clients, Babbitt had to listen to them. Mr. Lyte, it appeared, was suffering from a peculiarly interesting neuralgia, and the garage had overcharged him. When Babbitt came home, everybody had Troubles: his wife was simultaneously thinking about discharging the impudent new maid, and worried lest the maid leave; and Tinka desired to denounce her teacher.
"Oh, quit fussing!" Babbitt fussed. "You never hear me whining about my Troubles, and yet if you had to run a real-estate office — Why, to-day I found Miss Bannigan was two days behind with her accounts, and I pinched my finger in my desk, and Lyte was in and just as unreasonable as ever."
He was so vexed that after dinner, when it was time for a tactful escape to Tanis, he merely grumped to his wife, "Got to go out. Be back by eleven, should think."
"Oh! You're going out again?"
"Again! What do you mean 'again'! Haven't hardly been out of the house for a week!"
"Are you — are you going to the Elks?"
"Nope. Got to see some people."
Though this time he heard his own voice and knew that it was curt, though she was looking at him with wide-eyed reproach, he stumped into the hall, jerked on his ulster and furlined gloves, and went out to start the car.