Babbitt

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Author: Sinclair Lewis

II

He thought of Tanis always. With a stir he remembered her every aspect. His arms yearned for her. "I’ve found her! I’ve dreamed of her all these years and now I’ve found her!" he exulted. He met her at the movies in the morning; he drove out to her flat in the late afternoon or on evenings when he was believed to be at the Elks. He knew her financial affairs and advised her about them, while she lamented her feminine ignorance, and praised his masterfulness, and proved to know much more about bonds than he did. They had remembrances, and laughter over old times. Once they quarreled, and he raged that she was as "bossy" as his wife and far more whining when he was inattentive. But that passed safely.

Their high hour was a tramp on a ringing December afternoon, through snow-drifted meadows down to the icy Chaloosa River. She was exotic in an astrachan cap and a short beaver coat; she slid on the ice and shouted, and he panted after her, rotund with laughter.... Myra Babbitt never slid on the ice.

He was afraid that they would be seen together. In Zenith it is impossible to lunch with a neighbor’s wife without the fact being known, before nightfall, in every house in your circle. But Tanis was beautifully discreet. However appealingly she might turn to him when they were alone, she was gravely detached when they were abroad, and he hoped that she would be taken for a client. Orville Jones once saw them emerging from a movie theater, and Babbitt bumbled, "Let me make you ’quainted with Mrs. Judique. Now here’s a lady who knows the right broker to come to, Orvy!" Mr. Jones, though he was a man censorious of morals and of laundry machinery, seemed satisfied.

His predominant fear—not from any especial fondness for her but from the habit of propriety—was that his wife would learn of the affair. He was certain that she knew nothing specific about Tanis, but he was also certain that she suspected something indefinite. For years she had been bored by anything more affectionate than a farewell kiss, yet she was hurt by any slackening in his irritable periodic interest, and now he had no interest; rather, a revulsion. He was completely faithful—to Tanis. He was distressed by the sight of his wife’s slack plumpness, by her puffs and billows of flesh, by the tattered petticoat which she was always meaning and always forgetting to throw away. But he was aware that she, so long attuned to him, caught all his repulsions. He elaborately, heavily, jocularly tried to check them. He couldn’t.

They had a tolerable Christmas. Kenneth Escott was there, admittedly engaged to Verona. Mrs. Babbitt was tearful and called Kenneth her new son. Babbitt was worried about Ted, because he had ceased complaining of the State University and become suspiciously acquiescent. He wondered what the boy was planning, and was too shy to ask. Himself, Babbitt slipped away on Christmas afternoon to take his present, a silver cigarette-box, to Tanis. When he returned Mrs. Babbitt asked, much too innocently, "Did you go out for a little fresh air?"

"Yes, just lil drive," he mumbled.

After New Year’s his wife proposed, "I heard from my sister to-day, George. She isn’t well. I think perhaps I ought to go stay with her for a few weeks."

Now, Mrs. Babbitt was not accustomed to leave home during the winter except on violently demanding occasions, and only the summer before, she had been gone for weeks. Nor was Babbitt one of the detachable husbands who take separations casually He liked to have her there; she looked after his clothes; she knew how his steak ought to be cooked; and her clucking made him feel secure. But he could not drum up even a dutiful "Oh, she doesn’t really need you, does she?" While he tried to look regretful, while he felt that his wife was watching him, he was filled with exultant visions of Tanis.

"Do you think I’d better go?" she said sharply.

"You’ve got to decide, honey; I can’t."

She turned away, sighing, and his forehead was damp.

Till she went, four days later, she was curiously still, he cumbrously affectionate. Her train left at noon. As he saw it grow small beyond the train-shed he longed to hurry to Tanis.

"No, by golly, I won’t do that!" he vowed. "I won’t go near her for a week!"

But he was at her flat at four.

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Chicago: Sinclair Lewis, "II," Babbitt in Babbitt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KTHEVT8NT4TUMJ.

MLA: Lewis, Sinclair. "II." Babbitt, in Babbitt, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KTHEVT8NT4TUMJ.

Harvard: Lewis, S, 'II' in Babbitt. cited in 1922, Babbitt, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KTHEVT8NT4TUMJ.