It was three. For half an hour Babbitt sat looking at a calendar and a clock on a whitewashed wall. The chair was hard and mean and creaky. People went through the office and, he thought, stared at him. He felt a belligerent defiance which broke into a wincing fear of this machine which was grinding PaulPaul
Babbitt drove, not at all carefully or fussily, sliding viciously past trucks, ignoring the truckmens curses, to the City Hall;he stopped with a grind of wheels against the curb, and ran up the marble steps to the office of the Hon. Mr. Lucas Prout, the mayor. He bribed the mayors doorman with a dollar; he was instantly inside, demanding, You remember me, Mr. Prout? Babbittvice-president of the Boosterscampaigned for you? Say, have you heard about poor Riesling? Well, I want an order on the warden or whatever you call um of the City Prison to take me back and see him. Good. Thanks.
Paul said argumentatively, Now, dont go jumping on Zilla. Ive been thinking; maybe she hasnt had any too easy a time. Just after I shot her I didnt hardly mean to, but she got to deviling me so I went crazy, just for a second, and pulled out that old revolver you and I used to shoot rabbits with, and took a crack at her. Didnt hardly mean to After that, when I was trying to stop the blood It was terrible what it did to her shoulder, and she had beautiful skin Maybe she wont die. I hope it wont leave her skin all scarred. But just afterward, when I was hunting through the bathroom for some cotton to stop the blood, I ran onto a little fuzzy yellow duck we hung on the tree one Christmas, and I remembered she and Id been awfully happy then Hell. I cant hardly believe its me here. As Babbitts arm tightened about his shoulder, Paul sighed, Im glad you came. But I thought maybe youd lecture me, and when youve committed a murder, and been brought here and everythingthere was a big crowd outside the apartment house, all staring, and the cops took me through it Oh, Im not going to talk about it any more.
Paul! Quit it! Listen: she wont die, and when its all over you and Ill go off to Maine again. And maybe we can get that May Arnold to go along. Ill go up to Chicago and ask her. Good woman, by golly. And afterwards Ill see that you get started in business out West somewhere, maybe Seattlethey say thats a lovely city.
Paul was half smiling. It was Babbitt who rambled now. He could not tell whether Paul was heeding, but he droned on till the coming of Pauls lawyer, P. J. Maxwell, a thin, busy, unfriendly man who nodded at Babbitt and hinted, If Riesling and I could be alone for a moment
It seemed somehow wicked to return to the office. Babbitt felt as though he had just come from a funeral. He drifted out to the City Hospital to inquire about Zilla. She was not likely to die, he learned. The bullet from Pauls huge old .44 army revolver had smashed her shoulder and torn upward and out.
He wandered home and found his wife radiant with the horified interest we have in the tragedies of our friends. Of course Paul isnt altogether to blame, but this is what comes of his chasing after other women instead of bearing his cross in a Christian way, she exulted.
He was too languid to respond as he desired. He said what was to be said about the Christian bearing of crosses, and went out to clean the car. Dully, patiently, he scraped linty grease from the drip-pan, gouged at the mud caked on the wheels. He used up many minutes in washing his hands; scoured them with gritty kitchen soap; rejoiced in hurting his plump knuckles. Damn soft handslike a womans. Aah!
At dinner, when his wife began the inevitable, he bellowed, I forbid any of you to say a word about Paul! Ill tend to all the talking about this thats necessary, hear me? Theres going to be one house in this scandal-mongering town to-night that isnt going to spring the holier-than-thou. And throw those filthy evening papers out of the house!
I want to offer my services in the trial. Ive got an idea. Why couldnt I go on the stand and swear I was there, and she pulled the gun first and he wrestled with her and the gun went off accidentally?
Oh, dont be a fool! Excuse me, Maxwell; I didnt mean to get your goat. I just mean: Ive known and youve known many and many a case of perjury, just to annex some rotten little piece of real estate, and here where its a case of saving Paul from going to prison, Id perjure myself black in the face.
I dont like to hurt your feelings, but you see we both want to do our best for Riesling, and we mustnt consider any other factor. The trouble with you, Babbitt, is that youre one of these fellows who talk too readily. You like to hear your own voice. If there were anything for which I could put you in the witness-box, youd get going and give the whole show away. Sorry. Now I must look over some papers So sorry.
He spent most of the next morning nerving himself to face the garrulous world of the Athletic Club. They would talk about Paul; they would be lip-licking and rotten. But at the Roughnecks Table they did not mention Paul. They spoke with zeal of the coming baseball season. He loved them as he never had before.
He had, doubtless from some story-book, pictured Pauls trial as a long struggle, with bitter arguments, a taut crowd, and sudden and overwhelming new testimony. Actually, the trial occupied less than fifteen minutes, largely filled with the evidence of doctors that Zilla would recover and that Paul must have been temporarily insane. Next day Paul was sentenced to three years in the State Penitentiary and taken offquite undramatically, not handcuffed, merely plodding in a tired way beside a cheerful deputy sheriffand after saying good-by to him at the station Babbitt returned to his office to realize that he faced a world which, without Paul, was meaningless.