"Anybody ever tell you your hands are awful pretty?"
She looked down at them, she pulled the lace of her sleeves over them, but otherwise she did not heed him. She was lost in unexpressed imaginings.
Babbitt was too languid this evening to pursue his duty of being a captivating (though strictly moral) male. He ambled back to the bridge-tables. He was not much thrilled when Mrs. Frink, a small twittering woman, proposed that they "try and do some spiritualism and table-tipping — you know Chum can make the spirits come — honest, he just scares me!"
The ladies of the party had not emerged all evening, but now, as the sex given to things of the spirit while the men warred against base things material, they took command and cried, "Oh, let's!" In the dimness the men were rather solemn and foolish, but the goodwives quivered and adored as they sat about the table. They laughed, "Now, you be good or I'll tell!" when the men took their hands in the circle.
Babbitt tingled with a slight return of interest in life as Louetta Swanson's hand closed on his with quiet firmness.
All of them hunched over, intent. They startled as some one drew a strained breath. In the dusty light from the hall they looked unreal, they felt disembodied. Mrs. Gunch squeaked, and they jumped with unnatural jocularity, but at Frink's hiss they sank into subdued awe. Suddenly, incredibly, they heard a knocking. They stared at Frink's half-revealed hands and found them lying still. They wriggled, and pretended not to be impressed.
Frink spoke with gravity: "Is some one there?" A thud. "Is one knock to be the sign for 'yes'?" A thud. "And two for 'no'?" A thud.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, shall we ask the guide to put us into communication with the spirit of some great one passed over?" Frink mumbled.
Mrs Orville Jones begged, "Oh, let's talk to Dante! We studied him at the Reading Circle. You know who he was, Orvy."
"Certainly I know who he was! The Wop poet. Where do you think I was raised?" from her insulted husband.
"Sure — the fellow that took the Cook's Tour to Hell. I've never waded through his po'try, but we learned about him in the U.," said Babbitt.
"Page Mr. Dannnnnty!" intoned Eddie Swanson.
"You ought to get him easy, Mr. Frink, you and he being fellow-poets," said Louetta Swanson.
"Fellow-poets, rats! Where d' you get that stuff?" protested Vergil Gunch. "I suppose Dante showed a lot of speed for an old-timer — not that I've actually read him, of course — but to come right down to hard facts, he wouldn't stand one-two-three if he had to buckle down to practical literature and turn out a poem for the newspaper-syndicate every day, like Chum does!"
"That's so," from Eddie Swanson. "Those old birds could take their time. Judas Priest, I could write poetry myself if I had a whole year for it, and just wrote about that old-fashioned junk like Dante wrote about."
Frink demanded, "Hush, now! I'll call him. . . O, Laughing Eyes, emerge forth into the, uh, the ultimates and bring hither the spirit of Dante, that we mortals may list to his words of wisdom."
"You forgot to give um the address: 1658 Brimstone Avenue, Fiery Heights, Hell," Gunch chuckled, but the others felt that this was irreligious. And besides — "probably it was just Chum making the knocks, but still, if there did happen to be something to all this, be exciting to talk to an old fellow belonging to — way back in early times — "
A thud. The spirit of Dante had come to the parlor of George F. Babbitt.
He was, it seemed, quite ready to answer their questions. He was "glad to be with them, this evening."
Frink spelled out the messages by running through the alphabet till the spirit interpreter knocked at the right letter.
Littlefield asked, in a learned tone, "Do you like it in the Paradiso, Messire?"
"We are very happy on the higher plane, Signor. We are glad that you are studying this great truth of spiritualism," Dante replied.
The circle moved with an awed creaking of stays and shirt-fronts. "Suppose — suppose there were something to this?"
Babbitt had a different worry. "Suppose Chum Frink was really one of these spiritualists! Chum had, for a literary fellow, always seemed to be a Regular Guy; he belonged to the Chatham Road Presbyterian Church and went to the Boosters' lunches and liked cigars and motors and racy stories. But suppose that secretly — After all, you never could tell about these darn highbrows; and to be an out-and-out spiritualist would be almost like being a socialist!"
No one could long be serious in the presence of Vergil Gunch. "Ask Dant' how Jack Shakespeare and old Verg' — the guy they named after me — are gettin' along, and don't they wish they could get into the movie game!" he blared, and instantly all was mirth. Mrs. Jones shrieked, and Eddie Swanson desired to know whether Dante didn't catch cold with nothing on but his wreath.
The pleased Dante made humble answer.
But Babbitt — the curst discontent was torturing him again, and heavily, in the impersonal darkness, he pondered, "I don't — We're all so flip and think we're so smart. There'd be — A fellow like Dante — I wish I'd read some of his pieces. I don't suppose I ever will, now."