If his moral fiber had been so weakened by rebellion that he was not quite dependable in the more rigorous campaigns of the Good Citizens' League nor quite appreciative of the church, yet there was no doubt of the joy with which Babbitt returned to the pleasures of his home and of the Athletic Club, the Boosters, the Elks.
Verona and Kenneth Escott were eventually and hesitatingly married. For the wedding Babbitt was dressed as carefully as was Verona; he was crammed into the morning-coat he wore to teas thrice a year; and with a certain relief, after Verona and Kenneth had driven away in a limousine, he returned to the house, removed the morning coat, sat with his aching feet up on the davenport, and reflected that his wife and he could have the living-room to themselves now, and not have to listen to Verona and Kenneth worrying, in a cultured collegiate manner, about minimum wages and the Drama League.
But even this sinking into peace was less consoling than his return to being one of the best-loved men in the Boosters' Club.
President Willis Ijams began that Boosters' Club luncheon by standing quiet and staring at them so unhappily that they feared he was about to announce the death of a Brother Booster. He spoke slowly then, and gravely:
"Boys, I have something shocking to reveal to you; something terrible about one of our own members."
Several Boosters, including Babbitt, looked disconcerted.
"A knight of the grip, a trusted friend of mine, recently made a trip up-state, and in a certain town, where a certain Booster spent his boyhood, he found out something which can no longer be concealed. In fact, he discovered the inward nature of a man whom we have accepted as a Real Guy and as one of us. Gentlemen, I cannot trust my voice to say it, so I have written it down."
He uncovered a large blackboard and on it, in huge capitals, was the legend:
George Follansbee Babbitt — oh you Folly!
The Boosters cheered, they laughed, they wept, they threw rolls at Babbitt, they cried, "Speech, speech! Oh you Folly!"
President Ijams continued:
"That, gentlemen, is the awful thing Georgie Babbitt has been concealing all these years, when we thought he was just plain George F. Now I want you to tell us, taking it in turn, what you've always supposed the F. stood for."
Flivver, they suggested, and Frog-face and Flathead and Farinaceous and Freezone and Flapdoodle and Foghorn. By the joviality of their insults Babbitt knew that he had been taken back to their hearts, and happily he rose.
"Boys, I've got to admit it. I've never worn a wrist-watch, or parted my name in the middle, but I will confess to 'Follansbee.' My only justification is that my old dad — though otherwise he was perfectly sane, and packed an awful wallop when it came to trimming the City Fellers at checkers — named me after the family doc, old Dr. Ambrose Follansbee. I apologize, boys. In my next what-d'you-call-it I'll see to it that I get named something really practical — something that sounds swell and yet is good and virile — something, in fact, like that grand old name so familiar to every household — that bold and almost overpowering name, Willis Jimjams Ijams!"
He knew by the cheer that he was secure again and popular; he knew that he would no more endanger his security and popularity by straying from the Clan of Good Fellows.
Henry Thompson dashed into the office, clamoring, "George! Big news! Jake Offutt says the Traction Bunch are dissatisfied with the way Sanders, Torrey and Wing handled their last deal, and they're willing to dicker with us!"
Babbitt was pleased in the realization that the last scar of his rebellion was healed, yet as he drove home he was annoyed by such background thoughts as had never weakened him in his days of belligerent conformity. He discovered that he actually did not consider the Traction group quite honest. "Well, he'd carry out one more deal for them, but as soon as it was practicable, maybe as soon as old Henry Thompson died, he'd break away from all association from them. He was forty-eight; in twelve years he'd be sixty; he wanted to leave a clean business to his grandchildren. Course there was a lot of money in negotiating for the Traction people, and a fellow had to look at things in a practical way, only — " He wriggled uncomfortably. He wanted to tell the Traction group what he thought of them. "Oh, he couldn't do it, not now. If he offended them this second time, they would crush him. But — "
He was conscious that his line of progress seemed confused. He wondered what he would do with his future. He was still young; was he through with all adventuring? He felt that he had been trapped into the very net from which he had with such fury escaped and, supremest jest of all, been made to rejoice in the trapping.
"They've licked me; licked me to a finish!" he whimpered.
The house was peaceful, that evening, and he enjoyed a game of pinochle with his wife. He indignantly told the Tempter that he was content to do things in the good old fashioned way. The day after, he went to see the purchasing-agent of the Street Traction Company and they made plans for the secret purchase of lots along the Evanston Road. But as he drove to his office he struggled, "I'm going to run things and figure out things to suit myself — when I retire."
Ted had come down from the University for the week-end. Though he no longer spoke of mechanical engineering and though he was reticent about his opinion of his instructors, he seemed no more reconciled to college, and his chief interest was his wireless telephone set.
On Saturday evening he took Eunice Littlefield to a dance at Devon Woods. Babbitt had a glimpse of her, bouncing in the seat of the car, brilliant in a scarlet cloak over a frock of thinnest creamy silk. They two had not returned when the Babbitts went to bed, at half-past eleven. At a blurred indefinite time of late night Babbitt was awakened by the ring of the telephone and gloomily crawled down-stairs. Howard Littlefield was speaking:
"George, Euny isn't back yet. Is Ted?"
"No — at least his door is open — "
"They ought to be home. Eunice said the dance would be over at midnight. What's the name of those people where they're going?"
"Why, gosh, tell the truth, I don't know, Howard. It's some classmate of Ted's, out in Devon Woods. Don't see what we can do. Wait, I'll skip up and ask Myra if she knows their name."
Babbitt turned on the light in Ted's room. It was a brown boyish room; disordered dresser, worn books, a high-school pennant, photographs of basket-ball teams and baseball teams. Ted was decidedly not there.