They had labored, these solid citizens. Twenty years before, the hill on which Floral Heights was spread, with its bright roofs and immaculate turf and amazing comfort, had been a wilderness
of rank second-growth elms
. Along the precise streets were still a few wooded vacant lots, and the fragment of an old orchard
. It was brilliant to-day; the apple boughs were lit with fresh leaves like torches of green fire. The first white of cherry blossoms flickered down a gully, and robins
Babbitt sniffed the earth, chuckled at the hysteric robins as he would have chuckled at kittens
or at a comic movie
. He was, to the eye, the perfect office-going executive
--a well-fed man in a correct brown soft hat and
, smoking a large cigar
, driving a good motor along a semi-suburban
parkway. But in him was some genius of authentic love for his neighborhood
, his city
, his clan
. The winter
was over; the time was come for the building, the visible growth, which to him was glory. He lost his dawn depression; he was ruddily cheerful when he stopped on Smith Street to leave the brown trousers, and to have the gasoline-tank filled.
The familiarity of the rite fortified him: the sight of the tall red iron gasoline-pump, the hollow-tile and terra-cotta
garage, the window full of the most agreeable accessories--shiny casings, spark-plugs with immaculate
porcelain jackets tire-chains of gold and silver. He was flattered by the friendliness with which Sylvester Moon, dirtiest and most skilled of motor mechanics, came out to serve him. "Mornin', Mr. Babbitt!" said Moon, and Babbitt felt himself a person of importance, one whose name even busy garagemen remembered--not one of these cheap-sports flying around in flivvers
. He admired the ingenuity of the automatic dial, clicking off gallon by gallon; admired the smartness of the sign: "A fill in time saves getting stuck--gas to-day 31 cents"; admired the rhythmic gurgle of the gasoline as it flowed into the tank, and the mechanical regularity with which Moon turned the handle.
"How much we takin' to-day?" asked Moon, in a manner which combined the independence of the great specialist
, the friendliness of a familiar gossip
, and respect
for a man of weight in the community, like George F. Babbitt.
"Fill 'er up."
"Who you rootin' for for Republican
candidate, Mr. Babbitt?"
"It's too early to make any predictions yet. After all, there's still a good month and two weeks--no, three weeks--must be almost three weeks--well, there's more than six weeks in all before the Republican convention
, and I
feel a fellow ought to keep an open mind and give all the candidates a show--look 'em all over and size 'em up, and then decide carefully."
"That's a fact, Mr. Babbitt."
"But I'll tell you--and my stand on this is just the same as it was four years ago, and eight years ago, and it'll be my stand four years from now--yes, and eight years from now! What I tell everybody, and it can't be too generally
understood, is that what we need first, last, and all the time is a good, sound business administration!"
"By golly, that's right!"
"How do those front tires look to you?"
"Fine! Fine! Wouldn't be much work for garages if everybody looked after their car the way you do."
"Well, I do try and have some sense about it." Babbitt paid his bill, said adequately, "Oh, keep the change
," and drove off in an ecstasy of honest
self-appreciation. It was with the manner of a Good Samaritan
that he shouted at a respectable-looking man who was waiting for a trolley
car, "Have a lift?"
As the man climbed in Babbitt condescended, "Going clear down-town? Whenever I see a fellow waiting for a trolley, I always make it a practice to give him a lift--unless, of course, he looks like a bum."
"Wish there were more folks that were so generous with their machines," dutifully said the victim of benevolence
. "Oh, no, 'tain't a question of
generosity, hardly. Fact, I always feel--I was saying to my son just the other night--it's a fellow's duty to share the good things of this world with his neighbors, and it gets my goat when a fellow gets stuck on himself and
goes around tooting his horn merely because he's charitable."
The victim seemed unable to find the right answer. Babbitt boomed on:
"Pretty punk service the Company giving us on these car-lines. Nonsense to only run the Portland Road cars once every seven minutes. Fellow gets mighty cold on a winter morning, waiting on a street corner with the wind nipping at
"That's right. The Street Car Company don't care a damn what kind of a deal they give us. Something ought to happen to 'em."
Babbitt was alarmed. "But still, of course it won't do to just keep knocking the Traction Company and not realize the difficulties they're operating under, like these cranks that want municipal
ownership. The way these workmen hold up the Company for high wages is simply a crime, and of course the burden falls on you and me that have to pay a seven-cent fare! Fact, there's remarkable service on all their lines--considering."
"Darn fine morning," Babbitt explained. "Spring
coming along fast."
"Yes, it's real spring now."
The victim had no originality, no wit, and Babbitt fell into a great silence and devoted himself to the game of beating trolley cars to the corner: a spurt, a tail-chase, nervous speeding between the huge yellow side of the
trolley and the jagged row of parked motors, shooting past just as the trolley stopped--a rare game and valiant.
And all the while he was conscious of the loveliness of Zenith. For weeks together he noticed nothing but clients and the vexing To Rent signs of rival brokers. To-day, in mysterious malaise
, he raged or rejoiced with equal
nervous swiftness, and to-day the light of spring was so winsome that he lifted his head and saw.
He admired each district along his familiar route to the office: The bungalow
s and shrubs and winding irregular drive ways of Floral Heights. The one-story shops on Smith Street, a glare of plate-glass and new yellow brick; groceries and laundries and drug-stores to supply the more immediate needs of East Side housewives. The market gardens in Dutch Hollow, their shanties patched with
and stolen doors. Billboards with crimson goddesses nine feet tall advertising cinema films, pipe tobacco
, and talcum powder
. The old "mansions" along Ninth Street, S. E., like aged dandies in filthy linen;
wooden castles turned into boarding-houses, with muddy walks and rusty hedges, jostled by fast-intruding garages, cheap apartment-houses, and fruit-stands conducted by bland, sleek Athenians. Across the belt of railroad
with high-perched water-tanks and tall stacks-factories producing condensed milk
, paper boxes
, lighting-fixtures, motor cars. Then the business
center, the thickening darting traffic, the crammed trolleys unloading, and high doorways of marble and polished granite.
It was big--and Babbitt respected bigness in anything; in mountains
, or words. He was, for a spring-enchanted moment, the lyric and almost unselfish lover of Zenith. He thought of the outlying factory suburbs; of the Chaloosa River with its strangely eroded banks; of the orchard-dappled Tonawanda Hills to the North, and all the fat dairy
land and big barns and comfortable herds. As he dropped his passenger he cried, "Gosh, I feel pretty good this morning!"
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