This document is intended to strike somewhere between a temperance
lecture and the "Bartender's Guide." Relative to the latter, drink
shall swell the theme and be set forth in abundance. Agreeably to
the former, not an elbow shall be crooked.
Bob Babbitt was "off the stuff." Which means--as you will discover
by referring to the unabridged dictionary of Bohemia--that he had
"cut out the booze;" that he was "on the water wagon." The reason
for Bob's sudden attitude of hostility toward the "demon rum"--as
the white ribboners miscall whiskey (see the "Bartender's Guide"),
should be of interest to reformers and saloon-keepers.
There is always hope for a man who, when sober, will not concede or
acknowledge that he was ever drunk. But when a man will say (in the
apt words of the phrase-distiller), "I had a beautiful skate on last
night," you will have to put stuff in his coffee as well as pray for
One evening on his way home Babbitt dropped in at the Broadway bar
that he liked best. Always there were three or four fellows there
from the downtown offices whom he knew. And then there would be
high-balls and stories, and he would hurry home to dinner a little
late but feeling good, and a little sorry for the poor Standard Oil
Company. On this evening as he entered he heard some one say:
"Babbitt was in last night as full as a boiled owl."
Babbitt walked to the bar, and saw in the mirror that his face was
as white as chalk. For the first time he had looked Truth in the
eyes. Others had lied to him; he had dissembled with himself. He was
a drunkard, and had not known it. What he had fondly imagined was a
pleasant exhilaration had been maudlin intoxication. His fancied wit
had been drivel; his gay humors nothing but the noisy vagaries of a
sot. But, never again!
"A glass of seltzer," he said to the bartender.
A little silence fell upon the group of his cronies, who had been
expecting him to join them.
"Going off the stuff, Bob?" one of them asked politely and with more
formality than the highballs ever called forth.
"Yes," said Babbitt.
Some one of the group took up the unwashed thread of a story he had
been telling; the bartender shoved over a dime and a nickel change
from the quarter, ungarnished with his customary smile; and Babbitt
Now, Babbitt had a home and a wife--but that is another story. And I
will tell you that story, which will show you a better habit and a
worse story than you could find in the man who invented the phrase.
It began away up in Sullivan County, where so many rivers and so
much trouble begins--or begin; how would you say that? It was July,
and Jessie was a summer boarder at the Mountain Squint Hotel, and
Bob, who was just out of college, saw her one day--and they were
married in September. That's the tabloid novel--one swallow of
water, and it's gone.
But those July days!
Let the exclamation point expound it, for I shall not. For
particulars you might read up on "Romeo and Juliet," and Abraham
Lincoln's thrilling sonnet about "You can fool some of the people,"
&c., and Darwin's works.
But one thing I must tell you about. Both of them were mad over
Omar's Rubaiyat. They knew every verse of the old bluffer by
heart--not consecutively, but picking 'em out here and there as you
fork the mushrooms in a fifty-cent steak a la Bordelaise. Sullivan
County is full of rocks and trees; and Jessie used to sit on them,
and--please be good--used to sit on the rocks; and Bob had a way of
standing behind her with his hands over her shoulders holding her
hands, and his face close to hers, and they would repeat over and
over their favorite verses of the old tent-maker. They saw only the
poetry and philosophy of the lines then--indeed, they agreed that
the Wine was only an image, and that what was meant to be celebrated
was some divinity, or maybe Love or Life. However, at that time
neither of them had tasted the stuff that goes with a sixty-cent
Where was I? Oh, they married and came to New York. Bob showed his
college diploma, and accepted a position filling inkstands in a
lawyer's office at $15 a week. At the end of two years he had worked
up to $50, and gotten his first taste of Bohemia--the kind that
won't stand the borax and formaldehyde tests.
They had two furnished rooms and a little kitchen. To Jess,
accustomed to the mild but beautiful savor of a country town, the
dreggy Bohemia was sugar and spice. She hung fish seines on the
walls of her rooms, and bought a rakish-looking sideboard, and
learned to play the banjo. Twice or thrice a week they dined at
French or Italian _tables d'hote_ in a cloud of smoke, and brag and
unshorn hair. Jess learned to drink a cocktail in order to get the
cherry. At home she smoked a cigarette after dinner. She learned to
pronounce Chianti, and leave her olive stones for the waiter to pick
up. Once she essayed to say la, la, la! in a crowd but got only as
far as the second one. They met one or two couples while dining out
and became friendly with them. The sideboard was stocked with Scotch
and rye and a liqueur. They had their new friends in to dinner and
all were laughing at nothing by 1 A. M. Some plastering fell in the
room below them, for which Bob had to pay $4.50. Thus they footed it
merrily on the ragged frontiers of the country that has no boundary
lines or government.
And soon Bob fell in with his cronies and learned to keep his foot
on the little rail six inches above the floor for an hour or so
every afternoon before he went home. Drink always rubbed him the
right way, and he would reach his rooms as jolly as a sandboy.
Jessie would meet him at the door, and generally they would dance
some insane kind of a rigadoon about the floor by way of greeting.
Once when Bob's feet became confused and he tumbled headlong over a
foot-stool Jessie laughed so heartily and long that he had to throw
all the couch pillows at her to make her hush.
In such wise life was speeding for them on the day when Bob Babbitt
first felt the power that the giftie gi'ed him.
But let us get back to our lamb and mint sauce.
When Bob got home that evening he found Jessie in a long apron
cutting up a lobster for the Newburg. Usually when Bob came in
mellow from his hour at the bar his welcome was hilarious, though
somewhat tinctured with Scotch smoke.
By screams and snatches of song and certain audible testimonials of
domestic felicity was his advent proclaimed. When she heard his foot
on the stairs the old maid in the hall room always stuffed cotton
into her ears. At first Jessie had shrunk from the rudeness and
favor of these spiritual greetings, but as the fog of the false
Bohemia gradually encompassed her she came to accept them as love's
true and proper greeting.
Bob came in without a word, smiled, kissed her neatly but
noiselessly, took up a paper and sat down. In the hall room the old
maid held her two plugs of cotton poised, filled with anxiety.
Jessie dropped lobster and knife and ran to him with frightened
"What's the matter, Bob, are you ill?"
"Not at all, dear."
"Then what's the matter with you?"
Hearken, brethren. When She-who-has-a-right-to-ask interrogates you
concerning a change she finds in your mood answer her thus: Tell her
that you, in a sudden rage, have murdered your grandmother; tell her
that you have robbed orphans and that remorse has stricken you; tell
her your fortune is swept away; that you are beset by enemies, by
bunions, by any kind of malevolent fate; but do not, if peace and
happiness are worth as much as a grain of mustard seed to you--do
not answer her "Nothing."
Jessie went back to the lobster in silence. She cast looks of
darkest suspicion at Bob. He had never acted that way before.
When dinner was on the table she set out the bottle of Scotch and
the glasses. Bob declined.
"Tell you the truth, Jess," he said. "I've cut out the drink. Help
yourself, of course. If you don't mind I'll try some of the seltzer
"You've stopped drinking?" she said, looking at him steadily and
unsmilingly. "What for?"
"It wasn't doing me any good," said Bob. "Don't you approve of the
Jessie raised her eyebrows and one shoulder slightly.
"Entirely," she said with a sculptured smile. "I could not
conscientiously advise any one to drink or smoke, or whistle on
The meal was finished almost in silence. Bob tried to make talk,
but his efforts lacked the stimulus of previous evenings. He felt
miserable, and once or twice his eye wandered toward the bottle, but
each time the scathing words of his bibulous friend sounded in his
ear, and his mouth set with determination.
Jessie felt the change deeply. The essence of their lives seemed to
have departed suddenly. The restless fever, the false gayety, the
unnatural excitement of the shoddy Bohemia in which they had lived
had dropped away in the space of the popping of a cork. She stole
curious and forlorn glances at the dejected Bob, who bore the guilty
look of at least a wife-beater or a family tyrant.
After dinner the colored maid who came in daily to perform such
chores cleared away the things. Jessie, with an unreadable
countenance, brought back the bottle of Scotch and the glasses and
a bowl of cracked ice and set them on the table.
"May I ask," she said, with some of the ice in her tones, "whether
I am to be included in your sudden spasm of goodness? If not, I'll
make one for myself. It's rather chilly this evening, for some
"Oh, come now, Jess," said Bob good-naturedly, "don't be too rough
on me. Help yourself, by all means. There's no danger of your
overdoing it. But I thought there was with me; and that's why I
quit. Have yours, and then let's get out the banjo and try over that
"I've heard," said Jessie in the tones of the oracle, "that drinking
alone is a pernicious habit. No, I don't think I feel like playing
this evening. If we are going to reform we may as well abandon the
evil habit of banjo-playing, too."
She took up a book and sat in her little willow rocker on the other
side of the table. Neither of them spoke for half an hour.
And then Bob laid down his paper and got up with a strange, absent
look on his face and went behind her chair and reached over her
shoulders, taking her hands in his, and laid his face close to hers.
In a moment to Jessie the walls of the seine-hung room vanished, and
she saw the Sullivan County hills and rills. Bob felt her hands
quiver in his as he began the verse from old Omar:
"Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing!"
And then he walked to the table and poured a stiff drink of Scotch
into a glass.
But in that moment a mountain breeze had somehow found its way in
and blown away the mist of the false Bohemia.
Jessie leaped and with one fierce sweep of her hand sent the bottle
and glasses crashing to the floor. The same motion of her arm
carried it around Bob's neck, where it met its mate and fastened
"Oh, my God, Bobbie--not that verse--I see now. I wasn't always such
a fool, was I? The other one, boy--the one that says: 'Remould it to
the Heart's Desire.' Say that one--'to the Heart's Desire.'"
"I know that one," said Bob. "It goes:
"'Ah! Love, could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire
Would not we--'"
"Let me finish it," said Jessie.
"'Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
Remould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!'"
"It's shattered all right," said Bob, crunching some glass under his
In some dungeon below the accurate ear of Mrs. Pickens, the landlady,
located the smash.
"It's that wild Mr. Babbitt coming home soused again," she said.
"And he's got such a nice little wife, too!"