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Title: Main Street
Author: Sinclair Lewis
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000071.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2010
Date most recently updated: January 2010

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Main Street
Author: Sinclair Lewis



* * *

To James Branch Cabell and Joseph Hergesheimer

* * *



This is America--a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn
and dairies and little groves.

The town is, in our tale, called "Gopher Prairie, Minnesota." But its
Main Street is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere. The story
would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky or Illinois,
and not very differently would it be told Up York State or in the
Carolina hills.

Main Street is the climax of civilization. That this Ford car might
stand in front of the Bon Ton Store, Hannibal invaded Rome and Erasmus
wrote in Oxford cloisters. What Ole Jenson the grocer says to Ezra
Stowbody the banker is the new law for London, Prague, and the
unprofitable isles of the sea; whatsoever Ezra does not know and
sanction, that thing is heresy, worthless for knowing and wicked to
consider.

Our railway station is the final aspiration of architecture. Sam
Clark's annual hardware turnover is the envy of the four counties which
constitute God's Country. In the sensitive art of the Rosebud Movie
Palace there is a Message, and humor strictly moral.

Such is our comfortable tradition and sure faith. Would he not betray
himself an alien cynic who should otherwise portray Main Street, or
distress the citizens by speculating whether there may not be other
faiths?



CHAPTER I

I

ON a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago,
a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky.
She saw no Indians now; she saw flour-mills and the blinking windows of
skyscrapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Nor was she thinking of squaws
and portages, and the Yankee fur-traders whose shadows were all about
her. She was meditating upon walnut fudge, the plays of Brieux, the
reasons why heels run over, and the fact that the chemistry instructor
had stared at the new coiffure which concealed her ears.

A breeze which had crossed a thousand miles of wheat-lands bellied her
taffeta skirt in a line so graceful, so full of animation and moving
beauty, that the heart of a chance watcher on the lower road tightened
to wistfulness over her quality of suspended freedom. She lifted her
arms, she leaned back against the wind, her skirt dipped and flared, a
lock blew wild. A girl on a hilltop; credulous, plastic, young; drinking
the air as she longed to drink life. The eternal aching comedy of
expectant youth.

It is Carol Milford, fleeing for an hour from Blodgett College.

The days of pioneering, of lassies in sunbonnets, and bears killed with
axes in piney clearings, are deader now than Camelot; and a rebellious
girl is the spirit of that bewildered empire called the American
Middlewest.



II


Blodgett College is on the edge of Minneapolis. It is a bulwark of sound
religion. It is still combating the recent heresies of Voltaire, Darwin,
and Robert Ingersoll. Pious families in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, the
Dakotas send their children thither, and Blodgett protects them from the
wickedness of the universities. But it secretes friendly girls, young
men who sing, and one lady instructress who really likes Milton and
Carlyle. So the four years which Carol spent at Blodgett were not
altogether wasted. The smallness of the school, the fewness of rivals,
permitted her to experiment with her perilous versatility. She played
tennis, gave chafing-dish parties, took a graduate seminar in the drama,
went "twosing," and joined half a dozen societies for the practise of
the arts or the tense stalking of a thing called General Culture.

In her class there were two or three prettier girls, but none more
eager. She was noticeable equally in the classroom grind and at dances,
though out of the three hundred students of Blodgett, scores recited
more accurately and dozens Bostoned more smoothly. Every cell of her
body was alive--thin wrists, quince-blossom skin, ingenue eyes, black
hair.

The other girls in her dormitory marveled at the slightness of her
body when they saw her in sheer negligee, or darting out wet from a
shower-bath. She seemed then but half as large as they had supposed;
a fragile child who must be cloaked with understanding kindness.
"Psychic," the girls whispered, and "spiritual." Yet so radioactive
were her nerves, so adventurous her trust in rather vaguely conceived
sweetness and light, that she was more energetic than any of the hulking
young women who, with calves bulging in heavy-ribbed woolen stockings
beneath decorous blue serge bloomers, thuddingly galloped across the
floor of the "gym" in practise for the Blodgett Ladies' Basket-Ball
Team.

Even when she was tired her dark eyes were observant. She did not yet
know the immense ability of the world to be casually cruel and proudly
dull, but if she should ever learn those dismaying powers, her eyes
would never become sullen or heavy or rheumily amorous.

For all her enthusiasms, for all the fondness and the "crushes" which
she inspired, Carol's acquaintances were shy of her. When she was most
ardently singing hymns or planning deviltry she yet seemed gently aloof
and critical. She was credulous, perhaps; a born hero-worshipper; yet
she did question and examine unceasingly. Whatever she might become she
would never be static.

Her versatility ensnared her. By turns she hoped to discover that she
had an unusual voice, a talent for the piano, the ability to act, to
write, to manage organizations. Always she was disappointed, but always
she effervesced anew--over the Student Volunteers, who intended to
become missionaries, over painting scenery for the dramatic club, over
soliciting advertisements for the college magazine.

She was on the peak that Sunday afternoon when she played in chapel.
Out of the dusk her violin took up the organ theme, and the candle-light
revealed her in a straight golden frock, her arm arched to the bow, her
lips serious. Every man fell in love then with religion and Carol.

Throughout Senior year she anxiously related all her experiments and
partial successes to a career. Daily, on the library steps or in the
hall of the Main Building, the co-eds talked of "What shall we do when
we finish college?" Even the girls who knew that they were going to be
married pretended to be considering important business positions;
even they who knew that they would have to work hinted about fabulous
suitors. As for Carol, she was an orphan; her only near relative was a
vanilla-flavored sister married to an optician in St. Paul. She had used
most of the money from her father's estate. She was not in love--that
is, not often, nor ever long at a time. She would earn her living.

But how she was to earn it, how she was to conquer the world--almost
entirely for the world's own good--she did not see. Most of the girls
who were not betrothed meant to be teachers. Of these there were two
sorts: careless young women who admitted that they intended to leave the
"beastly classroom and grubby children" the minute they had a chance to
marry; and studious, sometimes bulbous-browed and pop-eyed maidens who
at class prayer-meetings requested God to "guide their feet along the
paths of greatest usefulness." Neither sort tempted Carol. The former
seemed insincere (a favorite word of hers at this era). The earnest
virgins were, she fancied, as likely to do harm as to do good by their
faith in the value of parsing Caesar.

At various times during Senior year Carol finally decided upon studying
law, writing motion-picture scenarios, professional nursing, and
marrying an unidentified hero.

Then she found a hobby in sociology.

The sociology instructor was new. He was married, and therefore taboo,
but he had come from Boston, he had lived among poets and socialists and
Jews and millionaire uplifters at the University Settlement in New
York, and he had a beautiful white strong neck. He led a giggling class
through the prisons, the charity bureaus, the employment agencies of
Minneapolis and St. Paul. Trailing at the end of the line Carol was
indignant at the prodding curiosity of the others, their manner of
staring at the poor as at a Zoo. She felt herself a great liberator.
She put her hand to her mouth, her forefinger and thumb quite painfully
pinching her lower lip, and frowned, and enjoyed being aloof.

A classmate named Stewart Snyder, a competent bulky young man in a gray
flannel shirt, a rusty black bow tie, and the green-and-purple class
cap, grumbled to her as they walked behind the others in the muck of the
South St. Paul stockyards, "These college chumps make me tired. They're
so top-lofty. They ought to of worked on the farm, the way I have. These
workmen put it all over them."

"I just love common workmen," glowed Carol.

"Only you don't want to forget that common workmen don't think they're
common!"

"You're right! I apologize!" Carol's brows lifted in the astonishment of
emotion, in a glory of abasement. Her eyes mothered the world. Stewart
Snyder peered at her. He rammed his large red fists into his pockets,
he jerked them out, he resolutely got rid of them by clenching his hands
behind him, and he stammered:

"I know. You _get_ people. Most of these darn co-eds----Say, Carol, you
could do a lot for people."

"Oh--oh well--you know--sympathy and everything--if you were--say you
were a lawyer's wife. You'd understand his clients. I'm going to be a
lawyer. I admit I fall down in sympathy sometimes. I get so dog-gone
impatient with people that can't stand the gaff. You'd be good for
a fellow that was too serious. Make him more--more--YOU
know--sympathetic!"

His slightly pouting lips, his mastiff eyes, were begging her to beg him
to go on. She fled from the steam-roller of his sentiment. She cried,
"Oh, see those poor sheep--millions and millions of them." She darted
on.

Stewart was not interesting. He hadn't a shapely white neck, and he had
never lived among celebrated reformers. She wanted, just now, to have
a cell in a settlement-house, like a nun without the bother of a black
robe, and be kind, and read Bernard Shaw, and enormously improve a horde
of grateful poor.

The supplementary reading in sociology led her to a book on
village-improvement--tree-planting, town pageants, girls' clubs. It
had pictures of greens and garden-walls in France, New England,
Pennsylvania. She had picked it up carelessly, with a slight yawn which
she patted down with her finger-tips as delicately as a cat.

She dipped into the book, lounging on her window-seat, with her slim,
lisle-stockinged legs crossed, and her knees up under her chin.
She stroked a satin pillow while she read. About her was the clothy
exuberance of a Blodgett College room: cretonne-covered window-seat,
photographs of girls, a carbon print of the Coliseum, a chafing-dish,
and a dozen pillows embroidered or beaded or pyrographed. Shockingly out
of place was a miniature of the Dancing Bacchante. It was the only trace
of Carol in the room. She had inherited the rest from generations of
girl students.

It was as a part of all this commonplaceness that she regarded the
treatise on village-improvement. But she suddenly stopped fidgeting. She
strode into the book. She had fled half-way through it before the three
o'clock bell called her to the class in English history.

She sighed, "That's what I'll do after college! I'll get my hands on
one of these prairie towns and make it beautiful. Be an inspiration. I
suppose I'd better become a teacher then, but--I won't be that kind of
a teacher. I won't drone. Why should they have all the garden suburbs
on Long Island? Nobody has done anything with the ugly towns here in the
Northwest except hold revivals and build libraries to contain the Elsie
books. I'll make 'em put in a village green, and darling cottages, and a
quaint Main Street!"

Thus she triumphed through the class, which was a typical Blodgett
contest between a dreary teacher and unwilling children of twenty, won
by the teacher because his opponents had to answer his questions, while
their treacherous queries he could counter by demanding, "Have you
looked that up in the library? Well then, suppose you do!"

The history instructor was a retired minister. He was sarcastic today.
He begged of sporting young Mr. Charley Holmberg, "Now Charles, would it
interrupt your undoubtedly fascinating pursuit of that malevolent fly
if I were to ask you to tell us that you do not know anything about King
John?" He spent three delightful minutes in assuring himself of the fact
that no one exactly remembered the date of Magna Charta.

Carol did not hear him. She was completing the roof of a half-timbered
town hall. She had found one man in the prairie village who did not
appreciate her picture of winding streets and arcades, but she had
assembled the town council and dramatically defeated him.



III


Though she was Minnesota-born Carol was not an intimate of the prairie
villages. Her father, the smiling and shabby, the learned and teasingly
kind, had come from Massachusetts, and through all her childhood he
had been a judge in Mankato, which is not a prairie town, but in its
garden-sheltered streets and aisles of elms is white and green New
England reborn. Mankato lies between cliffs and the Minnesota River,
hard by Traverse des Sioux, where the first settlers made treaties
with the Indians, and the cattle-rustlers once came galloping before
hell-for-leather posses.

As she climbed along the banks of the dark river Carol listened to its
fables about the wide land of yellow waters and bleached buffalo bones
to the West; the Southern levees and singing darkies and palm trees
toward which it was forever mysteriously gliding; and she heard again
the startled bells and thick puffing of high-stacked river steamers
wrecked on sand-reefs sixty years ago. Along the decks she saw
missionaries, gamblers in tall pot hats, and Dakota chiefs with scarlet
blankets. . . . Far off whistles at night, round the river bend,
plunking paddles reechoed by the pines, and a glow on black sliding
waters.

Carol's family were self-sufficient in their inventive life, with
Christmas a rite full of surprises and tenderness, and "dressing-up
parties" spontaneous and joyously absurd. The beasts in the Milford
hearth-mythology were not the obscene Night Animals who jump out
of closets and eat little girls, but beneficent and bright-eyed
creatures--the tam htab, who is woolly and blue and lives in the
bathroom, and runs rapidly to warm small feet; the ferruginous oil
stove, who purrs and knows stories; and the skitamarigg, who will play
with children before breakfast if they spring out of bed and close the
window at the very first line of the song about puellas which father
sings while shaving.

Judge Milford's pedagogical scheme was to let the children read whatever
they pleased, and in his brown library Carol absorbed Balzac and
Rabelais and Thoreau and Max Muller. He gravely taught them the letters
on the backs of the encyclopedias, and when polite visitors asked about
the mental progress of the "little ones," they were horrified to hear
the children earnestly repeating A-And, And-Aus, Aus-Bis, Bis-Cal,
Cal-Cha.

Carol's mother died when she was nine. Her father retired from the
judiciary when she was eleven, and took the family to Minneapolis. There
he died, two years after. Her sister, a busy proper advisory soul, older
than herself, had become a stranger to her even when they lived in the
same house.

From those early brown and silver days and from her independence of
relatives Carol retained a willingness to be different from brisk
efficient book-ignoring people; an instinct to observe and wonder
at their bustle even when she was taking part in it. But, she felt
approvingly, as she discovered her career of town-planning, she was now
roused to being brisk and efficient herself.



IV


In a month Carol's ambition had clouded. Her hesitancy about becoming a
teacher had returned. She was not, she worried, strong enough to endure
the routine, and she could not picture herself standing before grinning
children and pretending to be wise and decisive. But the desire for
the creation of a beautiful town remained. When she encountered an item
about small-town women's clubs or a photograph of a straggling Main
Street, she was homesick for it, she felt robbed of her work.

It was the advice of the professor of English which led her to study
professional library-work in a Chicago school. Her imagination carved
and colored the new plan. She saw herself persuading children to read
charming fairy tales, helping young men to find books on mechanics,
being ever so courteous to old men who were hunting for newspapers--the
light of the library, an authority on books, invited to dinners with
poets and explorers, reading a paper to an association of distinguished
scholars.



V


The last faculty reception before commencement. In five days they would
be in the cyclone of final examinations.

The house of the president had been massed with palms suggestive of
polite undertaking parlors, and in the library, a ten-foot room with a
globe and the portraits of Whittier and Martha Washington, the student
orchestra was playing "Carmen" and "Madame Butterfly." Carol was dizzy
with music and the emotions of parting. She saw the palms as a jungle,
the pink-shaded electric globes as an opaline haze, and the eye-glassed
faculty as Olympians. She was melancholy at sight of the mousey girls
with whom she had "always intended to get acquainted," and the half
dozen young men who were ready to fall in love with her.

But it was Stewart Snyder whom she encouraged. He was so much manlier
than the others; he was an even warm brown, like his new ready-made suit
with its padded shoulders. She sat with him, and with two cups of
coffee and a chicken patty, upon a pile of presidential overshoes in the
coat-closet under the stairs, and as the thin music seeped in, Stewart
whispered:

"I can't stand it, this breaking up after four years! The happiest years
of life."

She believed it. "Oh, I know! To think that in just a few days we'll be
parting, and we'll never see some of the bunch again!"

"Carol, you got to listen to me! You always duck when I try to talk
seriously to you, but you got to listen to me. I'm going to be a big
lawyer, maybe a judge, and I need you, and I'd protect you----"

His arm slid behind her shoulders. The insinuating music drained her
independence. She said mournfully, "Would you take care of me?" She
touched his hand. It was warm, solid.

"You bet I would! We'd have, Lord, we'd have bully times in Yankton,
where I'm going to settle----"

"But I want to do something with life."

"What's better than making a comfy home and bringing up some cute kids
and knowing nice homey people?"

It was the immemorial male reply to the restless woman. Thus to the
young Sappho spake the melon-venders; thus the captains to Zenobia; and
in the damp cave over gnawed bones the hairy suitor thus protested to
the woman advocate of matriarchy. In the dialect of Blodgett College but
with the voice of Sappho was Carol's answer:

"Of course. I know. I suppose that's so. Honestly, I do love children.
But there's lots of women that can do housework, but I--well, if you
HAVE got a college education, you ought to use it for the world."

"I know, but you can use it just as well in the home. And gee, Carol,
just think of a bunch of us going out on an auto picnic, some nice
spring evening."

"Yes."

"And sleigh-riding in winter, and going fishing----"

Blarrrrrrr! The orchestra had crashed into the "Soldiers' Chorus"; and
she was protesting, "No! No! You're a dear, but I want to do things.
I don't understand myself but I want--everything in the world! Maybe I
can't sing or write, but I know I can be an influence in library work.
Just suppose I encouraged some boy and he became a great artist! I
will! I will do it! Stewart dear, I can't settle down to nothing but
dish-washing!"

Two minutes later--two hectic minutes--they were disturbed by
an embarrassed couple also seeking the idyllic seclusion of the
overshoe-closet.

After graduation she never saw Stewart Snyder again. She wrote to him
once a week--for one month.



VI


A year Carol spent in Chicago. Her study of library-cataloguing,
recording, books of reference, was easy and not too somniferous. She
reveled in the Art Institute, in symphonies and violin recitals and
chamber music, in the theater and classic dancing. She almost gave up
library work to become one of the young women who dance in cheese-cloth
in the moonlight. She was taken to a certified Studio Party, with
beer, cigarettes, bobbed hair, and a Russian Jewess who sang the
Internationale. It cannot be reported that Carol had anything
significant to say to the Bohemians. She was awkward with them, and
felt ignorant, and she was shocked by the free manners which she had for
years desired. But she heard and remembered discussions of Freud, Romain
Rolland, syndicalism, the Confederation Generale du Travail, feminism
vs. haremism, Chinese lyrics, nationalization of mines, Christian
Science, and fishing in Ontario.

She went home, and that was the beginning and end of her Bohemian life.

The second cousin of Carol's sister's husband lived in Winnetka, and
once invited her out to Sunday dinner. She walked back through Wilmette
and Evanston, discovered new forms of suburban architecture, and
remembered her desire to recreate villages. She decided that she would
give up library work and, by a miracle whose nature was not very clearly
revealed to her, turn a prairie town into Georgian houses and Japanese
bungalows.

The next day in library class she had to read a theme on the use of the
Cumulative Index, and she was taken so seriously in the discussion that
she put off her career of town-planning--and in the autumn she was in
the public library of St. Paul.



VII


Carol was not unhappy and she was not exhilarated, in the St. Paul
Library. She slowly confessed that she was not visibly affecting lives.
She did, at first, put into her contact with the patrons a willingness
which should have moved worlds. But so few of these stolid worlds wanted
to be moved. When she was in charge of the magazine room the readers did
not ask for suggestions about elevated essays. They grunted, "Wanta find
the Leather Goods Gazette for last February." When she was giving
out books the principal query was, "Can you tell me of a good, light,
exciting love story to read? My husband's going away for a week."

She was fond of the other librarians; proud of their aspirations. And by
the chance of propinquity she read scores of books unnatural to her gay
white littleness: volumes of anthropology with ditches of foot-notes
filled with heaps of small dusty type, Parisian imagistes, Hindu recipes
for curry, voyages to the Solomon Isles, theosophy with modern American
improvements, treatises upon success in the real-estate business. She
took walks, and was sensible about shoes and diet. And never did she
feel that she was living.

She went to dances and suppers at the houses of college acquaintances.
Sometimes she one-stepped demurely; sometimes, in dread of life's
slipping past, she turned into a bacchanal, her tender eyes excited, her
throat tense, as she slid down the room.

During her three years of library work several men showed diligent
interest in her--the treasurer of a fur-manufacturing firm, a teacher, a
newspaper reporter, and a petty railroad official. None of them made her
more than pause in thought. For months no male emerged from the mass.
Then, at the Marburys', she met Dr. Will Kennicott.



CHAPTER II

IT was a frail and blue and lonely Carol who trotted to the flat of the
Johnson Marburys for Sunday evening supper. Mrs. Marbury was a neighbor
and friend of Carol's sister; Mr. Marbury a traveling representative of
an insurance company. They made a specialty of sandwich-salad-coffee
lap suppers, and they regarded Carol as their literary and artistic
representative. She was the one who could be depended upon to appreciate
the Caruso phonograph record, and the Chinese lantern which Mr. Marbury
had brought back as his present from San Francisco. Carol found the
Marburys admiring and therefore admirable.

This September Sunday evening she wore a net frock with a pale pink
lining. A nap had soothed away the faint lines of tiredness beside her
eyes. She was young, naive, stimulated by the coolness. She flung
her coat at the chair in the hall of the flat, and exploded into
the green-plush living-room. The familiar group were trying to be
conversational. She saw Mr. Marbury, a woman teacher of gymnastics in
a high school, a chief clerk from the Great Northern Railway offices,
a young lawyer. But there was also a stranger, a thick tall man of
thirty-six or -seven, with stolid brown hair, lips used to giving
orders, eyes which followed everything good-naturedly, and clothes which
you could never quite remember.

Mr. Marbury boomed, "Carol, come over here and meet Doc Kennicott--Dr.
Will Kennicott of Gopher Prairie. He does all our insurance-examining up
in that neck of the woods, and they do say he's some doctor!"

As she edged toward the stranger and murmured nothing in particular,
Carol remembered that Gopher Prairie was a Minnesota wheat-prairie town
of something over three thousand people.

"Pleased to meet you," stated Dr. Kennicott. His hand was strong; the
palm soft, but the back weathered, showing golden hairs against firm red
skin.

He looked at her as though she was an agreeable discovery. She tugged
her hand free and fluttered, "I must go out to the kitchen and help Mrs.
Marbury." She did not speak to him again till, after she had heated
the rolls and passed the paper napkins, Mr. Marbury captured her with
a loud, "Oh, quit fussing now. Come over here and sit down and tell
us how's tricks." He herded her to a sofa with Dr. Kennicott, who was
rather vague about the eyes, rather drooping of bulky shoulder, as
though he was wondering what he was expected to do next. As their host
left them, Kennicott awoke:

"Marbury tells me you're a high mogul in the public library. I was
surprised. Didn't hardly think you were old enough. I thought you were a
girl, still in college maybe."

"Oh, I'm dreadfully old. I expect to take to a lip-stick, and to find a
gray hair any morning now."

"Huh! You must be frightfully old--prob'ly too old to be my
granddaughter, I guess!"

Thus in the Vale of Arcady nymph and satyr beguiled the hours; precisely
thus, and not in honeyed pentameters, discoursed Elaine and the worn Sir
Launcelot in the pleached alley.

"How do you like your work?" asked the doctor.

"It's pleasant, but sometimes I feel shut off from things--the steel
stacks, and the everlasting cards smeared all over with red rubber
stamps."

"Don't you get sick of the city?"

"St. Paul? Why, don't you like it? I don't know of any lovelier view
than when you stand on Summit Avenue and look across Lower Town to the
Mississippi cliffs and the upland farms beyond."

"I know but----Of course I've spent nine years around the Twin
Cities--took my B.A. and M.D. over at the U., and had my internship in a
hospital in Minneapolis, but still, oh well, you don't get to know folks
here, way you do up home. I feel I've got something to say about running
Gopher Prairie, but you take it in a big city of two-three hundred
thousand, and I'm just one flea on the dog's back. And then I like
country driving, and the hunting in the fall. Do you know Gopher Prairie
at all?"

"No, but I hear it's a very nice town."

"Nice? Say honestly----Of course I may be prejudiced, but I've seen an
awful lot of towns--one time I went to Atlantic City for the American
Medical Association meeting, and I spent practically a week in New York!
But I never saw a town that had such up-and-coming people as Gopher
Prairie. Bresnahan--you know--the famous auto manufacturer--he comes
from Gopher Prairie. Born and brought up there! And it's a darn pretty
town. Lots of fine maples and box-elders, and there's two of the
dandiest lakes you ever saw, right near town! And we've got seven miles
of cement walks already, and building more every day! Course a lot of
these towns still put up with plank walks, but not for us, you bet!"

"Really?"

(Why was she thinking of Stewart Snyder?)

"Gopher Prairie is going to have a great future. Some of the best dairy
and wheat land in the state right near there--some of it selling right
now at one-fifty an acre, and I bet it will go up to two and a quarter
in ten years!"

"Is----Do you like your profession?"

"Nothing like it. Keeps you out, and yet you have a chance to loaf in
the office for a change."

"I don't mean that way. I mean--it's such an opportunity for sympathy."

Dr. Kennicott launched into a heavy, "Oh, these Dutch farmers don't want
sympathy. All they need is a bath and a good dose of salts."

Carol must have flinched, for instantly he was urging, "What I mean
is--I don't want you to think I'm one of these old salts-and-quinine
peddlers, but I mean: so many of my patients are husky farmers that I
suppose I get kind of case-hardened."

"It seems to me that a doctor could transform a whole community, if he
wanted to--if he saw it. He's usually the only man in the neighborhood
who has any scientific training, isn't he?"

"Yes, that's so, but I guess most of us get rusty. We land in a rut of
obstetrics and typhoid and busted legs. What we need is women like you
to jump on us. It'd be you that would transform the town."

"No, I couldn't. Too flighty. I did used to think about doing just that,
curiously enough, but I seem to have drifted away from the idea. Oh, I'm
a fine one to be lecturing you!"

"No! You're just the one. You have ideas without having lost feminine
charm. Say! Don't you think there's a lot of these women that go out for
all these movements and so on that sacrifice----"

After his remarks upon suffrage he abruptly questioned her about
herself. His kindliness and the firmness of his personality enveloped
her and she accepted him as one who had a right to know what she
thought and wore and ate and read. He was positive. He had grown from a
sketched-in stranger to a friend, whose gossip was important news. She
noticed the healthy solidity of his chest. His nose, which had seemed
irregular and large, was suddenly virile.

She was jarred out of this serious sweetness when Marbury bounced over
to them and with horrible publicity yammered, "Say, what do you two
think you're doing? Telling fortunes or making love? Let me warn you
that the doc is a frisky bacheldore, Carol. Come on now, folks, shake a
leg. Let's have some stunts or a dance or something."

She did not have another word with Dr. Kennicott until their parting:

"Been a great pleasure to meet you, Miss Milford. May I see you some
time when I come down again? I'm here quite often--taking patients to
hospitals for majors, and so on."

"Why----"

"What's your address?"

"You can ask Mr. Marbury next time you come down--if you really want to
know!"

"Want to know? Say, you wait!"



II


Of the love-making of Carol and Will Kennicott there is nothing to be
told which may not be heard on every summer evening, on every shadowy
block.

They were biology and mystery; their speech was slang phrases and flares
of poetry; their silences were contentment, or shaky crises when his arm
took her shoulder. All the beauty of youth, first discovered when it
is passing--and all the commonplaceness of a well-to-do unmarried man
encountering a pretty girl at the time when she is slightly weary of her
employment and sees no glory ahead nor any man she is glad to serve.

They liked each other honestly--they were both honest. She was
disappointed by his devotion to making money, but she was sure that
he did not lie to patients, and that he did keep up with the medical
magazines. What aroused her to something more than liking was his
boyishness when they went tramping.

They walked from St. Paul down the river to Mendota, Kennicott more
elastic-seeming in a cap and a soft crepe shirt, Carol youthful in a
tam-o'-shanter of mole velvet, a blue serge suit with an absurdly and
agreeably broad turn-down linen collar, and frivolous ankles above
athletic shoes. The High Bridge crosses the Mississippi, mounting from
low banks to a palisade of cliffs. Far down beneath it on the St. Paul
side, upon mud flats, is a wild settlement of chicken-infested gardens
and shanties patched together from discarded sign-boards, sheets of
corrugated iron, and planks fished out of the river. Carol leaned
over the rail of the bridge to look down at this Yang-tse village;
in delicious imaginary fear she shrieked that she was dizzy with the
height; and it was an extremely human satisfaction to have a strong male
snatch her back to safety, instead of having a logical woman teacher or
librarian sniff, "Well, if you're scared, why don't you get away from
the rail, then?"

From the cliffs across the river Carol and Kennicott looked back at St.
Paul on its hills; an imperial sweep from the dome of the cathedral to
the dome of the state capitol.

The river road led past rocky field slopes, deep glens, woods flamboyant
now with September, to Mendota, white walls and a spire among trees
beneath a hill, old-world in its placid ease. And for this fresh land,
the place is ancient. Here is the bold stone house which General Sibley,
the king of fur-traders, built in 1835, with plaster of river mud, and
ropes of twisted grass for laths. It has an air of centuries. In its
solid rooms Carol and Kennicott found prints from other days which the
house had seen--tail-coats of robin's-egg blue, clumsy Red River carts
laden with luxurious furs, whiskered Union soldiers in slant forage caps
and rattling sabers.

It suggested to them a common American past, and it was memorable
because they had discovered it together. They talked more trustingly,
more personally, as they trudged on. They crossed the Minnesota River in
a rowboat ferry. They climbed the hill to the round stone tower of Fort
Snelling. They saw the junction of the Mississippi and the Minnesota,
and recalled the men who had come here eighty years ago--Maine
lumbermen, York traders, soldiers from the Maryland hills.

"It's a good country, and I'm proud of it. Let's make it all that those
old boys dreamed about," the unsentimental Kennicott was moved to vow.

"Let's!"

"Come on. Come to Gopher Prairie. Show us. Make the town--well--make
it artistic. It's mighty pretty, but I'll admit we aren't any too darn
artistic. Probably the lumber-yard isn't as scrumptious as all these
Greek temples. But go to it! Make us change!"

"I would like to. Some day!"

"Now! You'd love Gopher Prairie. We've been doing a lot with lawns
and gardening the past few years, and it's so homey--the big trees
and----And the best people on earth. And keen. I bet Luke Dawson----"

Carol but half listened to the names. She could not fancy their ever
becoming important to her.

"I bet Luke Dawson has got more money than most of the swells on Summit
Avenue; and Miss Sherwin in the high school is a regular wonder--reads
Latin like I do English; and Sam Clark, the hardware man, he's a
corker--not a better man in the state to go hunting with; and if
you want culture, besides Vida Sherwin there's Reverend Warren, the
Congregational preacher, and Professor Mott, the superintendent of
schools, and Guy Pollock, the lawyer--they say he writes regular poetry
and--and Raymie Wutherspoon, he's not such an awful boob when you get to
KNOW him, and he sings swell. And----And there's plenty of others. Lym
Cass. Only of course none of them have your finesse, you might call it.
But they don't make 'em any more appreciative and so on. Come on! We're
ready for you to boss us!"

They sat on the bank below the parapet of the old fort, hidden from
observation. He circled her shoulder with his arm. Relaxed after the
walk, a chill nipping her throat, conscious of his warmth and power, she
leaned gratefully against him.

"You know I'm in love with you, Carol!"

She did not answer, but she touched the back of his hand with an
exploring finger.

"You say I'm so darn materialistic. How can I help it, unless I have you
to stir me up?"

She did not answer. She could not think.

"You say a doctor could cure a town the way he does a person. Well, you
cure the town of whatever ails it, if anything does, and I'll be your
surgical kit."

She did not follow his words, only the burring resoluteness of them.

She was shocked, thrilled, as he kissed her cheek and cried, "There's
no use saying things and saying things and saying things. Don't my arms
talk to you--now?"

"Oh, please, please!" She wondered if she ought to be angry, but it was
a drifting thought, and she discovered that she was crying.

Then they were sitting six inches apart, pretending that they had never
been nearer, while she tried to be impersonal:

"I would like to--would like to see Gopher Prairie."

"Trust me! Here she is! Brought some snapshots down to show you."

Her cheek near his sleeve, she studied a dozen village pictures. They
were streaky; she saw only trees, shrubbery, a porch indistinct in leafy
shadows. But she exclaimed over the lakes: dark water reflecting wooded
bluffs, a flight of ducks, a fisherman in shirt sleeves and a wide straw
hat, holding up a string of croppies. One winter picture of the edge of
Plover Lake had the air of an etching: lustrous slide of ice, snow in
the crevices of a boggy bank, the mound of a muskrat house, reeds in
thin black lines, arches of frosty grasses. It was an impression of cool
clear vigor.

"How'd it be to skate there for a couple of hours, or go zinging along
on a fast ice-boat, and skip back home for coffee and some hot wienies?"
he demanded.

"It might be--fun."

"But here's the picture. Here's where you come in."

A photograph of a forest clearing: pathetic new furrows straggling among
stumps, a clumsy log cabin chinked with mud and roofed with hay.
In front of it a sagging woman with tight-drawn hair, and a baby
bedraggled, smeary, glorious-eyed.

"Those are the kind of folks I practise among, good share of the time.
Nels Erdstrom, fine clean young Svenska. He'll have a corking farm in
ten years, but now----I operated his wife on a kitchen table, with my
driver giving the anesthetic. Look at that scared baby! Needs some woman
with hands like yours. Waiting for you! Just look at that baby's eyes,
look how he's begging----"

"Don't! They hurt me. Oh, it would be sweet to help him--so sweet."

As his arms moved toward her she answered all her doubts with "Sweet, so
sweet."



CHAPTER III

UNDER the rolling clouds of the prairie a moving mass of steel. An
irritable clank and rattle beneath a prolonged roar. The sharp scent of
oranges cutting the soggy smell of unbathed people and ancient baggage.

Towns as planless as a scattering of pasteboard boxes on an attic floor.
The stretch of faded gold stubble broken only by clumps of willows
encircling white houses and red barns.

No. 7, the way train, grumbling through Minnesota, imperceptibly
climbing the giant tableland that slopes in a thousand-mile rise from
hot Mississippi bottoms to the Rockies.

It is September, hot, very dusty.

There is no smug Pullman attached to the train, and the day coaches of
the East are replaced by free chair cars, with each seat cut into two
adjustable plush chairs, the head-rests covered with doubtful linen
towels. Halfway down the car is a semi-partition of carved oak columns,
but the aisle is of bare, splintery, grease-blackened wood. There is no
porter, no pillows, no provision for beds, but all today and all tonight
they will ride in this long steel box-farmers with perpetually tired
wives and children who seem all to be of the same age; workmen going to
new jobs; traveling salesmen with derbies and freshly shined shoes.

They are parched and cramped, the lines of their hands filled with
grime; they go to sleep curled in distorted attitudes, heads against the
window-panes or propped on rolled coats on seat-arms, and legs thrust
into the aisle. They do not read; apparently they do not think. They
wait. An early-wrinkled, young-old mother, moving as though her joints
were dry, opens a suit-case in which are seen creased blouses, a pair
of slippers worn through at the toes, a bottle of patent medicine, a tin
cup, a paper-covered book about dreams which the news-butcher has coaxed
her into buying. She brings out a graham cracker which she feeds to a
baby lying flat on a seat and wailing hopelessly. Most of the crumbs
drop on the red plush of the seat, and the woman sighs and tries to
brush them away, but they leap up impishly and fall back on the plush.

A soiled man and woman munch sandwiches and throw the crusts on the
floor. A large brick-colored Norwegian takes off his shoes, grunts in
relief, and props his feet in their thick gray socks against the seat in
front of him.

An old woman whose toothless mouth shuts like a mud-turtle's, and whose
hair is not so much white as yellow like moldy linen, with bands of pink
skull apparent between the tresses, anxiously lifts her bag, opens it,
peers in, closes it, puts it under the seat, and hastily picks it up and
opens it and hides it all over again. The bag is full of treasures and
of memories: a leather buckle, an ancient band-concert program,
scraps of ribbon, lace, satin. In the aisle beside her is an extremely
indignant parrakeet in a cage.

Two facing seats, overflowing with a Slovene iron-miner's family,
are littered with shoes, dolls, whisky bottles, bundles wrapped in
newspapers, a sewing bag. The oldest boy takes a mouth-organ out of his
coat pocket, wipes the tobacco crumbs off, and plays "Marching through
Georgia" till every head in the car begins to ache.

The news-butcher comes through selling chocolate bars and lemon drops.
A girl-child ceaselessly trots down to the water-cooler and back to her
seat. The stiff paper envelope which she uses for cup drips in the aisle
as she goes, and on each trip she stumbles over the feet of a carpenter,
who grunts, "Ouch! Look out!"

The dust-caked doors are open, and from the smoking-car drifts back a
visible blue line of stinging tobacco smoke, and with it a crackle of
laughter over the story which the young man in the bright blue suit and
lavender tie and light yellow shoes has just told to the squat man in
garage overalls.

The smell grows constantly thicker, more stale.



II


To each of the passengers his seat was his temporary home, and most of
the passengers were slatternly housekeepers. But one seat looked clean
and deceptively cool. In it were an obviously prosperous man and a
black-haired, fine-skinned girl whose pumps rested on an immaculate
horsehide bag.

They were Dr. Will Kennicott and his bride, Carol.

They had been married at the end of a year of conversational courtship,
and they were on their way to Gopher Prairie after a wedding journey in
the Colorado mountains.

The hordes of the way-train were not altogether new to Carol. She had
seen them on trips from St. Paul to Chicago. But now that they had
become her own people, to bathe and encourage and adorn, she had an
acute and uncomfortable interest in them. They distressed her. They
were so stolid. She had always maintained that there is no American
peasantry, and she sought now to defend her faith by seeing imagination
and enterprise in the young Swedish farmers, and in a traveling man
working over his order-blanks. But the older people, Yankees as well
as Norwegians, Germans, Finns, Canucks, had settled into submission to
poverty. They were peasants, she groaned.

"Isn't there any way of waking them up? What would happen if they
understood scientific agriculture?" she begged of Kennicott, her hand
groping for his.

It had been a transforming honeymoon. She had been frightened to
discover how tumultuous a feeling could be roused in her. Will had been
lordly--stalwart, jolly, impressively competent in making camp, tender
and understanding through the hours when they had lain side by side in a
tent pitched among pines high up on a lonely mountain spur.

His hand swallowed hers as he started from thoughts of the practise to
which he was returning. "These people? Wake 'em up? What for? They're
happy."

"But they're so provincial. No, that isn't what I mean. They're--oh, so
sunk in the mud."

"Look here, Carrie. You want to get over your city idea that because a
man's pants aren't pressed, he's a fool. These farmers are mighty keen
and up-and-coming."

"I know! That's what hurts. Life seems so hard for them--these lonely
farms and this gritty train."

"Oh, they don't mind it. Besides, things are changing. The auto, the
telephone, rural free delivery; they're bringing the farmers in closer
touch with the town. Takes time, you know, to change a wilderness like
this was fifty years ago. But already, why, they can hop into the Ford
or the Overland and get in to the movies on Saturday evening quicker
than you could get down to 'em by trolley in St. Paul."

"But if it's these towns we've been passing that the farmers run to for
relief from their bleakness----Can't you understand? Just LOOK at them!"

Kennicott was amazed. Ever since childhood he had seen these towns from
trains on this same line. He grumbled, "Why, what's the matter with 'em?
Good hustling burgs. It would astonish you to know how much wheat and
rye and corn and potatoes they ship in a year."

"But they're so ugly."

"I'll admit they aren't comfy like Gopher Prairie. But give 'em time."

"What's the use of giving them time unless some one has desire and
training enough to plan them? Hundreds of factories trying to make
attractive motor cars, but these towns--left to chance. No! That can't
be true. It must have taken genius to make them so scrawny!"

"Oh, they're not so bad," was all he answered. He pretended that his
hand was the cat and hers the mouse. For the first time she tolerated
him rather than encouraged him. She was staring out at Schoenstrom, a
hamlet of perhaps a hundred and fifty inhabitants, at which the train
was stopping.

A bearded German and his pucker-mouthed wife tugged their enormous
imitation-leather satchel from under a seat and waddled out. The station
agent hoisted a dead calf aboard the baggage-car. There were no other
visible activities in Schoenstrom. In the quiet of the halt, Carol could
hear a horse kicking his stall, a carpenter shingling a roof.

The business-center of Schoenstrom took up one side of one block, facing
the railroad. It was a row of one-story shops covered with galvanized
iron, or with clapboards painted red and bilious yellow. The buildings
were as ill-assorted, as temporary-looking, as a mining-camp street in
the motion-pictures. The railroad station was a one-room frame box, a
mirey cattle-pen on one side and a crimson wheat-elevator on the other.
The elevator, with its cupola on the ridge of a shingled roof, resembled
a broad-shouldered man with a small, vicious, pointed head. The only
habitable structures to be seen were the florid red-brick Catholic
church and rectory at the end of Main Street.

Carol picked at Kennicott's sleeve. "You wouldn't call this a not-so-bad
town, would you?"

"These Dutch burgs ARE kind of slow. Still, at that----See that fellow
coming out of the general store there, getting into the big car? I met
him once. He owns about half the town, besides the store. Rauskukle, his
name is. He owns a lot of mortgages, and he gambles in farm-lands. Good
nut on him, that fellow. Why, they say he's worth three or four hundred
thousand dollars! Got a dandy great big yellow brick house with tiled
walks and a garden and everything, other end of town--can't see it from
here--I've gone past it when I've driven through here. Yes sir!"

"Then, if he has all that, there's no excuse whatever for this place!
If his three hundred thousand went back into the town, where it belongs,
they could burn up these shacks, and build a dream-village, a jewel! Why
do the farmers and the town-people let the Baron keep it?"

"I must say I don't quite get you sometimes, Carrie. Let him? They can't
help themselves! He's a dumm old Dutchman, and probably the priest can
twist him around his finger, but when it comes to picking good farming
land, he's a regular wiz!"

"I see. He's their symbol of beauty. The town erects him, instead of
erecting buildings."

"Honestly, don't know what you're driving at. You're kind of played out,
after this long trip. You'll feel better when you get home and have a
good bath, and put on the blue negligee. That's some vampire costume,
you witch!"

He squeezed her arm, looked at her knowingly.

They moved on from the desert stillness of the Schoenstrom station. The
train creaked, banged, swayed. The air was nauseatingly thick. Kennicott
turned her face from the window, rested her head on his shoulder. She
was coaxed from her unhappy mood. But she came out of it unwillingly,
and when Kennicott was satisfied that he had corrected all her worries
and had opened a magazine of saffron detective stories, she sat upright.

Here--she meditated--is the newest empire of the world; the Northern
Middlewest; a land of dairy herds and exquisite lakes, of new
automobiles and tar-paper shanties and silos like red towers, of clumsy
speech and a hope that is boundless. An empire which feeds a quarter of
the world--yet its work is merely begun. They are pioneers, these sweaty
wayfarers, for all their telephones and bank-accounts and automatic
pianos and co-operative leagues. And for all its fat richness, theirs is
a pioneer land. What is its future? she wondered. A future of cities
and factory smut where now are loping empty fields? Homes universal and
secure? Or placid chateaux ringed with sullen huts? Youth free to find
knowledge and laughter? Willingness to sift the sanctified lies? Or
creamy-skinned fat women, smeared with grease and chalk, gorgeous in the
skins of beasts and the bloody feathers of slain birds, playing bridge
with puffy pink-nailed jeweled fingers, women who after much expenditure
of labor and bad temper still grotesquely resemble their own flatulent
lap-dogs? The ancient stale inequalities, or something different in
history, unlike the tedious maturity of other empires? What future and
what hope?

Carol's head ached with the riddle.

She saw the prairie, flat in giant patches or rolling in long hummocks.
The width and bigness of it, which had expanded her spirit an hour ago,
began to frighten her. It spread out so; it went on so uncontrollably;
she could never know it. Kennicott was closeted in his detective story.
With the loneliness which comes most depressingly in the midst of many
people she tried to forget problems, to look at the prairie objectively.

The grass beside the railroad had been burnt over; it was a smudge
prickly with charred stalks of weeds. Beyond the undeviating barbed-wire
fences were clumps of golden rod. Only this thin hedge shut them off
from the plains-shorn wheat-lands of autumn, a hundred acres to a field,
prickly and gray near-by but in the blurred distance like tawny velvet
stretched over dipping hillocks. The long rows of wheat-shocks marched
like soldiers in worn yellow tabards. The newly plowed fields were
black banners fallen on the distant slope. It was a martial immensity,
vigorous, a little harsh, unsoftened by kindly gardens.

The expanse was relieved by clumps of oaks with patches of short wild
grass; and every mile or two was a chain of cobalt slews, with the
flicker of blackbirds' wings across them.

All this working land was turned into exuberance by the light. The
sunshine was dizzy on open stubble; shadows from immense cumulus clouds
were forever sliding across low mounds; and the sky was wider and
loftier and more resolutely blue than the sky of cities . . . she
declared.

"It's a glorious country; a land to be big in," she crooned.

Then Kennicott startled her by chuckling, "D' you realize the town after
the next is Gopher Prairie? Home!"



III


That one word--home--it terrified her. Had she really bound herself to
live, inescapably, in this town called Gopher Prairie? And this thick
man beside her, who dared to define her future, he was a stranger! She
turned in her seat, stared at him. Who was he? Why was he sitting with
her? He wasn't of her kind! His neck was heavy; his speech was heavy; he
was twelve or thirteen years older than she; and about him was none of
the magic of shared adventures and eagerness. She could not believe that
she had ever slept in his arms. That was one of the dreams which you had
but did not officially admit.

She told herself how good he was, how dependable and understanding. She
touched his ear, smoothed the plane of his solid jaw, and, turning away
again, concentrated upon liking his town. It wouldn't be like these
barren settlements. It couldn't be! Why, it had three thousand
population. That was a great many people. There would be six hundred
houses or more. And----The lakes near it would be so lovely. She'd seen
them in the photographs. They had looked charming . . . hadn't they?

As the train left Wahkeenyan she began nervously to watch for the
lakes--the entrance to all her future life. But when she discovered
them, to the left of the track, her only impression of them was that
they resembled the photographs.

A mile from Gopher Prairie the track mounts a curving low ridge, and she
could see the town as a whole. With a passionate jerk she pushed up the
window, looked out, the arched fingers of her left hand trembling on the
sill, her right hand at her breast.

And she saw that Gopher Prairie was merely an enlargement of all the
hamlets which they had been passing. Only to the eyes of a Kennicott was
it exceptional. The huddled low wooden houses broke the plains scarcely
more than would a hazel thicket. The fields swept up to it, past it.
It was unprotected and unprotecting; there was no dignity in it nor
any hope of greatness. Only the tall red grain-elevator and a few tinny
church-steeples rose from the mass. It was a frontier camp. It was not a
place to live in, not possibly, not conceivably.

The people--they'd be as drab as their houses, as flat as their fields.
She couldn't stay here. She would have to wrench loose from this man,
and flee.

She peeped at him. She was at once helpless before his mature fixity,
and touched by his excitement as he sent his magazine skittering along
the aisle, stooped for their bags, came up with flushed face, and
gloated, "Here we are!"

She smiled loyally, and looked away. The train was entering town. The
houses on the outskirts were dusky old red mansions with wooden frills,
or gaunt frame shelters like grocery boxes, or new bungalows with
concrete foundations imitating stone.

Now the train was passing the elevator, the grim storage-tanks for oil,
a creamery, a lumber-yard, a stock-yard muddy and trampled and stinking.
Now they were stopping at a squat red frame station, the platform
crowded with unshaven farmers and with loafers--unadventurous people
with dead eyes. She was here. She could not go on. It was the end--the
end of the world. She sat with closed eyes, longing to push past
Kennicott, hide somewhere in the train, flee on toward the Pacific.

Something large arose in her soul and commanded, "Stop it! Stop being a
whining baby!" She stood up quickly; she said, "Isn't it wonderful to be
here at last!"

He trusted her so. She would make herself like the place. And she was
going to do tremendous things----

She followed Kennicott and the bobbing ends of the two bags which
he carried. They were held back by the slow line of disembarking
passengers. She reminded herself that she was actually at the dramatic
moment of the bride's home-coming. She ought to feel exalted. She felt
nothing at all except irritation at their slow progress toward the door.

Kennicott stooped to peer through the windows. He shyly exulted:

"Look! Look! There's a bunch come down to welcome us! Sam Clark and the
missus and Dave Dyer and Jack Elder, and, yes sir, Harry Haydock and
Juanita, and a whole crowd! I guess they see us now. Yuh, yuh sure, they
see us! See 'em waving!"

She obediently bent her head to look out at them. She had hold of
herself. She was ready to love them. But she was embarrassed by the
heartiness of the cheering group. From the vestibule she waved to them,
but she clung a second to the sleeve of the brakeman who helped her down
before she had the courage to dive into the cataract of hand-shaking
people, people whom she could not tell apart. She had the impression
that all the men had coarse voices, large damp hands, tooth-brush
mustaches, bald spots, and Masonic watch-charms.

She knew that they were welcoming her. Their hands, their smiles, their
shouts, their affectionate eyes overcame her. She stammered, "Thank you,
oh, thank you!"

One of the men was clamoring at Kennicott, "I brought my machine down to
take you home, doc."

"Fine business, Sam!" cried Kennicott; and, to Carol, "Let's jump in.
That big Paige over there. Some boat, too, believe me! Sam can show
speed to any of these Marmons from Minneapolis!"

Only when she was in the motor car did she distinguish the three people
who were to accompany them. The owner, now at the wheel, was the essence
of decent self-satisfaction; a baldish, largish, level-eyed man, rugged
of neck but sleek and round of face--face like the back of a spoon bowl.
He was chuckling at her, "Have you got us all straight yet?"

"Course she has! Trust Carrie to get things straight and get 'em darn
quick! I bet she could tell you every date in history!" boasted her
husband.

But the man looked at her reassuringly and with a certainty that he
was a person whom she could trust she confessed, "As a matter of fact I
haven't got anybody straight."

"Course you haven't, child. Well, I'm Sam Clark, dealer in hardware,
sporting goods, cream separators, and almost any kind of heavy junk you
can think of. You can call me Sam--anyway, I'm going to call you Carrie,
seein' 's you've been and gone and married this poor fish of a bum medic
that we keep round here." Carol smiled lavishly, and wished that she
called people by their given names more easily. "The fat cranky lady
back there beside you, who is pretending that she can't hear me giving
her away, is Mrs. Sam'l Clark; and this hungry-looking squirt up here
beside me is Dave Dyer, who keeps his drug store running by not filling
your hubby's prescriptions right--fact you might say he's the guy that
put the 'shun' in 'prescription.' So! Well, leave us take the bonny
bride home. Say, doc, I'll sell you the Candersen place for three
thousand plunks. Better be thinking about building a new home for
Carrie. Prettiest Frau in G. P., if you asks me!"

Contentedly Sam Clark drove off, in the heavy traffic of three Fords and
the Minniemashie House Free 'Bus.

"I shall like Mr. Clark . . . I CAN'T call him 'Sam'! They're all so
friendly." She glanced at the houses; tried not to see what she saw;
gave way in: "Why do these stories lie so? They always make the bride's
home-coming a bower of roses. Complete trust in noble spouse. Lies about
marriage. I'm NOT changed. And this town--O my God! I can't go through
with it. This junk-heap!"

Her husband bent over her. "You look like you were in a brown study.
Scared? I don't expect you to think Gopher Prairie is a paradise, after
St. Paul. I don't expect you to be crazy about it, at first. But you'll
come to like it so much--life's so free here and best people on earth."

She whispered to him (while Mrs. Clark considerately turned away), "I
love you for understanding. I'm just--I'm beastly over-sensitive. Too
many books. It's my lack of shoulder-muscles and sense. Give me time,
dear."

"You bet! All the time you want!"

She laid the back of his hand against her cheek, snuggled near him. She
was ready for her new home.

Kennicott had told her that, with his widowed mother as housekeeper, he
had occupied an old house, "but nice and roomy, and well-heated, best
furnace I could find on the market." His mother had left Carol her love,
and gone back to Lac-qui-Meurt.

It would be wonderful, she exulted, not to have to live in Other
People's Houses, but to make her own shrine. She held his hand tightly
and stared ahead as the car swung round a corner and stopped in the
street before a prosaic frame house in a small parched lawn.



IV


A concrete sidewalk with a "parking" of grass and mud. A square smug
brown house, rather damp. A narrow concrete walk up to it. Sickly yellow
leaves in a windrow with dried wings of box-elder seeds and snags
of wool from the cotton-woods. A screened porch with pillars of thin
painted pine surmounted by scrolls and brackets and bumps of jigsawed
wood. No shrubbery to shut off the public gaze. A lugubrious bay-window
to the right of the porch. Window curtains of starched cheap lace
revealing a pink marble table with a conch shell and a Family Bible.

"You'll find it old-fashioned--what do you call it?--Mid-Victorian. I
left it as is, so you could make any changes you felt were necessary."
Kennicott sounded doubtful for the first time since he had come back to
his own.

"It's a real home!" She was moved by his humility. She gaily motioned
good-by to the Clarks. He unlocked the door--he was leaving the choice
of a maid to her, and there was no one in the house. She jiggled while
he turned the key, and scampered in. . . . It was next day before either
of them remembered that in their honeymoon camp they had planned that he
should carry her over the sill.

In hallway and front parlor she was conscious of dinginess and
lugubriousness and airlessness, but she insisted, "I'll make it all
jolly." As she followed Kennicott and the bags up to their bedroom she
quavered to herself the song of the fat little-gods of the hearth:

     I have my own home,
     To do what I please with,
     To do what I please with,
     My den for me and my mate and my cubs,
     My own!

She was close in her husband's arms; she clung to him; whatever of
strangeness and slowness and insularity she might find in him, none of
that mattered so long as she could slip her hands beneath his coat, run
her fingers over the warm smoothness of the satin back of his waistcoat,
seem almost to creep into his body, find in him strength, find in the
courage and kindness of her man a shelter from the perplexing world.

"Sweet, so sweet," she whispered.



CHAPTER IV

I

"THE Clarks have invited some folks to their house to meet us, tonight,"
said Kennicott, as he unpacked his suit-case.

"Oh, that is nice of them!"

"You bet. I told you you'd like 'em. Squarest people on earth. Uh,
Carrie----Would you mind if I sneaked down to the office for an hour,
just to see how things are?"

"Why, no. Of course not. I know you're keen to get back to work."

"Sure you don't mind?"

"Not a bit. Out of my way. Let me unpack."

But the advocate of freedom in marriage was as much disappointed as
a drooping bride at the alacrity with which he took that freedom and
escaped to the world of men's affairs. She gazed about their bedroom,
and its full dismalness crawled over her: the awkward knuckly L-shape
of it; the black walnut bed with apples and spotty pears carved on the
headboard; the imitation maple bureau, with pink-daubed scent-bottles
and a petticoated pin-cushion on a marble slab uncomfortably like a
gravestone; the plain pine washstand and the garlanded water-pitcher and
bowl. The scent was of horsehair and plush and Florida Water.

"How could people ever live with things like this?" she shuddered. She
saw the furniture as a circle of elderly judges, condemning her to death
by smothering. The tottering brocade chair squeaked, "Choke her--choke
her--smother her." The old linen smelled of the tomb. She was alone in
this house, this strange still house, among the shadows of dead thoughts
and haunting repressions. "I hate it! I hate it!" she panted. "Why did I
ever----"

She remembered that Kennicott's mother had brought these family
relics from the old home in Lac-qui-Meurt. "Stop it! They're perfectly
comfortable things. They're--comfortable. Besides----Oh, they're
horrible! We'll change them, right away."

Then, "But of course he HAS to see how things are at the office----"

She made a pretense of busying herself with unpacking. The chintz-lined,
silver-fitted bag which had seemed so desirable a luxury in St. Paul was
an extravagant vanity here. The daring black chemise of frail chiffon
and lace was a hussy at which the deep-bosomed bed stiffened in disgust,
and she hurled it into a bureau drawer, hid it beneath a sensible linen
blouse.

She gave up unpacking. She went to the window, with a purely literary
thought of village charm--hollyhocks and lanes and apple-cheeked
cottagers. What she saw was the side of the Seventh-Day Adventist
Church--a plain clapboard wall of a sour liver color; the ash-pile
back of the church; an unpainted stable; and an alley in which a Ford
delivery-wagon had been stranded. This was the terraced garden below her
boudoir; this was to be her scenery for----

"I mustn't! I mustn't! I'm nervous this afternoon. Am I sick? . . . Good
Lord, I hope it isn't that! Not now! How people lie! How these stories
lie! They say the bride is always so blushing and proud and happy when
she finds that out, but--I'd hate it! I'd be scared to death! Some
day but----Please, dear nebulous Lord, not now! Bearded sniffy old
men sitting and demanding that we bear children. If THEY had to bear
them----! I wish they did have to! Not now! Not till I've got hold of
this job of liking the ash-pile out there! . . . I must shut up. I'm
mildly insane. I'm going out for a walk. I'll see the town by myself. My
first view of the empire I'm going to conquer!"

She fled from the house.

She stared with seriousness at every concrete crossing, every
hitching-post, every rake for leaves; and to each house she devoted all
her speculation. What would they come to mean? How would they look six
months from now? In which of them would she be dining? Which of these
people whom she passed, now mere arrangements of hair and clothes, would
turn into intimates, loved or dreaded, different from all the other
people in the world?

As she came into the small business-section she inspected a broad-beamed
grocer in an alpaca coat who was bending over the apples and celery on a
slanted platform in front of his store. Would she ever talk to him? What
would he say if she stopped and stated, "I am Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. Some
day I hope to confide that a heap of extremely dubious pumpkins as a
window-display doesn't exhilarate me much."

(The grocer was Mr. Frederick F. Ludelmeyer, whose market is at the
corner of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. In supposing that only she was
observant Carol was ignorant, misled by the indifference of cities. She
fancied that she was slipping through the streets invisible; but when
she had passed, Mr. Ludelmeyer puffed into the store and coughed at his
clerk, "I seen a young woman, she come along the side street. I bet she
iss Doc Kennicott's new bride, good-looker, nice legs, but she wore a
hell of a plain suit, no style, I wonder will she pay cash, I bet she
goes to Howland & Gould's more as she does here, what you done with the
poster for Fluffed Oats?")



II


When Carol had walked for thirty-two minutes she had completely covered
the town, east and west, north and south; and she stood at the corner of
Main Street and Washington Avenue and despaired.

Main Street with its two-story brick shops, its story-and-a-half wooden
residences, its muddy expanse from concrete walk to walk, its huddle
of Fords and lumber-wagons, was too small to absorb her. The broad,
straight, unenticing gashes of the streets let in the grasping prairie
on every side. She realized the vastness and the emptiness of the land.
The skeleton iron windmill on the farm a few blocks away, at the north
end of Main Street, was like the ribs of a dead cow. She thought of the
coming of the Northern winter, when the unprotected houses would crouch
together in terror of storms galloping out of that wild waste. They
were so small and weak, the little brown houses. They were shelters for
sparrows, not homes for warm laughing people.

She told herself that down the street the leaves were a splendor. The
maples were orange; the oaks a solid tint of raspberry. And the lawns
had been nursed with love. But the thought would not hold. At best the
trees resembled a thinned woodlot. There was no park to rest the eyes.
And since not Gopher Prairie but Wakamin was the county-seat, there was
no court-house with its grounds.

She glanced through the fly-specked windows of the most pretentious
building in sight, the one place which welcomed strangers and
determined their opinion of the charm and luxury of Gopher Prairie--the
Minniemashie House. It was a tall lean shabby structure, three stories
of yellow-streaked wood, the corners covered with sanded pine slabs
purporting to symbolize stone. In the hotel office she could see a
stretch of bare unclean floor, a line of rickety chairs with brass
cuspidors between, a writing-desk with advertisements in mother-of-pearl
letters upon the glass-covered back. The dining-room beyond was a jungle
of stained table-cloths and catsup bottles.

She looked no more at the Minniemashie House.

A man in cuffless shirt-sleeves with pink arm-garters, wearing a linen
collar but no tie, yawned his way from Dyer's Drug Store across to the
hotel. He leaned against the wall, scratched a while, sighed, and in a
bored way gossiped with a man tilted back in a chair. A lumber-wagon,
its long green box filled with large spools of barbed-wire fencing,
creaked down the block. A Ford, in reverse, sounded as though it
were shaking to pieces, then recovered and rattled away. In the Greek
candy-store was the whine of a peanut-roaster, and the oily smell of
nuts.

There was no other sound nor sign of life.

She wanted to run, fleeing from the encroaching prairie, demanding the
security of a great city. Her dreams of creating a beautiful town were
ludicrous. Oozing out from every drab wall, she felt a forbidding spirit
which she could never conquer.

She trailed down the street on one side, back on the other, glancing
into the cross streets. It was a private Seeing Main Street tour. She
was within ten minutes beholding not only the heart of a place called
Gopher Prairie, but ten thousand towns from Albany to San Diego:

Dyer's Drug Store, a corner building of regular and unreal blocks of
artificial stone. Inside the store, a greasy marble soda-fountain with
an electric lamp of red and green and curdled-yellow mosaic
shade. Pawed-over heaps of tooth-brushes and combs and packages of
shaving-soap. Shelves of soap-cartons, teething-rings, garden-seeds,
and patent medicines in yellow "packages-nostrums" for consumption, for
"women's diseases"--notorious mixtures of opium and alcohol, in
the very shop to which her husband sent patients for the filling of
prescriptions.

From a second-story window the sign "W. P. Kennicott, Phys. & Surgeon,"
gilt on black sand.

A small wooden motion-picture theater called "The Rosebud Movie Palace."
Lithographs announcing a film called "Fatty in Love."

Howland & Gould's Grocery. In the display window, black, overripe
bananas and lettuce on which a cat was sleeping. Shelves lined with red
crepe paper which was now faded and torn and concentrically spotted.
Flat against the wall of the second story the signs of lodges--the
Knights of Pythias, the Maccabees, the Woodmen, the Masons.

Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market--a reek of blood.

A jewelry shop with tinny-looking wrist-watches for women. In front of
it, at the curb, a huge wooden clock which did not go.

A fly-buzzing saloon with a brilliant gold and enamel whisky sign across
the front. Other saloons down the block. From them a stink of stale
beer, and thick voices bellowing pidgin German or trolling out dirty
songs--vice gone feeble and unenterprising and dull--the delicacy of a
mining-camp minus its vigor. In front of the saloons, farmwives sitting
on the seats of wagons, waiting for their husbands to become drunk and
ready to start home.

A tobacco shop called "The Smoke House," filled with young men shaking
dice for cigarettes. Racks of magazines, and pictures of coy fat
prostitutes in striped bathing-suits.

A clothing store with a display of "ox-blood-shade Oxfords with bull-dog
toes." Suits which looked worn and glossless while they were still new,
flabbily draped on dummies like corpses with painted cheeks.

The Bon Ton Store--Haydock & Simons'--the largest shop in town. The
first-story front of clear glass, the plates cleverly bound at the edges
with brass. The second story of pleasant tapestry brick. One window of
excellent clothes for men, interspersed with collars of floral pique
which showed mauve daisies on a saffron ground. Newness and an obvious
notion of neatness and service. Haydock & Simons. Haydock. She had met a
Haydock at the station; Harry Haydock; an active person of thirty-five.
He seemed great to her, now, and very like a saint. His shop was clean!

Axel Egge's General Store, frequented by Scandinavian farmers. In the
shallow dark window-space heaps of sleazy sateens, badly woven galateas,
canvas shoes designed for women with bulging ankles, steel and red glass
buttons upon cards with broken edges, a cottony blanket, a granite-ware
frying-pan reposing on a sun-faded crepe blouse.

Sam Clark's Hardware Store. An air of frankly metallic enterprise. Guns
and churns and barrels of nails and beautiful shiny butcher knives.

Chester Dashaway's House Furnishing Emporium. A vista of heavy oak
rockers with leather seats, asleep in a dismal row.

Billy's Lunch. Thick handleless cups on the wet oilcloth-covered
counter. An odor of onions and the smoke of hot lard. In the doorway a
young man audibly sucking a toothpick.

The warehouse of the buyer of cream and potatoes. The sour smell of a
dairy.

The Ford Garage and the Buick Garage, competent one-story brick
and cement buildings opposite each other. Old and new cars on
grease-blackened concrete floors. Tire advertisements. The roaring of
a tested motor; a racket which beat at the nerves. Surly young men in
khaki union-overalls. The most energetic and vital places in town.

A large warehouse for agricultural implements. An impressive barricade
of green and gold wheels, of shafts and sulky seats, belonging
to machinery of which Carol knew nothing--potato-planters,
manure-spreaders, silage-cutters, disk-harrows, breaking-plows.

A feed store, its windows opaque with the dust of bran, a patent
medicine advertisement painted on its roof.

Ye Art Shoppe, Prop. Mrs. Mary Ellen Wilks, Christian Science Library
open daily free. A touching fumble at beauty. A one-room shanty of
boards recently covered with rough stucco. A show-window delicately rich
in error: vases starting out to imitate tree-trunks but running off
into blobs of gilt--an aluminum ash-tray labeled "Greetings from
Gopher Prairie"--a Christian Science magazine--a stamped sofa-cushion
portraying a large ribbon tied to a small poppy, the correct skeins of
embroidery-silk lying on the pillow. Inside the shop, a glimpse of bad
carbon prints of bad and famous pictures, shelves of phonograph records
and camera films, wooden toys, and in the midst an anxious small woman
sitting in a padded rocking chair.

A barber shop and pool room. A man in shirt sleeves, presumably Del
Snafflin the proprietor, shaving a man who had a large Adam's apple.

Nat Hicks's Tailor Shop, on a side street off Main. A one-story
building. A fashion-plate showing human pitchforks in garments which
looked as hard as steel plate.

On another side street a raw red-brick Catholic Church with a varnished
yellow door.

The post-office--merely a partition of glass and brass shutting off
the rear of a mildewed room which must once have been a shop. A tilted
writing-shelf against a wall rubbed black and scattered with official
notices and army recruiting-posters.

The damp, yellow-brick schoolbuilding in its cindery grounds.

The State Bank, stucco masking wood.

The Farmers' National Bank. An Ionic temple of marble. Pure, exquisite,
solitary. A brass plate with "Ezra Stowbody, Pres't."

A score of similar shops and establishments.

Behind them and mixed with them, the houses, meek cottages or large,
comfortable, soundly uninteresting symbols of prosperity.

In all the town not one building save the Ionic bank which gave pleasure
to Carol's eyes; not a dozen buildings which suggested that, in the
fifty years of Gopher Prairie's existence, the citizens had realized
that it was either desirable or possible to make this, their common
home, amusing or attractive.

It was not only the unsparing unapologetic ugliness and the rigid
straightness which overwhelmed her. It was the planlessness, the flimsy
temporariness of the buildings, their faded unpleasant colors. The
street was cluttered with electric-light poles, telephone poles,
gasoline pumps for motor cars, boxes of goods. Each man had built
with the most valiant disregard of all the others. Between a large
new "block" of two-story brick shops on one side, and the fire-brick
Overland garage on the other side, was a one-story cottage turned into
a millinery shop. The white temple of the Farmers' Bank was elbowed back
by a grocery of glaring yellow brick. One store-building had a patchy
galvanized iron cornice; the building beside it was crowned with
battlements and pyramids of brick capped with blocks of red sandstone.

She escaped from Main Street, fled home.

She wouldn't have cared, she insisted, if the people had been comely.
She had noted a young man loafing before a shop, one unwashed hand
holding the cord of an awning; a middle-aged man who had a way of
staring at women as though he had been married too long and too
prosaically; an old farmer, solid, wholesome, but not clean--his face
like a potato fresh from the earth. None of them had shaved for three
days.

"If they can't build shrines, out here on the prairie, surely there's
nothing to prevent their buying safety-razors!" she raged.

She fought herself: "I must be wrong. People do live here. It CAN'T be
as ugly as--as I know it is! I must be wrong. But I can't do it. I can't
go through with it."

She came home too seriously worried for hysteria; and when she found
Kennicott waiting for her, and exulting, "Have a walk? Well, like
the town? Great lawns and trees, eh?" she was able to say, with a
self-protective maturity new to her, "It's very interesting."



III


The train which brought Carol to Gopher Prairie also brought Miss Bea
Sorenson.

Miss Bea was a stalwart, corn-colored, laughing young woman, and she was
bored by farm-work. She desired the excitements of city-life, and the
way to enjoy city-life was, she had decided, to "go get a yob as hired
girl in Gopher Prairie." She contentedly lugged her pasteboard telescope
from the station to her cousin, Tina Malmquist, maid of all work in the
residence of Mrs. Luke Dawson.

"Vell, so you come to town," said Tina.

"Ya. Ay get a yob," said Bea.

"Vell. . . . You got a fella now?"

"Ya. Yim Yacobson."

"Vell. I'm glat to see you. How much you vant a veek?"

"Sex dollar."

"There ain't nobody pay dat. Vait! Dr. Kennicott, I t'ink he marry a
girl from de Cities. Maybe she pay dat. Vell. You go take a valk."

"Ya," said Bea.

So it chanced that Carol Kennicott and Bea Sorenson were viewing Main
Street at the same time.

Bea had never before been in a town larger than Scandia Crossing, which
has sixty-seven inhabitants.

As she marched up the street she was meditating that it didn't hardly
seem like it was possible there could be so many folks all in one place
at the same time. My! It would take years to get acquainted with them
all. And swell people, too! A fine big gentleman in a new pink shirt
with a diamond, and not no washed-out blue denim working-shirt. A lovely
lady in a longery dress (but it must be an awful hard dress to wash).
And the stores!

Not just three of them, like there were at Scandia Crossing, but more
than four whole blocks!

The Bon Ton Store--big as four barns--my! it would simply scare a person
to go in there, with seven or eight clerks all looking at you. And the
men's suits, on figures just like human. And Axel Egge's, like home,
lots of Swedes and Norskes in there, and a card of dandy buttons, like
rubies.

A drug store with a soda fountain that was just huge, awful long, and
all lovely marble; and on it there was a great big lamp with the biggest
shade you ever saw--all different kinds colored glass stuck together;
and the soda spouts, they were silver, and they came right out of the
bottom of the lamp-stand! Behind the fountain there were glass shelves,
and bottles of new kinds of soft drinks, that nobody ever heard of.
Suppose a fella took you THERE!

A hotel, awful high, higher than Oscar Tollefson's new red barn; three
stories, one right on top of another; you had to stick your head back
to look clear up to the top. There was a swell traveling man in
there--probably been to Chicago, lots of times.

Oh, the dandiest people to know here! There was a lady going by, you
wouldn't hardly say she was any older than Bea herself; she wore a dandy
new gray suit and black pumps. She almost looked like she was looking
over the town, too. But you couldn't tell what she thought. Bea would
like to be that way--kind of quiet, so nobody would get fresh. Kind
of--oh, elegant.

A Lutheran Church. Here in the city there'd be lovely sermons, and
church twice on Sunday, EVERY Sunday!

And a movie show!

A regular theater, just for movies. With the sign "Change of bill every
evening." Pictures every evening!

There were movies in Scandia Crossing, but only once every two weeks,
and it took the Sorensons an hour to drive in--papa was such a tightwad
he wouldn't get a Ford. But here she could put on her hat any evening,
and in three minutes' walk be to the movies, and see lovely fellows in
dress-suits and Bill Hart and everything!

How could they have so many stores? Why! There was one just for tobacco
alone, and one (a lovely one--the Art Shoppy it was) for pictures and
vases and stuff, with oh, the dandiest vase made so it looked just like
a tree trunk!

Bea stood on the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue. The roar
of the city began to frighten her. There were five automobiles on the
street all at the same time--and one of 'em was a great big car that
must of cost two thousand dollars--and the 'bus was starting for a train
with five elegant-dressed fellows, and a man was pasting up red bills
with lovely pictures of washing-machines on them, and the jeweler was
laying out bracelets and wrist-watches and EVERYTHING on real velvet.

What did she care if she got six dollars a week? Or two! It was worth
while working for nothing, to be allowed to stay here. And think how it
would be in the evening, all lighted up--and not with no lamps, but with
electrics! And maybe a gentleman friend taking you to the movies and
buying you a strawberry ice cream soda!

Bea trudged back.

"Vell? You lak it?" said Tina.

"Ya. Ay lak it. Ay t'ink maybe Ay stay here," said Bea.



IV


The recently built house of Sam Clark, in which was given the party to
welcome Carol, was one of the largest in Gopher Prairie. It had a clean
sweep of clapboards, a solid squareness, a small tower, and a large
screened porch. Inside, it was as shiny, as hard, and as cheerful as a
new oak upright piano.

Carol looked imploringly at Sam Clark as he rolled to the door and
shouted, "Welcome, little lady! The keys of the city are yourn!"

Beyond him, in the hallway and the living-room, sitting in a vast prim
circle as though they were attending a funeral, she saw the guests. They
were WAITING so! They were waiting for her! The determination to be all
one pretty flowerlet of appreciation leaked away. She begged of Sam,
"I don't dare face them! They expect so much. They'll swallow me in one
mouthful--glump!--like that!"

"Why, sister, they're going to love you--same as I would if I didn't
think the doc here would beat me up!"

"B-but----I don't dare! Faces to the right of me, faces in front of me,
volley and wonder!"

She sounded hysterical to herself; she fancied that to Sam Clark she
sounded insane. But he chuckled, "Now you just cuddle under Sam's wing,
and if anybody rubbers at you too long, I'll shoo 'em off. Here we go!
Watch my smoke--Sam'l, the ladies' delight and the bridegrooms' terror!"

His arm about her, he led her in and bawled, "Ladies and worser halves,
the bride! We won't introduce her round yet, because she'll never get
your bum names straight anyway. Now bust up this star-chamber!"

They tittered politely, but they did not move from the social security
of their circle, and they did not cease staring.

Carol had given creative energy to dressing for the event. Her hair was
demure, low on her forehead with a parting and a coiled braid. Now she
wished that she had piled it high. Her frock was an ingenue slip
of lawn, with a wide gold sash and a low square neck, which gave a
suggestion of throat and molded shoulders. But as they looked her over
she was certain that it was all wrong. She wished alternately that she
had worn a spinsterish high-necked dress, and that she had dared to
shock them with a violent brick-red scarf which she had bought in
Chicago.

She was led about the circle. Her voice mechanically produced safe
remarks:

"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to like it here ever so much," and "Yes, we did
have the best time in Colorado--mountains," and "Yes, I lived in St.
Paul several years. Euclid P. Tinker? No, I don't REMEMBER meeting him,
but I'm pretty sure I've heard of him."

Kennicott took her aside and whispered, "Now I'll introduce you to them,
one at a time."

"Tell me about them first."

"Well, the nice-looking couple over there are Harry Haydock and his
wife, Juanita. Harry's dad owns most of the Bon Ton, but it's Harry who
runs it and gives it the pep. He's a hustler. Next to him is Dave Dyer
the druggist--you met him this afternoon--mighty good duck-shot.
The tall husk beyond him is Jack Elder--Jackson Elder--owns the
planing-mill, and the Minniemashie House, and quite a share in the
Farmers' National Bank. Him and his wife are good sports--him and Sam
and I go hunting together a lot. The old cheese there is Luke Dawson,
the richest man in town. Next to him is Nat Hicks, the tailor."

"Really? A tailor?"

"Sure. Why not? Maybe we're slow, but we are democratic. I go hunting
with Nat same as I do with Jack Elder."

"I'm glad. I've never met a tailor socially. It must be charming to meet
one and not have to think about what you owe him. And do you----Would
you go hunting with your barber, too?"

"No but----No use running this democracy thing into the ground.
Besides, I've known Nat for years, and besides, he's a mighty good shot
and----That's the way it is, see? Next to Nat is Chet Dashaway. Great
fellow for chinning. He'll talk your arm off, about religion or politics
or books or anything."

Carol gazed with a polite approximation to interest at Mr. Dashaway,
a tan person with a wide mouth. "Oh, I know! He's the furniture-store
man!" She was much pleased with herself.

"Yump, and he's the undertaker. You'll like him. Come shake hands with
him."

"Oh no, no! He doesn't--he doesn't do the embalming and all
that--himself? I couldn't shake hands with an undertaker!"

"Why not? You'd be proud to shake hands with a great surgeon, just after
he'd been carving up people's bellies."

She sought to regain her afternoon's calm of maturity. "Yes. You're
right. I want--oh, my dear, do you know how much I want to like the
people you like? I want to see people as they are."

"Well, don't forget to see people as other folks see them as they are!
They have the stuff. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from here?
Born and brought up here!"

"Bresnahan?"

"Yes--you know--president of the Velvet Motor Company of Boston,
Mass.--make the Velvet Twelve--biggest automobile factory in New
England."

"I think I've heard of him."

"Sure you have. Why, he's a millionaire several times over! Well, Perce
comes back here for the black-bass fishing almost every summer, and he
says if he could get away from business, he'd rather live here than
in Boston or New York or any of those places. HE doesn't mind Chet's
undertaking."

"Please! I'll--I'll like everybody! I'll be the community sunbeam!"

He led her to the Dawsons.

Luke Dawson, lender of money on mortgages, owner of Northern cut-over
land, was a hesitant man in unpressed soft gray clothes, with bulging
eyes in a milky face. His wife had bleached cheeks, bleached hair,
bleached voice, and a bleached manner. She wore her expensive green
frock, with its passementeried bosom, bead tassels, and gaps between the
buttons down the back, as though she had bought it second-hand and was
afraid of meeting the former owner. They were shy. It was "Professor"
George Edwin Mott, superintendent of schools, a Chinese mandarin turned
brown, who held Carol's hand and made her welcome.

When the Dawsons and Mr. Mott had stated that they were "pleased to meet
her," there seemed to be nothing else to say, but the conversation went
on automatically.

"Do you like Gopher Prairie?" whimpered Mrs. Dawson.

"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to be ever so happy."

"There's so many nice people." Mrs. Dawson looked to Mr. Mott for social
and intellectual aid. He lectured:

"There's a fine class of people. I don't like some of these retired
farmers who come here to spend their last days--especially the Germans.
They hate to pay school-taxes. They hate to spend a cent. But the rest
are a fine class of people. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from
here? Used to go to school right at the old building!"

"I heard he did."

"Yes. He's a prince. He and I went fishing together, last time he was
here."

The Dawsons and Mr. Mott teetered upon weary feet, and smiled at Carol
with crystallized expressions. She went on:

"Tell me, Mr. Mott: Have you ever tried any experiments with any of the
new educational systems? The modern kindergarten methods or the Gary
system?"

"Oh. Those. Most of these would-be reformers are simply
notoriety-seekers. I believe in manual training, but Latin and
mathematics always will be the backbone of sound Americanism, no matter
what these faddists advocate--heaven knows what they do want--knitting,
I suppose, and classes in wiggling the ears!"

The Dawsons smiled their appreciation of listening to a savant. Carol
waited till Kennicott should rescue her. The rest of the party waited
for the miracle of being amused.

Harry and Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons and Dr. Terry Gould--the young
smart set of Gopher Prairie. She was led to them. Juanita Haydock flung
at her in a high, cackling, friendly voice:

"Well, this is SO nice to have you here. We'll have some good
parties--dances and everything. You'll have to join the Jolly Seventeen.
We play bridge and we have a supper once a month. You play, of course?"

"N-no, I don't."

"Really? In St. Paul?"

"I've always been such a book-worm."

"We'll have to teach you. Bridge is half the fun of life." Juanita had
become patronizing, and she glanced disrespectfully at Carol's golden
sash, which she had previously admired.

Harry Haydock said politely, "How do you think you're going to like the
old burg?"

"I'm sure I shall like it tremendously."

"Best people on earth here. Great hustlers, too. Course I've had lots
of chances to go live in Minneapolis, but we like it here. Real he-town.
Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from here?"

Carol perceived that she had been weakened in the biological struggle
by disclosing her lack of bridge. Roused to nervous desire to regain
her position she turned on Dr. Terry Gould, the young and pool-playing
competitor of her husband. Her eyes coquetted with him while she gushed:

"I'll learn bridge. But what I really love most is the outdoors. Can't
we all get up a boating party, and fish, or whatever you do, and have a
picnic supper afterwards?"

"Now you're talking!" Dr. Gould affirmed. He looked rather too obviously
at the cream-smooth slope of her shoulder. "Like fishing? Fishing is my
middle name. I'll teach you bridge. Like cards at all?"

"I used to be rather good at bezique."

She knew that bezique was a game of cards--or a game of something else.
Roulette, possibly. But her lie was a triumph. Juanita's handsome,
high-colored, horsey face showed doubt. Harry stroked his nose and said
humbly, "Bezique? Used to be great gambling game, wasn't it?"

While others drifted to her group, Carol snatched up the conversation.
She laughed and was frivolous and rather brittle. She could not
distinguish their eyes. They were a blurry theater-audience before which
she self-consciously enacted the comedy of being the Clever Little Bride
of Doc Kennicott:

"These-here celebrated Open Spaces, that's what I'm going out for. I'll
never read anything but the sporting-page again. Will converted me on
our Colorado trip. There were so many mousey tourists who were afraid
to get out of the motor 'bus that I decided to be Annie Oakley, the Wild
Western Wampire, and I bought oh! a vociferous skirt which revealed
my perfectly nice ankles to the Presbyterian glare of all the Ioway
schoolma'ams, and I leaped from peak to peak like the nimble chamoys,
and----You may think that Herr Doctor Kennicott is a Nimrod, but you
ought to have seen me daring him to strip to his B. V. D.'s and go
swimming in an icy mountain brook."

She knew that they were thinking of becoming shocked, but Juanita
Haydock was admiring, at least. She swaggered on:

"I'm sure I'm going to ruin Will as a respectable practitioner----Is he
a good doctor, Dr. Gould?"

Kennicott's rival gasped at this insult to professional ethics, and he
took an appreciable second before he recovered his social manner.
"I'll tell you, Mrs. Kennicott." He smiled at Kennicott, to imply that
whatever he might say in the stress of being witty was not to count
against him in the commercio-medical warfare. "There's some people
in town that say the doc is a fair to middlin' diagnostician and
prescription-writer, but let me whisper this to you--but for heaven's
sake don't tell him I said so--don't you ever go to him for anything
more serious than a pendectomy of the left ear or a strabismus of the
cardiograph."

No one save Kennicott knew exactly what this meant, but they laughed,
and Sam Clark's party assumed a glittering lemon-yellow color of brocade
panels and champagne and tulle and crystal chandeliers and sporting
duchesses. Carol saw that George Edwin Mott and the blanched Mr. and
Mrs. Dawson were not yet hypnotized. They looked as though they wondered
whether they ought to look as though they disapproved. She concentrated
on them:

"But I know whom I wouldn't have dared to go to Colorado with! Mr.
Dawson there! I'm sure he's a regular heart-breaker. When we were
introduced he held my hand and squeezed it frightfully."

"Haw! Haw! Haw!" The entire company applauded. Mr. Dawson was beatified.
He had been called many things--loan-shark, skinflint, tightwad,
pussyfoot--but he had never before been called a flirt.

"He is wicked, isn't he, Mrs. Dawson? Don't you have to lock him up?"

"Oh no, but maybe I better," attempted Mrs. Dawson, a tint on her pallid
face.

For fifteen minutes Carol kept it up. She asserted that she was going
to stage a musical comedy, that she preferred cafe parfait to beefsteak,
that she hoped Dr. Kennicott would never lose his ability to make love
to charming women, and that she had a pair of gold stockings. They gaped
for more. But she could not keep it up. She retired to a chair behind
Sam Clark's bulk. The smile-wrinkles solemnly flattened out in the faces
of all the other collaborators in having a party, and again they stood
about hoping but not expecting to be amused.

Carol listened. She discovered that conversation did not exist in Gopher
Prairie. Even at this affair, which brought out the young smart set,
the hunting squire set, the respectable intellectual set, and the solid
financial set, they sat up with gaiety as with a corpse.

Juanita Haydock talked a good deal in her rattling voice but it was
invariably of personalities: the rumor that Raymie Wutherspoon was going
to send for a pair of patent leather shoes with gray buttoned tops; the
rheumatism of Champ Perry; the state of Guy Pollock's grippe; and the
dementia of Jim Howland in painting his fence salmon-pink.

Sam Clark had been talking to Carol about motor cars, but he felt
his duties as host. While he droned, his brows popped up and down. He
interrupted himself, "Must stir 'em up." He worried at his wife, "Don't
you think I better stir 'em up?" He shouldered into the center of the
room, and cried:

"Let's have some stunts, folks."

"Yes, let's!" shrieked Juanita Haydock.

"Say, Dave, give us that stunt about the Norwegian catching a hen."

"You bet; that's a slick stunt; do that, Dave!" cheered Chet Dashaway.

Mr. Dave Dyer obliged.

All the guests moved their lips in anticipation of being called on for
their own stunts.

"Ella, come on and recite 'Old Sweetheart of Mine,' for us," demanded
Sam.

Miss Ella Stowbody, the spinster daughter of the Ionic bank, scratched
her dry palms and blushed. "Oh, you don't want to hear that old thing
again."

"Sure we do! You bet!" asserted Sam.

"My voice is in terrible shape tonight."

"Tut! Come on!"

Sam loudly explained to Carol, "Ella is our shark at elocuting. She's
had professional training. She studied singing and oratory and dramatic
art and shorthand for a year, in Milwaukee."

Miss Stowbody was reciting. As encore to "An Old Sweetheart of Mine,"
she gave a peculiarly optimistic poem regarding the value of smiles.

There were four other stunts: one Jewish, one Irish, one juvenile, and
Nat Hicks's parody of Mark Antony's funeral oration.

During the winter Carol was to hear Dave Dyer's hen-catching
impersonation seven times, "An Old Sweetheart of Mine" nine times, the
Jewish story and the funeral oration twice; but now she was ardent
and, because she did so want to be happy and simple-hearted, she was as
disappointed as the others when the stunts were finished, and the party
instantly sank back into coma.

They gave up trying to be festive; they began to talk naturally, as they
did at their shops and homes.

The men and women divided, as they had been tending to do all evening.
Carol was deserted by the men, left to a group of matrons who steadily
pattered of children, sickness, and cooks--their own shop-talk. She was
piqued. She remembered visions of herself as a smart married woman in
a drawing-room, fencing with clever men. Her dejection was relieved by
speculation as to what the men were discussing, in the corner between
the piano and the phonograph. Did they rise from these housewifely
personalities to a larger world of abstractions and affairs?

She made her best curtsy to Mrs. Dawson; she twittered, "I won't have my
husband leaving me so soon! I'm going over and pull the wretch's
ears." She rose with a jeune fille bow. She was self-absorbed and
self-approving because she had attained that quality of sentimentality.
She proudly dipped across the room and, to the interest and commendation
of all beholders, sat on the arm of Kennicott's chair.

He was gossiping with Sam Clark, Luke Dawson, Jackson Elder of the
planing-mill, Chet Dashaway, Dave Dyer, Harry Haydock, and Ezra
Stowbody, president of the Ionic bank.

Ezra Stowbody was a troglodyte. He had come to Gopher Prairie in 1865.
He was a distinguished bird of prey--swooping thin nose, turtle mouth,
thick brows, port-wine cheeks, floss of white hair, contemptuous eyes.
He was not happy in the social changes of thirty years. Three decades
ago, Dr. Westlake, Julius Flickerbaugh the lawyer, Merriman Peedy the
Congregational pastor and himself had been the arbiters. That was as
it should be; the fine arts--medicine, law, religion, and
finance--recognized as aristocratic; four Yankees democratically
chatting with but ruling the Ohioans and Illini and Swedes and Germans
who had ventured to follow them. But Westlake was old, almost retired;
Julius Flickerbaugh had lost much of his practice to livelier attorneys;
Reverend (not The Reverend) Peedy was dead; and nobody was impressed in
this rotten age of automobiles by the "spanking grays" which Ezra still
drove. The town was as heterogeneous as Chicago. Norwegians and Germans
owned stores. The social leaders were common merchants. Selling nails
was considered as sacred as banking. These upstarts--the Clarks, the
Haydocks--had no dignity. They were sound and conservative in politics,
but they talked about motor cars and pump-guns and heaven only knew
what new-fangled fads. Mr. Stowbody felt out of place with them. But
his brick house with the mansard roof was still the largest residence in
town, and he held his position as squire by occasionally appearing among
the younger men and reminding them by a wintry eye that without the
banker none of them could carry on their vulgar businesses.

As Carol defied decency by sitting down with the men, Mr. Stowbody was
piping to Mr. Dawson, "Say, Luke, when was't Biggins first settled in
Winnebago Township? Wa'n't it in 1879?"

"Why no 'twa'n't!" Mr. Dawson was indignant. "He come out from Vermont
in 1867--no, wait, in 1868, it must have been--and took a claim on the
Rum River, quite a ways above Anoka."

"He did not!" roared Mr. Stowbody. "He settled first in Blue Earth
County, him and his father!"

("What's the point at issue?") Carol whispered to Kennicott.

("Whether this old duck Biggins had an English setter or a Llewellyn.
They've been arguing it all evening!")

Dave Dyer interrupted to give tidings, "D' tell you that Clara Biggins
was in town couple days ago? She bought a hot-water bottle--expensive
one, too--two dollars and thirty cents!"

"Yaaaaaah!" snarled Mr. Stowbody. "Course. She's just like her grandad
was. Never save a cent. Two dollars and twenty--thirty, was it?--two
dollars and thirty cents for a hot-water bottle! Brick wrapped up in a
flannel petticoat just as good, anyway!"

"How's Ella's tonsils, Mr. Stowbody?" yawned Chet Dashaway.

While Mr. Stowbody gave a somatic and psychic study of them, Carol
reflected, "Are they really so terribly interested in Ella's tonsils,
or even in Ella's esophagus? I wonder if I could get them away from
personalities? Let's risk damnation and try."

"There hasn't been much labor trouble around here, has there, Mr.
Stowbody?" she asked innocently.

"No, ma'am, thank God, we've been free from that, except maybe with
hired girls and farm-hands. Trouble enough with these foreign farmers;
if you don't watch these Swedes they turn socialist or populist or some
fool thing on you in a minute. Of course, if they have loans you can
make 'em listen to reason. I just have 'em come into the bank for a
talk, and tell 'em a few things. I don't mind their being democrats,
so much, but I won't stand having socialists around. But thank God, we
ain't got the labor trouble they have in these cities. Even Jack Elder
here gets along pretty well, in the planing-mill, don't you, Jack?"

"Yep. Sure. Don't need so many skilled workmen in my place, and it's
a lot of these cranky, wage-hogging, half-baked skilled mechanics that
start trouble--reading a lot of this anarchist literature and union
papers and all."

"Do you approve of union labor?" Carol inquired of Mr. Elder.

"Me? I should say not! It's like this: I don't mind dealing with my men
if they think they've got any grievances--though Lord knows what's come
over workmen, nowadays--don't appreciate a good job. But still, if they
come to me honestly, as man to man, I'll talk things over with them. But
I'm not going to have any outsider, any of these walking delegates, or
whatever fancy names they call themselves now--bunch of rich grafters,
living on the ignorant workmen! Not going to have any of those fellows
butting in and telling ME how to run MY business!"

Mr. Elder was growing more excited, more belligerent and patriotic. "I
stand for freedom and constitutional rights. If any man don't like my
shop, he can get up and git. Same way, if I don't like him, he gits.
And that's all there is to it. I simply can't understand all these
complications and hoop-te-doodles and government reports and wage-scales
and God knows what all that these fellows are balling up the labor
situation with, when it's all perfectly simple. They like what I pay
'em, or they get out. That's all there is to it!"

"What do you think of profit-sharing?" Carol ventured.

Mr. Elder thundered his answer, while the others nodded, solemnly and
in tune, like a shop-window of flexible toys, comic mandarins and judges
and ducks and clowns, set quivering by a breeze from the open door:

"All this profit-sharing and welfare work and insurance and old-age
pension is simply poppycock. Enfeebles a workman's independence--and
wastes a lot of honest profit. The half-baked thinker that isn't dry
behind the ears yet, and these suffragettes and God knows what all
buttinskis there are that are trying to tell a business man how to run
his business, and some of these college professors are just about as
bad, the whole kit and bilin' of 'em are nothing in God's world but
socialism in disguise! And it's my bounden duty as a producer to resist
every attack on the integrity of American industry to the last ditch.
Yes--SIR!"

Mr. Elder wiped his brow.

Dave Dyer added, "Sure! You bet! What they ought to do is simply to
hang every one of these agitators, and that would settle the whole thing
right off. Don't you think so, doc?"

"You bet," agreed Kennicott.

The conversation was at last relieved of the plague of Carol's
intrusions and they settled down to the question of whether the justice
of the peace had sent that hobo drunk to jail for ten days or twelve.
It was a matter not readily determined. Then Dave Dyer communicated his
carefree adventures on the gipsy trail:

"Yep. I get good time out of the flivver. 'Bout a week ago I motored
down to New Wurttemberg. That's forty-three----No, let's see: It's
seventeen miles to Belldale, and 'bout six and three-quarters, call it
seven, to Torgenquist, and it's a good nineteen miles from there to New
Wurttemberg--seventeen and seven and nineteen, that makes, uh, let me
see: seventeen and seven 's twenty-four, plus nineteen, well say plus
twenty, that makes forty-four, well anyway, say about forty-three
or -four miles from here to New Wurttemberg. We got started about
seven-fifteen, prob'ly seven-twenty, because I had to stop and fill the
radiator, and we ran along, just keeping up a good steady gait----"

Mr. Dyer did finally, for reasons and purposes admitted and justified,
attain to New Wurttemberg.

Once--only once--the presence of the alien Carol was recognized. Chet
Dashaway leaned over and said asthmatically, "Say, uh, have you been
reading this serial 'Two Out' in Tingling Tales? Corking yarn! Gosh, the
fellow that wrote it certainly can sling baseball slang!"

The others tried to look literary. Harry Haydock offered, "Juanita is
a great hand for reading high-class stuff, like 'Mid the Magnolias' by
this Sara Hetwiggin Butts, and 'Riders of Ranch Reckless.' Books. But
me," he glanced about importantly, as one convinced that no other hero
had ever been in so strange a plight, "I'm so darn busy I don't have
much time to read."

"I never read anything I can't check against," said Sam Clark.

Thus ended the literary portion of the conversation, and for seven
minutes Jackson Elder outlined reasons for believing that the
pike-fishing was better on the west shore of Lake Minniemashie than on
the east--though it was indeed quite true that on the east shore Nat
Hicks had caught a pike altogether admirable.

The talk went on. It did go on! Their voices were monotonous,
thick, emphatic. They were harshly pompous, like men in the
smoking-compartments of Pullman cars. They did not bore Carol. They
frightened her. She panted, "They will be cordial to me, because my man
belongs to their tribe. God help me if I were an outsider!"

Smiling as changelessly as an ivory figurine she sat quiescent, avoiding
thought, glancing about the living-room and hall, noting their betrayal
of unimaginative commercial prosperity. Kennicott said, "Dandy interior,
eh? My idea of how a place ought to be furnished. Modern." She looked
polite, and observed the oiled floors, hard-wood staircase, unused
fireplace with tiles which resembled brown linoleum, cut-glass vases
standing upon doilies, and the barred, shut, forbidding unit bookcases
that were half filled with swashbuckler novels and unread-looking sets
of Dickens, Kipling, O. Henry, and Elbert Hubbard.

She perceived that even personalities were failing to hold the party.
The room filled with hesitancy as with a fog. People cleared their
throats, tried to choke down yawns. The men shot their cuffs and the
women stuck their combs more firmly into their back hair.

Then a rattle, a daring hope in every eye, the swinging of a door, the
smell of strong coffee, Dave Dyer's mewing voice in a triumphant, "The
eats!" They began to chatter. They had something to do. They could
escape from themselves. They fell upon the food--chicken sandwiches,
maple cake, drug-store ice cream. Even when the food was gone they
remained cheerful. They could go home, any time now, and go to bed!

They went, with a flutter of coats, chiffon scarfs, and good-bys.

Carol and Kennicott walked home.

"Did you like them?" he asked.

"They were terribly sweet to me."

"Uh, Carrie----You ought to be more careful about shocking folks.
Talking about gold stockings, and about showing your ankles to
schoolteachers and all!" More mildly: "You gave 'em a good time, but I'd
watch out for that, 'f I were you. Juanita Haydock is such a damn cat. I
wouldn't give her a chance to criticize me."

"My poor effort to lift up the party! Was I wrong to try to amuse them?"

"No! No! Honey, I didn't mean----You were the only up-and-coming person
in the bunch. I just mean----Don't get onto legs and all that immoral
stuff. Pretty conservative crowd."

She was silent, raw with the shameful thought that the attentive circle
might have been criticizing her, laughing at her.

"Don't, please don't worry!" he pleaded.

"Silence."

"Gosh; I'm sorry I spoke about it. I just meant----But they were crazy
about you. Sam said to me, 'That little lady of yours is the slickest
thing that ever came to this town,' he said; and Ma Dawson--I didn't
hardly know whether she'd like you or not, she's such a dried-up old
bird, but she said, 'Your bride is so quick and bright, I declare, she
just wakes me up.'"

Carol liked praise, the flavor and fatness of it, but she was so
energetically being sorry for herself that she could not taste this
commendation.

"Please! Come on! Cheer up!" His lips said it, his anxious shoulder said
it, his arm about her said it, as they halted on the obscure porch of
their house.

"Do you care if they think I'm flighty, Will?"

"Me? Why, I wouldn't care if the whole world thought you were this or
that or anything else. You're my--well, you're my soul!"

He was an undefined mass, as solid-seeming as rock. She found his
sleeve, pinched it, cried, "I'm glad! It's sweet to be wanted! You must
tolerate my frivolousness. You're all I have!"

He lifted her, carried her into the house, and with her arms about his
neck she forgot Main Street.



CHAPTER V

I


"WE'LL steal the whole day, and go hunting. I want you to see the
country round here," Kennicott announced at breakfast. "I'd take the
car--want you to see how swell she runs since I put in a new piston.
But we'll take a team, so we can get right out into the fields. Not many
prairie chickens left now, but we might just happen to run onto a small
covey."

He fussed over his hunting-kit. He pulled his hip boots out to full
length and examined them for holes. He feverishly counted his shotgun
shells, lecturing her on the qualities of smokeless powder. He drew the
new hammerless shotgun out of its heavy tan leather case and made her
peep through the barrels to see how dazzlingly free they were from rust.

The world of hunting and camping-outfits and fishing-tackle was
unfamiliar to her, and in Kennicott's interest she found something
creative and joyous. She examined the smooth stock, the carved hard
rubber butt of the gun. The shells, with their brass caps and sleek
green bodies and hieroglyphics on the wads, were cool and comfortably
heavy in her hands.

Kennicott wore a brown canvas hunting-coat with vast pockets lining
the inside, corduroy trousers which bulged at the wrinkles, peeled and
scarred shoes, a scarecrow felt hat. In this uniform he felt virile.
They clumped out to the livery buggy, they packed the kit and the box of
lunch into the back, crying to each other that it was a magnificent day.

Kennicott had borrowed Jackson Elder's red and white English setter, a
complacent dog with a waving tail of silver hair which flickered in the
sunshine. As they started, the dog yelped, and leaped at the horses'
heads, till Kennicott took him into the buggy, where he nuzzled Carol's
knees and leaned out to sneer at farm mongrels.

The grays clattered out on the hard dirt road with a pleasant song of
hoofs: "Ta ta ta rat! Ta ta ta rat!" It was early and fresh, the air
whistling, frost bright on the golden rod. As the sun warmed the world
of stubble into a welter of yellow they turned from the highroad,
through the bars of a farmer's gate, into a field, slowly bumping over
the uneven earth. In a hollow of the rolling prairie they lost sight
even of the country road. It was warm and placid. Locusts trilled among
the dry wheat-stalks, and brilliant little flies hurtled across the
buggy. A buzz of content filled the air. Crows loitered and gossiped in
the sky.

The dog had been let out and after a dance of excitement he settled down
to a steady quartering of the field, forth and back, forth and back, his
nose down.

"Pete Rustad owns this farm, and he told me he saw a small covey of
chickens in the west forty, last week. Maybe we'll get some sport after
all," Kennicott chuckled blissfully.

She watched the dog in suspense, breathing quickly every time he seemed
to halt. She had no desire to slaughter birds, but she did desire to
belong to Kennicott's world.

The dog stopped, on the point, a forepaw held up.

"By golly! He's hit a scent! Come on!" squealed Kennicott. He leaped
from the buggy, twisted the reins about the whip-socket, swung her out,
caught up his gun, slipped in two shells, stalked toward the rigid dog,
Carol pattering after him. The setter crawled ahead, his tail quivering,
his belly close to the stubble. Carol was nervous. She expected clouds
of large birds to fly up instantly. Her eyes were strained with staring.
But they followed the dog for a quarter of a mile, turning, doubling,
crossing two low hills, kicking through a swale of weeds, crawling
between the strands of a barbed-wire fence. The walking was hard on
her pavement-trained feet. The earth was lumpy, the stubble prickly and
lined with grass, thistles, abortive stumps of clover. She dragged and
floundered.

She heard Kennicott gasp, "Look!" Three gray birds were starting up
from the stubble. They were round, dumpy, like enormous bumble bees.
Kennicott was sighting, moving the barrel. She was agitated. Why didn't
he fire? The birds would be gone! Then a crash, another, and two birds
turned somersaults in the air, plumped down.

When he showed her the birds she had no sensation of blood. These heaps
of feathers were so soft and unbruised--there was about them no hint of
death. She watched her conquering man tuck them into his inside pocket,
and trudged with him back to the buggy.

They found no more prairie chickens that morning.

At noon they drove into her first farmyard, a private village, a white
house with no porches save a low and quite dirty stoop at the back,
a crimson barn with white trimmings, a glazed brick silo, an
ex-carriage-shed, now the garage of a Ford, an unpainted cow-stable, a
chicken-house, a pig-pen, a corn-crib, a granary, the galvanized-iron
skeleton tower of a wind-mill. The dooryard was of packed yellow clay,
treeless, barren of grass, littered with rusty plowshares and wheels
of discarded cultivators. Hardened trampled mud, like lava, filled the
pig-pen. The doors of the house were grime-rubbed, the corners and eaves
were rusted with rain, and the child who stared at them from the kitchen
window was smeary-faced. But beyond the barn was a clump of scarlet
geraniums; the prairie breeze was sunshine in motion; the flashing metal
blades of the windmill revolved with a lively hum; a horse neighed, a
rooster crowed, martins flew in and out of the cow-stable.

A small spare woman with flaxen hair trotted from the house. She was
twanging a Swedish patois--not in monotone, like English, but singing
it, with a lyrical whine:

"Pete he say you kom pretty soon hunting, doctor. My, dot's fine you
kom. Is dis de bride? Ohhhh! Ve yoost say las' night, ve hope maybe ve
see her som day. My, soch a pretty lady!" Mrs. Rustad was shining with
welcome. "Vell, vell! Ay hope you lak dis country! Von't you stay for
dinner, doctor?"

"No, but I wonder if you wouldn't like to give us a glass of milk?"
condescended Kennicott.

"Vell Ay should say Ay vill! You vait har a second and Ay run on de
milk-house!" She nervously hastened to a tiny red building beside the
windmill; she came back with a pitcher of milk from which Carol filled
the thermos bottle.

As they drove off Carol admired, "She's the dearest thing I ever saw.
And she adores you. You are the Lord of the Manor."

"Oh no," much pleased, "but still they do ask my advice about things.
Bully people, these Scandinavian farmers. And prosperous, too. Helga
Rustad, she's still scared of America, but her kids will be doctors and
lawyers and governors of the state and any darn thing they want to."

"I wonder----" Carol was plunged back into last night's Weltschmerz.
"I wonder if these farmers aren't bigger than we are? So simple and
hard-working. The town lives on them. We townies are parasites, and yet
we feel superior to them. Last night I heard Mr. Haydock talking about
'hicks.' Apparently he despises the farmers because they haven't reached
the social heights of selling thread and buttons."

"Parasites? Us? Where'd the farmers be without the town? Who lends them
money? Who--why, we supply them with everything!"

"Don't you find that some of the farmers think they pay too much for the
services of the towns?"

"Oh, of course there's a lot of cranks among the farmers same as there
are among any class. Listen to some of these kickers, a fellow'd
think that the farmers ought to run the state and the whole
shooting-match--probably if they had their way they'd fill up the
legislature with a lot of farmers in manure-covered boots--yes, and
they'd come tell me I was hired on a salary now, and couldn't fix my
fees! That'd be fine for you, wouldn't it!"

"But why shouldn't they?"

"Why? That bunch of----Telling ME----Oh, for heaven's sake, let's quit
arguing. All this discussing may be all right at a party but----Let's
forget it while we're hunting."

"I know. The Wonderlust--probably it's a worse affliction than the
Wanderlust. I just wonder----"

She told herself that she had everything in the world. And after each
self-rebuke she stumbled again on "I just wonder----"

They ate their sandwiches by a prairie slew: long grass reaching up out
of clear water, mossy bogs, red-winged black-birds, the scum a splash of
gold-green. Kennicott smoked a pipe while she leaned back in the buggy
and let her tired spirit be absorbed in the Nirvana of the incomparable
sky.

They lurched to the highroad and awoke from their sun-soaked drowse at
the sound of the clopping hoofs. They paused to look for partridges in a
rim of woods, little woods, very clean and shiny and gay, silver birches
and poplars with immaculate green trunks, encircling a lake of sandy
bottom, a splashing seclusion demure in the welter of hot prairie.

Kennicott brought down a fat red squirrel and at dusk he had a dramatic
shot at a flight of ducks whirling down from the upper air, skimming the
lake, instantly vanishing.

They drove home under the sunset. Mounds of straw, and wheat-stacks like
bee-hives, stood out in startling rose and gold, and the green-tufted
stubble glistened. As the vast girdle of crimson darkened, the fulfilled
land became autumnal in deep reds and browns. The black road before
the buggy turned to a faint lavender, then was blotted to uncertain
grayness. Cattle came in a long line up to the barred gates of the
farmyards, and over the resting land was a dark glow.

Carol had found the dignity and greatness which had failed her in Main
Street.



II


Till they had a maid they took noon dinner and six o'clock supper at
Mrs. Gurrey's boarding-house.

Mrs. Elisha Gurrey, relict of Deacon Gurrey the dealer in hay and grain,
was a pointed-nosed, simpering woman with iron-gray hair drawn so tight
that it resembled a soiled handkerchief covering her head. But she was
unexpectedly cheerful, and her dining-room, with its thin tablecloth on
a long pine table, had the decency of clean bareness.

In the line of unsmiling, methodically chewing guests, like horses at
a manger, Carol came to distinguish one countenance: the pale, long,
spectacled face and sandy pompadour hair of Mr. Raymond P. Wutherspoon,
known as "Raymie," professional bachelor, manager and one half the
sales-force in the shoe-department of the Bon Ton Store.

"You will enjoy Gopher Prairie very much, Mrs. Kennicott," petitioned
Raymie. His eyes were like those of a dog waiting to be let in out of
the cold. He passed the stewed apricots effusively. "There are a great
many bright cultured people here. Mrs. Wilks, the Christian Science
reader, is a very bright woman--though I am not a Scientist myself,
in fact I sing in the Episcopal choir. And Miss Sherwin of the high
school--she is such a pleasing, bright girl--I was fitting her to a pair
of tan gaiters yesterday, I declare, it really was a pleasure."

"Gimme the butter, Carrie," was Kennicott's comment. She defied him by
encouraging Raymie:

"Do you have amateur dramatics and so on here?"

"Oh yes! The town's just full of talent. The Knights of Pythias put on a
dandy minstrel show last year."

"It's nice you're so enthusiastic."

"Oh, do you really think so? Lots of folks jolly me for trying to get
up shows and so on. I tell them they have more artistic gifts than they
know. Just yesterday I was saying to Harry Haydock: if he would read
poetry, like Longfellow, or if he would join the band--I get so much
pleasure out of playing the cornet, and our band-leader, Del Snafflin,
is such a good musician, I often say he ought to give up his barbering
and become a professional musician, he could play the clarinet in
Minneapolis or New York or anywhere, but--but I couldn't get Harry to
see it at all and--I hear you and the doctor went out hunting yesterday.
Lovely country, isn't it. And did you make some calls? The mercantile
life isn't inspiring like medicine. It must be wonderful to see how
patients trust you, doctor."

"Huh. It's me that's got to do all the trusting. Be damn sight more
wonderful 'f they'd pay their bills," grumbled Kennicott and, to Carol,
he whispered something which sounded like "gentleman hen."

But Raymie's pale eyes were watering at her. She helped him with, "So
you like to read poetry?"

"Oh yes, so much--though to tell the truth, I don't get much time
for reading, we're always so busy at the store and----But we had the
dandiest professional reciter at the Pythian Sisters sociable last
winter."

Carol thought she heard a grunt from the traveling salesman at the end
of the table, and Kennicott's jerking elbow was a grunt embodied. She
persisted:

"Do you get to see many plays, Mr. Wutherspoon?"

He shone at her like a dim blue March moon, and sighed, "No, but I do
love the movies. I'm a real fan. One trouble with books is that they're
not so thoroughly safeguarded by intelligent censors as the movies are,
and when you drop into the library and take out a book you never know
what you're wasting your time on. What I like in books is a wholesome,
really improving story, and sometimes----Why, once I started a novel by
this fellow Balzac that you read about, and it told how a lady wasn't
living with her husband, I mean she wasn't his wife. It went into
details, disgustingly! And the English was real poor. I spoke to the
library about it, and they took it off the shelves. I'm not narrow,
but I must say I don't see any use in this deliberately dragging in
immorality! Life itself is so full of temptations that in literature one
wants only that which is pure and uplifting."

"What's the name of that Balzac yarn? Where can I get hold of it?"
giggled the traveling salesman.

Raymie ignored him. "But the movies, they are mostly clean, and their
humor----Don't you think that the most essential quality for a person to
have is a sense of humor?"

"I don't know. I really haven't much," said Carol.

He shook his finger at her. "Now, now, you're too modest. I'm sure we
can all see that you have a perfectly corking sense of humor. Besides,
Dr. Kennicott wouldn't marry a lady that didn't have. We all know how he
loves his fun!"

"You bet. I'm a jokey old bird. Come on, Carrie; let's beat it,"
remarked Kennicott.

Raymie implored, "And what is your chief artistic interest, Mrs.
Kennicott?"

"Oh----" Aware that the traveling salesman had murmured, "Dentistry,"
she desperately hazarded, "Architecture."

"That's a real nice art. I've always said--when Haydock & Simons were
finishing the new front on the Bon Ton building, the old man came to me,
you know, Harry's father, 'D. H.,' I always call him, and he asked me
how I liked it, and I said to him, 'Look here, D. H.,' I said--you see,
he was going to leave the front plain, and I said to him, 'It's all very
well to have modern lighting and a big display-space,' I said, 'but when
you get that in, you want to have some architecture, too,' I said, and
he laughed and said he guessed maybe I was right, and so he had 'em put
on a cornice."

"Tin!" observed the traveling salesman.

Raymie bared his teeth like a belligerent mouse. "Well, what if it is
tin? That's not my fault. I told D. H. to make it polished granite. You
make me tired!"

"Leave us go! Come on, Carrie, leave us go!" from Kennicott.

Raymie waylaid them in the hall and secretly informed Carol that she
musn't mind the traveling salesman's coarseness--he belonged to the
hwa pollwa.

Kennicott chuckled, "Well, child, how about it? Do you prefer an
artistic guy like Raymie to stupid boobs like Sam Clark and me?"

"My dear! Let's go home, and play pinochle, and laugh, and be foolish,
and slip up to bed, and sleep without dreaming. It's beautiful to be
just a solid citizeness!"



III

From the Gopher Prairie Weekly Dauntless:


One of the most charming affairs of the season was held Tuesday evening
at the handsome new residence of Sam and Mrs. Clark when many of our
most prominent citizens gathered to greet the lovely new bride of our
popular local physician, Dr. Will Kennicott. All present spoke of the
many charms of the bride, formerly Miss Carol Milford of St. Paul. Games
and stunts were the order of the day, with merry talk and conversation.
At a late hour dainty refreshments were served, and the party broke up
with many expressions of pleasure at the pleasant affair. Among those
present were Mesdames Kennicott, Elder----

* * * * *

Dr. Will Kennicott, for the past several years one of our most popular
and skilful physicians and surgeons, gave the town a delightful surprise
when he returned from an extended honeymoon tour in Colorado this week
with his charming bride, nee Miss Carol Milford of St. Paul, whose
family are socially prominent in Minneapolis and Mankato. Mrs. Kennicott
is a lady of manifold charms, not only of striking charm of appearance
but is also a distinguished graduate of a school in the East and has
for the past year been prominently connected in an important position
of responsibility with the St. Paul Public Library, in which city Dr.
"Will" had the good fortune to meet her. The city of Gopher Prairie
welcomes her to our midst and prophesies for her many happy years in
the energetic city of the twin lakes and the future. The Dr. and Mrs.
Kennicott will reside for the present at the Doctor's home on Poplar
Street which his charming mother has been keeping for him who has now
returned to her own home at Lac-qui-Meurt leaving a host of friends who
regret her absence and hope to see her soon with us again.



IV


She knew that if she was ever to effect any of the "reforms" which she
had pictured, she must have a starting-place. What confused her during
the three or four months after her marriage was not lack of perception
that she must be definite, but sheer careless happiness of her first
home.

In the pride of being a housewife she loved every detail--the brocade
armchair with the weak back, even the brass water-cock on the hot-water
reservoir, when she had become familiar with it by trying to scour it to
brilliance.

She found a maid--plump radiant Bea Sorenson from Scandia Crossing. Bea
was droll in her attempt to be at once a respectful servant and a bosom
friend. They laughed together over the fact that the stove did not draw,
over the slipperiness of fish in the pan.

Like a child playing Grandma in a trailing skirt, Carol paraded uptown
for her marketing, crying greetings to housewives along the way.
Everybody bowed to her, strangers and all, and made her feel that they
wanted her, that she belonged here. In city shops she was merely A
Customer--a hat, a voice to bore a harassed clerk. Here she was Mrs. Doc
Kennicott, and her preferences in grape-fruit and manners were known
and remembered and worth discussing . . . even if they weren't worth
fulfilling.

Shopping was a delight of brisk conferences. The very merchants whose
droning she found the dullest at the two or three parties which were
given to welcome her were the pleasantest confidants of all when they
had something to talk about--lemons or cotton voile or floor-oil.
With that skip-jack Dave Dyer, the druggist, she conducted a long
mock-quarrel. She pretended that he cheated her in the price of
magazines and candy; he pretended she was a detective from the Twin
Cities. He hid behind the prescription-counter, and when she stamped
her foot he came out wailing, "Honest, I haven't done nothing crooked
today--not yet."

She never recalled her first impression of Main Street; never
had precisely the same despair at its ugliness. By the end of two
shopping-tours everything had changed proportions. As she never entered
it, the Minniemashie House ceased to exist for her. Clark's Hardware
Store, Dyer's Drug Store, the groceries of Ole Jenson and Frederick
Ludelmeyer and Howland & Gould, the meat markets, the notions
shop--they expanded, and hid all other structures. When she entered Mr.
Ludelmeyer's store and he wheezed, "Goot mornin', Mrs. Kennicott. Vell,
dis iss a fine day," she did not notice the dustiness of the shelves
nor the stupidity of the girl clerk; and she did not remember the mute
colloquy with him on her first view of Main Street.

She could not find half the kinds of food she wanted, but that made
shopping more of an adventure. When she did contrive to get sweetbreads
at Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market the triumph was so vast that she buzzed
with excitement and admired the strong wise butcher, Mr. Dahl.

She appreciated the homely ease of village life. She liked the old men,
farmers, G.A.R. veterans, who when they gossiped sometimes squatted on
their heels on the sidewalk, like resting Indians, and reflectively spat
over the curb.

She found beauty in the children.

She had suspected that her married friends exaggerated their passion
for children. But in her work in the library, children had become
individuals to her, citizens of the State with their own rights and
their own senses of humor. In the library she had not had much time
to give them, but now she knew the luxury of stopping, gravely asking
Bessie Clark whether her doll had yet recovered from its rheumatism, and
agreeing with Oscar Martinsen that it would be Good Fun to go trapping
"mushrats."

She touched the thought, "It would be sweet to have a baby of my own. I
do want one. Tiny----No! Not yet! There's so much to do. And I'm still
tired from the job. It's in my bones."

She rested at home. She listened to the village noises common to all
the world, jungle or prairie; sounds simple and charged with magic--dogs
barking, chickens making a gurgling sound of content, children at play,
a man beating a rug, wind in the cottonwood trees, a locust fiddling,
a footstep on the walk, jaunty voices of Bea and a grocer's boy in the
kitchen, a clinking anvil, a piano--not too near.

Twice a week, at least, she drove into the country with Kennicott, to
hunt ducks in lakes enameled with sunset, or to call on patients who
looked up to her as the squire's lady and thanked her for toys and
magazines. Evenings she went with her husband to the motion pictures and
was boisterously greeted by every other couple; or, till it became too
cold, they sat on the porch, bawling to passers-by in motors, or to
neighbors who were raking the leaves. The dust became golden in the low
sun; the street was filled with the fragrance of burning leaves.



V


But she hazily wanted some one to whom she could say what she thought.

On a slow afternoon when she fidgeted over sewing and wished that the
telephone would ring, Bea announced Miss Vida Sherwin.

Despite Vida Sherwin's lively blue eyes, if you had looked at her in
detail you would have found her face slightly lined, and not so much
sallow as with the bloom rubbed off; you would have found her chest
flat, and her fingers rough from needle and chalk and penholder; her
blouses and plain cloth skirts undistinguished; and her hat worn too far
back, betraying a dry forehead. But you never did look at Vida Sherwin
in detail. You couldn't. Her electric activity veiled her. She was as
energetic as a chipmunk. Her fingers fluttered; her sympathy came out
in spurts; she sat on the edge of a chair in eagerness to be near her
auditor, to send her enthusiasms and optimism across.

She rushed into the room pouring out: "I'm afraid you'll think the
teachers have been shabby in not coming near you, but we wanted to
give you a chance to get settled. I am Vida Sherwin, and I try to teach
French and English and a few other things in the high school."

"I've been hoping to know the teachers. You see, I was a librarian----"

"Oh, you needn't tell me. I know all about you! Awful how much I
know--this gossipy village. We need you so much here. It's a dear loyal
town (and isn't loyalty the finest thing in the world!) but it's a
rough diamond, and we need you for the polishing, and we're ever so
humble----" She stopped for breath and finished her compliment with a
smile.

"If I COULD help you in any way----Would I be committing the
unpardonable sin if I whispered that I think Gopher Prairie is a tiny
bit ugly?"

"Of course it's ugly. Dreadfully! Though I'm probably the only person in
town to whom you could safely say that. (Except perhaps Guy Pollock
the lawyer--have you met him?--oh, you MUST!--he's simply a
darling--intelligence and culture and so gentle.) But I don't care so
much about the ugliness. That will change. It's the spirit that gives
me hope. It's sound. Wholesome. But afraid. It needs live creatures like
you to awaken it. I shall slave-drive you!"

"Splendid. What shall I do? I've been wondering if it would be possible
to have a good architect come here to lecture."

"Ye-es, but don't you think it would be better to work with existing
agencies? Perhaps it will sound slow to you, but I was thinking----It
would be lovely if we could get you to teach Sunday School."

Carol had the empty expression of one who finds that she has been
affectionately bowing to a complete stranger. "Oh yes. But I'm afraid I
wouldn't be much good at that. My religion is so foggy."

"I know. So is mine. I don't care a bit for dogma. Though I do stick
firmly to the belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man
and the leadership of Jesus. As you do, of course."

Carol looked respectable and thought about having tea.

"And that's all you need teach in Sunday School. It's the personal
influence. Then there's the library-board. You'd be so useful on that.
And of course there's our women's study club--the Thanatopsis Club."

"Are they doing anything? Or do they read papers made out of the
Encyclopedia?"

Miss Sherwin shrugged. "Perhaps. But still, they are so earnest. They
will respond to your fresher interest. And the Thanatopsis does do a
good social work--they've made the city plant ever so many trees, and
they run the rest-room for farmers' wives. And they do take such an
interest in refinement and culture. So--in fact, so very unique."

Carol was disappointed--by nothing very tangible. She said politely,
"I'll think them all over. I must have a while to look around first."

Miss Sherwin darted to her, smoothed her hair, peered at her. "Oh,
my dear, don't you suppose I know? These first tender days of
marriage--they're sacred to me. Home, and children that need you, and
depend on you to keep them alive, and turn to you with their wrinkly
little smiles. And the hearth and----" She hid her face from Carol as
she made an activity of patting the cushion of her chair, but she went
on with her former briskness:

"I mean, you must help us when you're ready. . . . I'm afraid you'll
think I'm conservative. I am! So much to conserve. All this treasure of
American ideals. Sturdiness and democracy and opportunity. Maybe not at
Palm Beach. But, thank heaven, we're free from such social distinctions
in Gopher Prairie. I have only one good quality--overwhelming belief in
the brains and hearts of our nation, our state, our town. It's so strong
that sometimes I do have a tiny effect on the haughty ten-thousandaires.
I shake 'em up and make 'em believe in ideals--yes, in themselves. But
I get into a rut of teaching. I need young critical things like you to
punch me up. Tell me, what are you reading?"

"I've been re-reading 'The Damnation of Theron Ware.' Do you know it?"

"Yes. It was clever. But hard. Man wanted to tear down, not build up.
Cynical. Oh, I do hope I'm not a sentimentalist. But I can't see any use
in this high-art stuff that doesn't encourage us day-laborers to plod
on."

Ensued a fifteen-minute argument about the oldest topic in the world:
It's art but is it pretty? Carol tried to be eloquent regarding honesty
of observation. Miss Sherwin stood out for sweetness and a cautious use
of the uncomfortable properties of light. At the end Carol cried:

"I don't care how much we disagree. It's a relief to have somebody
talk something besides crops. Let's make Gopher Prairie rock to its
foundations: let's have afternoon tea instead of afternoon coffee."

The delighted Bea helped her bring out the ancestral folding
sewing-table, whose yellow and black top was scarred with dotted lines
from a dressmaker's tracing-wheel, and to set it with an embroidered
lunch-cloth, and the mauve-glazed Japanese tea-set which she had brought
from St. Paul. Miss Sherwin confided her latest scheme--moral motion
pictures for country districts, with light from a portable dynamo
hitched to a Ford engine. Bea was twice called to fill the hot-water
pitcher and to make cinnamon toast.

When Kennicott came home at five he tried to be courtly, as befits the
husband of one who has afternoon tea. Carol suggested that Miss Sherwin
stay for supper, and that Kennicott invite Guy Pollock, the much-praised
lawyer, the poetic bachelor.

Yes, Pollock could come. Yes, he was over the grippe which had prevented
his going to Sam Clark's party.

Carol regretted her impulse. The man would be an opinionated politician,
heavily jocular about The Bride. But at the entrance of Guy Pollock she
discovered a personality. Pollock was a man of perhaps thirty-eight,
slender, still, deferential. His voice was low. "It was very good of you
to want me," he said, and he offered no humorous remarks, and did not
ask her if she didn't think Gopher Prairie was "the livest little burg
in the state."

She fancied that his even grayness might reveal a thousand tints of
lavender and blue and silver.

At supper he hinted his love for Sir Thomas Browne, Thoreau, Agnes
Repplier, Arthur Symons, Claude Washburn, Charles Flandrau. He presented
his idols diffidently, but he expanded in Carol's bookishness, in Miss
Sherwin's voluminous praise, in Kennicott's tolerance of any one who
amused his wife.

Carol wondered why Guy Pollock went on digging at routine law-cases;
why he remained in Gopher Prairie. She had no one whom she could ask.
Neither Kennicott nor Vida Sherwin would understand that there might be
reasons why a Pollock should not remain in Gopher Prairie. She enjoyed
the faint mystery. She felt triumphant and rather literary. She already
had a Group. It would be only a while now before she provided the town
with fanlights and a knowledge of Galsworthy. She was doing things! As
she served the emergency dessert of cocoanut and sliced oranges, she
cried to Pollock, "Don't you think we ought to get up a dramatic club?"



CHAPTER VI

I

WHEN the first dubious November snow had filtered down, shading with
white the bare clods in the plowed fields, when the first small fire
had been started in the furnace, which is the shrine of a Gopher Prairie
home, Carol began to make the house her own. She dismissed the parlor
furniture--the golden oak table with brass knobs, the moldy brocade
chairs, the picture of "The Doctor." She went to Minneapolis, to scamper
through department stores and small Tenth Street shops devoted to
ceramics and high thought. She had to ship her treasures, but she wanted
to bring them back in her arms.

Carpenters had torn out the partition between front parlor and back
parlor, thrown it into a long room on which she lavished yellow and
deep blue; a Japanese obi with an intricacy of gold thread on stiff
ultramarine tissue, which she hung as a panel against the maize wall; a
couch with pillows of sapphire velvet and gold bands; chairs which, in
Gopher Prairie, seemed flippant. She hid the sacred family phonograph in
the dining-room, and replaced its stand with a square cabinet on which
was a squat blue jar between yellow candles.

Kennicott decided against a fireplace. "We'll have a new house in a
couple of years, anyway."

She decorated only one room. The rest, Kennicott hinted, she'd better
leave till he "made a ten-strike."

The brown cube of a house stirred and awakened; it seemed to be in
motion; it welcomed her back from shopping; it lost its mildewed
repression.

The supreme verdict was Kennicott's "Well, by golly, I was afraid the
new junk wouldn't be so comfortable, but I must say this divan, or
whatever you call it, is a lot better than that bumpy old sofa we had,
and when I look around----Well, it's worth all it cost, I guess."

Every one in town took an interest in the refurnishing. The carpenters
and painters who did not actually assist crossed the lawn to peer
through the windows and exclaim, "Fine! Looks swell!" Dave Dyer at
the drug store, Harry Haydock and Raymie Wutherspoon at the Bon Ton,
repeated daily, "How's the good work coming? I hear the house is getting
to be real classy."

Even Mrs. Bogart.

Mrs. Bogart lived across the alley from the rear of Carol's house. She
was a widow, and a Prominent Baptist, and a Good Influence. She had so
painfully reared three sons to be Christian gentlemen that one of them
had become an Omaha bartender, one a professor of Greek, and one, Cyrus
N. Bogart, a boy of fourteen who was still at home, the most brazen
member of the toughest gang in Boytown.

Mrs. Bogart was not the acid type of Good Influence. She was the soft,
damp, fat, sighing, indigestive, clinging, melancholy, depressingly
hopeful kind. There are in every large chicken-yard a number of old and
indignant hens who resemble Mrs. Bogart, and when they are served at
Sunday noon dinner, as fricasseed chicken with thick dumplings, they
keep up the resemblance.

Carol had noted that Mrs. Bogart from her side window kept an eye upon
the house. The Kennicotts and Mrs. Bogart did not move in the same
sets--which meant precisely the same in Gopher Prairie as it did on
Fifth Avenue or in Mayfair. But the good widow came calling.

She wheezed in, sighed, gave Carol a pulpy hand, sighed, glanced sharply
at the revelation of ankles as Carol crossed her legs, sighed, inspected
the new blue chairs, smiled with a coy sighing sound, and gave voice:

"I've wanted to call on you so long, dearie, you know we're neighbors,
but I thought I'd wait till you got settled, you must run in and see me,
how much did that big chair cost?"

"Seventy-seven dollars!"

"Sev----Sakes alive! Well, I suppose it's all right for them that can
afford it, though I do sometimes think----Of course as our pastor said
once, at Baptist Church----By the way, we haven't seen you there yet,
and of course your husband was raised up a Baptist, and I do hope
he won't drift away from the fold, of course we all know there isn't
anything, not cleverness or gifts of gold or anything, that can make
up for humility and the inward grace and they can say what they want to
about the P. E. church, but of course there's no church that has more
history or has stayed by the true principles of Christianity better
than the Baptist Church and----In what church were you raised, Mrs.
Kennicott?"

"W-why, I went to Congregational, as a girl in Mankato, but my college
was Universalist."

"Well----But of course as the Bible says, is it the Bible, at least I
know I have heard it in church and everybody admits it, it's proper for
the little bride to take her husband's vessel of faith, so we all hope
we shall see you at the Baptist Church and----As I was saying, of course
I agree with Reverend Zitterel in thinking that the great trouble with
this nation today is lack of spiritual faith--so few going to church,
and people automobiling on Sunday and heaven knows what all. But still
I do think that one trouble is this terrible waste of money, people
feeling that they've got to have bath-tubs and telephones in their
houses----I heard you were selling the old furniture cheap."

"Yes!"

"Well--of course you know your own mind, but I can't help thinking, when
Will's ma was down here keeping house for him--SHE used to run in to SEE
me, real OFTEN!--it was good enough furniture for her. But there, there,
I mustn't croak, I just wanted to let you know that when you find you
can't depend on a lot of these gadding young folks like the Haydocks and
the Dyers--and heaven only knows how much money Juanita Haydock blows in
in a year--why then you may be glad to know that slow old Aunty Bogart
is always right there, and heaven knows----" A portentous sigh. "--I
HOPE you and your husband won't have any of the troubles, with sickness
and quarreling and wasting money and all that so many of these young
couples do have and----But I must be running along now, dearie. It's
been such a pleasure and----Just run in and see me any time. I hope Will
is well? I thought he looked a wee mite peaked."

It was twenty minutes later when Mrs. Bogart finally oozed out of the
front door. Carol ran back into the living-room and jerked open the
windows. "That woman has left damp finger-prints in the air," she said.



II


Carol was extravagant, but at least she did not try to clear herself of
blame by going about whimpering, "I know I'm terribly extravagant but I
don't seem to be able to help it."

Kennicott had never thought of giving her an allowance. His mother had
never had one! As a wage-earning spinster Carol had asserted to her
fellow librarians that when she was married, she was going to have an
allowance and be business-like and modern. But it was too much trouble
to explain to Kennicott's kindly stubbornness that she was a practical
housekeeper as well as a flighty playmate. She bought a budget-plan
account book and made her budgets as exact as budgets are likely to be
when they lack budgets.

For the first month it was a honeymoon jest to beg prettily, to confess,
"I haven't a cent in the house, dear," and to be told, "You're an
extravagant little rabbit." But the budget book made her realize how
inexact were her finances. She became self-conscious; occasionally she
was indignant that she should always have to petition him for the money
with which to buy his food. She caught herself criticizing his belief
that, since his joke about trying to keep her out of the poorhouse had
once been accepted as admirable humor, it should continue to be his
daily bon mot. It was a nuisance to have to run down the street after
him because she had forgotten to ask him for money at breakfast.

But she couldn't "hurt his feelings," she reflected. He liked the
lordliness of giving largess.

She tried to reduce the frequency of begging by opening accounts and
having the bills sent to him. She had found that staple groceries,
sugar, flour, could be most cheaply purchased at Axel Egge's rustic
general store. She said sweetly to Axel:

"I think I'd better open a charge account here."

"I don't do no business except for cash," grunted Axel.

She flared, "Do you know who I am?"

"Yuh, sure, I know. The doc is good for it. But that's yoost a rule I
made. I make low prices. I do business for cash."

She stared at his red impassive face, and her fingers had the
undignified desire to slap him, but her reason agreed with him. "You're
quite right. You shouldn't break your rule for me."

Her rage had not been lost. It had been transferred to her husband. She
wanted ten pounds of sugar in a hurry, but she had no money. She ran up
the stairs to Kennicott's office. On the door was a sign advertising a
headache cure and stating, "The doctor is out, back at----" Naturally,
the blank space was not filled out. She stamped her foot. She ran down
to the drug store--the doctor's club.

As she entered she heard Mrs. Dyer demanding, "Dave, I've got to have
some money."

Carol saw that her husband was there, and two other men, all listening
in amusement.

Dave Dyer snapped, "How much do you want? Dollar be enough?"

"No, it won't! I've got to get some underclothes for the kids."

"Why, good Lord, they got enough now to fill the closet so I couldn't
find my hunting boots, last time I wanted them."

"I don't care. They're all in rags. You got to give me ten dollars----"

Carol perceived that Mrs. Dyer was accustomed to this indignity. She
perceived that the men, particularly Dave, regarded it as an excellent
jest. She waited--she knew what would come--it did. Dave yelped,
"Where's that ten dollars I gave you last year?" and he looked to the
other men to laugh. They laughed.

Cold and still, Carol walked up to Kennicott and commanded, "I want to
see you upstairs."

"Why--something the matter?"

"Yes!"

He clumped after her, up the stairs, into his barren office. Before he
could get out a query she stated:

"Yesterday, in front of a saloon, I heard a German farm-wife beg her
husband for a quarter, to get a toy for the baby--and he refused. Just
now I've heard Mrs. Dyer going through the same humiliation. And I--I'm
in the same position! I have to beg you for money. Daily! I have just
been informed that I couldn't have any sugar because I hadn't the money
to pay for it!"

"Who said that? By God, I'll kill any----"

"Tut. It wasn't his fault. It was yours. And mine. I now humbly beg
you to give me the money with which to buy meals for you to eat. And
hereafter to remember it. The next time, I sha'n't beg. I shall simply
starve. Do you understand? I can't go on being a slave----"

Her defiance, her enjoyment of the role, ran out. She was sobbing
against his overcoat, "How can you shame me so?" and he was blubbering,
"Dog-gone it, I meant to give you some, and I forgot it. I swear I won't
again. By golly I won't!"

He pressed fifty dollars upon her, and after that he remembered to give
her money regularly . . . sometimes.

Daily she determined, "But I must have a stated amount--be
business-like. System. I must do something about it." And daily she
didn't do anything about it.



III


Mrs. Bogart had, by the simpering viciousness of her comments on the new
furniture, stirred Carol to economy. She spoke judiciously to Bea
about left-overs. She read the cookbook again and, like a child with
a picture-book, she studied the diagram of the beef which gallantly
continues to browse though it is divided into cuts.

But she was a deliberate and joyous spendthrift in her preparations for
her first party, the housewarming. She made lists on every envelope
and laundry-slip in her desk. She sent orders to Minneapolis "fancy
grocers." She pinned patterns and sewed. She was irritated when
Kennicott was jocular about "these frightful big doings that are going
on." She regarded the affair as an attack on Gopher Prairie's timidity
in pleasure. "I'll make 'em lively, if nothing else. I'll make 'em stop
regarding parties as committee-meetings."

Kennicott usually considered himself the master of the house. At his
desire, she went hunting, which was his symbol of happiness, and she
ordered porridge for breakfast, which was his symbol of morality. But
when he came home on the afternoon before the housewarming he found
himself a slave, an intruder, a blunderer. Carol wailed, "Fix the
furnace so you won't have to touch it after supper. And for heaven's
sake take that horrible old door-mat off the porch. And put on your nice
brown and white shirt. Why did you come home so late? Would you mind
hurrying? Here it is almost suppertime, and those fiends are just as
likely as not to come at seven instead of eight. PLEASE hurry!"

She was as unreasonable as an amateur leading woman on a first night,
and he was reduced to humility. When she came down to supper, when she
stood in the doorway, he gasped. She was in a silver sheath, the calyx
of a lily, her piled hair like black glass; she had the fragility and
costliness of a Viennese goblet; and her eyes were intense. He was
stirred to rise from the table and to hold the chair for her; and all
through supper he ate his bread dry because he felt that she would think
him common if he said "Will you hand me the butter?"



IV


She had reached the calmness of not caring whether her guests liked
the party or not, and a state of satisfied suspense in regard to Bea's
technique in serving, before Kennicott cried from the bay-window in
the living-room, "Here comes somebody!" and Mr. and Mrs. Luke Dawson
faltered in, at a quarter to eight. Then in a shy avalanche arrived
the entire aristocracy of Gopher Prairie: all persons engaged in a
profession, or earning more than twenty-five hundred dollars a year, or
possessed of grandparents born in America.

Even while they were removing their overshoes they were peeping at the
new decorations. Carol saw Dave Dyer secretively turn over the gold
pillows to find a price-tag, and heard Mr. Julius Flickerbaugh, the
attorney, gasp, "Well, I'll be switched," as he viewed the vermilion
print hanging against the Japanese obi. She was amused. But her high
spirits slackened as she beheld them form in dress parade, in a long,
silent, uneasy circle clear round the living-room. She felt that she had
been magically whisked back to her first party, at Sam Clark's.

"Have I got to lift them, like so many pigs of iron? I don't know that I
can make them happy, but I'll make them hectic."

A silver flame in the darkling circle, she whirled around, drew them
with her smile, and sang, "I want my party to be noisy and undignified!
This is the christening of my house, and I want you to help me have a
bad influence on it, so that it will be a giddy house. For me, won't you
all join in an old-fashioned square dance? And Mr. Dyer will call."

She had a record on the phonograph; Dave Dyer was capering in the center
of the floor, loose-jointed, lean, small, rusty headed, pointed of nose,
clapping his hands and shouting, "Swing y' pardners--alamun lef!"

Even the millionaire Dawsons and Ezra Stowbody and "Professor" George
Edwin Mott danced, looking only slightly foolish; and by rushing about
the room and being coy and coaxing to all persons over forty-five, Carol
got them into a waltz and a Virginia Reel. But when she left them to
disenjoy themselves in their own way Harry Haydock put a one-step record
on the phonograph, the younger people took the floor, and all the elders
sneaked back to their chairs, with crystallized smiles which meant,
"Don't believe I'll try this one myself, but I do enjoy watching the
youngsters dance."

Half of them were silent; half resumed the discussions of that afternoon
in the store. Ezra Stowbody hunted for something to say, hid a yawn, and
offered to Lyman Cass, the owner of the flour-mill, "How d' you folks
like the new furnace, Lym? Huh? So."

"Oh, let them alone. Don't pester them. They must like it, or they
wouldn't do it." Carol warned herself. But they gazed at her so
expectantly when she flickered past that she was reconvinced that in
their debauches of respectability they had lost the power of play as
well as the power of impersonal thought. Even the dancers were gradually
crushed by the invisible force of fifty perfectly pure and well-behaved
and negative minds; and they sat down, two by two. In twenty minutes the
party was again elevated to the decorum of a prayer-meeting.

"We're going to do something exciting," Carol exclaimed to her new
confidante, Vida Sherwin. She saw that in the growing quiet her voice
had carried across the room. Nat Hicks, Ella Stowbody, and Dave Dyer
were abstracted, fingers and lips slightly moving. She knew with a
cold certainty that Dave was rehearsing his "stunt" about the Norwegian
catching the hen, Ella running over the first lines of "An Old
Sweetheart of Mine," and Nat thinking of his popular parody on Mark
Antony's oration.

"But I will not have anybody use the word 'stunt' in my house," she
whispered to Miss Sherwin.

"That's good. I tell you: why not have Raymond Wutherspoon sing?"

"Raymie? Why, my dear, he's the most sentimental yearner in town!"

"See here, child! Your opinions on house-decorating are sound, but your
opinions of people are rotten! Raymie does wag his tail. But the poor
dear----Longing for what he calls 'self-expression' and no training in
anything except selling shoes. But he can sing. And some day when
he gets away from Harry Haydock's patronage and ridicule, he'll do
something fine."

Carol apologized for her superciliousness. She urged Raymie, and warned
the planners of "stunts," "We all want you to sing, Mr. Wutherspoon.
You're the only famous actor I'm going to let appear on the stage
tonight."

While Raymie blushed and admitted, "Oh, they don't want to hear me," he
was clearing his throat, pulling his clean handkerchief farther out of
his breast pocket, and thrusting his fingers between the buttons of his
vest.

In her affection for Raymie's defender, in her desire to "discover
artistic talent," Carol prepared to be delighted by the recital.

Raymie sang "Fly as a Bird," "Thou Art My Dove," and "When the Little
Swallow Leaves Its Tiny Nest," all in a reasonably bad offertory tenor.

Carol was shuddering with the vicarious shame which sensitive people
feel when they listen to an "elocutionist" being humorous, or to a
precocious child publicly doing badly what no child should do at all.
She wanted to laugh at the gratified importance in Raymie's half-shut
eyes; she wanted to weep over the meek ambitiousness which clouded like
an aura his pale face, flap ears, and sandy pompadour. She tried to look
admiring, for the benefit of Miss Sherwin, that trusting admirer of all
that was or conceivably could be the good, the true, and the beautiful.

At the end of the third ornithological lyric Miss Sherwin roused from
her attitude of inspired vision and breathed to Carol, "My! That was
sweet! Of course Raymond hasn't an unusually good voice, but don't you
think he puts such a lot of feeling into it?"

Carol lied blackly and magnificently, but without originality: "Oh yes,
I do think he has so much FEELING!"

She saw that after the strain of listening in a cultured manner the
audience had collapsed; had given up their last hope of being amused.
She cried, "Now we're going to play an idiotic game which I learned in
Chicago. You will have to take off your shoes, for a starter! After that
you will probably break your knees and shoulder-blades."

Much attention and incredulity. A few eyebrows indicating a verdict that
Doc Kennicott's bride was noisy and improper.

"I shall choose the most vicious, like Juanita Haydock and myself, as
the shepherds. The rest of you are wolves. Your shoes are the sheep.
The wolves go out into the hall. The shepherds scatter the sheep through
this room, then turn off all the lights, and the wolves crawl in from
the hall and in the darkness they try to get the shoes away from
the shepherds--who are permitted to do anything except bite and use
black-jacks. The wolves chuck the captured shoes out into the hall. No
one excused! Come on! Shoes off!"

Every one looked at every one else and waited for every one else to
begin.

Carol kicked off her silver slippers, and ignored the universal glance
at her arches. The embarrassed but loyal Vida Sherwin unbuttoned her
high black shoes. Ezra Stowbody cackled, "Well, you're a terror to old
folks. You're like the gals I used to go horseback-riding with, back in
the sixties. Ain't much accustomed to attending parties barefoot,
but here goes!" With a whoop and a gallant jerk Ezra snatched off his
elastic-sided Congress shoes.

The others giggled and followed.

When the sheep had been penned up, in the darkness the timorous wolves
crept into the living-room, squealing, halting, thrown out of their
habit of stolidity by the strangeness of advancing through nothingness
toward a waiting foe, a mysterious foe which expanded and grew more
menacing. The wolves peered to make out landmarks, they touched gliding
arms which did not seem to be attached to a body, they quivered with a
rapture of fear. Reality had vanished. A yelping squabble suddenly rose,
then Juanita Haydock's high titter, and Guy Pollock's astonished, "Ouch!
Quit! You're scalping me!"

Mrs. Luke Dawson galloped backward on stiff hands and knees into the
safety of the lighted hallway, moaning, "I declare, I nev' was so
upset in my life!" But the propriety was shaken out of her, and she
delightedly continued to ejaculate "Nev' in my LIFE" as she saw the
living-room door opened by invisible hands and shoes hurling through it,
as she heard from the darkness beyond the door a squawling, a bumping,
a resolute "Here's a lot of shoes. Come on, you wolves. Ow! Y' would,
would you!"

When Carol abruptly turned on the lights in the embattled living-room,
half of the company were sitting back against the walls, where they had
craftily remained throughout the engagement, but in the middle of the
floor Kennicott was wrestling with Harry Haydock--their collars torn
off, their hair in their eyes; and the owlish Mr. Julius Flickerbaugh
was retreating from Juanita Haydock, and gulping with unaccustomed
laughter. Guy Pollock's discreet brown scarf hung down his back. Young
Rita Simons's net blouse had lost two buttons, and betrayed more of her
delicious plump shoulder than was regarded as pure in Gopher Prairie.
Whether by shock, disgust, joy of combat, or physical activity, all the
party were freed from their years of social decorum. George Edwin Mott
giggled; Luke Dawson twisted his beard; Mrs. Clark insisted, "I did too,
Sam--I got a shoe--I never knew I could fight so terrible!"

Carol was certain that she was a great reformer.

She mercifully had combs, mirrors, brushes, needle and thread ready. She
permitted them to restore the divine decency of buttons.

The grinning Bea brought down-stairs a pile of soft thick sheets of
paper with designs of lotos blossoms, dragons, apes, in cobalt and
crimson and gray, and patterns of purple birds flying among sea-green
trees in the valleys of Nowhere.

"These," Carol announced, "are real Chinese masquerade costumes. I got
them from an importing shop in Minneapolis. You are to put them on over
your clothes, and please forget that you are Minnesotans, and turn into
mandarins and coolies and--and samurai (isn't it?), and anything else
you can think of."

While they were shyly rustling the paper costumes she disappeared. Ten
minutes after she gazed down from the stairs upon grotesquely ruddy
Yankee heads above Oriental robes, and cried to them, "The Princess
Winky Poo salutes her court!"

As they looked up she caught their suspense of admiration. They saw an
airy figure in trousers and coat of green brocade edged with gold; a
high gold collar under a proud chin; black hair pierced with jade pins;
a languid peacock fan in an out-stretched hand; eyes uplifted to a
vision of pagoda towers. When she dropped her pose and smiled down
she discovered Kennicott apoplectic with domestic pride--and gray Guy
Pollock staring beseechingly. For a second she saw nothing in all the
pink and brown mass of their faces save the hunger of the two men.

She shook off the spell and ran down. "We're going to have a real
Chinese concert. Messrs. Pollock, Kennicott, and, well, Stowbody are
drummers; the rest of us sing and play the fife."

The fifes were combs with tissue paper; the drums were tabourets and the
sewing-table. Loren Wheeler, editor of the Dauntless, led the orchestra,
with a ruler and a totally inaccurate sense of rhythm. The music was a
reminiscence of tom-toms heard at circus fortune-telling tents or at
the Minnesota State Fair, but the whole company pounded and puffed and
whined in a sing-song, and looked rapturous.

Before they were quite tired of the concert Carol led them in a dancing
procession to the dining-room, to blue bowls of chow mein, with Lichee
nuts and ginger preserved in syrup.

None of them save that city-rounder Harry Haydock had heard of any
Chinese dish except chop sooey. With agreeable doubt they ventured
through the bamboo shoots into the golden fried noodles of the chow
mein; and Dave Dyer did a not very humorous Chinese dance with Nat
Hicks; and there was hubbub and contentment.

Carol relaxed, and found that she was shockingly tired. She had carried
them on her thin shoulders. She could not keep it up. She longed for
her father, that artist at creating hysterical parties. She thought of
smoking a cigarette, to shock them, and dismissed the obscene thought
before it was quite formed. She wondered whether they could for five
minutes be coaxed to talk about something besides the winter top
of Knute Stamquist's Ford, and what Al Tingley had said about his
mother-in-law. She sighed, "Oh, let 'em alone. I've done enough." She
crossed her trousered legs, and snuggled luxuriously above her saucer
of ginger; she caught Pollock's congratulatory still smile, and thought
well of herself for having thrown a rose light on the pallid lawyer;
repented the heretical supposition that any male save her husband
existed; jumped up to find Kennicott and whisper, "Happy, my lord? . . .
No, it didn't cost much!"

"Best party this town ever saw. Only----Don't cross your legs in that
costume. Shows your knees too plain."

She was vexed. She resented his clumsiness. She returned to Guy Pollock
and talked of Chinese religions--not that she knew anything whatever
about Chinese religions, but he had read a book on the subject as, on
lonely evenings in his office, he had read at least one book on every
subject in the world. Guy's thin maturity was changing in her vision
to flushed youth and they were roaming an island in the yellow sea of
chatter when she realized that the guests were beginning that cough
which indicated, in the universal instinctive language, that they
desired to go home and go to bed.

While they asserted that it had been "the nicest party they'd ever
seen--my! so clever and original," she smiled tremendously, shook hands,
and cried many suitable things regarding children, and being sure to
wrap up warmly, and Raymie's singing and Juanita Haydock's prowess at
games. Then she turned wearily to Kennicott in a house filled with quiet
and crumbs and shreds of Chinese costumes.

He was gurgling, "I tell you, Carrie, you certainly are a wonder, and
guess you're right about waking folks up. Now you've showed 'em how,
they won't go on having the same old kind of parties and stunts and
everything. Here! Don't touch a thing! Done enough. Pop up to bed, and
I'll clear up."

His wise surgeon's-hands stroked her shoulder, and her irritation at his
clumsiness was lost in his strength.



V

From the Weekly Dauntless:


One of the most delightful social events of recent months was held
Wednesday evening in the housewarming of Dr. and Mrs. Kennicott, who
have completely redecorated their charming home on Poplar Street, and
is now extremely nifty in modern color scheme. The doctor and his bride
were at home to their numerous friends and a number of novelties in
diversions were held, including a Chinese orchestra in original and
genuine Oriental costumes, of which Ye Editor was leader. Dainty
refreshments were served in true Oriental style, and one and all voted a
delightful time.



VI


The week after, the Chet Dashaways gave a party. The circle of mourners
kept its place all evening, and Dave Dyer did the "stunt" of the
Norwegian and the hen.



CHAPTER VII

I

GOPHER PRAIRIE was digging in for the winter. Through late November and
all December it snowed daily; the thermometer was at zero and might
drop to twenty below, or thirty. Winter is not a season in the North
Middlewest; it is an industry. Storm sheds were erected at every door.
In every block the householders, Sam Clark, the wealthy Mr. Dawson, all
save asthmatic Ezra Stowbody who extravagantly hired a boy, were seen
perilously staggering up ladders, carrying storm windows and screwing
them to second-story jambs. While Kennicott put up his windows Carol
danced inside the bedrooms and begged him not to swallow the screws,
which he held in his mouth like an extraordinary set of external false
teeth.

The universal sign of winter was the town handyman--Miles Bjornstam, a
tall, thick, red-mustached bachelor, opinionated atheist, general-store
arguer, cynical Santa Claus. Children loved him, and he sneaked
away from work to tell them improbable stories of sea-faring and
horse-trading and bears. The children's parents either laughed at him
or hated him. He was the one democrat in town. He called both Lyman Cass
the miller and the Finn homesteader from Lost Lake by their first names.
He was known as "The Red Swede," and considered slightly insane.

Bjornstam could do anything with his hands--solder a pan, weld an
automobile spring, soothe a frightened filly, tinker a clock, carve a
Gloucester schooner which magically went into a bottle. Now, for a week,
he was commissioner general of Gopher Prairie. He was the only person
besides the repairman at Sam Clark's who understood plumbing. Everybody
begged him to look over the furnace and the water-pipes. He rushed
from house to house till after bedtime--ten o'clock. Icicles from burst
water-pipes hung along the skirt of his brown dog-skin overcoat; his
plush cap, which he never took off in the house, was a pulp of ice and
coal-dust; his red hands were cracked to rawness; he chewed the stub of
a cigar.

But he was courtly to Carol. He stooped to examine the furnace flues; he
straightened, glanced down at her, and hemmed, "Got to fix your furnace,
no matter what else I do."

The poorer houses of Gopher Prairie, where the services of Miles
Bjornstam were a luxury--which included the shanty of Miles
Bjornstam--were banked to the lower windows with earth and manure. Along
the railroad the sections of snow fence, which had been stacked all
summer in romantic wooden tents occupied by roving small boys, were set
up to prevent drifts from covering the track.

The farmers came into town in home-made sleighs, with bed-quilts and hay
piled in the rough boxes.

Fur coats, fur caps, fur mittens, overshoes buckling almost to the
knees, gray knitted scarfs ten feet long, thick woolen socks, canvas
jackets lined with fluffy yellow wool like the plumage of ducklings,
moccasins, red flannel wristlets for the blazing chapped wrists
of boys--these protections against winter were busily dug out of
moth-ball-sprinkled drawers and tar-bags in closets, and all over town
small boys were squealing, "Oh, there's my mittens!" or "Look at my
shoe-packs!" There is so sharp a division between the panting summer and
the stinging winter of the Northern plains that they rediscovered with
surprise and a feeling of heroism this armor of an Artic explorer.

Winter garments surpassed even personal gossip as the topic at parties.
It was good form to ask, "Put on your heavies yet?" There were as many
distinctions in wraps as in motor cars. The lesser sort appeared in
yellow and black dogskin coats, but Kennicott was lordly in a long
raccoon ulster and a new seal cap. When the snow was too deep for his
motor he went off on country calls in a shiny, floral, steel-tipped
cutter, only his ruddy nose and his cigar emerging from the fur.

Carol herself stirred Main Street by a loose coat of nutria. Her
finger-tips loved the silken fur.

Her liveliest activity now was organizing outdoor sports in the
motor-paralyzed town.

The automobile and bridge-whist had not only made more evident the
social divisions in Gopher Prairie but they had also enfeebled the
love of activity. It was so rich-looking to sit and drive--and so easy.
Skiing and sliding were "stupid" and "old-fashioned." In fact, the
village longed for the elegance of city recreations almost as much as
the cities longed for village sports; and Gopher Prairie took as
much pride in neglecting coasting as St. Paul--or New York--in going
coasting. Carol did inspire a successful skating-party in mid-November.
Plover Lake glistened in clear sweeps of gray-green ice, ringing to the
skates. On shore the ice-tipped reeds clattered in the wind, and oak
twigs with stubborn last leaves hung against a milky sky. Harry Haydock
did figure-eights, and Carol was certain that she had found the perfect
life. But when snow had ended the skating and she tried to get up a
moonlight sliding party, the matrons hesitated to stir away from their
radiators and their daily bridge-whist imitations of the city. She had
to nag them. They scooted down a long hill on a bob-sled, they upset
and got snow down their necks they shrieked that they would do it again
immediately--and they did not do it again at all.

She badgered another group into going skiing. They shouted and threw
snowballs, and informed her that it was SUCH fun, and they'd have
another skiing expedition right away, and they jollily returned home and
never thereafter left their manuals of bridge.

Carol was discouraged. She was grateful when Kennicott invited her to
go rabbit-hunting in the woods. She waded down stilly cloisters
between burnt stump and icy oak, through drifts marked with a million
hieroglyphics of rabbit and mouse and bird. She squealed as he leaped
on a pile of brush and fired at the rabbit which ran out. He belonged
there, masculine in reefer and sweater and high-laced boots. That night
she ate prodigiously of steak and fried potatoes; she produced electric
sparks by touching his ear with her finger-tip; she slept twelve hours;
and awoke to think how glorious was this brave land.

She rose to a radiance of sun on snow. Snug in her furs she
trotted up-town. Frosted shingles smoked against a sky colored like
flax-blossoms, sleigh-bells clinked, shouts of greeting were loud in the
thin bright air, and everywhere was a rhythmic sound of wood-sawing. It
was Saturday, and the neighbors' sons were getting up the winter fuel.
Behind walls of corded wood in back yards their sawbucks stood in
depressions scattered with canary-yellow flakes of sawdust. The frames
of their buck-saws were cherry-red, the blades blued steel, and the
fresh cut ends of the sticks--poplar, maple, iron-wood, birch--were
marked with engraved rings of growth. The boys wore shoe-packs, blue
flannel shirts with enormous pearl buttons, and mackinaws of crimson,
lemon yellow, and foxy brown.

Carol cried "Fine day!" to the boys; she came in a glow to Howland &
Gould's grocery, her collar white with frost from her breath; she bought
a can of tomatoes as though it were Orient fruit; and returned home
planning to surprise Kennicott with an omelet creole for dinner.

So brilliant was the snow-glare that when she entered the house she
saw the door-knobs, the newspaper on the table, every white surface as
dazzling mauve, and her head was dizzy in the pyrotechnic dimness. When
her eyes had recovered she felt expanded, drunk with health, mistress of
life. The world was so luminous that she sat down at her rickety little
desk in the living-room to make a poem. (She got no farther than "The
sky is bright, the sun is warm, there ne'er will be another storm.")

In the mid-afternoon of this same day Kennicott was called into the
country. It was Bea's evening out--her evening for the Lutheran Dance.
Carol was alone from three till midnight. She wearied of reading pure
love stories in the magazines and sat by a radiator, beginning to brood.

Thus she chanced to discover that she had nothing to do.



II


She had, she meditated, passed through the novelty of seeing the
town and meeting people, of skating and sliding and hunting. Bea was
competent; there was no household labor except sewing and darning
and gossipy assistance to Bea in bed-making. She couldn't satisfy her
ingenuity in planning meals. At Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market you didn't
give orders--you wofully inquired whether there was anything today
besides steak and pork and ham. The cuts of beef were not cuts. They
were hacks. Lamb chops were as exotic as sharks' fins. The meat-dealers
shipped their best to the city, with its higher prices.

In all the shops there was the same lack of choice. She could not find
a glass-headed picture-nail in town; she did not hunt for the sort of
veiling she wanted--she took what she could get; and only at Howland &
Gould's was there such a luxury as canned asparagus. Routine care was
all she could devote to the house. Only by such fussing as the Widow
Bogart's could she make it fill her time.

She could not have outside employment. To the village doctor's wife it
was taboo.

She was a woman with a working brain and no work.

There were only three things which she could do: Have children; start
her career of reforming; or become so definitely a part of the town that
she would be fulfilled by the activities of church and study-club and
bridge-parties.

Children, yes, she wanted them, but----She was not quite ready. She had
been embarrassed by Kennicott's frankness, but she agreed with him
that in the insane condition of civilization, which made the rearing
of citizens more costly and perilous than any other crime, it was
inadvisable to have children till he had made more money. She was
sorry----Perhaps he had made all the mystery of love a mechanical
cautiousness but----She fled from the thought with a dubious, "Some
day."

Her "reforms," her impulses toward beauty in raw Main Street, they had
become indistinct. But she would set them going now. She would! She
swore it with soft fist beating the edges of the radiator. And at the
end of all her vows she had no notion as to when and where the crusade
was to begin.

Become an authentic part of the town? She began to think with unpleasant
lucidity. She reflected that she did not know whether the people liked
her. She had gone to the women at afternoon-coffees, to the merchants
in their stores, with so many outpouring comments and whimsies that
she hadn't given them a chance to betray their opinions of her. The men
smiled--but did they like her? She was lively among the women--but
was she one of them? She could not recall many times when she had been
admitted to the whispering of scandal which is the secret chamber of
Gopher Prairie conversation.

She was poisoned with doubt, as she drooped up to bed.

Next day, through her shopping, her mind sat back and observed. Dave
Dyer and Sam Clark were as cordial as she had been fancying; but wasn't
there an impersonal abruptness in the "H' are yuh?" of Chet Dashaway?
Howland the grocer was curt. Was that merely his usual manner?

"It's infuriating to have to pay attention to what people think. In
St. Paul I didn't care. But here I'm spied on. They're watching
me. I mustn't let it make me self-conscious," she coaxed
herself--overstimulated by the drug of thought, and offensively on the
defensive.



III


A thaw which stripped the snow from the sidewalks; a ringing iron night
when the lakes could be heard booming; a clear roistering morning. In
tam o'shanter and tweed skirt Carol felt herself a college junior going
out to play hockey. She wanted to whoop, her legs ached to run. On the
way home from shopping she yielded, as a pup would have yielded. She
galloped down a block and as she jumped from a curb across a welter of
slush, she gave a student "Yippee!"

She saw that in a window three old women were gasping. Their triple
glare was paralyzing. Across the street, at another window, the curtain
had secretively moved. She stopped, walked on sedately, changed from the
girl Carol into Mrs. Dr. Kennicott.

She never again felt quite young enough and defiant enough and free
enough to run and halloo in the public streets; and it was as a Nice
Married Woman that she attended the next weekly bridge of the Jolly
Seventeen.



IV


The Jolly Seventeen (the membership of which ranged from fourteen to
twenty-six) was the social cornice of Gopher Prairie. It was the country
club, the diplomatic set, the St. Cecilia, the Ritz oval room, the Club
de Vingt. To belong to it was to be "in." Though its membership partly
coincided with that of the Thanatopsis study club, the Jolly Seventeen
as a separate entity guffawed at the Thanatopsis, and considered it
middle-class and even "highbrow."

Most of the Jolly Seventeen were young married women, with their
husbands as associate members. Once a week they had a women's
afternoon-bridge; once a month the husbands joined them for supper and
evening-bridge; twice a year they had dances at I. O. O. F. Hall. Then
the town exploded. Only at the annual balls of the Firemen and of the
Eastern Star was there such prodigality of chiffon scarfs and tangoing
and heart-burnings, and these rival institutions were not select--hired
girls attended the Firemen's Ball, with section-hands and laborers. Ella
Stowbody had once gone to a Jolly Seventeen Soiree in the village hack,
hitherto confined to chief mourners at funerals; and Harry Haydock and
Dr. Terry Gould always appeared in the town's only specimens of evening
clothes.

The afternoon-bridge of the Jolly Seventeen which followed Carol's
lonely doubting was held at Juanita Haydock's new concrete bungalow,
with its door of polished oak and beveled plate-glass, jar of ferns in
the plastered hall, and in the living-room, a fumed oak Morris chair,
sixteen color-prints, and a square varnished table with a mat made of
cigar-ribbons on which was one Illustrated Gift Edition and one pack of
cards in a burnt-leather case.

Carol stepped into a sirocco of furnace heat. They were already playing.
Despite her flabby resolves she had not yet learned bridge. She was
winningly apologetic about it to Juanita, and ashamed that she should
have to go on being apologetic.

Mrs. Dave Dyer, a sallow woman with a thin prettiness devoted to
experiments in religious cults, illnesses, and scandal-bearing, shook
her finger at Carol and trilled, "You're a naughty one! I don't believe
you appreciate the honor, when you got into the Jolly Seventeen so
easy!"

Mrs. Chet Dashaway nudged her neighbor at the second table. But Carol
kept up the appealing bridal manner so far as possible. She twittered,
"You're perfectly right. I'm a lazy thing. I'll make Will start teaching
me this very evening." Her supplication had all the sound of birdies
in the nest, and Easter church-bells, and frosted Christmas cards.
Internally she snarled, "That ought to be saccharine enough." She sat in
the smallest rocking-chair, a model of Victorian modesty. But she saw or
she imagined that the women who had gurgled at her so welcomingly when
she had first come to Gopher Prairie were nodding at her brusquely.

During the pause after the first game she petitioned Mrs. Jackson Elder,
"Don't you think we ought to get up another bob-sled party soon?"

"It's so cold when you get dumped in the snow," said Mrs. Elder,
indifferently.

"I hate snow down my neck," volunteered Mrs. Dave Dyer, with an
unpleasant look at Carol and, turning her back, she bubbled at Rita
Simons, "Dearie, won't you run in this evening? I've got the loveliest
new Butterick pattern I want to show you."

Carol crept back to her chair. In the fervor of discussing the game they
ignored her. She was not used to being a wallflower. She struggled to
keep from oversensitiveness, from becoming unpopular by the sure method
of believing that she was unpopular; but she hadn't much reserve of
patience, and at the end of the second game, when Ella Stowbody sniffily
asked her, "Are you going to send to Minneapolis for your dress for
the next soiree--heard you were," Carol said "Don't know yet" with
unnecessary sharpness.

She was relieved by the admiration with which the jeune fille Rita
Simons looked at the steel buckles on her pumps; but she resented Mrs.
Howland's tart demand, "Don't you find that new couch of yours is too
broad to be practical?" She nodded, then shook her head, and touchily
left Mrs. Howland to get out of it any meaning she desired. Immediately
she wanted to make peace. She was close to simpering in the sweetness
with which she addressed Mrs Howland: "I think that is the prettiest
display of beef-tea your husband has in his store."

"Oh yes, Gopher Prairie isn't so much behind the times," gibed Mrs.
Howland. Some one giggled.

Their rebuffs made her haughty; her haughtiness irritated them to
franker rebuffs; they were working up to a state of painfully righteous
war when they were saved by the coming of food.

Though Juanita Haydock was highly advanced in the matters of
finger-bowls, doilies, and bath-mats, her "refreshments" were typical
of all the afternoon-coffees. Juanita's best friends, Mrs. Dyer and Mrs.
Dashaway, passed large dinner plates, each with a spoon, a fork, and a
coffee cup without saucer. They apologized and discussed the afternoon's
game as they passed through the thicket of women's feet. Then they
distributed hot buttered rolls, coffee poured from an enamel-ware pot,
stuffed olives, potato salad, and angel's-food cake. There was, even in
the most strictly conforming Gopher Prairie circles, a certain option
as to collations. The olives need not be stuffed. Doughnuts were in some
houses well thought of as a substitute for the hot buttered rolls.
But there was in all the town no heretic save Carol who omitted
angel's-food.

They ate enormously. Carol had a suspicion that the thriftier housewives
made the afternoon treat do for evening supper.

She tried to get back into the current. She edged over to Mrs. McGanum.
Chunky, amiable, young Mrs. McGanum with her breast and arms of a
milkmaid, and her loud delayed laugh which burst startlingly from
a sober face, was the daughter of old Dr. Westlake, and the wife of
Westlake's partner, Dr. McGanum. Kennicott asserted that Westlake and
McGanum and their contaminated families were tricky, but Carol had found
them gracious. She asked for friendliness by crying to Mrs. McGanum,
"How is the baby's throat now?" and she was attentive while Mrs. McGanum
rocked and knitted and placidly described symptoms.

Vida Sherwin came in after school, with Miss Ethel Villets, the
town librarian. Miss Sherwin's optimistic presence gave Carol more
confidence. She talked. She informed the circle "I drove almost down to
Wahkeenyan with Will, a few days ago. Isn't the country lovely! And I do
admire the Scandinavian farmers down there so: their big red barns and
silos and milking-machines and everything. Do you all know that lonely
Lutheran church, with the tin-covered spire, that stands out alone on
a hill? It's so bleak; somehow it seems so brave. I do think the
Scandinavians are the hardiest and best people----"

"Oh, do you THINK so?" protested Mrs. Jackson Elder. "My husband says
the Svenskas that work in the planing-mill are perfectly terrible--so
silent and cranky, and so selfish, the way they keep demanding raises.
If they had their way they'd simply ruin the business."

"Yes, and they're simply GHASTLY hired girls!" wailed Mrs. Dave Dyer.
"I swear, I work myself to skin and bone trying to please my hired
girls--when I can get them! I do everything in the world for them. They
can have their gentleman friends call on them in the kitchen any time,
and they get just the same to eat as we do, if there's, any left over,
and I practically never jump on them."

Juanita Haydock rattled, "They're ungrateful, all that class of people.
I do think the domestic problem is simply becoming awful. I don't know
what the country's coming to, with these Scandahoofian clodhoppers
demanding every cent you can save, and so ignorant and impertinent,
and on my word, demanding bath-tubs and everything--as if they weren't
mighty good and lucky at home if they got a bath in the wash-tub."

They were off, riding hard. Carol thought of Bea and waylaid them:

"But isn't it possibly the fault of the mistresses if the maids are
ungrateful? For generations we've given them the leavings of food, and
holes to live in. I don't want to boast, but I must say I don't have
much trouble with Bea. She's so friendly. The Scandinavians are sturdy
and honest----"

Mrs. Dave Dyer snapped, "Honest? Do you call it honest to hold us up for
every cent of pay they can get? I can't say that I've had any of them
steal anything (though you might call it stealing to eat so much that a
roast of beef hardly lasts three days), but just the same I don't intend
to let them think they can put anything over on ME! I always make them
pack and unpack their trunks down-stairs, right under my eyes, and then
I know they aren't being tempted to dishonesty by any slackness on MY
part!"

"How much do the maids get here?" Carol ventured.

Mrs. B. J. Gougerling, wife of the banker, stated in a shocked manner,
"Any place from three-fifty to five-fifty a week! I know positively that
Mrs. Clark, after swearing that she wouldn't weaken and encourage them
in their outrageous demands, went and paid five-fifty--think of it!
practically a dollar a day for unskilled work and, of course, her food
and room and a chance to do her own washing right in with the rest of
the wash. HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY, Mrs. KENNICOTT?"

"Yes! How much do you pay?" insisted half a dozen.

"W-why, I pay six a week," she feebly confessed.

They gasped. Juanita protested, "Don't you think it's hard on the rest
of us when you pay so much?" Juanita's demand was reinforced by the
universal glower.

Carol was angry. "I don't care! A maid has one of the hardest jobs on
earth. She works from ten to eighteen hours a day. She has to wash slimy
dishes and dirty clothes. She tends the children and runs to the door
with wet chapped hands and----"

Mrs. Dave Dyer broke into Carol's peroration with a furious, "That's all
very well, but believe me, I do those things myself when I'm without
a maid--and that's a good share of the time for a person that isn't
willing to yield and pay exorbitant wages!"

Carol was retorting, "But a maid does it for strangers, and all she gets
out of it is the pay----"

Their eyes were hostile. Four of them were talking at once. Vida
Sherwin's dictatorial voice cut through, took control of the revolution:

"Tut, tut, tut, tut! What angry passions--and what an idiotic
discussion! All of you getting too serious. Stop it! Carol Kennicott,
you're probably right, but you're too much ahead of the times. Juanita,
quit looking so belligerent. What is this, a card party or a hen fight?
Carol, you stop admiring yourself as the Joan of Arc of the hired girls,
or I'll spank you. You come over here and talk libraries with Ethel
Villets. Boooooo! If there's any more pecking, I'll take charge of the
hen roost myself!"

They all laughed artificially, and Carol obediently "talked libraries."

A small-town bungalow, the wives of a village doctor and a village
dry-goods merchant, a provincial teacher, a colloquial brawl over
paying a servant a dollar more a week. Yet this insignificance echoed
cellar-plots and cabinet meetings and labor conferences in Persia
and Prussia, Rome and Boston, and the orators who deemed themselves
international leaders were but the raised voices of a billion Juanitas
denouncing a million Carols, with a hundred thousand Vida Sherwins
trying to shoo away the storm.

Carol felt guilty. She devoted herself to admiring the spinsterish Miss
Villets--and immediately committed another offense against the laws of
decency.

"We haven't seen you at the library yet," Miss Villets reproved.

"I've wanted to run in so much but I've been getting settled and----I'll
probably come in so often you'll get tired of me! I hear you have such a
nice library."

"There are many who like it. We have two thousand more books than
Wakamin."

"Isn't that fine. I'm sure you are largely responsible. I've had some
experience, in St. Paul."

"So I have been informed. Not that I entirely approve of library methods
in these large cities. So careless, letting tramps and all sorts of
dirty persons practically sleep in the reading-rooms."

"I know, but the poor souls----Well, I'm sure you will agree with me in
one thing: The chief task of a librarian is to get people to read."

"You feel so? My feeling, Mrs. Kennicott, and I am merely quoting
the librarian of a very large college, is that the first duty of the
CONSCIENTIOUS librarian is to preserve the books."

"Oh!" Carol repented her "Oh." Miss Villets stiffened, and attacked:

"It may be all very well in cities, where they have unlimited funds, to
let nasty children ruin books and just deliberately tear them up, and
fresh young men take more books out than they are entitled to by the
regulations, but I'm never going to permit it in this library!"

"What if some children are destructive? They learn to read. Books are
cheaper than minds."

"Nothing is cheaper than the minds of some of these children that come
in and bother me simply because their mothers don't keep them home where
they belong. Some librarians may choose to be so wishy-washy and turn
their libraries into nursing-homes and kindergartens, but as long as I'm
in charge, the Gopher Prairie library is going to be quiet and decent,
and the books well kept!"

Carol saw that the others were listening, waiting for her to be
objectionable. She flinched before their dislike. She hastened to smile
in agreement with Miss Villets, to glance publicly at her wrist-watch,
to warble that it was "so late--have to hurry home--husband--such nice
party--maybe you were right about maids, prejudiced because Bea so
nice--such perfectly divine angel's-food, Mrs. Haydock must give me the
recipe--good-by, such happy party----"

She walked home. She reflected, "It was my fault. I was touchy. And I
opposed them so much. Only----I can't! I can't be one of them if I must
damn all the maids toiling in filthy kitchens, all the ragged hungry
children. And these women are to be my arbiters, the rest of my life!"

She ignored Bea's call from the kitchen; she ran up-stairs to the
unfrequented guest-room; she wept in terror, her body a pale arc as
she knelt beside a cumbrous black-walnut bed, beside a puffy mattress
covered with a red quilt, in a shuttered and airless room.



CHAPTER VIII


"DON'T I, in looking for things to do, show that I'm not attentive
enough to Will? Am I impressed enough by his work? I will be. Oh, I will
be. If I can't be one of the town, if I must be an outcast----"

When Kennicott came home she bustled, "Dear, you must tell me a lot more
about your cases. I want to know. I want to understand."

"Sure. You bet." And he went down to fix the furnace.

At supper she asked, "For instance, what did you do today?"

"Do today? How do you mean?"

"Medically. I want to understand----"

"Today? Oh, there wasn't much of anything: couple chumps with
bellyaches, and a sprained wrist, and a fool woman that thinks she wants
to kill herself because her husband doesn't like her and----Just routine
work."

"But the unhappy woman doesn't sound routine!"

"Her? Just case of nerves. You can't do much with these marriage
mix-ups."

"But dear, PLEASE, will you tell me about the next case that you do
think is interesting?"

"Sure. You bet. Tell you about anything that----Say that's pretty good
salmon. Get it at Howland's?"



II


Four days after the Jolly Seventeen debacle Vida Sherwin called and
casually blew Carol's world to pieces.

"May I come in and gossip a while?" she said, with such excess of bright
innocence that Carol was uneasy. Vida took off her furs with a bounce,
she sat down as though it were a gymnasium exercise, she flung out:

"Feel disgracefully good, this weather! Raymond Wutherspoon says if he
had my energy he'd be a grand opera singer. I always think this climate
is the finest in the world, and my friends are the dearest people in the
world, and my work is the most essential thing in the world. Probably
I fool myself. But I know one thing for certain: You're the pluckiest
little idiot in the world."

"And so you are about to flay me alive." Carol was cheerful about it.

"Am I? Perhaps. I've been wondering--I know that the third party to a
squabble is often the most to blame: the one who runs between A and B
having a beautiful time telling each of them what the other has said.
But I want you to take a big part in vitalizing Gopher Prairie and
so----Such a very unique opportunity and----Am I silly?"

"I know what you mean. I was too abrupt at the Jolly Seventeen."

"It isn't that. Matter of fact, I'm glad you told them some wholesome
truths about servants. (Though perhaps you were just a bit tactless.)
It's bigger than that. I wonder if you understand that in a secluded
community like this every newcomer is on test? People cordial to her
but watching her all the time. I remember when a Latin teacher came here
from Wellesley, they resented her broad A. Were sure it was affected. Of
course they have discussed you----"

"Have they talked about me much?"

"My dear!"

"I always feel as though I walked around in a cloud, looking out at
others but not being seen. I feel so inconspicuous and so normal--so
normal that there's nothing about me to discuss. I can't realize that
Mr. and Mrs. Haydock must gossip about me." Carol was working up a small
passion of distaste. "And I don't like it. It makes me crawly to think
of their daring to talk over all I do and say. Pawing me over! I resent
it. I hate----"

"Wait, child! Perhaps they resent some things in you. I want you to try
and be impersonal. They'd paw over anybody who came in new. Didn't you,
with newcomers in College?"

"Yes."

"Well then! Will you be impersonal? I'm paying you the compliment of
supposing that you can be. I want you to be big enough to help me make
this town worth while."

"I'll be as impersonal as cold boiled potatoes. (Not that I shall ever
be able to help you 'make the town worth while.') What do they say about
me? Really. I want to know."

"Of course the illiterate ones resent your references to anything
farther away than Minneapolis. They're so suspicious--that's it,
suspicious. And some think you dress too well."

"Oh, they do, do they! Shall I dress in gunny-sacking to suit them?"

"Please! Are you going to be a baby?"

"I'll be good," sulkily.

"You certainly will, or I won't tell you one single thing. You must
understand this: I'm not asking you to change yourself. Just want you
to know what they think. You must do that, no matter how absurd their
prejudices are, if you're going to handle them. Is it your ambition to
make this a better town, or isn't it?"

"I don't know whether it is or not!"

"Why--why----Tut, tut, now, of course it is! Why, I depend on you.
You're a born reformer."

"I am not--not any more!"

"Of course you are."

"Oh, if I really could help----So they think I'm affected?"

"My lamb, they do! Now don't say they're nervy. After all, Gopher
Prairie standards are as reasonable to Gopher Prairie as Lake Shore
Drive standards are to Chicago. And there's more Gopher Prairies than
there are Chicagos. Or Londons. And----I'll tell you the whole story:
They think you're showing off when you say 'American' instead of
'Ammurrican.' They think you're too frivolous. Life's so serious to them
that they can't imagine any kind of laughter except Juanita's snortling.
Ethel Villets was sure you were patronizing her when----"

"Oh, I was not!"

"----you talked about encouraging reading; and Mrs. Elder thought you
were patronizing when you said she had 'such a pretty little car.' She
thinks it's an enormous car! And some of the merchants say you're too
flip when you talk to them in the store and----"

"Poor me, when I was trying to be friendly!"

"----every housewife in town is doubtful about your being so chummy with
your Bea. All right to be kind, but they say you act as though she were
your cousin. (Wait now! There's plenty more.) And they think you were
eccentric in furnishing this room--they think the broad couch and that
Japanese dingus are absurd. (Wait! I know they're silly.) And I guess
I've heard a dozen criticize you because you don't go to church oftener
and----"

"I can't stand it--I can't bear to realize that they've been saying all
these things while I've been going about so happily and liking them. I
wonder if you ought to have told me? It will make me self-conscious."

"I wonder the same thing. Only answer I can get is the old saw about
knowledge being power. And some day you'll see how absorbing it is to
have power, even here; to control the town----Oh, I'm a crank. But I do
like to see things moving."

"It hurts. It makes these people seem so beastly and treacherous, when
I've been perfectly natural with them. But let's have it all. What did
they say about my Chinese house-warming party?"

"Why, uh----"

"Go on. Or I'll make up worse things than anything you can tell me."

"They did enjoy it. But I guess some of them felt you were showing
off--pretending that your husband is richer than he is."

"I can't----Their meanness of mind is beyond any horrors I could
imagine. They really thought that I----And you want to 'reform' people
like that when dynamite is so cheap? Who dared to say that? The rich or
the poor?"

"Fairly well assorted."

"Can't they at least understand me well enough to see that though I
might be affected and culturine, at least I simply couldn't commit that
other kind of vulgarity? If they must know, you may tell them, with my
compliments, that Will makes about four thousand a year, and the party
cost half of what they probably thought it did. Chinese things are not
very expensive, and I made my own costume----"

"Stop it! Stop beating me! I know all that. What they meant was: they
felt you were starting dangerous competition by giving a party such as
most people here can't afford. Four thousand is a pretty big income for
this town."

"I never thought of starting competition. Will you believe that it was
in all love and friendliness that I tried to give them the gayest party
I could? It was foolish; it was childish and noisy. But I did mean it so
well."

"I know, of course. And it certainly is unfair of them to make fun of
your having that Chinese food--chow men, was it?--and to laugh about
your wearing those pretty trousers----"

Carol sprang up, whimpering, "Oh, they didn't do that! They didn't poke
fun at my feast, that I ordered so carefully for them! And my little
Chinese costume that I was so happy making--I made it secretly, to
surprise them. And they've been ridiculing it, all this while!"

She was huddled on the couch.

Vida was stroking her hair, muttering, "I shouldn't----"

Shrouded in shame, Carol did not know when Vida slipped away. The
clock's bell, at half past five, aroused her. "I must get hold of myself
before Will comes. I hope he never knows what a fool his wife is. . . .
Frozen, sneering, horrible hearts."

Like a very small, very lonely girl she trudged up-stairs, slow step by
step, her feet dragging, her hand on the rail. It was not her husband
to whom she wanted to run for protection--it was her father, her smiling
understanding father, dead these twelve years.



III


Kennicott was yawning, stretched in the largest chair, between the
radiator and a small kerosene stove.

Cautiously, "Will dear, I wonder if the people here don't criticize me
sometimes? They must. I mean: if they ever do, you mustn't let it bother
you."

"Criticize you? Lord, I should say not. They all keep telling me you're
the swellest girl they ever saw."

"Well, I've just fancied----The merchants probably think I'm too fussy
about shopping. I'm afraid I bore Mr. Dashaway and Mr. Howland and Mr.
Ludelmeyer."

"I can tell you how that is. I didn't want to speak of it but since
you've brought it up: Chet Dashaway probably resents the fact that you
got this new furniture down in the Cities instead of here. I didn't want
to raise any objection at the time but----After all, I make my money
here and they naturally expect me to spend it here."

"If Mr. Dashaway will kindly tell me how any civilized person can
furnish a room out of the mortuary pieces that he calls----" She
remembered. She said meekly, "But I understand."

"And Howland and Ludelmeyer----Oh, you've probably handed 'em a few
roasts for the bum stocks they carry, when you just meant to jolly 'em.
But rats, what do we care! This is an independent town, not like these
Eastern holes where you have to watch your step all the time, and live
up to fool demands and social customs, and a lot of old tabbies always
busy criticizing. Everybody's free here to do what he wants to." He said
it with a flourish, and Carol perceived that he believed it. She turned
her breath of fury into a yawn.

"By the way, Carrie, while we're talking of this: Of course I like
to keep independent, and I don't believe in this business of binding
yourself to trade with the man that trades with you unless you really
want to, but same time: I'd be just as glad if you dealt with Jenson or
Ludelmeyer as much as you ran, instead of Howland & Gould, who go to Dr.
Gould every last time, and the whole tribe of 'em the same way. I don't
see why I should be paying out my good money for groceries and having
them pass it on to Terry Gould!"

"I've gone to Howland & Gould because they're better, and cleaner."

"I know. I don't mean cut them out entirely. Course Jenson is
tricky--give you short weight--and Ludelmeyer is a shiftless old Dutch
hog. But same time, I mean let's keep the trade in the family whenever
it is convenient, see how I mean?"

"I see."

"Well, guess it's about time to turn in."

He yawned, went out to look at the thermometer, slammed the door, patted
her head, unbuttoned his waistcoat, yawned, wound the clock, went down
to look at the furnace, yawned, and clumped up-stairs to bed, casually
scratching his thick woolen undershirt.

Till he bawled, "Aren't you ever coming up to bed?" she sat unmoving.



CHAPTER IX


I

SHE had tripped into the meadow to teach the lambs a pretty educational
dance and found that the lambs were wolves. There was no way out between
their pressing gray shoulders. She was surrounded by fangs and sneering
eyes.

She could not go on enduring the hidden derision. She wanted to flee.
She wanted to hide in the generous indifference of cities. She practised
saying to Kennicott, "Think perhaps I'll run down to St. Paul for a few
days." But she could not trust herself to say it carelessly; could not
abide his certain questioning.

Reform the town? All she wanted was to be tolerated!

She could not look directly at people. She flushed and winced before
citizens who a week ago had been amusing objects of study, and in their
good-mornings she heard a cruel sniggering.

She encountered Juanita Haydock at Ole Jenson's grocery. She besought,
"Oh, how do you do! Heavens, what beautiful celery that is!"

"Yes, doesn't it look fresh. Harry simply has to have his celery on
Sunday, drat the man!"

Carol hastened out of the shop exulting, "She didn't make fun of me. . . .
Did she?"

In a week she had recovered from consciousness of insecurity, of shame
and whispering notoriety, but she kept her habit of avoiding people. She
walked the streets with her head down. When she spied Mrs. McGanum or
Mrs. Dyer ahead she crossed over with an elaborate pretense of looking
at a billboard. Always she was acting, for the benefit of every one she
saw--and for the benefit of the ambushed leering eyes which she did not
see.

She perceived that Vida Sherwin had told the truth. Whether she entered
a store, or swept the back porch, or stood at the bay-window in the
living-room, the village peeped at her. Once she had swung along the
street triumphant in making a home. Now she glanced at each house, and
felt, when she was safely home, that she had won past a thousand
enemies armed with ridicule. She told herself that her sensitiveness
was preposterous, but daily she was thrown into panic. She saw curtains
slide back into innocent smoothness. Old women who had been entering
their houses slipped out again to stare at her--in the wintry quiet she
could hear them tiptoeing on their porches. When she had for a blessed
hour forgotten the searchlight, when she was scampering through a chill
dusk, happy in yellow windows against gray night, her heart checked
as she realized that a head covered with a shawl was thrust up over a
snow-tipped bush to watch her.

She admitted that she was taking herself too seriously; that villagers
gape at every one. She became placid, and thought well of her
philosophy. But next morning she had a shock of shame as she entered
Ludelmeyer's. The grocer, his clerk, and neurotic Mrs. Dave Dyer had been
giggling about something. They halted, looked embarrassed, babbled about
onions. Carol felt guilty. That evening when Kennicott took her to call
on the crochety Lyman Casses, their hosts seemed flustered at their
arrival. Kennicott jovially hooted, "What makes you so hang-dog, Lym?"
The Casses tittered feebly.

Except Dave Dyer, Sam Clark, and Raymie Wutherspoon, there were no
merchants of whose welcome Carol was certain. She knew that she read
mockery into greetings but she could not control her suspicion, could
not rise from her psychic collapse. She alternately raged and flinched
at the superiority of the merchants. They did not know that they
were being rude, but they meant to have it understood that they were
prosperous and "not scared of no doctor's wife." They often said, "One
man's as good as another--and a darn sight better." This motto, however,
they did not commend to farmer customers who had had crop failures. The
Yankee merchants were crabbed; and Ole Jenson, Ludelmeyer, and Gus Dahl,
from the "Old Country," wished to be taken for Yankees. James Madison
Howland, born in New Hampshire, and Ole Jenson, born in Sweden, both
proved that they were free American citizens by grunting, "I don't
know whether I got any or not," or "Well, you can't expect me to get it
delivered by noon."

It was good form for the customers to fight back. Juanita Haydock
cheerfully jabbered, "You have it there by twelve or I'll snatch that
fresh delivery-boy bald-headed." But Carol had never been able to play
the game of friendly rudeness; and now she was certain that she never
would learn it. She formed the cowardly habit of going to Axel Egge's.

Axel was not respectable and rude. He was still a foreigner, and he
expected to remain one. His manner was heavy and uninterrogative. His
establishment was more fantastic than any cross-roads store. No one save
Axel himself could find anything. A part of the assortment of children's
stockings was under a blanket on a shelf, a part in a tin ginger-snap
box, the rest heaped like a nest of black-cotton snakes upon a
flour-barrel which was surrounded by brooms, Norwegian Bibles, dried
cod for ludfisk, boxes of apricots, and a pair and a half of lumbermen's
rubber-footed boots. The place was crowded with Scandinavian farmwives,
standing aloof in shawls and ancient fawn-colored leg o' mutton jackets,
awaiting the return of their lords. They spoke Norwegian or Swedish, and
looked at Carol uncomprehendingly. They were a relief to her--they were
not whispering that she was a poseur.

But what she told herself was that Axel Egge's was "so picturesque and
romantic."

It was in the matter of clothes that she was most self-conscious.

When she dared to go shopping in her new checked suit with the
black-embroidered sulphur collar, she had as good as invited all of
Gopher Prairie (which interested itself in nothing so intimately as in
new clothes and the cost thereof) to investigate her. It was a smart
suit with lines unfamiliar to the dragging yellow and pink frocks of the
town. The Widow Bogart's stare, from her porch, indicated, "Well I
never saw anything like that before!" Mrs. McGanum stopped Carol at
the notions shop to hint, "My, that's a nice suit--wasn't it terribly
expensive?" The gang of boys in front of the drug store commented, "Hey,
Pudgie, play you a game of checkers on that dress." Carol could not
endure it. She drew her fur coat over the suit and hastily fastened the
buttons, while the boys snickered.



II


No group angered her quite so much as these staring young roues.

She had tried to convince herself that the village, with its fresh air,
its lakes for fishing and swimming, was healthier than the artificial
city. But she was sickened by glimpses of the gang of boys from fourteen
to twenty who loafed before Dyer's Drug Store, smoking cigarettes,
displaying "fancy" shoes and purple ties and coats of diamond-shaped
buttons, whistling the Hoochi-Koochi and catcalling, "Oh, you baby-doll"
at every passing girl.

She saw them playing pool in the stinking room behind Del Snafflin's
barber shop, and shaking dice in "The Smoke House," and gathered in
a snickering knot to listen to the "juicy stories" of Bert Tybee, the
bartender of the Minniemashie House. She heard them smacking moist lips
over every love-scene at the Rosebud Movie Palace. At the counter of the
Greek Confectionery Parlor, while they ate dreadful messes of decayed
bananas, acid cherries, whipped cream, and gelatinous ice-cream, they
screamed to one another, "Hey, lemme 'lone," "Quit dog-gone you, looka
what you went and done, you almost spilled my glass swater," "Like hell
I did," "Hey, gol darn your hide, don't you go sticking your coffin
nail in my i-scream," "Oh you Batty, how juh like dancing with Tillie
McGuire, last night? Some squeezing, heh, kid?"

By diligent consultation of American fiction she discovered that this
was the only virile and amusing manner in which boys could function;
that boys who were not compounded of the gutter and the mining-camp
were mollycoddles and unhappy. She had taken this for granted. She had
studied the boys pityingly, but impersonally. It had not occurred to her
that they might touch her.

Now she was aware that they knew all about her; that they were waiting
for some affectation over which they could guffaw. No schoolgirl passed
their observation-posts more flushingly than did Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. In
shame she knew that they glanced appraisingly at her snowy overshoes,
speculating about her legs. Theirs were not young eyes--there was no
youth in all the town, she agonized. They were born old, grim and old
and spying and censorious.

She cried again that their youth was senile and cruel on the day when
she overheard Cy Bogart and Earl Haydock.

Cyrus N. Bogart, son of the righteous widow who lived across the alley,
was at this time a boy of fourteen or fifteen. Carol had already seen
quite enough of Cy Bogart. On her first evening in Gopher Prairie Cy
had appeared at the head of a "charivari," banging immensely upon a
discarded automobile fender. His companions were yelping in imitation
of coyotes. Kennicott had felt rather complimented; had gone out and
distributed a dollar. But Cy was a capitalist in charivaris. He returned
with an entirely new group, and this time there were three automobile
fenders and a carnival rattle. When Kennicott again interrupted his
shaving, Cy piped, "Naw, you got to give us two dollars," and he got it.
A week later Cy rigged a tic-tac to a window of the living-room, and the
tattoo out of the darkness frightened Carol into screaming. Since
then, in four months, she had beheld Cy hanging a cat, stealing melons,
throwing tomatoes at the Kennicott house, and making ski-tracks across
the lawn, and had heard him explaining the mysteries of generation,
with great audibility and dismaying knowledge. He was, in fact, a museum
specimen of what a small town, a well-disciplined public school, a
tradition of hearty humor, and a pious mother could produce from the
material of a courageous and ingenious mind.

Carol was afraid of him. Far from protesting when he set his mongrel on
a kitten, she worked hard at not seeing him.

The Kennicott garage was a shed littered with paint-cans, tools, a
lawn-mower, and ancient wisps of hay. Above it was a loft which Cy
Bogart and Earl Haydock, young brother of Harry, used as a den, for
smoking, hiding from whippings, and planning secret societies. They
climbed to it by a ladder on the alley side of the shed.

This morning of late January, two or three weeks after Vida's
revelations, Carol had gone into the stable-garage to find a hammer.
Snow softened her step. She heard voices in the loft above her:

"Ah gee, lez--oh, lez go down the lake and swipe some mushrats out of
somebody's traps," Cy was yawning.

"And get our ears beat off!" grumbled Earl Haydock.

"Gosh, these cigarettes are dandy. 'Member when we were just kids, and
used to smoke corn-silk and hayseed?"

"Yup. Gosh!"

Spit. "Silence."

"Say Earl, ma says if you chew tobacco you get consumption."

"Aw rats, your old lady is a crank."

"Yuh, that's so." Pause. "But she says she knows a fella that did."

"Aw, gee whiz, didn't Doc Kennicott used to chew tobacco all the time
before he married this-here girl from the Cities? He used to spit---Gee!
Some shot! He could hit a tree ten feet off."

This was news to the girl from the Cities.

"Say, how is she?" continued Earl.

"Huh? How's who?"

"You know who I mean, smarty."

A tussle, a thumping of loose boards, silence, weary narration from Cy:

"Mrs. Kennicott? Oh, she's all right, I guess." Relief to Carol, below.
"She gimme a hunk o' cake, one time. But Ma says she's stuck-up as hell.
Ma's always talking about her. Ma says if Mrs. Kennicott thought as much
about the doc as she does about her clothes, the doc wouldn't look so
peaked."

Spit. Silence.

"Yuh. Juanita's always talking about her, too," from Earl. "She says
Mrs. Kennicott thinks she knows it all. Juanita says she has to laugh
till she almost busts every time she sees Mrs. Kennicott peerading along
the street with that 'take a look--I'm a swell skirt' way she's got. But
gosh, I don't pay no attention to Juanita. She's meaner 'n a crab."

"Ma was telling somebody that she heard that Mrs. Kennicott claimed she
made forty dollars a week when she was on some job in the Cities, and
Ma says she knows posolutely that she never made but eighteen a week--Ma
says that when she's lived here a while she won't go round making a fool
of herself, pulling that bighead stuff on folks that know a whole lot
more than she does. They're all laughing up their sleeves at her."

"Say, jever notice how Mrs. Kennicott fusses around the house? Other
evening when I was coming over here, she'd forgot to pull down the
curtain, and I watched her for ten minutes. Jeeze, you'd 'a' died
laughing. She was there all alone, and she must 'a' spent five minutes
getting a picture straight. It was funny as hell the way she'd stick out
her finger to straighten the picture--deedle-dee, see my tunnin' 'ittle
finger, oh my, ain't I cute, what a fine long tail my cat's got!"

"But say, Earl, she's some good-looker, just the same, and O Ignatz! the
glad rags she must of bought for her wedding. Jever notice these low-cut
dresses and these thin shimmy-shirts she wears? I had a good squint at
'em when they were out on the line with the wash. And some ankles she's
got, heh?"

Then Carol fled.

In her innocence she had not known that the whole town could discuss
even her garments, her body. She felt that she was being dragged naked
down Main Street.

The moment it was dusk she pulled down the window-shades, all the shades
flush with the sill, but beyond them she felt moist fleering eyes.



III


She remembered, and tried to forget, and remembered more sharply the
vulgar detail of her husband's having observed the ancient customs
of the land by chewing tobacco. She would have preferred a prettier
vice--gambling or a mistress. For these she might have found a luxury
of forgiveness. She could not remember any fascinatingly wicked hero of
fiction who chewed tobacco. She asserted that it proved him to be a man
of the bold free West. She tried to align him with the hairy-chested
heroes of the motion-pictures. She curled on the couch a pallid softness
in the twilight, and fought herself, and lost the battle. Spitting did
not identify him with rangers riding the buttes; it merely bound him to
Gopher Prairie--to Nat Hicks the tailor and Bert Tybee the bartender.

"But he gave it up for me. Oh, what does it matter! We're all filthy in
some things. I think of myself as so superior, but I do eat and digest,
I do wash my dirty paws and scratch. I'm not a cool slim goddess on
a column. There aren't any! He gave it up for me. He stands by me,
believing that every one loves me. He's the Rock of Ages--in a storm of
meanness that's driving me mad . . . it will drive me mad."

All evening she sang Scotch ballads to Kennicott, and when she noticed
that he was chewing an unlighted cigar she smiled maternally at his
secret.

She could not escape asking (in the exact words and mental intonations
which a thousand million women, dairy wenches and mischief-making
queens, had used before her, and which a million million women will
know hereafter), "Was it all a horrible mistake, my marrying him?" She
quieted the doubt--without answering it.



IV


Kennicott had taken her north to Lac-qui-Meurt, in the Big Woods. It was
the entrance to a Chippewa Indian reservation, a sandy settlement among
Norway pines on the shore of a huge snow-glaring lake. She had her first
sight of his mother, except the glimpse at the wedding. Mrs. Kennicott
had a hushed and delicate breeding which dignified her woodeny
over-scrubbed cottage with its worn hard cushions in heavy rockers.
She had never lost the child's miraculous power of wonder. She asked
questions about books and cities. She murmured:

"Will is a dear hard-working boy but he's inclined to be too serious,
and you've taught him how to play. Last night I heard you both laughing
about the old Indian basket-seller, and I just lay in bed and enjoyed
your happiness."

Carol forgot her misery-hunting in this solidarity of family life.
She could depend upon them; she was not battling alone. Watching Mrs.
Kennicott flit about the kitchen she was better able to translate
Kennicott himself. He was matter-of-fact, yes, and incurably mature. He
didn't really play; he let Carol play with him. But he had his mother's
genius for trusting, her disdain for prying, her sure integrity.

From the two days at Lac-qui-Meurt Carol drew confidence in herself,
and she returned to Gopher Prairie in a throbbing calm like those golden
drugged seconds when, because he is for an instant free from pain, a
sick man revels in living.

A bright hard winter day, the wind shrill, black and silver clouds
booming across the sky, everything in panicky motion during the brief
light. They struggled against the surf of wind, through deep snow.
Kennicott was cheerful. He hailed Loren Wheeler, "Behave yourself while
I been away?" The editor bellowed, "B' gosh you stayed so long that
all your patients have got well!" and importantly took notes for the
Dauntless about their journey. Jackson Elder cried, "Hey, folks! How's
tricks up North?" Mrs. McGanum waved to them from her porch.

"They're glad to see us. We mean something here. These people are
satisfied. Why can't I be? But can I sit back all my life and be
satisfied with 'Hey, folks'? They want shouts on Main Street, and I want
violins in a paneled room. Why----?"



V


Vida Sherwin ran in after school a dozen times. She was tactful,
torrentially anecdotal. She had scuttled about town and plucked
compliments: Mrs. Dr. Westlake had pronounced Carol a "very sweet,
bright, cultured young woman," and Brad Bemis, the tinsmith at Clark's
Hardware Store, had declared that she was "easy to work for and awful
easy to look at."

But Carol could not yet take her in. She resented this outsider's
knowledge of her shame. Vida was not too long tolerant. She hinted,
"You're a great brooder, child. Buck up now. The town's quit criticizing
you, almost entirely. Come with me to the Thanatopsis Club. They
have some of the BEST papers, and current-events discussions--SO
interesting."

In Vida's demands Carol felt a compulsion, but she was too listless to
obey.

It was Bea Sorenson who was really her confidante.

However charitable toward the Lower Classes she may have thought
herself, Carol had been reared to assume that servants belong to
a distinct and inferior species. But she discovered that Bea was
extraordinarily like girls she had loved in college, and as a companion
altogether superior to the young matrons of the Jolly Seventeen. Daily
they became more frankly two girls playing at housework. Bea artlessly
considered Carol the most beautiful and accomplished lady in the
country; she was always shrieking, "My, dot's a swell hat!" or, "Ay
t'ink all dese ladies yoost die when dey see how elegant you do your
hair!" But it was not the humbleness of a servant, nor the hypocrisy of
a slave; it was the admiration of Freshman for Junior.

They made out the day's menus together. Though they began with
propriety, Carol sitting by the kitchen table and Bea at the sink or
blacking the stove, the conference was likely to end with both of them
by the table, while Bea gurgled over the ice-man's attempt to kiss her,
or Carol admitted, "Everybody knows that the doctor is lots more clever
than Dr. McGanum." When Carol came in from marketing, Bea plunged into
the hall to take off her coat, rub her frostied hands, and ask, "Vos
dere lots of folks up-town today?"

This was the welcome upon which Carol depended.



VI

Through her weeks of cowering there was no change in her surface life.
No one save Vida was aware of her agonizing. On her most despairing
days she chatted to women on the street, in stores. But without
the protection of Kennicott's presence she did not go to the Jolly
Seventeen; she delivered herself to the judgment of the town only when
she went shopping and on the ritualistic occasions of formal afternoon
calls, when Mrs. Lyman Cass or Mrs. George Edwin Mott, with clean gloves
and minute handkerchiefs and sealskin card-cases and countenances of
frozen approbation, sat on the edges of chairs and inquired, "Do you
find Gopher Prairie pleasing?" When they spent evenings of social
profit-and-loss at the Haydocks' or the Dyers' she hid behind Kennicott,
playing the simple bride.

Now she was unprotected. Kennicott had taken a patient to Rochester
for an operation. He would be away for two or three days. She had not
minded; she would loosen the matrimonial tension and be a fanciful girl
for a time. But now that he was gone the house was listeningly empty.
Bea was out this afternoon--presumably drinking coffee and talking about
"fellows" with her cousin Tina. It was the day for the monthly supper
and evening-bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, but Carol dared not go.

She sat alone.



CHAPTER X

THE house was haunted, long before evening. Shadows slipped down the
walls and waited behind every chair.

Did that door move?

No. She wouldn't go to the Jolly Seventeen. She hadn't energy enough to
caper before them, to smile blandly at Juanita's rudeness. Not today.
But she did want a party. Now! If some one would come in this afternoon,
some one who liked her--Vida or Mrs. Sam Clark or old Mrs. Champ Perry
or gentle Mrs. Dr. Westlake. Or Guy Pollock! She'd telephone----

No. That wouldn't be it. They must come of themselves.

Perhaps they would.

Why not?

She'd have tea ready, anyway. If they came--splendid. If not--what did
she care? She wasn't going to yield to the village and let down; she was
going to keep up a belief in the rite of tea, to which she had always
looked forward as the symbol of a leisurely fine existence. And it would
be just as much fun, even if it was so babyish, to have tea by herself
and pretend that she was entertaining clever men. It would!

She turned the shining thought into action. She bustled to the kitchen,
stoked the wood-range, sang Schumann while she boiled the kettle, warmed
up raisin cookies on a newspaper spread on the rack in the oven. She
scampered up-stairs to bring down her filmiest tea-cloth. She arranged
a silver tray. She proudly carried it into the living-room and set it on
the long cherrywood table, pushing aside a hoop of embroidery, a volume
of Conrad from the library, copies of the Saturday Evening Post, the
Literary Digest, and Kennicott's National Geographic Magazine.

She moved the tray back and forth and regarded the effect. She shook
her head. She busily unfolded the sewing-table set it in the bay-window,
patted the tea-cloth to smoothness, moved the tray. "Some time I'll have
a mahogany tea-table," she said happily.

She had brought in two cups, two plates. For herself, a straight chair,
but for the guest the big wing-chair, which she pantingly tugged to the
table.

She had finished all the preparations she could think of. She sat and
waited. She listened for the door-bell, the telephone. Her eagerness was
stilled. Her hands drooped.

Surely Vida Sherwin would hear the summons.

She glanced through the bay-window. Snow was sifting over the ridge
of the Howland house like sprays of water from a hose. The wide
yards across the street were gray with moving eddies. The black trees
shivered. The roadway was gashed with ruts of ice.

She looked at the extra cup and plate. She looked at the wing-chair. It
was so empty.

The tea was cold in the pot. With wearily dipping fingertip she tested
it. Yes. Quite cold. She couldn't wait any longer.

The cup across from her was icily clean, glisteningly empty.

Simply absurd to wait. She poured her own cup of tea. She sat and stared
at it. What was it she was going to do now? Oh yes; how idiotic; take a
lump of sugar.

She didn't want the beastly tea.

She was springing up. She was on the couch, sobbing.



II


She was thinking more sharply than she had for weeks.

She reverted to her resolution to change the town--awaken it, prod it,
"reform" it. What if they were wolves instead of lambs? They'd eat her
all the sooner if she was meek to them. Fight or be eaten. It was easier
to change the town completely than to conciliate it! She could not take
their point of view; it was a negative thing; an intellectual squalor;
a swamp of prejudices and fears. She would have to make them take hers.
She was not a Vincent de Paul, to govern and mold a people. What of
that? The tiniest change in their distrust of beauty would be the
beginning of the end; a seed to sprout and some day with thickening
roots to crack their wall of mediocrity. If she could not, as she
desired, do a great thing nobly and with laughter, yet she need not be
content with village nothingness. She would plant one seed in the blank
wall.

Was she just? Was it merely a blank wall, this town which to three
thousand and more people was the center of the universe? Hadn't she,
returning from Lac-qui-Meurt, felt the heartiness of their greetings?
No. The ten thousand Gopher Prairies had no monopoly of greetings and
friendly hands. Sam Clark was no more loyal than girl librarians she
knew in St. Paul, the people she had met in Chicago. And those others
had so much that Gopher Prairie complacently lacked--the world of gaiety
and adventure, of music and the integrity of bronze, of remembered
mists from tropic isles and Paris nights and the walls of Bagdad, of
industrial justice and a God who spake not in doggerel hymns.

One seed. Which seed it was did not matter. All knowledge and freedom
were one. But she had delayed so long in finding that seed. Could she
do something with this Thanatopsis Club? Or should she make her house
so charming that it would be an influence? She'd make Kennicott like
poetry. That was it, for a beginning! She conceived so clear a picture
of their bending over large fair pages by the fire (in a non-existent
fireplace) that the spectral presences slipped away. Doors no longer
moved; curtains were not creeping shadows but lovely dark masses in the
dusk; and when Bea came home Carol was singing at the piano which she
had not touched for many days.

Their supper was the feast of two girls. Carol was in the dining-room,
in a frock of black satin edged with gold, and Bea, in blue gingham and
an apron, dined in the kitchen; but the door was open between, and
Carol was inquiring, "Did you see any ducks in Dahl's window?" and Bea
chanting, "No, ma'am. Say, ve have a svell time, dis afternoon. Tina she
have coffee and knackebrod, and her fella vos dere, and ve yoost laughed
and laughed, and her fella say he vos president and he going to make
me queen of Finland, and Ay stick a fedder in may hair and say Ay bane
going to go to var--oh, ve vos so foolish and ve LAUGH so!"

When Carol sat at the piano again she did not think of her husband but
of the book-drugged hermit, Guy Pollock. She wished that Pollock would
come calling.

"If a girl really kissed him, he'd creep out of his den and be human. If
Will were as literate as Guy, or Guy were as executive as Will, I think
I could endure even Gopher Prairie. It's so hard to mother Will. I
could be maternal with Guy. Is that what I want, something to mother, a
man or a baby or a town? I WILL have a baby. Some day. But to have him
isolated here all his receptive years----

"And so to bed.

"Have I found my real level in Bea and kitchen-gossip?

"Oh, I do miss you, Will. But it will be pleasant to turn over in bed as
often as I want to, without worrying about waking you up.

"Am I really this settled thing called a 'married woman'? I feel
so unmarried tonight. So free. To think that there was once a Mrs.
Kennicott who let herself worry over a town called Gopher Prairie when
there was a whole world outside it!

"Of course Will is going to like poetry."



III


A black February day. Clouds hewn of ponderous timber weighing down
on the earth; an irresolute dropping of snow specks upon the trampled
wastes. Gloom but no veiling of angularity. The lines of roofs and
sidewalks sharp and inescapable.

The second day of Kennicott's absence.

She fled from the creepy house for a walk. It was thirty below zero;
too cold to exhilarate her. In the spaces between houses the wind caught
her. It stung, it gnawed at nose and ears and aching cheeks, and she
hastened from shelter to shelter, catching her breath in the lee of a
barn, grateful for the protection of a billboard covered with ragged
posters showing layer under layer of paste-smeared green and streaky
red.

The grove of oaks at the end of the street suggested Indians, hunting,
snow-shoes, and she struggled past the earth-banked cottages to the
open country, to a farm and a low hill corrugated with hard snow. In
her loose nutria coat, seal toque, virginal cheeks unmarked by lines of
village jealousies, she was as out of place on this dreary hillside as
a scarlet tanager on an ice-floe. She looked down on Gopher Prairie. The
snow, stretching without break from streets to devouring prairie beyond,
wiped out the town's pretense of being a shelter. The houses were black
specks on a white sheet. Her heart shivered with that still loneliness
as her body shivered with the wind.

She ran back into the huddle of streets, all the while protesting that
she wanted a city's yellow glare of shop-windows and restaurants, or the
primitive forest with hooded furs and a rifle, or a barnyard warm and
steamy, noisy with hens and cattle, certainly not these dun houses,
these yards choked with winter ash-piles, these roads of dirty snow and
clotted frozen mud. The zest of winter was gone. Three months more, till
May, the cold might drag on, with the snow ever filthier, the weakened
body less resistent. She wondered why the good citizens insisted on
adding the chill of prejudice, why they did not make the houses of their
spirits more warm and frivolous, like the wise chatterers of Stockholm
and Moscow.

She circled the outskirts of the town and viewed the slum of "Swede
Hollow." Wherever as many as three houses are gathered there will be a
slum of at least one house. In Gopher Prairie, the Sam Clarks boasted,
"you don't get any of this poverty that you find in cities--always
plenty of work--no need of charity--man got to be blame shiftless if he
don't get ahead." But now that the summer mask of leaves and grass was
gone, Carol discovered misery and dead hope. In a shack of thin boards
covered with tar-paper she saw the washerwoman, Mrs. Steinhof, working
in gray steam. Outside, her six-year-old boy chopped wood. He had a torn
jacket, muffler of a blue like skimmed milk. His hands were covered with
red mittens through which protruded his chapped raw knuckles. He halted
to blow on them, to cry disinterestedly.

A family of recently arrived Finns were camped in an abandoned stable. A
man of eighty was picking up lumps of coal along the railroad.

She did not know what to do about it. She felt that these independent
citizens, who had been taught that they belonged to a democracy, would
resent her trying to play Lady Bountiful.

She lost her loneliness in the activity of the village industries--the
railroad-yards with a freight-train switching, the wheat-elevator,
oil-tanks, a slaughter-house with blood-marks on the snow, the creamery
with the sleds of farmers and piles of milk-cans, an unexplained stone
hut labeled "Danger--Powder Stored Here." The jolly tombstone-yard,
where a utilitarian sculptor in a red calfskin overcoat whistled as
he hammered the shiniest of granite headstones. Jackson Elder's small
planing-mill, with the smell of fresh pine shavings and the burr of
circular saws. Most important, the Gopher Prairie Flour and Milling
Company, Lyman Cass president. Its windows were blanketed with
flour-dust, but it was the most stirring spot in town. Workmen were
wheeling barrels of flour into a box-car; a farmer sitting on sacks of
wheat in a bobsled argued with the wheat-buyer; machinery within the
mill boomed and whined, water gurgled in the ice-freed mill-race.

The clatter was a relief to Carol after months of smug houses. She
wished that she could work in the mill; that she did not belong to the
caste of professional-man's-wife.

She started for home, through the small slum. Before a tar-paper shack,
at a gateless gate, a man in rough brown dogskin coat and black plush
cap with lappets was watching her. His square face was confident,
his foxy mustache was picaresque. He stood erect, his hands in his
side-pockets, his pipe puffing slowly. He was forty-five or -six,
perhaps.

"How do, Mrs. Kennicott," he drawled.

She recalled him--the town handyman, who had repaired their furnace at
the beginning of winter.

"Oh, how do you do," she fluttered.

"My name 's Bjornstam. 'The Red Swede' they call me. Remember? Always
thought I'd kind of like to say howdy to you again."

"Ye--yes----I've been exploring the outskirts of town."

"Yump. Fine mess. No sewage, no street cleaning, and the Lutheran
minister and the priest represent the arts and sciences. Well, thunder,
we submerged tenth down here in Swede Hollow are no worse off than you
folks. Thank God, we don't have to go and purr at Juanity Haydock at the
Jolly Old Seventeen."

The Carol who regarded herself as completely adaptable was uncomfortable
at being chosen as comrade by a pipe-reeking odd-job man. Probably he
was one of her husband's patients. But she must keep her dignity.

"Yes, even the Jolly Seventeen isn't always so exciting. It's very cold
again today, isn't it. Well----"

Bjornstam was not respectfully valedictory. He showed no signs of
pulling a forelock. His eyebrows moved as though they had a life of
their own. With a subgrin he went on:

"Maybe I hadn't ought to talk about Mrs. Haydock and her Solemcholy
Seventeen in that fresh way. I suppose I'd be tickled to death if I was
invited to sit in with that gang. I'm what they call a pariah, I guess.
I'm the town badman, Mrs. Kennicott: town atheist, and I suppose I must
be an anarchist, too. Everybody who doesn't love the bankers and the
Grand Old Republican Party is an anarchist."

Carol had unconsciously slipped from her attitude of departure into an
attitude of listening, her face full toward him, her muff lowered. She
fumbled:

"Yes, I suppose so." Her own grudges came in a flood. "I don't see why
you shouldn't criticize the Jolly Seventeen if you want to. They aren't
sacred."

"Oh yes, they are! The dollar-sign has chased the crucifix clean off
the map. But then, I've got no kick. I do what I please, and I suppose I
ought to let them do the same."

"What do you mean by saying you're a pariah?"

"I'm poor, and yet I don't decently envy the rich. I'm an old bach.
I make enough money for a stake, and then I sit around by myself, and
shake hands with myself, and have a smoke, and read history, and I don't
contribute to the wealth of Brother Elder or Daddy Cass."

"You----I fancy you read a good deal."

"Yep. In a hit-or-a-miss way. I'll tell you: I'm a lone wolf. I trade
horses, and saw wood, and work in lumber-camps--I'm a first-rate
swamper. Always wished I could go to college. Though I s'pose I'd find
it pretty slow, and they'd probably kick me out."

"You really are a curious person, Mr.----"

"Bjornstam. Miles Bjornstam. Half Yank and half Swede. Usually known as
'that damn lazy big-mouthed calamity-howler that ain't satisfied with
the way we run things.' No, I ain't curious--whatever you mean by
that! I'm just a bookworm. Probably too much reading for the amount
of digestion I've got. Probably half-baked. I'm going to get in
'half-baked' first, and beat you to it, because it's dead sure to be
handed to a radical that wears jeans!"

They grinned together. She demanded:

"You say that the Jolly Seventeen is stupid. What makes you think so?"

"Oh, trust us borers into the foundation to know about your leisure
class. Fact, Mrs. Kennicott, I'll say that far as I can make out, the
only people in this man's town that do have any brains--I don't mean
ledger-keeping brains or duck-hunting brains or baby-spanking brains,
but real imaginative brains--are you and me and Guy Pollock and the
foreman at the flour-mill. He's a socialist, the foreman. (Don't tell
Lym Cass that! Lym would fire a socialist quicker than he would a
horse-thief!)"

"Indeed no, I sha'n't tell him."

"This foreman and I have some great set-to's. He's a regular old-line
party-member. Too dogmatic. Expects to reform everything from
deforestration to nosebleed by saying phrases like 'surplus value.'
Like reading the prayer-book. But same time, he's a Plato J. Aristotle
compared with people like Ezry Stowbody or Professor Mott or Julius
Flickerbaugh."

"It's interesting to hear about him."

He dug his toe into a drift, like a schoolboy. "Rats. You mean I talk
too much. Well, I do, when I get hold of somebody like you. You probably
want to run along and keep your nose from freezing."

"Yes, I must go, I suppose. But tell me: Why did you leave Miss Sherwin,
of the high school, out of your list of the town intelligentsia?"

"I guess maybe she does belong in it. From all I can hear she's in
everything and behind everything that looks like a reform--lot more
than most folks realize. She lets Mrs. Reverend Warren, the president
of this-here Thanatopsis Club, think she's running the works, but Miss
Sherwin is the secret boss, and nags all the easy-going dames into doing
something. But way I figure it out----You see, I'm not interested in
these dinky reforms. Miss Sherwin's trying to repair the holes in this
barnacle-covered ship of a town by keeping busy bailing out the water.
And Pollock tries to repair it by reading poetry to the crew! Me, I want
to yank it up on the ways, and fire the poor bum of a shoemaker that
built it so it sails crooked, and have it rebuilt right, from the keel
up."

"Yes--that--that would be better. But I must run home. My poor nose is
nearly frozen."

"Say, you better come in and get warm, and see what an old bach's shack
is like."

She looked doubtfully at him, at the low shanty, the yard that was
littered with cord-wood, moldy planks, a hoopless wash-tub. She was
disquieted, but Bjornstam did not give her the opportunity to be
delicate. He flung out his hand in a welcoming gesture which assumed
that she was her own counselor, that she was not a Respectable Married
Woman but fully a human being. With a shaky, "Well, just a moment, to
warm my nose," she glanced down the street to make sure that she was not
spied on, and bolted toward the shanty.

She remained for one hour, and never had she known a more considerate
host than the Red Swede.

He had but one room: bare pine floor, small work-bench, wall bunk with
amazingly neat bed, frying-pan and ash-stippled coffee-pot on the
shelf behind the pot-bellied cannon-ball stove, backwoods chairs--one
constructed from half a barrel, one from a tilted plank--and a row of
books incredibly assorted; Byron and Tennyson and Stevenson, a manual of
gas-engines, a book by Thorstein Veblen, and a spotty treatise on "The
Care, Feeding, Diseases, and Breeding of Poultry and Cattle."

There was but one picture--a magazine color-plate of a steep-roofed
village in the Harz Mountains which suggested kobolds and maidens with
golden hair.

Bjornstam did not fuss over her. He suggested, "Might throw open your
coat and put your feet up on the box in front of the stove." He tossed
his dogskin coat into the bunk, lowered himself into the barrel chair,
and droned on:

"Yeh, I'm probably a yahoo, but by gum I do keep my independence by
doing odd jobs, and that's more 'n these polite cusses like the clerks
in the banks do. When I'm rude to some slob, it may be partly because I
don't know better (and God knows I'm not no authority on trick forks
and what pants you wear with a Prince Albert), but mostly it's because I
mean something. I'm about the only man in Johnson County that remembers
the joker in the Declaration of Independence about Americans being
supposed to have the right to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness.'

"I meet old Ezra Stowbody on the street. He looks at me like he wants me
to remember he's a highmuckamuck and worth two hundred thousand dollars,
and he says, 'Uh, Bjornquist----'

"'Bjornstam's my name, Ezra,' I says. HE knows my name, all rightee.

"'Well, whatever your name is,' he says, 'I understand you have a
gasoline saw. I want you to come around and saw up four cords of maple
for me,' he says.

"'So you like my looks, eh?' I says, kind of innocent.

"'What difference does that make? Want you to saw that wood before
Saturday,' he says, real sharp. Common workman going and getting fresh
with a fifth of a million dollars all walking around in a hand-me-down
fur coat!

"'Here's the difference it makes,' I says, just to devil him. 'How do
you know I like YOUR looks?' Maybe he didn't look sore! 'Nope,' I says,
thinking it all over, 'I don't like your application for a loan. Take it
to another bank, only there ain't any,' I says, and I walks off on him.

"Sure. Probably I was surly--and foolish. But I figured there had to be
ONE man in town independent enough to sass the banker!"

He hitched out of his chair, made coffee, gave Carol a cup, and talked
on, half defiant and half apologetic, half wistful for friendliness
and half amused by her surprise at the discovery that there was a
proletarian philosophy.

At the door, she hinted:

"Mr. Bjornstam, if you were I, would you worry when people thought you
were affected?"

"Huh? Kick 'em in the face! Say, if I were a sea-gull, and all over
silver, think I'd care what a pack of dirty seals thought about my
flying?"

It was not the wind at her back, it was the thrust of Bjornstam's scorn
which carried her through town. She faced Juanita Haydock, cocked
her head at Maud Dyer's brief nod, and came home to Bea radiant. She
telephoned Vida Sherwin to "run over this evening." She lustily played
Tschaikowsky--the virile chords an echo of the red laughing philosopher
of the tar-paper shack.

(When she hinted to Vida, "Isn't there a man here who amuses himself by
being irreverent to the village gods--Bjornstam, some such a name?"
the reform-leader said "Bjornstam? Oh yes. Fixes things. He's awfully
impertinent.")



IV


Kennicott had returned at midnight. At breakfast he said four several
times that he had missed her every moment.

On her way to market Sam Clark hailed her, "The top o' the mornin'
to yez! Going to stop and pass the time of day mit Sam'l? Warmer, eh?
What'd the doc's thermometer say it was? Say, you folks better come
round and visit with us, one of these evenings. Don't be so dog-gone
proud, staying by yourselves."

Champ Perry the pioneer, wheat-buyer at the elevator, stopped her in
the post-office, held her hand in his withered paws, peered at her
with faded eyes, and chuckled, "You are so fresh and blooming, my dear.
Mother was saying t'other day that a sight of you was better 'n a dose
of medicine."

In the Bon Ton Store she found Guy Pollock tentatively buying a modest
gray scarf. "We haven't seen you for so long," she said. "Wouldn't you
like to come in and play cribbage, some evening?" As though he meant it,
Pollock begged, "May I, really?"

While she was purchasing two yards of malines the vocal Raymie
Wutherspoon tiptoed up to her, his long sallow face bobbing, and he
besought, "You've just got to come back to my department and see a pair
of patent leather slippers I set aside for you."

In a manner of more than sacerdotal reverence he unlaced her boots,
tucked her skirt about her ankles, slid on the slippers. She took them.

"You're a good salesman," she said.

"I'm not a salesman at all! I just like elegant things. All this is so
inartistic." He indicated with a forlornly waving hand the shelves of
shoe-boxes, the seat of thin wood perforated in rosettes, the display of
shoe-trees and tin boxes of blacking, the lithograph of a smirking
young woman with cherry cheeks who proclaimed in the exalted poetry of
advertising, "My tootsies never got hep to what pedal perfection was
till I got a pair of clever classy Cleopatra Shoes."

"But sometimes," Raymie sighed, "there is a pair of dainty little shoes
like these, and I set them aside for some one who will appreciate. When
I saw these I said right away, 'Wouldn't it be nice if they fitted Mrs.
Kennicott,' and I meant to speak to you first chance I had. I haven't
forgotten our jolly talks at Mrs. Gurrey's!"

That evening Guy Pollock came in and, though Kennicott instantly
impressed him into a cribbage game, Carol was happy again.



V


She did not, in recovering something of her buoyancy, forget her
determination to begin the liberalizing of Gopher Prairie by the easy
and agreeable propaganda of teaching Kennicott to enjoy reading poetry
in the lamplight. The campaign was delayed. Twice he suggested that they
call on neighbors; once he was in the country. The fourth evening
he yawned pleasantly, stretched, and inquired, "Well, what'll we do
tonight? Shall we go to the movies?"

"I know exactly what we're going to do. Now don't ask questions! Come
and sit down by the table. There, are you comfy? Lean back and forget
you're a practical man, and listen to me."

It may be that she had been influenced by the managerial Vida Sherwin;
certainly she sounded as though she was selling culture. But she dropped
it when she sat on the couch, her chin in her hands, a volume of Yeats
on her knees, and read aloud.

Instantly she was released from the homely comfort of a prairie town.
She was in the world of lonely things--the flutter of twilight linnets,
the aching call of gulls along a shore to which the netted foam crept
out of darkness, the island of Aengus and the elder gods and the eternal
glories that never were, tall kings and women girdled with crusted gold,
the woful incessant chanting and the----

"Heh-cha-cha!" coughed Dr. Kennicott. She stopped. She remembered that
he was the sort of person who chewed tobacco. She glared, while he
uneasily petitioned, "That's great stuff. Study it in college? I
like poetry fine--James Whitcomb Riley and some of Longfellow--this
'Hiawatha.' Gosh, I wish I could appreciate that highbrow art stuff. But
I guess I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks."

With pity for his bewilderment, and a certain desire to giggle, she
consoled him, "Then let's try some Tennyson. You've read him?"

"Tennyson? You bet. Read him in school. There's that:

     And let there be no (what is it?) of farewell
     When I put out to sea,
     But let the----

Well, I don't remember all of it but----Oh, sure! And there's that 'I
met a little country boy who----' I don't remember exactly how it goes,
but the chorus ends up, 'We are seven.'"

"Yes. Well----Shall we try 'The Idylls of the King?' They're so full of
color."

"Go to it. Shoot." But he hastened to shelter himself behind a cigar.

She was not transported to Camelot. She read with an eye cocked on him,
and when she saw how much he was suffering she ran to him, kissed his
forehead, cried, "You poor forced tube-rose that wants to be a decent
turnip!"

"Look here now, that ain't----"

"Anyway, I sha'n't torture you any longer."

She could not quite give up. She read Kipling, with a great deal of
emphasis:


There's a REGIMENT a-COMING down the GRAND Trunk ROAD.


He tapped his foot to the rhythm; he looked normal and reassured. But
when he complimented her, "That was fine. I don't know but what you
can elocute just as good as Ella Stowbody," she banged the book and
suggested that they were not too late for the nine o'clock show at the
movies.

That was her last effort to harvest the April wind, to teach divine
unhappiness by a correspondence course, to buy the lilies of Avalon and
the sunsets of Cockaigne in tin cans at Ole Jenson's Grocery.

But the fact is that at the motion-pictures she discovered herself
laughing as heartily as Kennicott at the humor of an actor who stuffed
spaghetti down a woman's evening frock. For a second she loathed her
laughter; mourned for the day when on her hill by the Mississippi
she had walked the battlements with queens. But the celebrated cinema
jester's conceit of dropping toads into a soup-plate flung her into
unwilling tittering, and the afterglow faded, the dead queens fled
through darkness.



VI


She went to the Jolly Seventeen's afternoon bridge. She had learned
the elements of the game from the Sam Clarks. She played quietly and
reasonably badly. She had no opinions on anything more polemic than
woolen union-suits, a topic on which Mrs. Howland discoursed for five
minutes. She smiled frequently, and was the complete canary-bird in her
manner of thanking the hostess, Mrs. Dave Dyer.

Her only anxious period was during the conference on husbands.

The young matrons discussed the intimacies of domesticity with a
frankness and a minuteness which dismayed Carol. Juanita Haydock
communicated Harry's method of shaving, and his interest in
deer-shooting. Mrs. Gougerling reported fully, and with some irritation,
her husband's inappreciation of liver and bacon. Maud Dyer chronicled
Dave's digestive disorders; quoted a recent bedtime controversy with
him in regard to Christian Science, socks and the sewing of buttons
upon vests; announced that she "simply wasn't going to stand his always
pawing girls when he went and got crazy-jealous if a man just danced
with her"; and rather more than sketched Dave's varieties of kisses.

So meekly did Carol give attention, so obviously was she at last
desirous of being one of them, that they looked on her fondly, and
encouraged her to give such details of her honeymoon as might be of
interest. She was embarrassed rather than resentful. She deliberately
misunderstood. She talked of Kennicott's overshoes and medical ideals
till they were thoroughly bored. They regarded her as agreeable but
green.

Till the end she labored to satisfy the inquisition. She bubbled at
Juanita, the president of the club, that she wanted to entertain them.
"Only," she said, "I don't know that I can give you any refreshments as
nice as Mrs. Dyer's salad, or that simply delicious angel's-food we had
at your house, dear."

"Fine! We need a hostess for the seventeenth of March. Wouldn't it be
awfully original if you made it a St. Patrick's Day bridge! I'll be
tickled to death to help you with it. I'm glad you've learned to play
bridge. At first I didn't hardly know if you were going to like Gopher
Prairie. Isn't it dandy that you've settled down to being homey with us!
Maybe we aren't as highbrow as the Cities, but we do have the daisiest
times and--oh, we go swimming in summer, and dances and--oh, lots of
good times. If folks will just take us as we are, I think we're a pretty
good bunch!"

"I'm sure of it. Thank you so much for the idea about having a St.
Patrick's Day bridge."

"Oh, that's nothing. I always think the Jolly Seventeen are so good at
original ideas. If you knew these other towns Wakamin and Joralemon and
all, you'd find out and realize that G. P. is the liveliest, smartest
town in the state. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan, the famous auto
manufacturer, came from here and----Yes, I think that a St. Patrick's
Day party would be awfully cunning and original, and yet not too queer
or freaky or anything."



CHAPTER XI

I

SHE had often been invited to the weekly meetings of the Thanatopsis,
the women's study club, but she had put it off. The Thanatopsis was,
Vida Sherwin promised, "such a cozy group, and yet it puts you in touch
with all the intellectual thoughts that are going on everywhere."

Early in March Mrs. Westlake, wife of the veteran physician, marched
into Carol's living-room like an amiable old pussy and suggested, "My
dear, you really must come to the Thanatopsis this afternoon. Mrs.
Dawson is going to be leader and the poor soul is frightened to death.
She wanted me to get you to come. She says she's sure you will brighten
up the meeting with your knowledge of books and writings. (English
poetry is our topic today.) So shoo! Put on your coat!"

"English poetry? Really? I'd love to go. I didn't realize you were
reading poetry."

"Oh, we're not so slow!"

Mrs. Luke Dawson, wife of the richest man in town, gaped at them
piteously when they appeared. Her expensive frock of beaver-colored
satin with rows, plasters, and pendants of solemn brown beads was
intended for a woman twice her size. She stood wringing her hands in
front of nineteen folding chairs, in her front parlor with its faded
photograph of Minnehaha Falls in 1890, its "colored enlargement" of
Mr. Dawson, its bulbous lamp painted with sepia cows and mountains and
standing on a mortuary marble column.

She creaked, "O Mrs. Kennicott, I'm in such a fix. I'm supposed to lead
the discussion, and I wondered would you come and help?"

"What poet do you take up today?" demanded Carol, in her library tone of
"What book do you wish to take out?"

"Why, the English ones."

"Not all of them?"

"W-why yes. We're learning all of European Literature this year.
The club gets such a nice magazine, Culture Hints, and we follow its
programs. Last year our subject was Men and Women of the Bible, and next
year we'll probably take up Furnishings and China. My, it does make a
body hustle to keep up with all these new culture subjects, but it is
improving. So will you help us with the discussion today?"

On her way over Carol had decided to use the Thanatopsis as the tool
with which to liberalize the town. She had immediately conceived
enormous enthusiasm; she had chanted, "These are the real people. When
the housewives, who bear the burdens, are interested in poetry, it means
something. I'll work with them--for them--anything!"

Her enthusiasm had become watery even before thirteen women resolutely
removed their overshoes, sat down meatily, ate peppermints, dusted their
fingers, folded their hands, composed their lower thoughts, and invited
the naked muse of poetry to deliver her most improving message. They had
greeted Carol affectionately, and she tried to be a daughter to them.
But she felt insecure. Her chair was out in the open, exposed to their
gaze, and it was a hard-slatted, quivery, slippery church-parlor chair,
likely to collapse publicly and without warning. It was impossible to
sit on it without folding the hands and listening piously.

She wanted to kick the chair and run. It would make a magnificent
clatter.

She saw that Vida Sherwin was watching her. She pinched her wrist, as
though she were a noisy child in church, and when she was decent and
cramped again, she listened.

Mrs. Dawson opened the meeting by sighing, "I'm sure I'm glad to see you
all here today, and I understand that the ladies have prepared a number
of very interesting papers, this is such an interesting subject, the
poets, they have been an inspiration for higher thought, in fact wasn't
it Reverend Benlick who said that some of the poets have been as much an
inspiration as a good many of the ministers, and so we shall be glad to
hear----"

The poor lady smiled neuralgically, panted with fright, scrabbled about
the small oak table to find her eye-glasses, and continued, "We
will first have the pleasure of hearing Mrs. Jenson on the subject
'Shakespeare and Milton.'"

Mrs. Ole Jenson said that Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died 1616. He
lived in London, England, and in Stratford-on-Avon, which many American
tourists loved to visit, a lovely town with many curios and old houses
well worth examination. Many people believed that Shakespeare was the
greatest play-wright who ever lived, also a fine poet. Not much was
known about his life, but after all that did not really make so much
difference, because they loved to read his numerous plays, several of
the best known of which she would now criticize.

Perhaps the best known of his plays was "The Merchant of Venice," having
a beautiful love story and a fine appreciation of a woman's brains,
which a woman's club, even those who did not care to commit themselves
on the question of suffrage, ought to appreciate. (Laughter.) Mrs.
Jenson was sure that she, for one, would love to be like Portia. The
play was about a Jew named Shylock, and he didn't want his daughter to
marry a Venice gentleman named Antonio----

Mrs. Leonard Warren, a slender, gray, nervous woman, president of the
Thanatopsis and wife of the Congregational pastor, reported the birth
and death dates of Byron, Scott, Moore, Burns; and wound up:

"Burns was quite a poor boy and he did not enjoy the advantages we enjoy
today, except for the advantages of the fine old Scotch kirk where he
heard the Word of God preached more fearlessly than even in the finest
big brick churches in the big and so-called advanced cities of today,
but he did not have our educational advantages and Latin and the other
treasures of the mind so richly strewn before the, alas, too ofttimes
inattentive feet of our youth who do not always sufficiently appreciate
the privileges freely granted to every American boy rich or poor. Burns
had to work hard and was sometimes led by evil companionship into low
habits. But it is morally instructive to know that he was a good
student and educated himself, in striking contrast to the loose ways and
so-called aristocratic society-life of Lord Byron, on which I have just
spoken. And certainly though the lords and earls of his day may have
looked down upon Burns as a humble person, many of us have greatly
enjoyed his pieces about the mouse and other rustic subjects, with their
message of humble beauty--I am so sorry I have not got the time to quote
some of them."

Mrs. George Edwin Mott gave ten minutes to Tennyson and Browning.

Mrs. Nat Hicks, a wry-faced, curiously sweet woman, so awed by her
betters that Carol wanted to kiss her, completed the day's grim task by
a paper on "Other Poets." The other poets worthy of consideration were
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Gray, Mrs. Hemans, and Kipling.

Miss Ella Stowbody obliged with a recital of "The Recessional" and
extracts from "Lalla Rookh." By request, she gave "An Old Sweetheart of
Mine" as encore.

Gopher Prairie had finished the poets. It was ready for the next week's
labor: English Fiction and Essays.

Mrs. Dawson besought, "Now we will have a discussion of the papers, and
I am sure we shall all enjoy hearing from one who we hope to have as a
new member, Mrs. Kennicott, who with her splendid literary training and
all should be able to give us many pointers and--many helpful pointers."

Carol had warned herself not to be so "beastly supercilious." She had
insisted that in the belated quest of these work-stained women was
an aspiration which ought to stir her tears. "But they're so
self-satisfied. They think they're doing Burns a favor. They don't
believe they have a 'belated quest.' They're sure that they have culture
salted and hung up." It was out of this stupor of doubt that Mrs.
Dawson's summons roused her. She was in a panic. How could she speak
without hurting them?

Mrs. Champ Perry leaned over to stroke her hand and whisper, "You look
tired, dearie. Don't you talk unless you want to."

Affection flooded Carol; she was on her feet, searching for words and
courtesies:

"The only thing in the way of suggestion----I know you are following
a definite program, but I do wish that now you've had such a splendid
introduction, instead of going on with some other subject next year you
could return and take up the poets more in detail. Especially actual
quotations--even though their lives are so interesting and, as Mrs.
Warren said, so morally instructive. And perhaps there are several poets
not mentioned today whom it might be worth while considering--Keats, for
instance, and Matthew Arnold and Rossetti and Swinburne. Swinburne would
be such a--well, that is, such a contrast to life as we all enjoy it in
our beautiful Middle-west----"

She saw that Mrs. Leonard Warren was not with her. She captured her by
innocently continuing:

"Unless perhaps Swinburne tends to be, uh, more outspoken than you, than
we really like. What do you think, Mrs. Warren?"

The pastor's wife decided, "Why, you've caught my very thoughts, Mrs.
Kennicott. Of course I have never READ Swinburne, but years ago, when
he was in vogue, I remember Mr. Warren saying that Swinburne (or was
it Oscar Wilde? but anyway:) he said that though many so-called
intellectual people posed and pretended to find beauty in Swinburne,
there can never be genuine beauty without the message from the heart.
But at the same time I do think you have an excellent idea, and though
we have talked about Furnishings and China as the probable subject for
next year, I believe that it would be nice if the program committee
would try to work in another day entirely devoted to English poetry! In
fact, Madame Chairman, I so move you."

When Mrs. Dawson's coffee and angel's-food had helped them to recover
from the depression caused by thoughts of Shakespeare's death they all
told Carol that it was a pleasure to have her with them. The membership
committee retired to the sitting-room for three minutes and elected her
a member.

And she stopped being patronizing.

She wanted to be one of them. They were so loyal and kind. It was they
who would carry out her aspiration. Her campaign against village sloth
was actually begun! On what specific reform should she first loose
her army? During the gossip after the meeting Mrs. George Edwin Mott
remarked that the city hall seemed inadequate for the splendid modern
Gopher Prairie. Mrs. Nat Hicks timidly wished that the young people
could have free dances there--the lodge dances were so exclusive. The
city hall. That was it! Carol hurried home.

She had not realized that Gopher Prairie was a city. From Kennicott she
discovered that it was legally organized with a mayor and city-council
and wards. She was delighted by the simplicity of voting one's self a
metropolis. Why not?

She was a proud and patriotic citizen, all evening.



II


She examined the city hall, next morning. She had remembered it only as
a bleak inconspicuousness. She found it a liver-colored frame coop half
a block from Main Street. The front was an unrelieved wall of clapboards
and dirty windows. It had an unobstructed view of a vacant lot and Nat
Hicks's tailor shop. It was larger than the carpenter shop beside it,
but not so well built.

No one was about. She walked into the corridor. On one side was the
municipal court, like a country school; on the other, the room of the
volunteer fire company, with a Ford hose-cart and the ornamental helmets
used in parades, at the end of the hall, a filthy two-cell jail, now
empty but smelling of ammonia and ancient sweat. The whole second story
was a large unfinished room littered with piles of folding chairs, a
lime-crusted mortar-mixing box, and the skeletons of Fourth of July
floats covered with decomposing plaster shields and faded red, white,
and blue bunting. At the end was an abortive stage. The room was large
enough for the community dances which Mrs. Nat Hicks advocated. But
Carol was after something bigger than dances.

In the afternoon she scampered to the public library.

The library was open three afternoons and four evenings a week. It was
housed in an old dwelling, sufficient but unattractive. Carol caught
herself picturing pleasanter reading-rooms, chairs for children, an art
collection, a librarian young enough to experiment.

She berated herself, "Stop this fever of reforming everything! I WILL be
satisfied with the library! The city hall is enough for a beginning.
And it's really an excellent library. It's--it isn't so bad. . . . Is
it possible that I am to find dishonesties and stupidity in every
human activity I encounter? In schools and business and government and
everything? Is there never any contentment, never any rest?"

She shook her head as though she were shaking off water, and hastened
into the library, a young, light, amiable presence, modest in unbuttoned
fur coat, blue suit, fresh organdy collar, and tan boots roughened from
scuffling snow. Miss Villets stared at her, and Carol purred, "I was so
sorry not to see you at the Thanatopsis yesterday. Vida said you might
come."

"Oh. You went to the Thanatopsis. Did you enjoy it?"

"So much. Such good papers on the poets." Carol lied resolutely. "But I
did think they should have had you give one of the papers on poetry!"

"Well----Of course I'm not one of the bunch that seem to have the
time to take and run the club, and if they prefer to have papers on
literature by other ladies who have no literary training--after all, why
should I complain? What am I but a city employee!"

"You're not! You're the one person that does--that does--oh, you do so
much. Tell me, is there, uh----Who are the people who control the club?"

Miss Villets emphatically stamped a date in the front of "Frank on the
Lower Mississippi" for a small flaxen boy, glowered at him as though she
were stamping a warning on his brain, and sighed:

"I wouldn't put myself forward or criticize any one for the world, and
Vida is one of my best friends, and such a splendid teacher, and there
is no one in town more advanced and interested in all movements, but I
must say that no matter who the president or the committees are, Vida
Sherwin seems to be behind them all the time, and though she is always
telling me about what she is pleased to call my 'fine work in the
library,' I notice that I'm not often called on for papers, though Mrs.
Lyman Cass once volunteered and told me that she thought my paper on
'The Cathedrals of England' was the most interesting paper we had, the
year we took up English and French travel and architecture. But----And
of course Mrs. Mott and Mrs. Warren are very important in the club, as
you might expect of the wives of the superintendent of schools and
the Congregational pastor, and indeed they are both very cultured,
but----No, you may regard me as entirely unimportant. I'm sure what I
say doesn't matter a bit!"

"You're much too modest, and I'm going to tell Vida so, and, uh, I
wonder if you can give me just a teeny bit of your time and show me
where the magazine files are kept?"

She had won. She was profusely escorted to a room like a grandmother's
attic, where she discovered periodicals devoted to house-decoration and
town-planning, with a six-year file of the National Geographic. Miss
Villets blessedly left her alone. Humming, fluttering pages with
delighted fingers, Carol sat cross-legged on the floor, the magazines in
heaps about her.

She found pictures of New England streets: the dignity of Falmouth, the
charm of Concord, Stockbridge and Farmington and Hillhouse Avenue. The
fairy-book suburb of Forest Hills on Long Island. Devonshire cottages
and Essex manors and a Yorkshire High Street and Port Sunlight. The
Arab village of Djeddah--an intricately chased jewel-box. A town in
California which had changed itself from the barren brick fronts and
slatternly frame sheds of a Main Street to a way which led the eye down
a vista of arcades and gardens.

Assured that she was not quite mad in her belief that a small American
town might be lovely, as well as useful in buying wheat and selling
plows, she sat brooding, her thin fingers playing a tattoo on her
cheeks. She saw in Gopher Prairie a Georgian city hall: warm brick walls
with white shutters, a fanlight, a wide hall and curving stair. She
saw it the common home and inspiration not only of the town but of
the country about. It should contain the court-room (she couldn't get
herself to put in a jail), public library, a collection of excellent
prints, rest-room and model kitchen for farmwives, theater, lecture
room, free community ballroom, farm-bureau, gymnasium. Forming about it
and influenced by it, as mediaeval villages gathered about the castle,
she saw a new Georgian town as graceful and beloved as Annapolis or that
bowery Alexandria to which Washington rode.

All this the Thanatopsis Club was to accomplish with no difficulty
whatever, since its several husbands were the controllers of business
and politics. She was proud of herself for this practical view.

She had taken only half an hour to change a wire-fenced potato-plot into
a walled rose-garden. She hurried out to apprize Mrs. Leonard Warren, as
president of the Thanatopsis, of the miracle which had been worked.



III


At a quarter to three Carol had left home; at half-past four she had
created the Georgian town; at a quarter to five she was in the dignified
poverty of the Congregational parsonage, her enthusiasm pattering upon
Mrs. Leonard Warren like summer rain upon an old gray roof; at two
minutes to five a town of demure courtyards and welcoming dormer windows
had been erected, and at two minutes past five the entire town was as
flat as Babylon.

Erect in a black William and Mary chair against gray and speckly-brown
volumes of sermons and Biblical commentaries and Palestine geographies
upon long pine shelves, her neat black shoes firm on a rag-rug, herself
as correct and low-toned as her background, Mrs. Warren listened without
comment till Carol was quite through, then answered delicately:

"Yes, I think you draw a very nice picture of what might easily come to
pass--some day. I have no doubt that such villages will be found on the
prairie--some day. But if I might make just the least little criticism:
it seems to me that you are wrong in supposing either that the city hall
would be the proper start, or that the Thanatopsis would be the right
instrument. After all, it's the churches, isn't it, that are the
real heart of the community. As you may possibly know, my husband
is prominent in Congregational circles all through the state for
his advocacy of church-union. He hopes to see all the evangelical
denominations joined in one strong body, opposing Catholicism and
Christian Science, and properly guiding all movements that make for
morality and prohibition. Here, the combined churches could afford
a splendid club-house, maybe a stucco and half-timber building with
gargoyles and all sorts of pleasing decorations on it, which, it seems
to me, would be lots better to impress the ordinary class of people than
just a plain old-fashioned colonial house, such as you describe. And
that would be the proper center for all educational and pleasurable
activities, instead of letting them fall into the hands of the
politicians."

"I don't suppose it will take more than thirty or forty years for the
churches to get together?" Carol said innocently.

"Hardly that long even; things are moving so rapidly. So it would be a
mistake to make any other plans."

Carol did not recover her zeal till two days after, when she tried Mrs.
George Edwin Mott, wife of the superintendent of schools.

Mrs. Mott commented, "Personally, I am terribly busy with dressmaking
and having the seamstress in the house and all, but it would be splendid
to have the other members of the Thanatopsis take up the question.
Except for one thing: First and foremost, we must have a new
schoolbuilding. Mr. Mott says they are terribly cramped."

Carol went to view the old building. The grades and the high school were
combined in a damp yellow-brick structure with the narrow windows of an
antiquated jail--a hulk which expressed hatred and compulsory training.
She conceded Mrs. Mott's demand so violently that for two days she
dropped her own campaign. Then she built the school and city hall
together, as the center of the reborn town.

She ventured to the lead-colored dwelling of Mrs. Dave Dyer. Behind the
mask of winter-stripped vines and a wide porch only a foot above the
ground, the cottage was so impersonal that Carol could never visualize
it. Nor could she remember anything that was inside it. But Mrs. Dyer
was personal enough. With Carol, Mrs. Howland, Mrs. McGanum, and Vida
Sherwin she was a link between the Jolly Seventeen and the serious
Thanatopsis (in contrast to Juanita Haydock, who unnecessarily boasted
of being a "lowbrow" and publicly stated that she would "see herself
in jail before she'd write any darned old club papers"). Mrs. Dyer was
superfeminine in the kimono in which she received Carol. Her skin was
fine, pale, soft, suggesting a weak voluptuousness. At afternoon-coffees
she had been rude but now she addressed Carol as "dear," and insisted on
being called Maud. Carol did not quite know why she was uncomfortable
in this talcum-powder atmosphere, but she hastened to get into the fresh
air of her plans.

Maud Dyer granted that the city hall wasn't "so very nice," yet, as Dave
said, there was no use doing anything about it till they received
an appropriation from the state and combined a new city hall with
a national guard armory. Dave had given verdict, "What these mouthy
youngsters that hang around the pool-room need is universal military
training. Make men of 'em."

Mrs. Dyer removed the new schoolbuilding from the city hall:

"Oh, so Mrs. Mott has got you going on her school craze! She's been
dinging at that till everybody's sick and tired. What she really wants
is a big office for her dear bald-headed Gawge to sit around and look
important in. Of course I admire Mrs. Mott, and I'm very fond of
her, she's so brainy, even if she does try to butt in and run the
Thanatopsis, but I must say we're sick of her nagging. The old building
was good enough for us when we were kids! I hate these would-be women
politicians, don't you?"



IV


The first week of March had given promise of spring and stirred Carol
with a thousand desires for lakes and fields and roads. The snow was
gone except for filthy woolly patches under trees, the thermometer
leaped in a day from wind-bitten chill to itchy warmth. As soon as Carol
was convinced that even in this imprisoned North, spring could exist
again, the snow came down as abruptly as a paper storm in a theater; the
northwest gale flung it up in a half blizzard; and with her hope of a
glorified town went hope of summer meadows.

But a week later, though the snow was everywhere in slushy heaps, the
promise was unmistakable. By the invisible hints in air and sky and
earth which had aroused her every year through ten thousand generations
she knew that spring was coming. It was not a scorching, hard, dusty day
like the treacherous intruder of a week before, but soaked with languor,
softened with a milky light. Rivulets were hurrying in each alley; a
calling robin appeared by magic on the crab-apple tree in the Howlands'
yard. Everybody chuckled, "Looks like winter is going," and "This 'll
bring the frost out of the roads--have the autos out pretty soon
now--wonder what kind of bass-fishing we'll get this summer--ought to be
good crops this year."

Each evening Kennicott repeated, "We better not take off our Heavy
Underwear or the storm windows too soon--might be 'nother spell of
cold--got to be careful 'bout catching cold--wonder if the coal will
last through?"

The expanding forces of life within her choked the desire for reforming.
She trotted through the house, planning the spring cleaning with Bea.
When she attended her second meeting of the Thanatopsis she said nothing
about remaking the town. She listened respectably to statistics on
Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Scott, Hardy, Lamb, De
Quincey, and Mrs. Humphry Ward, who, it seemed, constituted the writers
of English Fiction and Essays.

Not till she inspected the rest-room did she again become a fanatic.
She had often glanced at the store-building which had been turned into
a refuge in which farmwives could wait while their husbands transacted
business. She had heard Vida Sherwin and Mrs. Warren caress the virtue
of the Thanatopsis in establishing the rest-room and in sharing with the
city council the expense of maintaining it. But she had never entered it
till this March day.

She went in impulsively; nodded at the matron, a plump worthy widow
named Nodelquist, and at a couple of farm-women who were meekly rocking.
The rest-room resembled a second-hand store. It was furnished with
discarded patent rockers, lopsided reed chairs, a scratched pine table,
a gritty straw mat, old steel engravings of milkmaids being morally
amorous under willow-trees, faded chromos of roses and fish, and a
kerosene stove for warming lunches. The front window was darkened by
torn net curtains and by a mound of geraniums and rubber-plants.

While she was listening to Mrs. Nodelquist's account of how many
thousands of farmers' wives used the rest-room every year, and how much
they "appreciated the kindness of the ladies in providing them with
this lovely place, and all free," she thought, "Kindness nothing! The
kind-ladies' husbands get the farmers' trade. This is mere commercial
accommodation. And it's horrible. It ought to be the most charming room
in town, to comfort women sick of prairie kitchens. Certainly it ought
to have a clear window, so that they can see the metropolitan life go
by. Some day I'm going to make a better rest-room--a club-room. Why!
I've already planned that as part of my Georgian town hall!"

So it chanced that she was plotting against the peace of the Thanatopsis
at her third meeting (which covered Scandinavian, Russian, and Polish
Literature, with remarks by Mrs. Leonard Warren on the sinful paganism
of the Russian so-called church). Even before the entrance of the
coffee and hot rolls Carol seized on Mrs. Champ Perry, the kind and
ample-bosomed pioneer woman who gave historic dignity to the modern
matrons of the Thanatopsis. She poured out her plans. Mrs. Perry nodded
and stroked Carol's hand, but at the end she sighed:

"I wish I could agree with you, dearie. I'm sure you're one of the
Lord's anointed (even if we don't see you at the Baptist Church as often
as we'd like to)! But I'm afraid you're too tender-hearted. When Champ
and I came here we teamed-it with an ox-cart from Sauk Centre to Gopher
Prairie, and there was nothing here then but a stockade and a few
soldiers and some log cabins. When we wanted salt pork and gunpowder, we
sent out a man on horseback, and probably he was shot dead by the
Injuns before he got back. We ladies--of course we were all farmers
at first--we didn't expect any rest-room in those days. My, we'd have
thought the one they have now was simply elegant! My house was roofed
with hay and it leaked something terrible when it rained--only dry place
was under a shelf.

"And when the town grew up we thought the new city hall was real fine.
And I don't see any need for dance-halls. Dancing isn't what it was,
anyway. We used to dance modest, and we had just as much fun as all
these young folks do now with their terrible Turkey Trots and hugging
and all. But if they must neglect the Lord's injunction that young girls
ought to be modest, then I guess they manage pretty well at the K.
P. Hall and the Oddfellows', even if some of tie lodges don't always
welcome a lot of these foreigners and hired help to all their dances.
And I certainly don't see any need of a farm-bureau or this domestic
science demonstration you talk about. In my day the boys learned to farm
by honest sweating, and every gal could cook, or her ma learned her
how across her knee! Besides, ain't there a county agent at Wakamin? He
comes here once a fortnight, maybe. That's enough monkeying with this
scientific farming--Champ says there's nothing to it anyway.

"And as for a lecture hall--haven't we got the churches? Good deal
better to listen to a good old-fashioned sermon than a lot of geography
and books and things that nobody needs to know--more 'n enough heathen
learning right here in the Thanatopsis. And as for trying to make a
whole town in this Colonial architecture you talk about----I do love
nice things; to this day I run ribbons into my petticoats, even if
Champ Perry does laugh at me, the old villain! But just the same I don't
believe any of us old-timers would like to see the town that we worked
so hard to build being tore down to make a place that wouldn't look like
nothing but some Dutch story-book and not a bit like the place we loved.
And don't you think it's sweet now? All the trees and lawns? And such
comfy houses, and hot-water heat and electric lights and telephones
and cement walks and everything? Why, I thought everybody from the Twin
Cities always said it was such a beautiful town!"

Carol forswore herself; declared that Gopher Prairie had the color of
Algiers and the gaiety of Mardi Gras.

Yet the next afternoon she was pouncing on Mrs. Lyman Cass, the
hook-nosed consort of the owner of the flour-mill.

Mrs. Cass's parlor belonged to the crammed-Victorian school, as Mrs.
Luke Dawson's belonged to the bare-Victorian. It was furnished on two
principles: First, everything must resemble something else. A rocker had
a back like a lyre, a near-leather seat imitating tufted cloth, and
arms like Scotch Presbyterian lions; with knobs, scrolls, shields, and
spear-points on unexpected portions of the chair. The second principle
of the crammed-Victorian school was that every inch of the interior must
be filled with useless objects.

The walls of Mrs. Cass's parlor were plastered with "hand-painted"
pictures, "buckeye" pictures, of birch-trees, news-boys, puppies, and
church-steeples on Christmas Eve; with a plaque depicting the Exposition
Building in Minneapolis, burnt-wood portraits of Indian chiefs of no
tribe in particular, a pansy-decked poetic motto, a Yard of Roses, and
the banners of the educational institutions attended by the Casses' two
sons--Chicopee Falls Business College and McGillicuddy University. One
small square table contained a card-receiver of painted china with a rim
of wrought and gilded lead, a Family Bible, Grant's Memoirs, the latest
novel by Mrs. Gene Stratton Porter, a wooden model of a Swiss chalet
which was also a bank for dimes, a polished abalone shell holding one
black-headed pin and one empty spool, a velvet pin-cushion in a gilded
metal slipper with "Souvenir of Troy, N. Y." stamped on the toe, and an
unexplained red glass dish which had warts.

Mrs. Cass's first remark was, "I must show you all my pretty things and
art objects."

She piped, after Carol's appeal:

"I see. You think the New England villages and Colonial houses are so
much more cunning than these Middlewestern towns. I'm glad you feel that
way. You'll be interested to know I was born in Vermont."

"And don't you think we ought to try to make Gopher Prai----"

"My gracious no! We can't afford it. Taxes are much too high as it is.
We ought to retrench, and not let the city council spend another cent.
Uh----Don't you think that was a grand paper Mrs. Westlake read about
Tolstoy? I was so glad she pointed out how all his silly socialistic
ideas failed."

What Mrs. Cass said was what Kennicott said, that evening. Not in twenty
years would the council propose or Gopher Prairie vote the funds for a
new city hall.



V


Carol had avoided exposing her plans to Vida Sherwin. She was shy of the
big-sister manner; Vida would either laugh at her or snatch the idea and
change it to suit herself. But there was no other hope. When Vida came
in to tea Carol sketched her Utopia.

Vida was soothing but decisive:

"My dear, you're all off. I would like to see it: a real gardeny place
to shut out the gales. But it can't be done. What could the clubwomen
accomplish?"

"Their husbands are the most important men in town. They ARE the town!"

"But the town as a separate unit is not the husband of the Thanatopsis.
If you knew the trouble we had in getting the city council to spend the
money and cover the pumping-station with vines! Whatever you may think
of Gopher Prairie women, they're twice as progressive as the men."

"But can't the men see the ugliness?"

"They don't think it's ugly. And how can you prove it? Matter of taste.
Why should they like what a Boston architect likes?"

"What they like is to sell prunes!"

"Well, why not? Anyway, the point is that you have to work from the
inside, with what we have, rather than from the outside, with foreign
ideas. The shell ought not to be forced on the spirit. It can't be! The
bright shell has to grow out of the spirit, and express it. That means
waiting. If we keep after the city council for another ten years they
MAY vote the bonds for a new school."

"I refuse to believe that if they saw it the big men would be too
tight-fisted to spend a few dollars each for a building--think!--dancing
and lectures and plays, all done co-operatively!"

"You mention the word 'co-operative' to the merchants and they'll
lynch you! The one thing they fear more than mail-order houses is that
farmers' co-operative movements may get started."

"The secret trails that lead to scared pocket-books! Always, in
everything! And I don't have any of the fine melodrama of fiction: the
dictagraphs and speeches by torchlight. I'm merely blocked by stupidity.
Oh, I know I'm a fool. I dream of Venice, and I live in Archangel and
scold because the Northern seas aren't tender-colored. But at least they
sha'n't keep me from loving Venice, and sometime I'll run away----All
right. No more."

She flung out her hands in a gesture of renunciation.



VI


Early May; wheat springing up in blades like grass; corn and potatoes
being planted; the land humming. For two days there had been steady
rain. Even in town the roads were a furrowed welter of mud, hideous to
view and difficult to cross. Main Street was a black swamp from curb to
curb; on residence streets the grass parking beside the walks oozed gray
water. It was prickly hot, yet the town was barren under the bleak sky.
Softened neither by snow nor by waving boughs the houses squatted and
scowled, revealed in their unkempt harshness.

As she dragged homeward Carol looked with distaste at her clay-loaded
rubbers, the smeared hem of her skirt. She passed Lyman Cass's
pinnacled, dark-red, hulking house. She waded a streaky yellow pool.
This morass was not her home, she insisted. Her home, and her beautiful
town, existed in her mind. They had already been created. The task was
done. What she really had been questing was some one to share them with
her. Vida would not; Kennicott could not.

Some one to share her refuge.

Suddenly she was thinking of Guy Pollock.

She dismissed him. He was too cautious. She needed a spirit as young and
unreasonable as her own. And she would never find it. Youth would never
come singing. She was beaten.

Yet that same evening she had an idea which solved the rebuilding of
Gopher Prairie.

Within ten minutes she was jerking the old-fashioned bell-pull of Luke
Dawson. Mrs. Dawson opened the door and peered doubtfully about the
edge of it. Carol kissed her cheek, and frisked into the lugubrious
sitting-room.

"Well, well, you're a sight for sore eyes!" chuckled Mr. Dawson,
dropping his newspaper, pushing his spectacles back on his forehead.

"You seem so excited," sighed Mrs. Dawson.

"I am! Mr. Dawson, aren't you a millionaire?"

He cocked his head, and purred, "Well, I guess if I cashed in on all my
securities and farm-holdings and my interests in iron on the Mesaba and
in Northern timber and cut-over lands, I could push two million dollars
pretty close, and I've made every cent of it by hard work and having the
sense to not go out and spend every----"

"I think I want most of it from you!"

The Dawsons glanced at each other in appreciation of the jest; and
he chirped, "You're worse than Reverend Benlick! He don't hardly ever
strike me for more than ten dollars--at a time!"

"I'm not joking. I mean it! Your children in the Cities are grown-up and
well-to-do. You don't want to die and leave your name unknown. Why not
do a big, original thing? Why not rebuild the whole town? Get a great
architect, and have him plan a town that would be suitable to the
prairie. Perhaps he'd create some entirely new form of architecture.
Then tear down all these shambling buildings----"

Mr. Dawson had decided that she really did mean it. He wailed, "Why,
that would cost at least three or four million dollars!"

"But you alone, just one man, have two of those millions!"

"Me? Spend all my hard-earned cash on building houses for a lot of
shiftless beggars that never had the sense to save their money? Not
that I've ever been mean. Mama could always have a hired girl to do the
work--when we could find one. But her and I have worked our fingers to
the bone and--spend it on a lot of these rascals----?"

"Please! Don't be angry! I just mean--I mean----Oh, not spend all of it,
of course, but if you led off the list, and the others came in, and if
they heard you talk about a more attractive town----"

"Why now, child, you've got a lot of notions. Besides what's the matter
with the town? Looks good to me. I've had people that have traveled
all over the world tell me time and again that Gopher Prairie is the
prettiest place in the Middlewest. Good enough for anybody. Certainly
good enough for Mama and me. Besides! Mama and me are planning to go
out to Pasadena and buy a bungalow and live there."



VII


She had met Miles Bjornstam on the street. For the second of welcome
encounter this workman with the bandit mustache and the muddy overalls
seemed nearer than any one else to the credulous youth which she was
seeking to fight beside her, and she told him, as a cheerful anecdote, a
little of her story.

He grunted, "I never thought I'd be agreeing with Old Man Dawson, the
penny-pinching old land-thief--and a fine briber he is, too. But you
got the wrong slant. You aren't one of the people--yet. You want to do
something for the town. I don't! I want the town to do something for
itself. We don't want old Dawson's money--not if it's a gift, with a
string. We'll take it away from him, because it belongs to us. You got
to get more iron and cussedness into you. Come join us cheerful bums,
and some day--when we educate ourselves and quit being bums--we'll take
things and run 'em straight."

He had changed from her friend to a cynical man in overalls. She could
not relish the autocracy of "cheerful bums."

She forgot him as she tramped the outskirts of town.

She had replaced the city hall project by an entirely new and highly
exhilarating thought of how little was done for these unpicturesque
poor.



VIII


The spring of the plains is not a reluctant virgin but brazen and soon
away. The mud roads of a few days ago are powdery dust and the puddles
beside them have hardened into lozenges of black sleek earth like
cracked patent leather.

Carol was panting as she crept to the meeting of the Thanatopsis program
committee which was to decide the subject for next fall and winter.

Madam Chairman (Miss Ella Stowbody in an oyster-colored blouse) asked if
there was any new business.

Carol rose. She suggested that the Thanatopsis ought to help the poor
of the town. She was ever so correct and modern. She did not, she said,
want charity for them, but a chance of self-help; an employment bureau,
direction in washing babies and making pleasing stews, possibly a
municipal fund for home-building. "What do you think of my plans, Mrs.
Warren?" she concluded.

Speaking judiciously, as one related to the church by marriage, Mrs.
Warren gave verdict:

"I'm sure we're all heartily in accord with Mrs. Kennicott in feeling
that wherever genuine poverty is encountered, it is not only noblesse
oblige but a joy to fulfil our duty to the less fortunate ones. But I
must say it seems to me we should lose the whole point of the thing by
not regarding it as charity. Why, that's the chief adornment of the true
Christian and the church! The Bible has laid it down for our guidance.
'Faith, Hope, and CHARITY,' it says, and, 'The poor ye have with ye
always,' which indicates that there never can be anything to these
so-called scientific schemes for abolishing charity, never! And isn't it
better so? I should hate to think of a world in which we were deprived
of all the pleasure of giving. Besides, if these shiftless folks realize
they're getting charity, and not something to which they have a right,
they're so much more grateful."

"Besides," snorted Miss Ella Stowbody, "they've been fooling you, Mrs.
Kennicott. There isn't any real poverty here. Take that Mrs. Steinhof
you speak of: I send her our washing whenever there's too much for our
hired girl--I must have sent her ten dollars' worth the past year alone!
I'm sure Papa would never approve of a city home-building fund. Papa
says these folks are fakers. Especially all these tenant farmers that
pretend they have so much trouble getting seed and machinery. Papa
says they simply won't pay their debts. He says he's sure he hates to
foreclose mortgages, but it's the only way to make them respect the
law."

"And then think of all the clothes we give these people!" said Mrs.
Jackson Elder.

Carol intruded again. "Oh yes. The clothes. I was going to speak of
that. Don't you think that when we give clothes to the poor, if we
do give them old ones, we ought to mend them first and make them as
presentable as we can? Next Christmas when the Thanatopsis makes its
distribution, wouldn't it be jolly if we got together and sewed on the
clothes, and trimmed hats, and made them----"

"Heavens and earth, they have more time than we have! They ought to be
mighty good and grateful to get anything, no matter what shape it's in.
I know I'm not going to sit and sew for that lazy Mrs. Vopni, with all
I've got to do!" snapped Ella Stowbody.

They were glaring at Carol. She reflected that Mrs. Vopni, whose husband
had been killed by a train, had ten children.

But Mrs. Mary Ellen Wilks was smiling. Mrs. Wilks was the proprietor of
Ye Art Shoppe and Magazine and Book Store, and the reader of the small
Christian Science church. She made it all clear:

"If this class of people had an understanding of Science and that we are
the children of God and nothing can harm us, they wouldn't be in error
and poverty."

Mrs. Jackson Elder confirmed, "Besides, it strikes me the club is
already doing enough, with tree-planting and the anti-fly campaign and
the responsibility for the rest-room--to say nothing of the fact that
we've talked of trying to get the railroad to put in a park at the
station!"

"I think so too!" said Madam Chairman. She glanced uneasily at Miss
Sherwin. "But what do you think, Vida?"

Vida smiled tactfully at each of the committee, and announced, "Well, I
don't believe we'd better start anything more right now. But it's been
a privilege to hear Carol's dear generous ideas, hasn't it! Oh! There is
one thing we must decide on at once. We must get together and oppose
any move on the part of the Minneapolis clubs to elect another State
Federation president from the Twin Cities. And this Mrs. Edgar Potbury
they're putting forward--I know there are people who think she's a
bright interesting speaker, but I regard her as very shallow. What do
you say to my writing to the Lake Ojibawasha Club, telling them that if
their district will support Mrs. Warren for second vice-president, we'll
support their Mrs. Hagelton (and such a dear, lovely, cultivated woman,
too) for president."

"Yes! We ought to show up those Minneapolis folks!" Ella Stowbody
said acidly. "And oh, by the way, we must oppose this movement of Mrs.
Potbury's to have the state clubs come out definitely in favor of woman
suffrage. Women haven't any place in politics. They would lose all their
daintiness and charm if they became involved in these horried plots
and log-rolling and all this awful political stuff about scandal and
personalities and so on."

All--save one--nodded. They interrupted the formal business-meeting
to discuss Mrs. Edgar Potbury's husband, Mrs. Potbury's income, Mrs.
Potbury's sedan, Mrs. Potbury's residence, Mrs. Potbury's oratorical
style, Mrs. Potbury's mandarin evening coat, Mrs. Potbury's coiffure,
and Mrs. Potbury's altogether reprehensible influence on the State
Federation of Women's Clubs.

Before the program committee adjourned they took three minutes to
decide which of the subjects suggested by the magazine Culture Hints,
Furnishings and China, or The Bible as Literature, would be better for
the coming year. There was one annoying incident. Mrs. Dr. Kennicott
interfered and showed off again. She commented, "Don't you think that we
already get enough of the Bible in our churches and Sunday Schools?"

Mrs. Leonard Warren, somewhat out of order but much more out of temper,
cried, "Well upon my word! I didn't suppose there was any one who felt
that we could get enough of the Bible! I guess if the Grand Old Book
has withstood the attacks of infidels for these two thousand years it is
worth our SLIGHT consideration!"

"Oh, I didn't mean----" Carol begged. Inasmuch as she did mean, it was
hard to be extremely lucid. "But I wish, instead of limiting ourselves
either to the Bible, or to anecdotes about the Brothers Adam's wigs,
which Culture Hints seems to regard as the significant point about
furniture, we could study some of the really stirring ideas that are
springing up today--whether it's chemistry or anthropology or labor
problems--the things that are going to mean so terribly much."

Everybody cleared her polite throat.

Madam Chairman inquired, "Is there any other discussion? Will some
one make a motion to adopt the suggestion of Vida Sherwin--to take up
Furnishings and China?"

It was adopted, unanimously.

"Checkmate!" murmured Carol, as she held up her hand.

Had she actually believed that she could plant a seed of liberalism
in the blank wall of mediocrity? How had she fallen into the folly of
trying to plant anything whatever in a wall so smooth and sun-glazed,
and so satisfying to the happy sleepers within?



CHAPTER XII

ONE week of authentic spring, one rare sweet week of May, one tranquil
moment between the blast of winter and the charge of summer. Daily Carol
walked from town into flashing country hysteric with new life.

One enchanted hour when she returned to youth and a belief in the
possibility of beauty.

She had walked northward toward the upper shore of Plover Lake, taking
to the railroad track, whose directness and dryness make it the natural
highway for pedestrians on the plains. She stepped from tie to tie, in
long strides. At each road-crossing she had to crawl over a cattle-guard
of sharpened timbers. She walked the rails, balancing with arms
extended, cautious heel before toe. As she lost balance her body bent
over, her arms revolved wildly, and when she toppled she laughed aloud.

The thick grass beside the track, coarse and prickly with many burnings,
hid canary-yellow buttercups and the mauve petals and woolly sage-green
coats of the pasque flowers. The branches of the kinnikinic brush were
red and smooth as lacquer on a saki bowl.

She ran down the gravelly embankment, smiled at children gathering
flowers in a little basket, thrust a handful of the soft pasque flowers
into the bosom of her white blouse. Fields of springing wheat drew her
from the straight propriety of the railroad and she crawled through the
rusty barbed-wire fence. She followed a furrow between low wheat blades
and a field of rye which showed silver lights as it flowed before the
wind. She found a pasture by the lake. So sprinkled was the pasture with
rag-baby blossoms and the cottony herb of Indian tobacco that it spread
out like a rare old Persian carpet of cream and rose and delicate green.
Under her feet the rough grass made a pleasant crunching. Sweet winds
blew from the sunny lake beside her, and small waves sputtered on the
meadowy shore. She leaped a tiny creek bowered in pussy-willow buds. She
was nearing a frivolous grove of birch and poplar and wild plum trees.

The poplar foliage had the downiness of a Corot arbor; the green and
silver trunks were as candid as the birches, as slender and lustrous
as the limbs of a Pierrot. The cloudy white blossoms of the plum trees
filled the grove with a springtime mistiness which gave an illusion of
distance.

She ran into the wood, crying out for joy of freedom regained after
winter. Choke-cherry blossoms lured her from the outer sun-warmed spaces
to depths of green stillness, where a submarine light came through the
young leaves. She walked pensively along an abandoned road. She found a
moccasin-flower beside a lichen-covered log. At the end of the road she
saw the open acres--dipping rolling fields bright with wheat.

"I believe! The woodland gods still live! And out there, the great land.
It's beautiful as the mountains. What do I care for Thanatopsises?"

She came out on the prairie, spacious under an arch of boldly cut
clouds. Small pools glittered. Above a marsh red-winged blackbirds
chased a crow in a swift melodrama of the air. On a hill was silhouetted
a man following a drag. His horse bent its neck and plodded, content.

A path took her to the Corinth road, leading back to town. Dandelions
glowed in patches amidst the wild grass by the way. A stream golloped
through a concrete culvert beneath the road. She trudged in healthy
weariness.

A man in a bumping Ford rattled up beside her, hailed, "Give you a lift,
Mrs. Kennicott?"

"Thank you. It's awfully good of you, but I'm enjoying the walk."

"Great day, by golly. I seen some wheat that must of been five inches
high. Well, so long."

She hadn't the dimmest notion who he was, but his greeting warmed her.
This countryman gave her a companionship which she had never (whether
by her fault or theirs or neither) been able to find in the matrons and
commercial lords of the town.

Half a mile from town, in a hollow between hazelnut bushes and a brook,
she discovered a gipsy encampment: a covered wagon, a tent, a bunch of
pegged-out horses. A broad-shouldered man was squatted on his heels,
holding a frying-pan over a camp-fire. He looked toward her. He was
Miles Bjornstam.

"Well, well, what you doing out here?" he roared. "Come have a hunk o'
bacon. Pete! Hey, Pete!"

A tousled person came from behind the covered wagon.

"Pete, here's the one honest-to-God lady in my bum town. Come on, crawl
in and set a couple minutes, Mrs. Kennicott. I'm hiking off for all
summer."

The Red Swede staggered up, rubbed his cramped knees, lumbered to the
wire fence, held the strands apart for her. She unconsciously smiled at
him as she went through. Her skirt caught on a barb; he carefully freed
it.

Beside this man in blue flannel shirt, baggy khaki trousers, uneven
suspenders, and vile felt hat, she was small and exquisite.

The surly Pete set out an upturned bucket for her. She lounged on it,
her elbows on her knees. "Where are you going?" she asked.

"Just starting off for the summer, horse-trading." Bjornstam chuckled.
His red mustache caught the sun. "Regular hoboes and public benefactors
we are. Take a hike like this every once in a while. Sharks on horses.
Buy 'em from farmers and sell 'em to others. We're honest--frequently.
Great time. Camp along the road. I was wishing I had a chance to say
good-by to you before I ducked out but----Say, you better come along
with us."

"I'd like to."

"While you're playing mumblety-peg with Mrs. Lym Cass, Pete and me
will be rambling across Dakota, through the Bad Lands, into the butte
country, and when fall comes, we'll be crossing over a pass of the Big
Horn Mountains, maybe, and camp in a snow-storm, quarter of a mile right
straight up above a lake. Then in the morning we'll lie snug in our
blankets and look up through the pines at an eagle. How'd it strike you?
Heh? Eagle soaring and soaring all day--big wide sky----"

"Don't! Or I will go with you, and I'm afraid there might be some slight
scandal. Perhaps some day I'll do it. Good-by."

Her hand disappeared in his blackened leather glove. From the turn in
the road she waved at him. She walked on more soberly now, and she was
lonely.

But the wheat and grass were sleek velvet under the sunset; the prairie
clouds were tawny gold; and she swung happily into Main Street.



II


Through the first days of June she drove with Kennicott on his calls.
She identified him with the virile land; she admired him as she saw with
what respect the farmers obeyed him. She was out in the early chill,
after a hasty cup of coffee, reaching open country as the fresh sun came
up in that unspoiled world. Meadow larks called from the tops of thin
split fence-posts. The wild roses smelled clean.

As they returned in late afternoon the low sun was a solemnity of radial
bands, like a heavenly fan of beaten gold; the limitless circle of the
grain was a green sea rimmed with fog, and the willow wind-breaks were
palmy isles.

Before July the close heat blanketed them. The tortured earth cracked.
Farmers panted through corn-fields behind cultivators and the sweating
flanks of horses. While she waited for Kennicott in the car, before a
farmhouse, the seat burned her fingers and her head ached with the glare
on fenders and hood.

A black thunder-shower was followed by a dust storm which turned the
sky yellow with the hint of a coming tornado. Impalpable black dust
far-borne from Dakota covered the inner sills of the closed windows.

The July heat was ever more stifling. They crawled along Main Street by
day; they found it hard to sleep at night. They brought mattresses down
to the living-room, and thrashed and turned by the open window. Ten
times a night they talked of going out to soak themselves with the
hose and wade through the dew, but they were too listless to take the
trouble. On cool evenings, when they tried to go walking, the gnats
appeared in swarms which peppered their faces and caught in their
throats.

She wanted the Northern pines, the Eastern sea, but Kennicott declared
that it would be "kind of hard to get away, just NOW." The Health and
Improvement Committee of the Thanatopsis asked her to take part in the
anti-fly campaign, and she toiled about town persuading householders to
use the fly-traps furnished by the club, or giving out money prizes to
fly-swatting children. She was loyal enough but not ardent, and without
ever quite intending to, she began to neglect the task as heat sucked at
her strength.

Kennicott and she motored North and spent a week with his mother--that
is, Carol spent it with his mother, while he fished for bass.

The great event was their purchase of a summer cottage, down on Lake
Minniemashie.

Perhaps the most amiable feature of life in Gopher Prairie was the
summer cottages. They were merely two-room shanties, with a seepage of
broken-down chairs, peeling veneered tables, chromos pasted on wooden
walls, and inefficient kerosene stoves. They were so thin-walled and so
close together that you could--and did--hear a baby being spanked in the
fifth cottage off. But they were set among elms and lindens on a bluff
which looked across the lake to fields of ripened wheat sloping up to
green woods.

Here the matrons forgot social jealousies, and sat gossiping in gingham;
or, in old bathing-suits, surrounded by hysterical children, they
paddled for hours. Carol joined them; she ducked shrieking small boys,
and helped babies construct sand-basins for unfortunate minnows.
She liked Juanita Haydock and Maud Dyer when she helped them make
picnic-supper for the men, who came motoring out from town each evening.
She was easier and more natural with them. In the debate as to whether
there should be veal loaf or poached egg on hash, she had no chance to
be heretical and oversensitive.

They danced sometimes, in the evening; they had a minstrel show, with
Kennicott surprisingly good as end-man; always they were encircled by
children wise in the lore of woodchucks and gophers and rafts and willow
whistles.

If they could have continued this normal barbaric life Carol would have
been the most enthusiastic citizen of Gopher Prairie. She was relieved
to be assured that she did not want bookish conversation alone; that she
did not expect the town to become a Bohemia. She was content now. She
did not criticize.

But in September, when the year was at its richest, custom dictated that
it was time to return to town; to remove the children from the waste
occupation of learning the earth, and send them back to lessons about
the number of potatoes which (in a delightful world untroubled by
commission-houses or shortages in freight-cars) William sold to John.
The women who had cheerfully gone bathing all summer looked doubtful
when Carol begged, "Let's keep up an outdoor life this winter, let's
slide and skate." Their hearts shut again till spring, and the nine
months of cliques and radiators and dainty refreshments began all over.



III


Carol had started a salon.

Since Kennicott, Vida Sherwin, and Guy Pollock were her only lions,
and since Kennicott would have preferred Sam Clark to all the poets and
radicals in the entire world, her private and self-defensive clique did
not get beyond one evening dinner for Vida and Guy, on her first wedding
anniversary; and that dinner did not get beyond a controversy regarding
Raymie Wutherspoon's yearnings.

Guy Pollock was the gentlest person she had found here. He spoke of her
new jade and cream frock naturally, not jocosely; he held her chair
for her as they sat down to dinner; and he did not, like Kennicott,
interrupt her to shout, "Oh say, speaking of that, I heard a good story
today." But Guy was incurably hermit. He sat late and talked hard, and
did not come again.

Then she met Champ Perry in the post-office--and decided that in the
history of the pioneers was the panacea for Gopher Prairie, for all
of America. We have lost their sturdiness, she told herself. We must
restore the last of the veterans to power and follow them on the
backward path to the integrity of Lincoln, to the gaiety of settlers
dancing in a saw-mill.

She read in the records of the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers that only
sixty years ago, not so far back as the birth of her own father, four
cabins had composed Gopher Prairie. The log stockade which Mrs. Champ
Perry was to find when she trekked in was built afterward by the
soldiers as a defense against the Sioux. The four cabins were inhabited
by Maine Yankees who had come up the Mississippi to St. Paul and driven
north over virgin prairie into virgin woods. They ground their own
corn; the men-folks shot ducks and pigeons and prairie chickens; the
new breakings yielded the turnip-like rutabagas, which they ate raw
and boiled and baked and raw again. For treat they had wild plums and
crab-apples and tiny wild strawberries.

Grasshoppers came darkening the sky, and in an hour ate the farmwife's
garden and the farmer's coat. Precious horses painfully brought from
Illinois, were drowned in bogs or stampeded by the fear of blizzards.
Snow blew through the chinks of new-made cabins, and Eastern children,
with flowery muslin dresses, shivered all winter and in summer were red
and black with mosquito bites. Indians were everywhere; they camped in
dooryards, stalked into kitchens to demand doughnuts, came with rifles
across their backs into schoolhouses and begged to see the pictures
in the geographies. Packs of timber-wolves treed the children; and the
settlers found dens of rattle-snakes, killed fifty, a hundred, in a day.

Yet it was a buoyant life. Carol read enviously in the admirable
Minnesota chronicles called "Old Rail Fence Corners" the reminiscence of
Mrs. Mahlon Black, who settled in Stillwater in 1848:

"There was nothing to parade over in those days. We took it as it came
and had happy lives. . . . We would all gather together and in about two
minutes would be having a good time--playing cards or dancing. . . . We
used to waltz and dance contra dances. None of these new jigs and not
wear any clothes to speak of. We covered our hides in those days; no
tight skirts like now. You could take three or four steps inside our
skirts and then not reach the edge. One of the boys would fiddle a while
and then some one would spell him and he could get a dance. Sometimes
they would dance and fiddle too."

She reflected that if she could not have ballrooms of gray and rose
and crystal, she wanted to be swinging across a puncheon-floor with a
dancing fiddler. This smug in-between town, which had exchanged "Money
Musk" for phonographs grinding out ragtime, it was neither the heroic
old nor the sophisticated new. Couldn't she somehow, some yet unimagined
how, turn it back to simplicity?

She herself knew two of the pioneers: the Perrys. Champ Perry was the
buyer at the grain-elevator. He weighed wagons of wheat on a rough
platform-scale, in the cracks of which the kernels sprouted every
spring. Between times he napped in the dusty peace of his office.

She called on the Perrys at their rooms above Howland & Gould's grocery.

When they were already old they had lost the money, which they had
invested in an elevator. They had given up their beloved yellow brick
house and moved into these rooms over a store, which were the Gopher
Prairie equivalent of a flat. A broad stairway led from the street
to the upper hall, along which were the doors of a lawyer's office, a
dentist's, a photographer's "studio," the lodge-rooms of the Affiliated
Order of Spartans and, at the back, the Perrys' apartment.

They received her (their first caller in a month) with aged fluttering
tenderness. Mrs. Perry confided, "My, it's a shame we got to entertain
you in such a cramped place. And there ain't any water except that ole
iron sink outside in the hall, but still, as I say to Champ, beggars
can't be choosers. 'Sides, the brick house was too big for me to sweep,
and it was way out, and it's nice to be living down here among folks.
Yes, we're glad to be here. But----Some day, maybe we can have a house
of our own again. We're saving up----Oh, dear, if we could have our own
home! But these rooms are real nice, ain't they!"

As old people will, the world over, they had moved as much as possible
of their familiar furniture into this small space. Carol had none of the
superiority she felt toward Mrs. Lyman Cass's plutocratic parlor. She
was at home here. She noted with tenderness all the makeshifts: the
darned chair-arms, the patent rocker covered with sleazy cretonne, the
pasted strips of paper mending the birch-bark napkin-rings labeled "Papa"
and "Mama."

She hinted of her new enthusiasm. To find one of the "young folks" who
took them seriously, heartened the Perrys, and she easily drew from
them the principles by which Gopher Prairie should be born again--should
again become amusing to live in.

This was their philosophy complete . . . in the era of aeroplanes and
syndicalism:

The Baptist Church (and, somewhat less, the Methodist, Congregational,
and Presbyterian Churches) is the perfect, the divinely ordained
standard in music, oratory, philanthropy, and ethics. "We don't need
all this new-fangled science, or this terrible Higher Criticism that's
ruining our young men in colleges. What we need is to get back to the
true Word of God, and a good sound belief in hell, like we used to have
it preached to us."

The Republican Party, the Grand Old Party of Blaine and McKinley, is the
agent of the Lord and of the Baptist Church in temporal affairs.

All socialists ought to be hanged.

"Harold Bell Wright is a lovely writer, and he teaches such good morals
in his novels, and folks say he's made prett' near a million dollars out
of 'em."

People who make more than ten thousand a year or less than eight hundred
are wicked.

Europeans are still wickeder.

It doesn't hurt any to drink a glass of beer on a warm day, but anybody
who touches wine is headed straight for hell.

Virgins are not so virginal as they used to be.

Nobody needs drug-store ice cream; pie is good enough for anybody.

The farmers want too much for their wheat.

The owners of the elevator-company expect too much for the salaries they
pay.

There would be no more trouble or discontent in the world if everybody
worked as hard as Pa did when he cleared our first farm.



IV


Carol's hero-worship dwindled to polite nodding, and the nodding
dwindled to a desire to escape, and she went home with a headache.

Next day she saw Miles Bjornstam on the street.

"Just back from Montana. Great summer. Pumped my lungs chuck-full of
Rocky Mountain air. Now for another whirl at sassing the bosses of
Gopher Prairie." She smiled at him, and the Perrys faded, the pioneers
faded, till they were but daguerreotypes in a black walnut cupboard.



CHAPTER XIII

SHE tried, more from loyalty than from desire, to call upon the Perrys
on a November evening when Kennicott was away. They were not at home.

Like a child who has no one to play with she loitered through the dark
hall. She saw a light under an office door. She knocked. To the person
who opened she murmured, "Do you happen to know where the Perrys are?"
She realized that it was Guy Pollock.

"I'm awfully sorry, Mrs. Kennicott, but I don't know. Won't you come in
and wait for them?"

"W-why----" she observed, as she reflected that in Gopher Prairie it
is not decent to call on a man; as she decided that no, really, she
wouldn't go in; and as she went in.

"I didn't know your office was up here."

"Yes, office, town-house, and chateau in Picardy. But you can't see
the chateau and town-house (next to the Duke of Sutherland's). They're
beyond that inner door. They are a cot and a wash-stand and my other
suit and the blue crepe tie you said you liked."

"You remember my saying that?"

"Of course. I always shall. Please try this chair."

She glanced about the rusty office--gaunt stove, shelves of tan
law-books, desk-chair filled with newspapers so long sat upon that they
were in holes and smudged to grayness. There were only two things which
suggested Guy Pollock. On the green felt of the table-desk, between
legal blanks and a clotted inkwell, was a cloissone vase. On a swing
shelf was a row of books unfamiliar to Gopher Prairie: Mosher editions
of the poets, black and red German novels, a Charles Lamb in crushed
levant.

Guy did not sit down. He quartered the office, a grayhound on the scent;
a grayhound with glasses tilted forward on his thin nose, and a silky
indecisive brown mustache. He had a golf jacket of jersey, worn through
at the creases in the sleeves. She noted that he did not apologize for
it, as Kennicott would have done.

He made conversation: "I didn't know you were a bosom friend of the
Perrys. Champ is the salt of the earth but somehow I can't imagine him
joining you in symbolic dancing, or making improvements on the Diesel
engine."

"No. He's a dear soul, bless him, but he belongs in the National Museum,
along with General Grant's sword, and I'm----Oh, I suppose I'm seeking
for a gospel that will evangelize Gopher Prairie."

"Really? Evangelize it to what?"

"To anything that's definite. Seriousness or frivolousness or both. I
wouldn't care whether it was a laboratory or a carnival. But it's merely
safe. Tell me, Mr. Pollock, what is the matter with Gopher Prairie?"

"Is anything the matter with it? Isn't there perhaps something the
matter with you and me? (May I join you in the honor of having something
the matter?)"

"(Yes, thanks.) No, I think it's the town."

"Because they enjoy skating more than biology?"

"But I'm not only more interested in biology than the Jolly Seventeen,
but also in skating! I'll skate with them, or slide, or throw snowballs,
just as gladly as talk with you."

("Oh no!")

("Yes!) But they want to stay home and embroider."

"Perhaps. I'm not defending the town. It's merely----I'm a confirmed
doubter of myself. (Probably I'm conceited about my lack of conceit!)
Anyway, Gopher Prairie isn't particularly bad. It's like all villages in
all countries. Most places that have lost the smell of earth but not
yet acquired the smell of patchouli--or of factory-smoke--are just as
suspicious and righteous. I wonder if the small town isn't, with some
lovely exceptions, a social appendix? Some day these dull market-towns
may be as obsolete as monasteries. I can imagine the farmer and his
local store-manager going by monorail, at the end of the day, into a
city more charming than any William Morris Utopia--music, a university,
clubs for loafers like me. (Lord, how I'd like to have a real club!)"

She asked impulsively, "You, why do you stay here?"

"I have the Village Virus."

"It sounds dangerous."

"It is. More dangerous than the cancer that will certainly get me
at fifty unless I stop this smoking. The Village Virus is the germ
which--it's extraordinarily like the hook-worm--it infects ambitious
people who stay too long in the provinces. You'll find it epidemic among
lawyers and doctors and ministers and college-bred merchants--all these
people who have had a glimpse of the world that thinks and laughs,
but have returned to their swamp. I'm a perfect example. But I sha'n't
pester you with my dolors."

"You won't. And do sit down, so I can see you."

He dropped into the shrieking desk-chair. He looked squarely at her; she
was conscious of the pupils of his eyes; of the fact that he was a man,
and lonely. They were embarrassed. They elaborately glanced away, and
were relieved as he went on:

"The diagnosis of my Village Virus is simple enough. I was born in an
Ohio town about the same size as Gopher Prairie, and much less
friendly. It'd had more generations in which to form an oligarchy of
respectability. Here, a stranger is taken in if he is correct, if he
likes hunting and motoring and God and our Senator. There, we didn't
take in even our own till we had contemptuously got used to them. It
was a red-brick Ohio town, and the trees made it damp, and it smelled of
rotten apples. The country wasn't like our lakes and prairie. There were
small stuffy corn-fields and brick-yards and greasy oil-wells.

"I went to a denominational college and learned that since dictating
the Bible, and hiring a perfect race of ministers to explain it, God has
never done much but creep around and try to catch us disobeying it. From
college I went to New York, to the Columbia Law School. And for four
years I lived. Oh, I won't rhapsodize about New York. It was dirty and
noisy and breathless and ghastly expensive. But compared with the moldy
academy in which I had been smothered----! I went to symphonies twice
a week. I saw Irving and Terry and Duse and Bernhardt, from the top
gallery. I walked in Gramercy Park. And I read, oh, everything.

"Through a cousin I learned that Julius Flickerbaugh was sick and
needed a partner. I came here. Julius got well. He didn't like my way of
loafing five hours and then doing my work (really not so badly) in one.
We parted.

"When I first came here I swore I'd 'keep up my interests.' Very lofty!
I read Browning, and went to Minneapolis for the theaters. I thought I
was 'keeping up.' But I guess the Village Virus had me already. I was
reading four copies of cheap fiction-magazines to one poem. I'd put off
the Minneapolis trips till I simply had to go there on a lot of legal
matters.

"A few years ago I was talking to a patent lawyer from Chicago, and
I realized that----I'd always felt so superior to people like Julius
Flickerbaugh, but I saw that I was as provincial and behind-the-times as
Julius. (Worse! Julius plows through the Literary Digest and the Outlook
faithfully, while I'm turning over pages of a book by Charles Flandrau
that I already know by heart.)

"I decided to leave here. Stern resolution. Grasp the world. Then I
found that the Village Virus had me, absolute: I didn't want to face
new streets and younger men--real competition. It was too easy to go on
making out conveyances and arguing ditching cases. So----That's all of
the biography of a living dead man, except the diverting last chapter,
the lies about my having been 'a tower of strength and legal wisdom'
which some day a preacher will spin over my lean dry body."

He looked down at his table-desk, fingering the starry enameled vase.

She could not comment. She pictured herself running across the room
to pat his hair. She saw that his lips were firm, under his soft faded
mustache. She sat still and maundered, "I know. The Village Virus.
Perhaps it will get me. Some day I'm going----Oh, no matter. At least,
I am making you talk! Usually you have to be polite to my garrulousness,
but now I'm sitting at your feet."

"It would be rather nice to have you literally sitting at my feet, by a
fire."

"Would you have a fireplace for me?"

"Naturally! Please don't snub me now! Let the old man rave. How old are
you, Carol?"

"Twenty-six, Guy."

"Twenty-six! I was just leaving New York, at twenty-six. I heard Patti
sing, at twenty-six. And now I'm forty-seven. I feel like a child, yet
I'm old enough to be your father. So it's decently paternal to imagine
you curled at my feet. . . . Of course I hope it isn't, but we'll
reflect the morals of Gopher Prairie by officially announcing that it
is! . . . These standards that you and I live up to! There's one thing
that's the matter with Gopher Prairie, at least with the ruling-class
(there is a ruling-class, despite all our professions of democracy).
And the penalty we tribal rulers pay is that our subjects watch us
every minute. We can't get wholesomely drunk and relax. We have to be
so correct about sex morals, and inconspicuous clothes, and doing our
commercial trickery only in the traditional ways, that none of us can
live up to it, and we become horribly hypocritical. Unavoidably. The
widow-robbing deacon of fiction can't help being hypocritical. The
widows themselves demand it! They admire his unctuousness. And look at
me. Suppose I did dare to make love to--some exquisite married woman.
I wouldn't admit it to myself. I giggle with the most revolting
salaciousness over La Vie Parisienne, when I get hold of one in Chicago,
yet I shouldn't even try to hold your hand. I'm broken. It's the
historical Anglo-Saxon way of making life miserable. . . . Oh, my dear,
I haven't talked to anybody about myself and all our selves for years."

"Guy! Can't we do something with the town? Really?"

"No, we can't!" He disposed of it like a judge ruling out an improper
objection; returned to matters less uncomfortably energetic: "Curious.
Most troubles are unnecessary. We have Nature beaten; we can make her
grow wheat; we can keep warm when she sends blizzards. So we raise the
devil just for pleasure--wars, politics, race-hatreds, labor-disputes.
Here in Gopher Prairie we've cleared the fields, and become soft, so
we make ourselves unhappy artificially, at great expense and exertion:
Methodists disliking Episcopalians, the man with the Hudson laughing at
the man with the flivver. The worst is the commercial hatred--the grocer
feeling that any man who doesn't deal with him is robbing him. What
hurts me is that it applies to lawyers and doctors (and decidedly
to their wives!) as much as to grocers. The doctors--you know about
that--how your husband and Westlake and Gould dislike one another."

"No! I won't admit it!"

He grinned.

"Oh, maybe once or twice, when Will has positively known of a case where
Doctor--where one of the others has continued to call on patients longer
than necessary, he has laughed about it, but----"

He still grinned.

"No, REALLY! And when you say the wives of the doctors share these
jealousies----Mrs. McGanum and I haven't any particular crush on each
other; she's so stolid. But her mother, Mrs. Westlake--nobody could be
sweeter."

"Yes, I'm sure she's very bland. But I wouldn't tell her my heart's
secrets if I were you, my dear. I insist that there's only one
professional-man's wife in this town who doesn't plot, and that is you,
you blessed, credulous outsider!"

"I won't be cajoled! I won't believe that medicine, the priesthood of
healing, can be turned into a penny-picking business."

"See here: Hasn't Kennicott ever hinted to you that you'd better be nice
to some old woman because she tells her friends which doctor to call in?
But I oughtn't to----"

She remembered certain remarks which Kennicott had offered regarding the
Widow Bogart. She flinched, looked at Guy beseechingly.

He sprang up, strode to her with a nervous step, smoothed her hand. She
wondered if she ought to be offended by his caress. Then she wondered if
he liked her hat, the new Oriental turban of rose and silver brocade.

He dropped her hand. His elbow brushed her shoulder. He flitted over to
the desk-chair, his thin back stooped. He picked up the cloisonne vase.
Across it he peered at her with such loneliness that she was startled.
But his eyes faded into impersonality as he talked of the jealousies
of Gopher Prairie. He stopped himself with a sharp, "Good Lord, Carol,
you're not a jury. You are within your legal rights in refusing to
be subjected to this summing-up. I'm a tedious old fool analyzing the
obvious, while you're the spirit of rebellion. Tell me your side. What
is Gopher Prairie to you?"

"A bore!"

"Can I help?"

"How could you?"

"I don't know. Perhaps by listening. I haven't done that tonight.
But normally----Can't I be the confidant of the old French plays, the
tiring-maid with the mirror and the loyal ears?"

"Oh, what is there to confide? The people are savorless and proud of
it. And even if I liked you tremendously, I couldn't talk to you without
twenty old hexes watching, whispering."

"But you will come talk to me, once in a while?"

"I'm not sure that I shall. I'm trying to develop my own large capacity
for dullness and contentment. I've failed at every positive thing I've
tried. I'd better 'settle down,' as they call it, and be satisfied to
be--nothing."

"Don't be cynical. It hurts me, in you. It's like blood on the wing of a
humming-bird."

"I'm not a humming-bird. I'm a hawk; a tiny leashed hawk, pecked to
death by these large, white, flabby, wormy hens. But I am grateful to
you for confirming me in the faith. And I'm going home!"

"Please stay and have some coffee with me."

"I'd like to. But they've succeeded in terrorizing me. I'm afraid of
what people might say."

"I'm not afraid of that. I'm only afraid of what you might say!" He
stalked to her; took her unresponsive hand. "Carol! You have been happy
here tonight? (Yes. I'm begging!)"

She squeezed his hand quickly, then snatched hers away. She had but
little of the curiosity of the flirt, and none of the intrigante's joy
in furtiveness. If she was the naive girl, Guy Pollock was the clumsy
boy. He raced about the office; he rammed his fists into his pockets.
He stammered, "I--I--I----Oh, the devil! Why do I awaken from smooth
dustiness to this jagged rawness? I'll make I'm going to trot down the
hall and bring in the Dillons, and we'll all have coffee or something."

"The Dillons?"

"Yes. Really quite a decent young pair--Harvey Dillon and his wife. He's
a dentist, just come to town. They live in a room behind his office,
same as I do here. They don't know much of anybody----"

"I've heard of them. And I've never thought to call. I'm horribly
ashamed. Do bring them----"

She stopped, for no very clear reason, but his expression said, her
faltering admitted, that they wished they had never mentioned the
Dillons. With spurious enthusiasm he said, "Splendid! I will." From the
door he glanced at her, curled in the peeled leather chair. He slipped
out, came back with Dr. and Mrs. Dillon.

The four of them drank rather bad coffee which Pollock made on a
kerosene burner. They laughed, and spoke of Minneapolis, and were
tremendously tactful; and Carol started for home, through the November
wind.



CHAPTER XIV

SHE was marching home.

"No. I couldn't fall in love with him. I like him, very much. But
he's too much of a recluse. Could I kiss him? No! No! Guy Pollock at
twenty-six I could have kissed him then, maybe, even if I were married
to some one else, and probably I'd have been glib in persuading myself
that 'it wasn't really wrong.'

"The amazing thing is that I'm not more amazed at myself. I, the
virtuous young matron. Am I to be trusted? If the Prince Charming
came----

"A Gopher Prairie housewife, married a year, and yearning for a 'Prince
Charming' like a bachfisch of sixteen! They say that marriage is a magic
change. But I'm not changed. But----

"No! I wouldn't want to fall in love, even if the Prince did come. I
wouldn't want to hurt Will. I am fond of Will. I am! He doesn't stir me,
not any longer. But I depend on him. He is home and children.

"I wonder when we will begin to have children? I do want them.

"I wonder whether I remembered to tell Bea to have hominy tomorrow,
instead of oatmeal? She will have gone to bed by now. Perhaps I'll be up
early enough----

"Ever so fond of Will. I wouldn't hurt him, even if I had to lose the
mad love. If the Prince came I'd look once at him, and run. Darn fast!
Oh, Carol, you are not heroic nor fine. You are the immutable vulgar
young female.

"But I'm not the faithless wife who enjoys confiding that she's
'misunderstood.' Oh, I'm not, I'm not!

"Am I?

"At least I didn't whisper to Guy about Will's faults and his blindness
to my remarkable soul. I didn't! Matter of fact, Will probably
understands me perfectly! If only--if he would just back me up in
rousing the town.

"How many, how incredibly many wives there must be who tingle over the
first Guy Pollock who smiles at them. No! I will not be one of that
herd of yearners! The coy virgin brides. Yet probably if the Prince were
young and dared to face life----

"I'm not half as well oriented as that Mrs. Dillon. So obviously adoring
her dentist! And seeing Guy only as an eccentric fogy.

"They weren't silk, Mrs. Dillon's stockings. They were lisle. Her legs
are nice and slim. But no nicer than mine. I hate cotton tops on silk
stockings. . . . Are my ankles getting fat? I will NOT have fat ankles!

"No. I am fond of Will. His work--one farmer he pulls through diphtheria
is worth all my yammering for a castle in Spain. A castle with baths.

"This hat is so tight. I must stretch it. Guy liked it.

"There's the house. I'm awfully chilly. Time to get out the fur coat.
I wonder if I'll ever have a beaver coat? Nutria is NOT the same thing!
Beaver-glossy. Like to run my fingers over it. Guy's mustache like
beaver. How utterly absurd!

"I am, I AM fond of Will, and----Can't I ever find another word than
'fond'?

"He's home. He'll think I was out late.

"Why can't he ever remember to pull down the shades? Cy Bogart and all
the beastly boys peeping in. But the poor dear, he's absent-minded about
minute--minush--whatever the word is. He has so much worry and work,
while I do nothing but jabber to Bea.

"I MUSTN'T forget the hominy----"

She was flying into the hall. Kennicott looked up from the Journal of
the American Medical Society.

"Hello! What time did you get back?" she cried.

"About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven!" Good-natured yet
not quite approving.

"Did it feel neglected?"

"Well, you didn't remember to close the lower draft in the furnace."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. But I don't often forget things like that, do I?"

She dropped into his lap and (after he had jerked back his head to save
his eye-glasses, and removed the glasses, and settled her in a position
less cramping to his legs, and casually cleared his throat) he kissed
her amiably, and remarked:

"Nope, I must say you're fairly good about things like that. I wasn't
kicking. I just meant I wouldn't want the fire to go out on us. Leave
that draft open and the fire might burn up and go out on us. And the
nights are beginning to get pretty cold again. Pretty cold on my drive.
I put the side-curtains up, it was so chilly. But the generator is
working all right now."

"Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk."

"Go walking?"

"I went up to see the Perrys." By a definite act of will she added
the truth: "They weren't in. And I saw Guy Pollock. Dropped into his
office."

"Why, you haven't been sitting and chinning with him till eleven
o'clock?"

"Of course there were some other people there and----Will! What do you
think of Dr. Westlake?"

"Westlake? Why?"

"I noticed him on the street today."

"Was he limping? If the poor fish would have his teeth X-rayed, I'll bet
nine and a half cents he'd find an abscess there. 'Rheumatism' he calls
it. Rheumatism, hell! He's behind the times. Wonder he doesn't bleed
himself! Wellllllll----" A profound and serious yawn. "I hate to break
up the party, but it's getting late, and a doctor never knows when he'll
get routed out before morning." (She remembered that he had given this
explanation, in these words, not less than thirty times in the year.) "I
guess we better be trotting up to bed. I've wound the clock and looked
at the furnace. Did you lock the front door when you came in?"

They trailed up-stairs, after he had turned out the lights and twice
tested the front door to make sure it was fast. While they talked
they were preparing for bed. Carol still sought to maintain privacy by
undressing behind the screen of the closet door. Kennicott was not so
reticent. Tonight, as every night, she was irritated by having to push
the old plush chair out of the way before she could open the closet
door. Every time she opened the door she shoved the chair. Ten times an
hour. But Kennicott liked to have the chair in the room, and there was
no place for it except in front of the closet.

She pushed it, felt angry, hid her anger. Kennicott was yawning, more
portentously. The room smelled stale. She shrugged and became chatty:

"You were speaking of Dr. Westlake. Tell me--you've never summed him up:
Is he really a good doctor?"

"Oh yes, he's a wise old coot."

("There! You see there is no medical rivalry. Not in my house!" she said
triumphantly to Guy Pollock.)

She hung her silk petticoat on a closet hook, and went on, "Dr. Westlake
is so gentle and scholarly----"

"Well, I don't know as I'd say he was such a whale of a scholar. I've
always had a suspicion he did a good deal of four-flushing about that.
He likes to have people think he keeps up his French and Greek and Lord
knows what all; and he's always got an old Dago book lying around the
sitting-room, but I've got a hunch he reads detective stories 'bout like
the rest of us. And I don't know where he'd ever learn so dog-gone many
languages anyway! He kind of lets people assume he went to Harvard
or Berlin or Oxford or somewhere, but I looked him up in the medical
register, and he graduated from a hick college in Pennsylvania, 'way
back in 1861!"

"But this is the important thing: Is he an honest doctor?"

"How do you mean 'honest'? Depends on what you mean."

"Suppose you were sick. Would you call him in? Would you let me call him
in?"

"Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn't! No, SIR! I
wouldn't have the old fake in the house. Makes me tired, his everlasting
palavering and soft-soaping. He's all right for an ordinary bellyache
or holding some fool woman's hand, but I wouldn't call him in for an
honest-to-God illness, not much I wouldn't, NO-sir! You know I don't
do much back-biting, but same time----I'll tell you, Carrrie: I've never
got over being sore at Westlake for the way he treated Mrs. Jonderquist.
Nothing the matter with her, what she really needed was a rest, but
Westlake kept calling on her and calling on her for weeks, almost every
day, and he sent her a good big fat bill, too, you can bet! I never
did forgive him for that. Nice decent hard-working people like the
Jonderquists!"

In her batiste nightgown she was standing at the bureau engaged in the
invariable rites of wishing that she had a real dressing-table with a
triple mirror, of bending toward the streaky glass and raising her chin
to inspect a pin-head mole on her throat, and finally of brushing her
hair. In rhythm to the strokes she went on:

"But, Will, there isn't any of what you might call financial rivalry
between you and the partners--Westlake and McGanum--is there?"

He flipped into bed with a solemn back-somersault and a ludicrous kick
of his heels as he tucked his legs under the blankets. He snorted, "Lord
no! I never begrudge any man a nickel he can get away from me--fairly."

"But is Westlake fair? Isn't he sly?"

"Sly is the word. He's a fox, that boy!"

She saw Guy Pollock's grin in the mirror. She flushed.

Kennicott, with his arms behind his head, was yawning:

"Yump. He's smooth, too smooth. But I bet I make prett' near as much
as Westlake and McGanum both together, though I've never wanted to grab
more than my just share. If anybody wants to go to the partners instead
of to me, that's his business. Though I must say it makes me tired when
Westlake gets hold of the Dawsons. Here Luke Dawson had been coming to
me for every toeache and headache and a lot of little things that just
wasted my time, and then when his grandchild was here last summer and
had summer-complaint, I suppose, or something like that, probably--you
know, the time you and I drove up to Lac-qui-Meurt--why, Westlake got
hold of Ma Dawson, and scared her to death, and made her think the kid
had appendicitis, and, by golly, if he and McGanum didn't operate, and
holler their heads off about the terrible adhesions they found, and what
a regular Charley and Will Mayo they were for classy surgery. They let
on that if they'd waited two hours more the kid would have developed
peritonitis, and God knows what all; and then they collected a nice
fat hundred and fifty dollars. And probably they'd have charged three
hundred, if they hadn't been afraid of me! I'm no hog, but I certainly
do hate to give old Luke ten dollars' worth of advice for a dollar and a
half, and then see a hundred and fifty go glimmering. And if I can't do
a better 'pendectomy than either Westlake or McGanum, I'll eat my hat!"

As she crept into bed she was dazzled by Guy's blazing grin. She
experimented:

"But Westlake is cleverer than his son-in-law, don't you think?"

"Yes, Westlake may be old-fashioned and all that, but he's got a certain
amount of intuition, while McGanum goes into everything bull-headed, and
butts his way through like a damn yahoo, and tries to argue his patients
into having whatever he diagnoses them as having! About the best thing
Mac can do is to stick to baby-snatching. He's just about on a par with
this bone-pounding chiropractor female, Mrs. Mattie Gooch."

"Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. McGanum, though--they're nice. They've been
awfully cordial to me."

"Well, no reason why they shouldn't be, is there? Oh, they're nice
enough--though you can bet your bottom dollar they're both plugging for
their husbands all the time, trying to get the business. And I don't
know as I call it so damn cordial in Mrs. McGanum when I holler at her
on the street and she nods back like she had a sore neck. Still, she's
all right. It's Ma Westlake that makes the mischief, pussyfooting around
all the time. But I wouldn't trust any Westlake out of the whole lot,
and while Mrs. McGanum SEEMS square enough, you don't never want to
forget that she's Westlake's daughter. You bet!"

"What about Dr. Gould? Don't you think he's worse than either Westlake
or McGanum? He's so cheap--drinking, and playing pool, and always
smoking cigars in such a cocky way----"

"That's all right now! Terry Gould is a good deal of a tin-horn sport,
but he knows a lot about medicine, and don't you forget it for one
second!"

She stared down Guy's grin, and asked more cheerfully, "Is he honest,
too?"

"Ooooooooooo! Gosh I'm sleepy!" He burrowed beneath the bedclothes in
a luxurious stretch, and came up like a diver, shaking his head, as
he complained, "How's that? Who? Terry Gould honest? Don't start me
laughing--I'm too nice and sleepy! I didn't say he was honest. I said
he had savvy enough to find the index in 'Gray's Anatomy,' which is more
than McGanum can do! But I didn't say anything about his being honest.
He isn't. Terry is crooked as a dog's hind leg. He's done me more than
one dirty trick. He told Mrs. Glorbach, seventeen miles out, that I
wasn't up-to-date in obstetrics. Fat lot of good it did him! She came
right in and told me! And Terry's lazy. He'd let a pneumonia patient
choke rather than interrupt a poker game."

"Oh no. I can't believe----"

"Well now, I'm telling you!"

"Does he play much poker? Dr. Dillon told me that Dr. Gould wanted him
to play----"

"Dillon told you what? Where'd you meet Dillon? He's just come to town."

"He and his wife were at Mr. Pollock's tonight."

"Say, uh, what'd you think of them? Didn't Dillon strike you as pretty
light-waisted?"

"Why no. He seemed intelligent. I'm sure he's much more wide-awake than
our dentist."

"Well now, the old man is a good dentist. He knows his business. And
Dillon----I wouldn't cuddle up to the Dillons too close, if I were you.
All right for Pollock, and that's none of our business, but we----I
think I'd just give the Dillons the glad hand and pass 'em up."

"But why? He isn't a rival."

"That's--all--right!" Kennicott was aggressively awake now. "He'll work
right in with Westlake and McGanum. Matter of fact, I suspect they
were largely responsible for his locating here. They'll be sending him
patients, and he'll send all that he can get hold of to them. I don't
trust anybody that's too much hand-in-glove with Westlake. You give
Dillon a shot at some fellow that's just bought a farm here and drifts
into town to get his teeth looked at, and after Dillon gets through with
him, you'll see him edging around to Westlake and McGanum, every time!"

Carol reached for her blouse, which hung on a chair by the bed. She
draped it about her shoulders, and sat up studying Kennicott, her chin
in her hands. In the gray light from the small electric bulb down the
hall she could see that he was frowning.

"Will, this is--I must get this straight. Some one said to me the other
day that in towns like this, even more than in cities, all the doctors
hate each other, because of the money----"

"Who said that?"

"It doesn't matter."

"I'll bet a hat it was your Vida Sherwin. She's a brainy woman, but
she'd be a damn sight brainier if she kept her mouth shut and didn't let
so much of her brains ooze out that way."

"Will! O Will! That's horrible! Aside from the vulgarity----Some ways,
Vida is my best friend. Even if she HAD said it. Which, as a matter of
fact, she didn't." He reared up his thick shoulders, in absurd pink and
green flannelette pajamas. He sat straight, and irritatingly snapped his
fingers, and growled:

"Well, if she didn't say it, let's forget her. Doesn't make any
difference who said it, anyway. The point is that you believe it. God!
To think you don't understand me any better than that! Money!"

("This is the first real quarrel we've ever had," she was agonizing.)

He thrust out his long arm and snatched his wrinkly vest from a chair.
He took out a cigar, a match. He tossed the vest on the floor. He
lighted the cigar and puffed savagely. He broke up the match and snapped
the fragments at the foot-board.

She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the foot-stone of the
grave of love.

The room was drab-colored and ill-ventilated--Kennicott did not "believe
in opening the windows so darn wide that you heat all outdoors." The
stale air seemed never to change. In the light from the hall they were
two lumps of bedclothes with shoulders and tousled heads attached.

She begged, "I didn't mean to wake you up, dear. And please don't smoke.
You've been smoking so much. Please go back to sleep. I'm sorry."

"Being sorry 's all right, but I'm going to tell you one or two things.
This falling for anybody's say-so about medical jealousy and competition
is simply part and parcel of your usual willingness to think the worst
you possibly can of us poor dubs in Gopher Prairie. Trouble with women
like you is, you always want to ARGUE. Can't take things the way they
are. Got to argue. Well, I'm not going to argue about this in any way,
shape, manner, or form. Trouble with you is, you don't make any effort
to appreciate us. You're so damned superior, and think the city is such
a hell of a lot finer place, and you want us to do what YOU want, all
the time----"

"That's not true! It's I who make the effort. It's they--it's you--who
stand back and criticize. I have to come over to the town's opinion;
I have to devote myself to their interests. They can't even SEE my
interests, to say nothing of adopting them. I get ever so excited about
their old Lake Minniemashie and the cottages, but they simply guffaw (in
that lovely friendly way you advertise so much) if I speak of wanting to
see Taormina also."

"Sure, Tormina, whatever that is--some nice expensive millionaire
colony, I suppose. Sure; that's the idea; champagne taste and beer
income; and make sure that we never will have more than a beer income,
too!"

"Are you by any chance implying that I am not economical?"

"Well, I hadn't intended to, but since you bring it up yourself, I don't
mind saying the grocery bills are about twice what they ought to be."

"Yes, they probably are. I'm not economical. I can't be. Thanks to you!"

"Where d' you get that 'thanks to you'?"

"Please don't be quite so colloquial--or shall I say VULGAR?"

"I'll be as damn colloquial as I want to. How do you get that 'thanks to
you'? Here about a year ago you jump me for not remembering to give you
money. Well, I'm reasonable. I didn't blame you, and I SAID I was to
blame. But have I ever forgotten it since--practically?"

"No. You haven't--practically! But that isn't it. I ought to have an
allowance. I will, too! I must have an agreement for a regular stated
amount, every month."

"Fine idea! Of course a doctor gets a regular stated amount! Sure! A
thousand one month--and lucky if he makes a hundred the next."

"Very well then, a percentage. Or something else. No matter how much you
vary, you can make a rough average for----"

"But what's the idea? What are you trying to get at? Mean to say I'm
unreasonable? Think I'm so unreliable and tightwad that you've got to
tie me down with a contract? By God, that hurts! I thought I'd been
pretty generous and decent, and I took a lot of pleasure--thinks I,
'she'll be tickled when I hand her over this twenty'--or fifty, or
whatever it was; and now seems you been wanting to make it a kind of
alimony. Me, like a poor fool, thinking I was liberal all the while, and
you----"

"Please stop pitying yourself! You're having a beautiful time feeling
injured. I admit all you say. Certainly. You've given me money both
freely and amiably. Quite as if I were your mistress!"

"Carrie!"

"I mean it! What was a magnificent spectacle of generosity to you was
humiliation to me. You GAVE me money--gave it to your mistress, if she
was complaisant, and then you----"

"Carrie!"

"(Don't interrupt me!)--then you felt you'd discharged all obligation.
Well, hereafter I'll refuse your money, as a gift. Either I'm your
partner, in charge of the household department of our business, with a
regular budget for it, or else I'm nothing. If I'm to be a mistress,
I shall choose my lovers. Oh, I hate it--I hate it--this smirking and
hoping for money--and then not even spending it on jewels as a mistress
has a right to, but spending it on double-boilers and socks for you!
Yes indeed! You're generous! You give me a dollar, right out--the only
proviso is that I must spend it on a tie for you! And you give it when
and as you wish. How can I be anything but uneconomical?"

"Oh well, of course, looking at it that way----"

"I can't shop around, can't buy in large quantities, have to stick to
stores where I have a charge account, good deal of the time, can't plan
because I don't know how much money I can depend on. That's what I pay
for your charming sentimentalities about giving so generously. You make
me----"

"Wait! Wait! You know you're exaggerating. You never thought about that
mistress stuff till just this minute! Matter of fact, you never have
'smirked and hoped for money.' But all the same, you may be right. You
ought to run the household as a business. I'll figure out a definite
plan tomorrow, and hereafter you'll be on a regular amount or
percentage, with your own checking account."

"Oh, that IS decent of you!" She turned toward him, trying to be
affectionate. But his eyes were pink and unlovely in the flare of the
match with which he lighted his dead and malodorous cigar. His head
drooped, and a ridge of flesh scattered with pale small bristles bulged
out under his chin.

She sat in abeyance till he croaked:

"No. 'Tisn't especially decent. It's just fair. And God knows I want
to be fair. But I expect others to be fair, too. And you're so high and
mighty about people. Take Sam Clark; best soul that ever lived, honest
and loyal and a damn good fellow----"

("Yes, and a good shot at ducks, don't forget that!")

("Well, and he is a good shot, too!) Sam drops around in the evening to
sit and visit, and by golly just because he takes a dry smoke and rolls
his cigar around in his mouth, and maybe spits a few times, you look
at him as if he was a hog. Oh, you didn't know I was onto you, and I
certainly hope Sam hasn't noticed it, but I never miss it."

"I have felt that way. Spitting--ugh! But I'm sorry you caught my
thoughts. I tried to be nice; I tried to hide them."

"Maybe I catch a whole lot more than you think I do!"

"Yes, perhaps you do."

"And d' you know why Sam doesn't light his cigar when he's here?"

"Why?"

"He's so darn afraid you'll be offended if he smokes. You scare him.
Every time he speaks of the weather you jump him because he ain't
talking about poetry or Gertie--Goethe?--or some other highbrow junk.
You've got him so leery he scarcely dares to come here."

"Oh, I AM sorry. (Though I'm sure it's you who are exaggerating now.")

"Well now, I don't know as I am! And I can tell you one thing: if you
keep on you'll manage to drive away every friend I've got."

"That would be horrible of me. You KNOW I don't mean to Will, what is it
about me that frightens Sam--if I do frighten him."

"Oh, you do, all right! 'Stead of putting his legs up on another chair,
and unbuttoning his vest, and telling a good story or maybe kidding
me about something, he sits on the edge of his chair and tries to make
conversation about politics, and he doesn't even cuss, and Sam's never
real comfortable unless he can cuss a little!"

"In other words, he isn't comfortable unless he can behave like a
peasant in a mud hut!"

"Now that'll be about enough of that! You want to know how you scare
him? First you deliberately fire some question at him that you know darn
well he can't answer--any fool could see you were experimenting with
him--and then you shock him by talking of mistresses or something, like
you were doing just now----"

"Of course the pure Samuel never speaks of such erring ladies in his
private conversations!"

"Not when there's ladies around! You can bet your life on that!"

"So the impurity lies in failing to pretend that----"

"Now we won't go into all that--eugenics or whatever damn fad you choose
to call it. As I say, first you shock him, and then you become so darn
flighty that nobody can follow you. Either you want to dance, or you
bang the piano, or else you get moody as the devil and don't want to
talk or anything else. If you must be temperamental, why can't you be
that way by yourself?"

"My dear man, there's nothing I'd like better than to be by myself
occasionally! To have a room of my own! I suppose you expect me to sit
here and dream delicately and satisfy my 'temperamentality' while you
wander in from the bathroom with lather all over your face, and shout,
'Seen my brown pants?'"

"Huh!" He did not sound impressed. He made no answer. He turned out of
bed, his feet making one solid thud on the floor. He marched from the
room, a grotesque figure in baggy union-pajamas. She heard him drawing
a drink of water at the bathroom tap. She was furious at the
contemptuousness of his exit. She snuggled down in bed, and looked
away from him as he returned. He ignored her. As he flumped into bed he
yawned, and casually stated:

"Well, you'll have plenty of privacy when we build a new house.

"When?"

"Oh, I'll build it all right, don't you fret! But of course I don't
expect any credit for it."

Now it was she who grunted "Huh!" and ignored him, and felt independent
and masterful as she shot up out of bed, turned her back on him,
fished a lone and petrified chocolate out of her glove-box in the
top right-hand drawer of the bureau, gnawed at it, found that it had
cocoanut filling, said "Damn!" wished that she had not said it, so that
she might be superior to his colloquialism, and hurled the chocolate
into the wastebasket, where it made an evil and mocking clatter among
the debris of torn linen collars and toothpaste box. Then, in great
dignity and self-dramatization, she returned to bed.

All this time he had been talking on, embroidering his assertion that
he "didn't expect any credit." She was reflecting that he was a rustic,
that she hated him, that she had been insane to marry him, that she had
married him only because she was tired of work, that she must get her
long gloves cleaned, that she would never do anything more for him,
and that she mustn't forget his hominy for breakfast. She was roused to
attention by his storming:

"I'm a fool to think about a new house. By the time I get it built
you'll probably have succeeded in your plan to get me completely in
Dutch with every friend and every patient I've got."

She sat up with a bounce. She said coldly, "Thank you very much for
revealing your real opinion of me. If that's the way you feel, if I'm
such a hindrance to you, I can't stay under this roof another minute.
And I am perfectly well able to earn my own living. I will go at once,
and you may get a divorce at your pleasure! What you want is a nice
sweet cow of a woman who will enjoy having your dear friends talk about
the weather and spit on the floor!"

"Tut! Don't be a fool!"

"You will very soon find out whether I'm a fool or not! I mean it! Do
you think I'd stay here one second after I found out that I was injuring
you? At least I have enough sense of justice not to do that."

"Please stop flying off at tangents, Carrie. This----"

"Tangents? TANGENTS! Let me tell you----"

"----isn't a theater-play; it's a serious effort to have us get together
on fundamentals. We've both been cranky, and said a lot of things we
didn't mean. I wish we were a couple o' bloomin' poets and just talked
about roses and moonshine, but we're human. All right. Let's cut out
jabbing at each other. Let's admit we both do fool things. See here: You
KNOW you feel superior to folks. You're not as bad as I say, but you're
not as good as you say--not by a long shot! What's the reason you're so
superior? Why can't you take folks as they are?"

Her preparations for stalking out of the Doll's House were not yet
visible. She mused:

"I think perhaps it's my childhood." She halted. When she went on
her voice had an artificial sound, her words the bookish quality of
emotional meditation. "My father was the tenderest man in the world, but
he did feel superior to ordinary people. Well, he was! And the Minnesota
Valley----I used to sit there on the cliffs above Mankato for hours at a
time, my chin in my hand, looking way down the valley, wanting to write
poems. The shiny tilted roofs below me, and the river, and beyond it the
level fields in the mist, and the rim of palisades across----It held my
thoughts in. I LIVED, in the valley. But the prairie--all my thoughts go
flying off into the big space. Do you think it might be that?"

"Um, well, maybe, but----Carrie, you always talk so much about getting
all you can out of life, and not letting the years slip by, and here you
deliberately go and deprive yourself of a lot of real good home pleasure
by not enjoying people unless they wear frock coats and trot out----"

("Morning clothes. Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean t' interrupt you.")

"----to a lot of tea-parties. Take Jack Elder. You think Jack hasn't got
any ideas about anything but manufacturing and the tariff on lumber.
But do you know that Jack is nutty about music? He'll put a grand-opera
record on the phonograph and sit and listen to it and close his
eyes----Or you take Lym Cass. Ever realize what a well-informed man he
is?"

"But IS he? Gopher Prairie calls anybody 'well-informed' who's been
through the State Capitol and heard about Gladstone."

"Now I'm telling you! Lym reads a lot--solid stuff--history. Or take
Mart Mahoney, the garageman. He's got a lot of Perry prints of famous
pictures in his office. Or old Bingham Playfair, that died here 'bout a
year ago--lived seven miles out. He was a captain in the Civil War,
and knew General Sherman, and they say he was a miner in Nevada right
alongside of Mark Twain. You'll find these characters in all these small
towns, and a pile of savvy in every single one of them, if you just dig
for it."

"I know. And I do love them. Especially people like Champ Perry. But I
can't be so very enthusiastic over the smug cits like Jack Elder."

"Then I'm a smug cit, too, whatever that is."

"No, you're a scientist. Oh, I will try and get the music out of Mr.
Elder. Only, why can't he let it COME out, instead of being ashamed of
it, and always talking about hunting dogs? But I will try. Is it all
right now?"

"Sure. But there's one other thing. You might give me some attention,
too!"

"That's unjust! You have everything I am!"

"No, I haven't. You think you respect me--you always hand out some
spiel about my being so 'useful.' But you never think of me as having
ambitions, just as much as you have----"

"Perhaps not. I think of you as being perfectly satisfied."

"Well, I'm not, not by a long shot! I don't want to be a plug general
practitioner all my life, like Westlake, and die in harness because I
can't get out of it, and have 'em say, 'He was a good fellow, but he
couldn't save a cent.' Not that I care a whoop what they say, after I've
kicked in and can't hear 'em, but I want to put enough money away so you
and I can be independent some day, and not have to work unless I feel
like it, and I want to have a good house--by golly, I'll have as good
a house as anybody in THIS town!--and if we want to travel and see your
Tormina or whatever it is, why we can do it, with enough money in our
jeans so we won't have to take anything off anybody, or fret about our
old age. You never worry about what might happen if we got sick and
didn't have a good fat wad salted away, do you!"

"I don't suppose I do."

"Well then, I have to do it for you. And if you think for one moment
I want to be stuck in this burg all my life, and not have a chance to
travel and see the different points of interest and all that, then you
simply don't get me. I want to have a squint at the world, much's you
do. Only, I'm practical about it. First place, I'm going to make the
money--I'm investing in good safe farmlands. Do you understand why now?"

"Yes."

"Will you try and see if you can't think of me as something more than
just a dollar-chasing roughneck?"

"Oh, my dear, I haven't been just! I AM difficile. And I won't call on
the Dillons! And if Dr. Dillon is working for Westlake and McGanum, I
hate him!"



CHAPTER XV

THAT December she was in love with her husband.

She romanticized herself not as a great reformer but as the wife of a
country physician. The realities of the doctor's household were colored
by her pride.

Late at night, a step on the wooden porch, heard through her confusion
of sleep; the storm-door opened; fumbling over the inner door-panels;
the buzz of the electric bell. Kennicott muttering "Gol darn it," but
patiently creeping out of bed, remembering to draw the covers up to keep
her warm, feeling for slippers and bathrobe, clumping down-stairs.

From below, half-heard in her drowsiness, a colloquy in the
pidgin-German of the farmers who have forgotten the Old Country language
without learning the new:

"Hello, Barney, wass willst du?"

"Morgen, doctor. Die Frau ist ja awful sick. All night she been having
an awful pain in de belly."

"How long she been this way? Wie lang, eh?"

"I dunno, maybe two days."

"Why didn't you come for me yesterday, instead of waking me up out of a
sound sleep? Here it is two o'clock! So spat--warum, eh?"

"Nun aber, I know it, but she got soch a lot vorse last evening. I
t'ought maybe all de time it go avay, but it got a lot vorse."

"Any fever?"

"Vell ja, I t'ink she got fever."

"Which side is the pain on?"

"Huh?"

"Das Schmertz--die Weh--which side is it on? Here?"

"So. Right here it is."

"Any rigidity there?"

"Huh?"

"Is it rigid--stiff--I mean, does the belly feel hard to the fingers?"

"I dunno. She ain't said yet."

"What she been eating?"

"Vell, I t'ink about vot ve alwis eat, maybe corn beef and cabbage and
sausage, und so weiter. Doc, sie weint immer, all the time she holler
like hell. I vish you come."

"Well, all right, but you call me earlier, next time. Look here, Barney,
you better install a 'phone--telephone haben. Some of you Dutchmen will
be dying one of these days before you can fetch the doctor."

The door closing. Barney's wagon--the wheels silent in the snow, but the
wagon-body rattling. Kennicott clicking the receiver-hook to rouse the
night telephone-operator, giving a number, waiting, cursing mildly,
waiting again, and at last growling, "Hello, Gus, this is the doctor.
Say, uh, send me up a team. Guess snow's too thick for a machine. Going
eight miles south. All right. Huh? The hell I will! Don't you go back
to sleep. Huh? Well, that's all right now, you didn't wait so very darn
long. All right, Gus; shoot her along. By!"

His step on the stairs; his quiet moving about the frigid room while he
dressed; his abstracted and meaningless cough. She was supposed to be
asleep; she was too exquisitely drowsy to break the charm by speaking.
On a slip of paper laid on the bureau--she could hear the pencil
grinding against the marble slab--he wrote his destination. He went out,
hungry, chilly, unprotesting; and she, before she fell asleep again,
loved him for his sturdiness, and saw the drama of his riding by night
to the frightened household on the distant farm; pictured children
standing at a window, waiting for him. He suddenly had in her eyes the
heroism of a wireless operator on a ship in a collision; of an explorer,
fever-clawed, deserted by his bearers, but going on--jungle--going----

At six, when the light faltered in as through ground glass and bleakly
identified the chairs as gray rectangles, she heard his step on the
porch; heard him at the furnace: the rattle of shaking the grate, the
slow grinding removal of ashes, the shovel thrust into the coal-bin,
the abrupt clatter of the coal as it flew into the fire-box, the fussy
regulation of drafts--the daily sounds of a Gopher Prairie life, now
first appealing to her as something brave and enduring, many-colored
and free. She visioned the fire-box: flames turned to lemon and metallic
gold as the coal-dust sifted over them; thin twisty flutters of purple,
ghost flames which gave no light, slipping up between the dark banked
coals.

It was luxurious in bed, and the house would be warm for her when
she rose, she reflected. What a worthless cat she was! What were her
aspirations beside his capability?

She awoke again as he dropped into bed.

"Seems just a few minutes ago that you started out!"

"I've been away four hours. I've operated a woman for appendicitis, in
a Dutch kitchen. Came awful close to losing her, too, but I pulled her
through all right. Close squeak. Barney says he shot ten rabbits last
Sunday."

He was instantly asleep--one hour of rest before he had to be up and
ready for the farmers who came in early. She marveled that in what was
to her but a night-blurred moment, he should have been in a distant
place, have taken charge of a strange house, have slashed a woman, saved
a life.

What wonder he detested the lazy Westlake and McGanum! How could the
easy Guy Pollock understand this skill and endurance?

Then Kennicott was grumbling, "Seven-fifteen! Aren't you ever going
to get up for breakfast?" and he was not a hero-scientist but a rather
irritable and commonplace man who needed a shave. They had coffee,
griddle-cakes, and sausages, and talked about Mrs. McGanum's atrocious
alligator-hide belt. Night witchery and morning disillusion were alike
forgotten in the march of realities and days.


II

Familiar to the doctor's wife was the man with an injured leg, driven in
from the country on a Sunday afternoon and brought to the house. He
sat in a rocker in the back of a lumber-wagon, his face pale from the
anguish of the jolting. His leg was thrust out before him, resting on
a starch-box and covered with a leather-bound horse-blanket. His drab
courageous wife drove the wagon, and she helped Kennicott support him as
he hobbled up the steps, into the house.

"Fellow cut his leg with an ax--pretty bad gash--Halvor Nelson, nine
miles out," Kennicott observed.

Carol fluttered at the back of the room, childishly excited when she was
sent to fetch towels and a basin of water. Kennicott lifted the farmer
into a chair and chuckled, "There we are, Halvor! We'll have you out
fixing fences and drinking aquavit in a month." The farmwife sat on
the couch, expressionless, bulky in a man's dogskin coat and unplumbed
layers of jackets. The flowery silk handkerchief which she had worn over
her head now hung about her seamed neck. Her white wool gloves lay in
her lap.

Kennicott drew from the injured leg the thick red "German sock," the
innumerous other socks of gray and white wool, then the spiral bandage.
The leg was of an unwholesome dead white, with the black hairs feeble
and thin and flattened, and the scar a puckered line of crimson. Surely,
Carol shuddered, this was not human flesh, the rosy shining tissue of
the amorous poets.

Kennicott examined the scar, smiled at Halvor and his wife, chanted,
"Fine, b' gosh! Couldn't be better!"

The Nelsons looked deprecating. The farmer nodded a cue to his wife and
she mourned:

"Vell, how much ve going to owe you, doctor?"

"I guess it'll be----Let's see: one drive out and two calls. I guess
it'll be about eleven dollars in all, Lena."

"I dunno ve can pay you yoost a little w'ile, doctor."

Kennicott lumbered over to her, patted her shoulder, roared, "Why, Lord
love you, sister, I won't worry if I never get it! You pay me next fall,
when you get your crop. . . . Carrie! Suppose you or Bea could shake up
a cup of coffee and some cold lamb for the Nelsons? They got a long cold
drive ahead."


III


He had been gone since morning; her eyes ached with reading; Vida
Sherwin could not come to tea. She wandered through the house, empty as
the bleary street without. The problem of "Will the doctor be home in
time for supper, or shall I sit down without him?" was important in
the household. Six was the rigid, the canonical supper-hour, but at
half-past six he had not come. Much speculation with Bea: Had the
obstetrical case taken longer than he had expected? Had he been called
somewhere else? Was the snow much heavier out in the country, so that he
should have taken a buggy, or even a cutter, instead of the car? Here in
town it had melted a lot, but still----

A honking, a shout, the motor engine raced before it was shut off.

She hurried to the window. The car was a monster at rest after furious
adventures. The headlights blazed on the clots of ice in the road so
that the tiniest lumps gave mountainous shadows, and the taillight cast
a circle of ruby on the snow behind. Kennicott was opening the door,
crying, "Here we are, old girl! Got stuck couple times, but we made it,
by golly, we made it, and here we be! Come on! Food! Eatin's!"

She rushed to him, patted his fur coat, the long hairs smooth but chilly
to her fingers. She joyously summoned Bea, "All right! He's here! We'll
sit right down!"


IV


There were, to inform the doctor's wife of his successes no clapping
audiences nor book-reviews nor honorary degrees. But there was a
letter written by a German farmer recently moved from Minnesota to
Saskatchewan:


Dear sor, as you haf bin treading mee for a fue Weaks dis Somer and
seen wat is rong wit mee so in Regarding to dat i wont to tank you. the
Doctor heir say wat shot bee rong wit mee and day give mee som Madsin
but it diten halp mee like wat you dit. Now day glaim dat i Woten Neet
aney Madsin ad all wat you tink?

Well i haven ben tacking aney ting for about one & 1/2 Mont but i dont
get better so i like to heir Wat you tink about it i feel like dis
Disconfebil feeling around the Stomac after eating and dat Pain around
Heard and down the arm and about 3 to 3 1/2 Hour after Eating i feel
weeak like and dissy and a dull Hadig. Now you gust lett mee know Wat
you tink about mee, i do Wat you say.


V


She encountered Guy Pollock at the drug store. He looked at her as
though he had a right to; he spoke softly. "I haven't see you, the last
few days."

"No. I've been out in the country with Will several times. He's so----Do
you know that people like you and me can never understand people like
him? We're a pair of hypercritical loafers, you and I, while he quietly
goes and does things."

She nodded and smiled and was very busy about purchasing boric acid. He
stared after her, and slipped away.

When she found that he was gone she was slightly disconcerted.


VI


She could--at times--agree with Kennicott that the shaving-and-corsets
familiarity of married life was not dreary vulgarity but a wholesome
frankness; that artificial reticences might merely be irritating. She
was not much disturbed when for hours he sat about the living-room in
his honest socks. But she would not listen to his theory that "all this
romance stuff is simply moonshine--elegant when you're courting, but no
use busting yourself keeping it up all your life."

She thought of surprises, games, to vary the days. She knitted an
astounding purple scarf, which she hid under his supper plate. (When
he discovered it he looked embarrassed, and gasped, "Is today an
anniversary or something? Gosh, I'd forgotten it!")

Once she filled a thermos bottle with hot coffee a corn-flakes box with
cookies just baked by Bea, and bustled to his office at three in the
afternoon. She hid her bundles in the hall and peeped in.

The office was shabby. Kennicott had inherited it from a medical
predecessor, and changed it only by adding a white enameled
operating-table, a sterilizer, a Roentgen-ray apparatus, and a small
portable typewriter. It was a suite of two rooms: a waiting-room with
straight chairs, shaky pine table, and those coverless and unknown
magazines which are found only in the offices of dentists and
doctors. The room beyond, looking on Main Street, was business-office,
consulting-room, operating-room, and, in an alcove, bacteriological
and chemical laboratory. The wooden floors of both rooms were bare; the
furniture was brown and scaly.

Waiting for the doctor were two women, as still as though they were
paralyzed, and a man in a railroad brakeman's uniform, holding his
bandaged right hand with his tanned left. They stared at Carol. She sat
modestly in a stiff chair, feeling frivolous and out of place.

Kennicott appeared at the inner door, ushering out a bleached man with
a trickle of wan beard, and consoling him, "All right, Dad. Be careful
about the sugar, and mind the diet I gave you. Gut the prescription
filled, and come in and see me next week. Say, uh, better, uh, better
not drink too much beer. All right, Dad."

His voice was artificially hearty. He looked absently at Carol. He was
a medical machine now, not a domestic machine. "What is it, Carrie?" he
droned.

"No hurry. Just wanted to say hello."

"Well----"

Self-pity because he did not divine that this was a surprise party
rendered her sad and interesting to herself, and she had the pleasure of
the martyrs in saying bravely to him, "It's nothing special. If you're
busy long I'll trot home."

While she waited she ceased to pity and began to mock herself. For the
first time she observed the waiting-room. Oh yes, the doctor's family
had to have obi panels and a wide couch and an electric percolator, but
any hole was good enough for sick tired common people who were nothing
but the one means and excuse for the doctor's existing! No. She couldn't
blame Kennicott. He was satisfied by the shabby chairs. He put up with
them as his patients did. It was her neglected province--she who had
been going about talking of rebuilding the whole town!

When the patients were gone she brought in her bundles.

"What's those?" wondered Kennicott.

"Turn your back! Look out of the window!"

He obeyed--not very much bored. When she cried "Now!" a feast of cookies
and small hard candies and hot coffee was spread on the roll-top desk in
the inner room.

His broad face lightened. "That's a new one on me! Never was more
surprised in my life! And, by golly, I believe I am hungry. Say, this is
fine."

When the first exhilaration of the surprise had declined she demanded,
"Will! I'm going to refurnish your waiting-room!"

"What's the matter with it? It's all right."

"It is not! It's hideous. We can afford to give your patients a better
place. And it would be good business." She felt tremendously politic.

"Rats! I don't worry about the business. You look here now: As I told
you----Just because I like to tuck a few dollars away, I'll be switched
if I'll stand for your thinking I'm nothing but a dollar-chasing----"

"Stop it! Quick! I'm not hurting your feelings! I'm not criticizing! I'm
the adoring least one of thy harem. I just mean----"

Two days later, with pictures, wicker chairs, a rug, she had made the
waiting-room habitable; and Kennicott admitted, "Does look a lot better.
Never thought much about it. Guess I need being bullied."

She was convinced that she was gloriously content in her career as
doctor's-wife.


VII


She tried to free herself from the speculation and disillusionment which
had been twitching at her; sought to dismiss all the opinionation of an
insurgent era. She wanted to shine upon the veal-faced bristly-bearded
Lyman Cass as much as upon Miles Bjornstam or Guy Pollock. She gave a
reception for the Thanatopsis Club. But her real acquiring of merit
was in calling upon that Mrs. Bogart whose gossipy good opinion was so
valuable to a doctor.

Though the Bogart house was next door she had entered it but three
times. Now she put on her new moleskin cap, which made her face small
and innocent, she rubbed off the traces of a lip-stick--and fled across
the alley before her admirable resolution should sneak away.

The age of houses, like the age of men, has small relation to their
years. The dull-green cottage of the good Widow Bogart was twenty years
old, but it had the antiquity of Cheops, and the smell of mummy-dust.
Its neatness rebuked the street. The two stones by the path were painted
yellow; the outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice
that it was not concealed at all; the last iron dog remaining in Gopher
Prairie stood among whitewashed conch-shells upon the lawn. The hallway
was dismayingly scrubbed; the kitchen was an exercise in mathematics,
with problems worked out in equidistant chairs.

The parlor was kept for visitors. Carol suggested, "Let's sit in the
kitchen. Please don't trouble to light the parlor stove."

"No trouble at all! My gracious, and you coming so seldom and all, and
the kitchen is a perfect sight, I try to keep it clean, but Cy will
track mud all over it, I've spoken to him about it a hundred times if
I've spoken once, no, you sit right there, dearie, and I'll make a fire,
no trouble at all, practically no trouble at all."

Mrs. Bogart groaned, rubbed her joints, and repeatedly dusted her hands
while she made the fire, and when Carol tried to help she lamented,
"Oh, it doesn't matter; guess I ain't good for much but toil and workin'
anyway; seems as though that's what a lot of folks think."

The parlor was distinguished by an expanse of rag carpet from which, as
they entered, Mrs. Bogart hastily picked one sad dead fly. In the center
of the carpet was a rug depicting a red Newfoundland dog, reclining in a
green and yellow daisy field and labeled "Our Friend." The parlor organ,
tall and thin, was adorned with a mirror partly circular, partly square,
and partly diamond-shaped, and with brackets holding a pot of geraniums,
a mouth-organ, and a copy of "The Oldtime Hymnal." On the center
table was a Sears-Roebuck mail-order catalogue, a silver frame with
photographs of the Baptist Church and of an elderly clergyman, and
an aluminum tray containing a rattlesnake's rattle and a broken
spectacle-lens.

Mrs. Bogart spoke of the eloquence of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel,
the coldness of cold days, the price of poplar wood, Dave Dyer's new
hair-cut, and Cy Bogart's essential piety. "As I said to his Sunday
School teacher, Cy may be a little wild, but that's because he's got so
much better brains than a lot of these boys, and this farmer that claims
he caught Cy stealing 'beggies, is a liar, and I ought to have the law
on him."

Mrs. Bogart went thoroughly into the rumor that the girl waiter at
Billy's Lunch was not all she might be--or, rather, was quite all she
might be.

"My lands, what can you expect when everybody knows what her mother was?
And if these traveling salesmen would let her alone she would be all
right, though I certainly don't believe she ought to be allowed to think
she can pull the wool over our eyes. The sooner she's sent to the
school for incorrigible girls down at Sauk Centre, the better for all
and----Won't you just have a cup of coffee, Carol dearie, I'm sure you
won't mind old Aunty Bogart calling you by your first name when you
think how long I've known Will, and I was such a friend of his dear
lovely mother when she lived here and--was that fur cap expensive?
But----Don't you think it's awful, the way folks talk in this town?"

Mrs. Bogart hitched her chair nearer. Her large face, with its
disturbing collection of moles and lone black hairs, wrinkled
cunningly. She showed her decayed teeth in a reproving smile, and in the
confidential voice of one who scents stale bedroom scandal she breathed:

"I just don't see how folks can talk and act like they do. You don't
know the things that go on under cover. This town--why it's only the
religious training I've given Cy that's kept him so innocent of--things.
Just the other day----I never pay no attention to stories, but I heard
it mighty good and straight that Harry Haydock is carrying on with a
girl that clerks in a store down in Minneapolis, and poor Juanita
not knowing anything about it--though maybe it's the judgment of
God, because before she married Harry she acted up with more than one
boy----Well, I don't like to say it, and maybe I ain't up-to-date, like
Cy says, but I always believed a lady shouldn't even give names to all
sorts of dreadful things, but just the same I know there was at least
one case where Juanita and a boy--well, they were just dreadful.
And--and----Then there's that Ole Jenson the grocer, that thinks he's so
plaguey smart, and I know he made up to a farmer's wife and----And this
awful man Bjornstam that does chores, and Nat Hicks and----"

There was, it seemed, no person in town who was not living a life of
shame except Mrs. Bogart, and naturally she resented it.

She knew. She had always happened to be there. Once, she whispered, she
was going by when an indiscreet window-shade had been left up a couple
of inches. Once she had noticed a man and woman holding hands, and right
at a Methodist sociable!

"Another thing----Heaven knows I never want to start trouble, but I
can't help what I see from my back steps, and I notice your hired girl
Bea carrying on with the grocery boys and all----"

"Mrs. Bogart! I'd trust Bea as I would myself!"

"Oh, dearie, you don't understand me! I'm sure she's a good girl. I mean
she's green, and I hope that none of these horrid young men that there
are around town will get her into trouble! It's their parents' fault,
letting them run wild and hear evil things. If I had my way there
wouldn't be none of them, not boys nor girls neither, allowed to know
anything about--about things till they was married. It's terrible the
bald way that some folks talk. It just shows and gives away what awful
thoughts they got inside them, and there's nothing can cure them except
coming right to God and kneeling down like I do at prayer-meeting every
Wednesday evening, and saying, 'O God, I would be a miserable sinner
except for thy grace.'

"I'd make every last one of these brats go to Sunday School and learn
to think about nice things 'stead of about cigarettes and goings-on--and
these dances they have at the lodges are the worst thing that ever
happened to this town, lot of young men squeezing girls and finding
out----Oh, it's dreadful. I've told the mayor he ought to put a stop
to them and----There was one boy in this town, I don't want to be
suspicious or uncharitable but----"

It was half an hour before Carol escaped.

She stopped on her own porch and thought viciously:

"If that woman is on the side of the angels, then I have no choice; I
must be on the side of the devil. But--isn't she like me? She too wants
to 'reform the town'! She too criticizes everybody! She too thinks the
men are vulgar and limited! AM I LIKE HER? This is ghastly!"

That evening she did not merely consent to play cribbage with Kennicott;
she urged him to play; and she worked up a hectic interest in land-deals
and Sam Clark.


VIII


In courtship days Kennicott had shown her a photograph of Nels
Erdstrom's baby and log cabin, but she had never seen the Erdstroms.
They had become merely "patients of the doctor." Kennicott telephoned
her on a mid-December afternoon, "Want to throw your coat on and drive
out to Erdstrom's with me? Fairly warm. Nels got the jaundice."

"Oh yes!" She hastened to put on woolen stockings, high boots, sweater,
muffler, cap, mittens.

The snow was too thick and the ruts frozen too hard for the motor. They
drove out in a clumsy high carriage. Tucked over them was a blue woolen
cover, prickly to her wrists, and outside of it a buffalo robe, humble
and moth-eaten now, used ever since the bison herds had streaked the
prairie a few miles to the west.

The scattered houses between which they passed in town were small and
desolate in contrast to the expanse of huge snowy yards and wide
street. They crossed the railroad tracks, and instantly were in the farm
country. The big piebald horses snorted clouds of steam, and started to
trot. The carriage squeaked in rhythm. Kennicott drove with clucks of
"There boy, take it easy!" He was thinking. He paid no attention to
Carol. Yet it was he who commented, "Pretty nice, over there," as they
approached an oak-grove where shifty winter sunlight quivered in the
hollow between two snow-drifts.

They drove from the natural prairie to a cleared district which twenty
years ago had been forest. The country seemed to stretch unchanging to
the North Pole: low hill, brush-scraggly bottom, reedy creek, muskrat
mound, fields with frozen brown clods thrust up through the snow.

Her ears and nose were pinched; her breath frosted her collar; her
fingers ached.

"Getting colder," she said.

"Yup."

That was all their conversation for three miles. Yet she was happy.

They reached Nels Erdstrom's at four, and with a throb she recognized
the courageous venture which had lured her to Gopher Prairie: the
cleared fields, furrows among stumps, a log cabin chinked with mud and
roofed with dry hay. But Nels had prospered. He used the log cabin as a
barn; and a new house reared up, a proud, unwise, Gopher Prairie
house, the more naked and ungraceful in its glossy white paint and pink
trimmings. Every tree had been cut down. The house was so unsheltered,
so battered by the wind, so bleakly thrust out into the harsh clearing,
that Carol shivered. But they were welcomed warmly enough in the
kitchen, with its crisp new plaster, its black and nickel range, its
cream separator in a corner.

Mrs. Erdstrom begged her to sit in the parlor, where there was a
phonograph and an oak and leather davenport, the prairie farmer's
proofs of social progress, but she dropped down by the kitchen stove and
insisted, "Please don't mind me." When Mrs. Erdstrom had followed the
doctor out of the room Carol glanced in a friendly way at the grained
pine cupboard, the framed Lutheran Konfirmations Attest, the traces
of fried eggs and sausages on the dining table against the wall, and a
jewel among calendars, presenting not only a lithographic young woman
with cherry lips, and a Swedish advertisement of Axel Egge's grocery,
but also a thermometer and a match-holder.

She saw that a boy of four or five was staring at her from the hall,
a boy in gingham shirt and faded corduroy trousers, but large-eyed,
firm-mouthed, wide-browed. He vanished, then peeped in again, biting his
knuckles, turning his shoulder toward her in shyness.

Didn't she remember--what was it?--Kennicott sitting beside her at Fort
Snelling, urging, "See how scared that baby is. Needs some woman like
you."

Magic had fluttered about her then--magic of sunset and cool air and the
curiosity of lovers. She held out her hands as much to that sanctity as
to the boy.

He edged into the room, doubtfully sucking his thumb.

"Hello," she said. "What's your name?"

"Hee, hee, hee!"

"You're quite right. I agree with you. Silly people like me always ask
children their names."

"Hee, hee, hee!"

"Come here and I'll tell you the story of--well, I don't know what it
will be about, but it will have a slim heroine and a Prince Charming."

He stood stoically while she spun nonsense. His giggling ceased. She was
winning him. Then the telephone bell--two long rings, one short.

Mrs. Erdstrom galloped into the room, shrieked into the transmitter,
"Vell? Yes, yes, dis is Erdstrom's place! Heh? Oh, you vant de doctor?"

Kennicott appeared, growled into the telephone:

"Well, what do you want? Oh, hello Dave; what do you want? Which
Morgenroth's? Adolph's? All right. Amputation? Yuh, I see. Say, Dave,
get Gus to harness up and take my surgical kit down there--and have him
take some chloroform. I'll go straight down from here. May not get
home tonight. You can get me at Adolph's. Huh? No, Carrie can give the
anesthetic, I guess. G'-by. Huh? No; tell me about that tomorrow--too
damn many people always listening in on this farmers' line."

He turned to Carol. "Adolph Morgenroth, farmer ten miles southwest of
town, got his arm crushed-fixing his cow-shed and a post caved in on
him--smashed him up pretty bad--may have to amputate, Dave Dyer says.
Afraid we'll have to go right from here. Darn sorry to drag you clear
down there with me----"

"Please do. Don't mind me a bit."

"Think you could give the anesthetic? Usually have my driver do it."

"If you'll tell me how."

"All right. Say, did you hear me putting one over on these goats that
are always rubbering in on party-wires? I hope they heard me! Well. . . .
Now, Bessie, don't you worry about Nels. He's getting along all right.
Tomorrow you or one of the neighbors drive in and get this prescription
filled at Dyer's. Give him a teaspoonful every four hours. Good-by.
Hel-lo! Here's the little fellow! My Lord, Bessie, it ain't possible
this is the fellow that used to be so sickly? Why, say, he's a great big
strapping Svenska now--going to be bigger 'n his daddy!"

Kennicott's bluffness made the child squirm with a delight which Carol
could not evoke. It was a humble wife who followed the busy doctor out
to the carriage, and her ambition was not to play Rachmaninoff better,
nor to build town halls, but to chuckle at babies.

The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver, with oak
twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo on the horizon
changed from a red tank to a tower of violet misted over with gray. The
purple road vanished, and without lights, in the darkness of a world
destroyed, they swayed on--toward nothing.

It was a bumpy cold way to the Morgenroth farm, and she was asleep when
they arrived.

Here was no glaring new house with a proud phonograph, but a low
whitewashed kitchen smelling of cream and cabbage. Adolph Morgenroth was
lying on a couch in the rarely used dining-room. His heavy work-scarred
wife was shaking her hands in anxiety.

Carol felt that Kennicott would do something magnificent and startling.
But he was casual. He greeted the man, "Well, well, Adolph, have to fix
you up, eh?" Quietly, to the wife, "Hat die drug store my schwartze bag
hier geschickt? So--schon. Wie viel Uhr ist 's? Sieben? Nun, lassen uns
ein wenig supper zuerst haben. Got any of that good beer left--giebt 's
noch Bier?"

He had supped in four minutes. His coat off, his sleeves rolled up, he
was scrubbing his hands in a tin basin in the sink, using the bar of
yellow kitchen soap.

Carol had not dared to look into the farther room while she labored over
the supper of beer, rye bread, moist cornbeef and cabbage, set on the
kitchen table. The man in there was groaning. In her one glance she
had seen that his blue flannel shirt was open at a corded tobacco-brown
neck, the hollows of which were sprinkled with thin black and gray
hairs. He was covered with a sheet, like a corpse, and outside the sheet
was his right arm, wrapped in towels stained with blood.

But Kennicott strode into the other room gaily, and she followed him.
With surprising delicacy in his large fingers he unwrapped the towels
and revealed an arm which, below the elbow, was a mass of blood and raw
flesh. The man bellowed. The room grew thick about her; she was very
seasick; she fled to a chair in the kitchen. Through the haze of nausea
she heard Kennicott grumbling, "Afraid it will have to come off, Adolph.
What did you do? Fall on a reaper blade? We'll fix it right up. Carrie!
CAROL!"

She couldn't--she couldn't get up. Then she was up, her knees like
water, her stomach revolving a thousand times a second, her eyes filmed,
her ears full of roaring. She couldn't reach the dining-room. She was
going to faint. Then she was in the dining-room, leaning against the
wall, trying to smile, flushing hot and cold along her chest and sides,
while Kennicott mumbled, "Say, help Mrs. Morgenroth and me carry him
in on the kitchen table. No, first go out and shove those two tables
together, and put a blanket on them and a clean sheet."

It was salvation to push the heavy tables, to scrub them, to be exact in
placing the sheet. Her head cleared; she was able to look calmly in at
her husband and the farmwife while they undressed the wailing man, got
him into a clean nightgown, and washed his arm. Kennicott came to lay
out his instruments. She realized that, with no hospital facilities, yet
with no worry about it, her husband--HER HUSBAND--was going to perform
a surgical operation, that miraculous boldness of which one read in
stories about famous surgeons.

She helped them to move Adolph into the kitchen. The man was in such a
funk that he would not use his legs. He was heavy, and smelled of sweat
and the stable. But she put her arm about his waist, her sleek head by
his chest; she tugged at him; she clicked her tongue in imitation of
Kennicott's cheerful noises.

When Adolph was on the table Kennicott laid a hemispheric steel and
cotton frame on his face; suggested to Carol, "Now you sit here at his
head and keep the ether dripping--about this fast, see? I'll watch
his breathing. Look who's here! Real anesthetist! Ochsner hasn't got a
better one! Class, eh? . . . Now, now, Adolph, take it easy. This won't
hurt you a bit. Put you all nice and asleep and it won't hurt a bit.
Schweig' mal! Bald schlaft man grat wie ein Kind. So! So! Bald geht's
besser!"

As she let the ether drip, nervously trying to keep the rhythm that
Kennicott had indicated, Carol stared at her husband with the abandon of
hero-worship.

He shook his head. "Bad light--bad light. Here, Mrs. Morgenroth, you
stand right here and hold this lamp. Hier, und dieses--dieses lamp
halten--so!"

By that streaky glimmer he worked, swiftly, at ease. The room was still.
Carol tried to look at him, yet not look at the seeping blood, the
crimson slash, the vicious scalpel. The ether fumes were sweet, choking.
Her head seemed to be floating away from her body. Her arm was feeble.

It was not the blood but the grating of the surgical saw on the living
bone that broke her, and she knew that she had been fighting off nausea,
that she was beaten. She was lost in dizziness. She heard Kennicott's
voice--

"Sick? Trot outdoors couple minutes. Adolph will stay under now."

She was fumbling at a door-knob which whirled in insulting circles;
she was on the stoop, gasping, forcing air into her chest, her head
clearing. As she returned she caught the scene as a whole: the cavernous
kitchen, two milk-cans a leaden patch by the wall, hams dangling from a
beam, bats of light at the stove door, and in the center, illuminated
by a small glass lamp held by a frightened stout woman, Dr. Kennicott
bending over a body which was humped under a sheet--the surgeon, his
bare arms daubed with blood, his hands, in pale-yellow rubber gloves,
loosening the tourniquet, his face without emotion save when he threw
up his head and clucked at the farmwife, "Hold that light steady just a
second more--noch blos esn wenig."

"He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life and death and
birth and the soil. I read the French and German of sentimental
lovers and Christmas garlands. And I thought that it was I who had the
culture!" she worshiped as she returned to her place.

After a time he snapped, "That's enough. Don't give him any more ether."
He was concentrated on tying an artery. His gruffness seemed heroic to
her.

As he shaped the flap of flesh she murmured, "Oh, you ARE wonderful!"

He was surprised. "Why, this is a cinch. Now if it had been like last
week----Get me some more water. Now last week I had a case with an ooze
in the peritoneal cavity, and by golly if it wasn't a stomach ulcer that
I hadn't suspected and----There. Say, I certainly am sleepy. Let's turn
in here. Too late to drive home. And tastes to me like a storm coming."


IX


They slept on a feather bed with their fur coats over them; in the
morning they broke ice in the pitcher--the vast flowered and gilt
pitcher.

Kennicott's storm had not come. When they set out it was hazy and
growing warmer. After a mile she saw that he was studying a dark cloud
in the north. He urged the horses to the run. But she forgot his unusual
haste in wonder at the tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of
old stubble, and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity.
Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a farmhouse were
agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of bare wood where the bark
had peeled away were white as the flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were
of a harsh flatness. The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of
slate-edged blackness dominated the sky.

"Guess we're about in for a blizzard," speculated Kennicott "We can make
Ben McGonegal's, anyway."

"Blizzard? Really? Why----But still we used to think they were fun when
I was a girl. Daddy had to stay home from court, and we'd stand at the
window and watch the snow."

"Not much fun on the prairie. Get lost. Freeze to death. Take no
chances." He chirruped at the horses. They were flying now, the carriage
rocking on the hard ruts.

The whole air suddenly crystallized into large damp flakes. The horses
and the buffalo robe were covered with snow; her face was wet; the
thin butt of the whip held a white ridge. The air became colder. The
snowflakes were harder; they shot in level lines, clawing at her face.

She could not see a hundred feet ahead.

Kennicott was stern. He bent forward, the reins firm in his coonskin
gauntlets. She was certain that he would get through. He always got
through things.

Save for his presence, the world and all normal living disappeared. They
were lost in the boiling snow. He leaned close to bawl, "Letting the
horses have their heads. They'll get us home."

With a terrifying bump they were off the road, slanting with two wheels
in the ditch, but instantly they were jerked back as the horses fled
on. She gasped. She tried to, and did not, feel brave as she pulled the
woolen robe up about her chin.

They were passing something like a dark wall on the right. "I know that
barn!" he yelped. He pulled at the reins. Peeping from the covers she
saw his teeth pinch his lower lip, saw him scowl as he slackened and
sawed and jerked sharply again at the racing horses.

They stopped.

"Farmhouse there. Put robe around you and come on," he cried.

It was like diving into icy water to climb out of the carriage, but
on the ground she smiled at him, her face little and childish and pink
above the buffalo robe over her shoulders. In a swirl of flakes which
scratched at their eyes like a maniac darkness, he unbuckled the
harness. He turned and plodded back, a ponderous furry figure, holding
the horses' bridles, Carol's hand dragging at his sleeve.

They came to the cloudy bulk of a barn whose outer wall was directly
upon the road. Feeling along it, he found a gate, led them into a yard,
into the barn. The interior was warm. It stunned them with its languid
quiet.

He carefully drove the horses into stalls.

Her toes were coals of pain. "Let's run for the house," she said.

"Can't. Not yet. Might never find it. Might get lost ten feet away from
it. Sit over in this stall, near the horses. We'll rush for the house
when the blizzard lifts."

"I'm so stiff! I can't walk!"

He carried her into the stall, stripped off her overshoes and boots,
stopping to blow on his purple fingers as he fumbled at her laces.
He rubbed her feet, and covered her with the buffalo robe and
horse-blankets from the pile on the feed-box. She was drowsy, hemmed in
by the storm. She sighed:

"You're so strong and yet so skilful and not afraid of blood or storm
or----"

"Used to it. Only thing that's bothered me was the chance the ether
fumes might explode, last night."

"I don't understand."

"Why, Dave, the darn fool, sent me ether, instead of chloroform like I
told him, and you know ether fumes are mighty inflammable, especially
with that lamp right by the table. But I had to operate, of
course--wound chuck-full of barnyard filth that way."

"You knew all the time that----Both you and I might have been blown up?
You knew it while you were operating?"

"Sure. Didn't you? Why, what's the matter?"



CHAPTER XVI

KENNICOTT was heavily pleased by her Christmas presents, and he gave her
a diamond bar-pin. But she could not persuade herself that he was much
interested in the rites of the morning, in the tree she had decorated,
the three stockings she had hung, the ribbons and gilt seals and hidden
messages. He said only:

"Nice way to fix things, all right. What do you say we go down to Jack
Elder's and have a game of five hundred this afternoon?"

She remembered her father's Christmas fantasies: the sacred old rag
doll at the top of the tree, the score of cheap presents, the punch and
carols, the roast chestnuts by the fire, and the gravity with which the
judge opened the children's scrawly notes and took cognizance of demands
for sled-rides, for opinions upon the existence of Santa Claus. She
remembered him reading out a long indictment of himself for being a
sentimentalist, against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota.
She remembered his thin legs twinkling before their sled----

She muttered unsteadily, "Must run up and put on my shoes--slippers so
cold." In the not very romantic solitude of the locked bathroom she sat
on the slippery edge of the tub and wept.


II


Kennicott had five hobbies: medicine, land-investment, Carol, motoring,
and hunting. It is not certain in what order he preferred them. Solid
though his enthusiasms were in the matter of medicine--his admiration
of this city surgeon, his condemnation of that for tricky ways of
persuading country practitioners to bring in surgical patients,
his indignation about fee-splitting, his pride in a new X-ray
apparatus--none of these beatified him as did motoring.

He nursed his two-year-old Buick even in winter, when it was stored in
the stable-garage behind the house. He filled the grease-cups, varnished
a fender, removed from beneath the back seat the debris of gloves,
copper washers, crumpled maps, dust, and greasy rags. Winter noons he
wandered out and stared owlishly at the car. He became excited over a
fabulous "trip we might take next summer." He galloped to the station,
brought home railway maps, and traced motor-routes from Gopher Prairie
to Winnipeg or Des Moines or Grand Marais, thinking aloud and expecting
her to be effusive about such academic questions as "Now I wonder if we
could stop at Baraboo and break the jump from La Crosse to Chicago?"

To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned, a high-church cult,
with electric sparks for candles, and piston-rings possessing the
sanctity of altar-vessels. His liturgy was composed of intoned and
metrical road-comments: "They say there's a pretty good hike from Duluth
to International Falls."

Hunting was equally a devotion, full of metaphysical concepts veiled
from Carol. All winter he read sporting-catalogues, and thought about
remarkable past shots: "'Member that time when I got two ducks on a
long chance, just at sunset?" At least once a month he drew his favorite
repeating shotgun, his "pump gun," from its wrapper of greased canton
flannel; he oiled the trigger, and spent silent ecstatic moments aiming
at the ceiling. Sunday mornings Carol heard him trudging up to the
attic and there, an hour later, she found him turning over boots, wooden
duck-decoys, lunch-boxes, or reflectively squinting at old shells,
rubbing their brass caps with his sleeve and shaking his head as he
thought about their uselessness.

He kept the loading-tools he had used as a boy: a capper for shot-gun
shells, a mold for lead bullets. When once, in a housewifely frenzy for
getting rid of things, she raged, "Why don't you give these away?" he
solemnly defended them, "Well, you can't tell; they might come in handy
some day."

She flushed. She wondered if he was thinking of the child they would
have when, as he put it, they were "sure they could afford one."

Mysteriously aching, nebulously sad, she slipped away, half-convinced
but only half-convinced that it was horrible and unnatural, this
postponement of release of mother-affection, this sacrifice to her
opinionation and to his cautious desire for prosperity.

"But it would be worse if he were like Sam Clark--insisted on having
children," she considered; then, "If Will were the Prince, wouldn't I
DEMAND his child?"

Kennicott's land-deals were both financial advancement and favorite
game. Driving through the country, he noticed which farms had good
crops; he heard the news about the restless farmer who was "thinking
about selling out here and pulling his freight for Alberta." He asked
the veterinarian about the value of different breeds of stock; he
inquired of Lyman Cass whether or not Einar Gyseldson really had had a
yield of forty bushels of wheat to the acre. He was always consulting
Julius Flickerbaugh, who handled more real estate than law, and more law
than justice. He studied township maps, and read notices of auctions.

Thus he was able to buy a quarter-section of land for one hundred and
fifty dollars an acre, and to sell it in a year or two, after installing
a cement floor in the barn and running water in the house, for one
hundred and eighty or even two hundred.

He spoke of these details to Sam Clark . . . rather often.

In all his games, cars and guns and land, he expected Carol to take an
interest. But he did not give her the facts which might have created
interest. He talked only of the obvious and tedious aspects; never of
his aspirations in finance, nor of the mechanical principles of motors.

This month of romance she was eager to understand his hobbies. She
shivered in the garage while he spent half an hour in deciding whether
to put alcohol or patent non-freezing liquid into the radiator, or to
drain out the water entirely. "Or no, then I wouldn't want to take
her out if it turned warm--still, of course, I could fill the
radiator again--wouldn't take so awful long--just take a few pails
of water--still, if it turned cold on me again before I drained
it----Course there's some people that put in kerosene, but they say it
rots the hose-connections and----Where did I put that lug-wrench?"

It was at this point that she gave up being a motorist and retired to
the house.

In their new intimacy he was more communicative about his practise;
he informed her, with the invariable warning not to tell, that Mrs.
Sunderquist had another baby coming, that the "hired girl at Howland's
was in trouble." But when she asked technical questions he did not know
how to answer; when she inquired, "Exactly what is the method of taking
out the tonsils?" he yawned, "Tonsilectomy? Why you just----If there's
pus, you operate. Just take 'em out. Seen the newspaper? What the devil
did Bea do with it?"

She did not try again.


III


They had gone to the "movies." The movies were almost as vital
to Kennicott and the other solid citizens of Gopher Prairie as
land-speculation and guns and automobiles.

The feature film portrayed a brave young Yankee who conquered a South
American republic. He turned the natives from their barbarous habits of
singing and laughing to the vigorous sanity, the Pep and Punch and
Go, of the North; he taught them to work in factories, to wear Klassy
Kollege Klothes, and to shout, "Oh, you baby doll, watch me gather
in the mazuma." He changed nature itself. A mountain which had borne
nothing but lilies and cedars and loafing clouds was by his Hustle so
inspirited that it broke out in long wooden sheds, and piles of iron
ore to be converted into steamers to carry iron ore to be converted into
steamers to carry iron ore.

The intellectual tension induced by the master film was relieved by a
livelier, more lyric and less philosophical drama: Mack Schnarken and
the Bathing Suit Babes in a comedy of manners entitled "Right on the
Coco." Mr. Schnarken was at various high moments a cook, a life-guard,
a burlesque actor, and a sculptor. There was a hotel hallway up which
policemen charged, only to be stunned by plaster busts hurled upon them
from the innumerous doors. If the plot lacked lucidity, the dual motif
of legs and pie was clear and sure. Bathing and modeling were equally
sound occasions for legs; the wedding-scene was but an approach to the
thunderous climax when Mr. Schnarken slipped a piece of custard pie into
the clergyman's rear pocket.

The audience in the Rosebud Movie Palace squealed and wiped their eyes;
they scrambled under the seats for overshoes, mittens, and mufflers,
while the screen announced that next week Mr. Schnarken might be seen
in a new, riproaring, extra-special superfeature of the Clean Comedy
Corporation entitled, "Under Mollie's Bed."

"I'm glad," said Carol to Kennicott as they stooped before the northwest
gale which was torturing the barren street, "that this is a moral
country. We don't allow any of these beastly frank novels."

"Yump. Vice Society and Postal Department won't stand for them. The
American people don't like filth."

"Yes. It's fine. I'm glad we have such dainty romances as 'Right on the
Coco' instead."

"Say what in heck do you think you're trying to do? Kid me?"

He was silent. She awaited his anger. She meditated upon his gutter
patois, the Boeotian dialect characteristic of Gopher Prairie. He
laughed puzzlingly. When they came into the glow of the house he laughed
again. He condescended:

"I've got to hand it to you. You're consistent, all right. I'd of
thought that after getting this look-in at a lot of good decent farmers,
you'd get over this high-art stuff, but you hang right on."

"Well----" To herself: "He takes advantage of my trying to be good."

"Tell you, Carrie: There's just three classes of people: folks that
haven't got any ideas at all; and cranks that kick about everything; and
Regular Guys, the fellows with sticktuitiveness, that boost and get the
world's work done."

"Then I'm probably a crank." She smiled negligently.

"No. I won't admit it. You do like to talk, but at a show-down you'd
prefer Sam Clark to any damn long-haired artist."

"Oh--well----"

"Oh well!" mockingly. "My, we're just going to change everything, aren't
we! Going to tell fellows that have been making movies for ten years
how to direct 'em; and tell architects how to build towns; and make the
magazines publish nothing but a lot of highbrow stories about old maids,
and about wives that don't know what they want. Oh, we're a terror! . .
. Come on now, Carrie; come out of it; wake up! You've got a fine nerve,
kicking about a movie because it shows a few legs! Why, you're always
touting these Greek dancers, or whatever they are, that don't even wear
a shimmy!"

"But, dear, the trouble with that film--it wasn't that it got in so many
legs, but that it giggled coyly and promised to show more of them, and
then didn't keep the promise. It was Peeping Tom's idea of humor."

"I don't get you. Look here now----"

She lay awake, while he rumbled with sleep

"I must go on. My 'crank ideas;' he calls them. I thought that adoring
him, watching him operate, would be enough. It isn't. Not after the
first thrill.

"I don't want to hurt him. But I must go on.

"It isn't enough, to stand by while he fills an automobile radiator and
chucks me bits of information.

"If I stood by and admired him long enough, I would be content. I would
become a 'nice little woman.' The Village Virus. Already----I'm not
reading anything. I haven't touched the piano for a week. I'm letting
the days drown in worship of 'a good deal, ten plunks more per acre.' I
won't! I won't succumb!

"How? I've failed at everything: the Thanatopsis, parties, pioneers,
city hall, Guy and Vida. But----It doesn't MATTER! I'm not trying to
'reform the town' now. I'm not trying to organize Browning Clubs,
and sit in clean white kids yearning up at lecturers with ribbony
eyeglasses. I am trying to save my soul.

"Will Kennicott, asleep there, trusting me, thinking he holds me. And
I'm leaving him. All of me left him when he laughed at me. It wasn't
enough for him that I admired him; I must change myself and grow like
him. He takes advantage. No more. It's finished. I will go on."


IV


Her violin lay on top of the upright piano. She picked it up. Since she
had last touched it the dried strings had snapped, and upon it lay a
gold and crimson cigar-band.


V


She longed to see Guy Pollock, for the confirming of the brethren in
the faith. But Kennicott's dominance was heavy upon her. She could not
determine whether she was checked by fear or him, or by inertia--by
dislike of the emotional labor of the "scenes" which would be involved
in asserting independence. She was like the revolutionist at fifty:
not afraid of death, but bored by the probability of bad steaks and bad
breaths and sitting up all night on windy barricades.

The second evening after the movies she impulsively summoned Vida
Sherwin and Guy to the house for pop-corn and cider. In the living-room
Vida and Kennicott debated "the value of manual training in grades below
the eighth," while Carol sat beside Guy at the dining table, buttering
pop-corn. She was quickened by the speculation in his eyes. She
murmured:

"Guy, do you want to help me?"

"My dear! How?"

"I don't know!"

He waited.

"I think I want you to help me find out what has made the darkness of
the women. Gray darkness and shadowy trees. We're all in it, ten million
women, young married women with good prosperous husbands, and business
women in linen collars, and grandmothers that gad out to teas, and wives
of under-paid miners, and farmwives who really like to make butter and
go to church. What is it we want--and need? Will Kennicott there would
say that we need lots of children and hard work. But it isn't that.
There's the same discontent in women with eight children and one more
coming--always one more coming! And you find it in stenographers and
wives who scrub, just as much as in girl college-graduates who wonder
how they can escape their kind parents. What do we want?"

"Essentially, I think, you are like myself, Carol; you want to go back
to an age of tranquillity and charming manners. You want to enthrone
good taste again."

"Just good taste? Fastidious people? Oh--no! I believe all of us want
the same things--we're all together, the industrial workers and the
women and the farmers and the negro race and the Asiatic colonies, and
even a few of the Respectables. It's all the same revolt, in all the
classes that have waited and taken advice. I think perhaps we want a
more conscious life. We're tired of drudging and sleeping and dying.
We're tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We're
tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We're tired
of hearing the politicians and priests and cautious reformers (and the
husbands!) coax us, 'Be calm! Be patient! Wait! We have the plans for a
Utopia already made; just give us a bit more time and we'll produce it;
trust us; we're wiser than you.' For ten thousand years they've said
that. We want our Utopia NOW--and we're going to try our hands at it.
All we want is--everything for all of us! For every housewife and every
longshoreman and every Hindu nationalist and every teacher. We want
everything. We shatn't get it. So we shatn't ever be content----"

She wondered why he was wincing. He broke in:

"See here, my dear, I certainly hope you don't class yourself with a lot
of trouble-making labor-leaders! Democracy is all right theoretically,
and I'll admit there are industrial injustices, but I'd rather have them
than see the world reduced to a dead level of mediocrity. I refuse to
believe that you have anything in common with a lot of laboring men
rowing for bigger wages so that they can buy wretched flivvers and
hideous player-pianos and----"

At this second, in Buenos Ayres, a newspaper editor broke his routine of
being bored by exchanges to assert, "Any injustice is better than seeing
the world reduced to a gray level of scientific dullness." At this
second a clerk standing at the bar of a New York saloon stopped milling
his secret fear of his nagging office-manager long enough to growl
at the chauffeur beside him, "Aw, you socialists make me sick! I'm an
individualist. I ain't going to be nagged by no bureaus and take orders
off labor-leaders. And mean to say a hobo's as good as you and me?"

At this second Carol realized that for all Guy's love of dead elegances
his timidity was as depressing to her as the bulkiness of Sam Clark. She
realized that he was not a mystery, as she had excitedly believed; not
a romantic messenger from the World Outside on whom she could count for
escape. He belonged to Gopher Prairie, absolutely. She was snatched back
from a dream of far countries, and found herself on Main Street.

He was completing his protest, "You don't want to be mixed up in all
this orgy of meaningless discontent?"

She soothed him. "No, I don't. I'm not heroic. I'm scared by all the
fighting that's going on in the world. I want nobility and adventure,
but perhaps I want still more to curl on the hearth with some one I
love."

"Would you----"

He did not finish it. He picked up a handful of pop-corn, let it run
through his fingers, looked at her wistfully.

With the loneliness of one who has put away a possible love Carol saw
that he was a stranger. She saw that he had never been anything but
a frame on which she had hung shining garments. If she had let him
diffidently make love to her, it was not because she cared, but because
she did not care, because it did not matter.

She smiled at him with the exasperating tactfulness of a woman checking
a flirtation; a smile like an airy pat on the arm. She sighed, "You're
a dear to let me tell you my imaginary troubles." She bounced up, and
trilled, "Shall we take the pop-corn in to them now?"

Guy looked after her desolately.

While she teased Vida and Kennicott she was repeating, "I must go on."


VI


Miles Bjornstam, the pariah "Red Swede," had brought his circular saw
and portable gasoline engine to the house, to cut the cords of poplar
for the kitchen range. Kennicott had given the order; Carol knew nothing
of it till she heard the ringing of the saw, and glanced out to see
Bjornstam, in black leather jacket and enormous ragged purple
mittens, pressing sticks against the whirling blade, and flinging
the stove-lengths to one side. The red irritable motor kept up a red
irritable "tip-tip-tip-tip-tip-tip." The whine of the saw rose till it
simulated the shriek of a fire-alarm whistle at night, but always at the
end it gave a lively metallic clang, and in the stillness she heard the
flump of the cut stick falling on the pile.

She threw a motor robe over her, ran out. Bjornstam welcomed her, "Well,
well, well! Here's old Miles, fresh as ever. Well say, that's all right;
he ain't even begun to be cheeky yet; next summer he's going to take you
out on his horse-trading trip, clear into Idaho."

"Yes, and I may go!"

"How's tricks? Crazy about the town yet?"

"No, but I probably shall be, some day."

"Don't let 'em get you. Kick 'em in the face!"

He shouted at her while he worked. The pile of stove-wood grew
astonishingly. The pale bark of the poplar sticks was mottled with
lichens of sage-green and dusty gray; the newly sawed ends were
fresh-colored, with the agreeable roughness of a woolen muffler. To the
sterile winter air the wood gave a scent of March sap.

Kennicott telephoned that he was going into the country. Bjornstam had
not finished his work at noon, and she invited him to have dinner with
Bea in the kitchen. She wished that she were independent enough to dine
with these her guests. She considered their friendliness, she sneered at
"social distinctions," she raged at her own taboos--and she continued
to regard them as retainers and herself as a lady. She sat in the
dining-room and listened through the door to Bjornstam's booming and
Bea's giggles. She was the more absurd to herself in that, after the
rite of dining alone, she could go out to the kitchen, lean against the
sink, and talk to them.

They were attracted to each other; a Swedish Othello and Desdemona, more
useful and amiable than their prototypes. Bjornstam told his scapes:
selling horses in a Montana mining-camp, breaking a log-jam, being
impertinent to a "two-fisted" millionaire lumberman. Bea gurgled "Oh
my!" and kept his coffee cup filled.

He took a long time to finish the wood. He had frequently to go into the
kitchen to get warm. Carol heard him confiding to Bea, "You're a darn
nice Swede girl. I guess if I had a woman like you I wouldn't be such
a sorehead. Gosh, your kitchen is clean; makes an old bach feel sloppy.
Say, that's nice hair you got. Huh? Me fresh? Saaaay, girl, if I ever do
get fresh, you'll know it. Why, I could pick you up with one finger,
and hold you in the air long enough to read Robert J. Ingersoll clean
through. Ingersoll? Oh, he's a religious writer. Sure. You'd like him
fine."

When he drove off he waved to Bea; and Carol, lonely at the window
above, was envious of their pastoral.

"And I----But I will go on."


CHAPTER XVII

I

THEY were driving down the lake to the cottages that moonlit January
night, twenty of them in the bob-sled. They sang "Toy Land" and "Seeing
Nelly Home"; they leaped from the low back of the sled to race over the
slippery snow ruts; and when they were tired they climbed on the runners
for a lift. The moon-tipped flakes kicked up by the horses settled over
the revelers and dripped down their necks, but they laughed, yelped,
beat their leather mittens against their chests. The harness rattled,
the sleigh-bells were frantic, Jack Elder's setter sprang beside the
horses, barking.

For a time Carol raced with them. The cold air gave fictive power. She
felt that she could run on all night, leap twenty feet at a stride. But
the excess of energy tired her, and she was glad to snuggle under the
comforters which covered the hay in the sled-box.

In the midst of the babel she found enchanted quietude.

Along the road the shadows from oak-branches were inked on the snow
like bars of music. Then the sled came out on the surface of Lake
Minniemashie. Across the thick ice was a veritable road, a short-cut
for farmers. On the glaring expanse of the lake-levels of hard crust,
flashes of green ice blown clear, chains of drifts ribbed like the
sea-beach--the moonlight was overwhelming. It stormed on the snow, it
turned the woods ashore into crystals of fire. The night was tropical
and voluptuous. In that drugged magic there was no difference between
heavy heat and insinuating cold.

Carol was dream-strayed. The turbulent voices, even Guy Pollock being
connotative beside her, were nothing. She repeated:

     Deep on the convent-roof the snows
     Are sparkling to the moon.

The words and the light blurred into one vast indefinite happiness, and
she believed that some great thing was coming to her. She withdrew from
the clamor into a worship of incomprehensible gods. The night expanded,
she was conscious of the universe, and all mysteries stooped down to
her.

She was jarred out of her ecstasy as the bob-sled bumped up the steep
road to the bluff where stood the cottages.

They dismounted at Jack Elder's shack. The interior walls of unpainted
boards, which had been grateful in August, were forbidding in the chill.
In fur coats and mufflers tied over caps they were a strange company,
bears and walruses talking. Jack Elder lighted the shavings waiting in
the belly of a cast-iron stove which was like an enlarged bean-pot.
They piled their wraps high on a rocker, and cheered the rocker as it
solemnly tipped over backward.

Mrs. Elder and Mrs. Sam Clark made coffee in an enormous blackened tin
pot; Vida Sherwin and Mrs. McGanum unpacked doughnuts and gingerbread;
Mrs. Dave Dyer warmed up "hot dogs"--frankfurters in rolls; Dr. Terry
Gould, after announcing, "Ladies and gents, prepare to be shocked; shock
line forms on the right," produced a bottle of bourbon whisky.

The others danced, muttering "Ouch!" as their frosted feet struck the
pine planks. Carol had lost her dream. Harry Haydock lifted her by the
waist and swung her. She laughed. The gravity of the people who stood
apart and talked made her the more impatient for frolic.

Kennicott, Sam Clark, Jackson Elder, young Dr. McGanum, and James
Madison Howland, teetering on their toes near the stove, conversed
with the sedate pomposity of the commercialist. In details the men were
unlike, yet they said the same things in the same hearty monotonous
voices. You had to look at them to see which was speaking.

"Well, we made pretty good time coming up," from one--any one.

"Yump, we hit it up after we struck the good going on the lake."

"Seems kind of slow though, after driving an auto."

"Yump, it does, at that. Say, how'd you make out with that Sphinx tire
you got?"

"Seems to hold out fine. Still, I don't know's I like it any better than
the Roadeater Cord."

"Yump, nothing better than a Roadeater. Especially the cord. The cord's
lots better than the fabric."

"Yump, you said something----Roadeater's a good tire."

"Say, how'd you come out with Pete Garsheim on his payments?"

"He's paying up pretty good. That's a nice piece of land he's got."

"Yump, that's a dandy farm."

"Yump, Pete's got a good place there."

They glided from these serious topics into the jocose insults which are
the wit of Main Street. Sam Clark was particularly apt at them. "What's
this wild-eyed sale of summer caps you think you're trying to pull
off?" he clamored at Harry Haydock. "Did you steal 'em, or are you just
overcharging us, as usual? . . . Oh say, speaking about caps, d'I ever
tell you the good one I've got on Will? The doc thinks he's a pretty
good driver, fact, he thinks he's almost got human intelligence, but one
time he had his machine out in the rain, and the poor fish, he hadn't
put on chains, and thinks I----"

Carol had heard the story rather often. She fled back to the dancers,
and at Dave Dyer's masterstroke of dropping an icicle down Mrs.
McGanum's back she applauded hysterically.

They sat on the floor, devouring the food. The men giggled amiably as
they passed the whisky bottle, and laughed, "There's a real sport!" when
Juanita Haydock took a sip. Carol tried to follow; she believed that she
desired to be drunk and riotous; but the whisky choked her and as she
saw Kennicott frown she handed the bottle on repentantly. Somewhat too
late she remembered that she had given up domesticity and repentance.

"Let's play charades!" said Raymie Wutherspoon.

"Oh yes, do let us," said Ella Stowbody.

"That's the caper," sanctioned Harry Haydock.

They interpreted the word "making" as May and King. The crown was a red
flannel mitten cocked on Sam Clark's broad pink bald head. They forgot
they were respectable. They made-believe. Carol was stimulated to cry:

"Let's form a dramatic club and give a play! Shall we? It's been so much
fun tonight!"

They looked affable.

"Sure," observed Sam Clark loyally.

"Oh, do let us! I think it would be lovely to present 'Romeo and
Juliet'!" yearned Ella Stowbody.

"Be a whale of a lot of fun," Dr. Terry Gould granted.

"But if we did," Carol cautioned, "it would be awfully silly to have
amateur theatricals. We ought to paint our own scenery and everything,
and really do something fine. There'd be a lot of hard work. Would
you--would we all be punctual at rehearsals, do you suppose?"

"You bet!" "Sure." "That's the idea." "Fellow ought to be prompt at
rehearsals," they all agreed.

"Then let's meet next week and form the Gopher Prairie Dramatic
Association!" Carol sang.

She drove home loving these friends who raced through moonlit snow,
had Bohemian parties, and were about to create beauty in the theater.
Everything was solved. She would be an authentic part of the town,
yet escape the coma of the Village Virus. . . . She would be free of
Kennicott again, without hurting him, without his knowing.

She had triumphed.

The moon was small and high now, and unheeding.


II


Though they had all been certain that they longed for the privilege of
attending committee meetings and rehearsals, the dramatic association as
definitely formed consisted only of Kennicott, Carol, Guy Pollock,
Vida Sherwin, Ella Stowbody, the Harry Haydocks, the Dave Dyers, Raymie
Wutherspoon, Dr. Terry Gould, and four new candidates: flirtatious Rita
Simons, Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon and Myrtle Cass, an uncomely but
intense girl of nineteen. Of these fifteen only seven came to the first
meeting. The rest telephoned their unparalleled regrets and engagements
and illnesses, and announced that they would be present at all other
meetings through eternity.

Carol was made president and director.

She had added the Dillons. Despite Kennicott's apprehension the dentist
and his wife had not been taken up by the Westlakes but had remained
as definitely outside really smart society as Willis Woodford, who was
teller, bookkeeper, and janitor in Stowbody's bank. Carol had noted Mrs.
Dillon dragging past the house during a bridge of the Jolly Seventeen,
looking in with pathetic lips at the splendor of the accepted. She
impulsively invited the Dillons to the dramatic association meeting, and
when Kennicott was brusque to them she was unusually cordial, and felt
virtuous.

That self-approval balanced her disappointment at the smallness of the
meeting, and her embarrassment during Raymie Wutherspoon's repetitions
of "The stage needs uplifting," and "I believe that there are great
lessons in some plays."

Ella Stowbody, who was a professional, having studied elocution in
Milwaukee, disapproved of Carol's enthusiasm for recent plays. Miss
Stowbody expressed the fundamental principle of the American drama: the
only way to be artistic is to present Shakespeare. As no one listened to
her she sat back and looked like Lady Macbeth.


III


The Little Theaters, which were to give piquancy to American drama three
or four years later, were only in embryo. But of this fast coming revolt
Carol had premonitions. She knew from some lost magazine article that
in Dublin were innovators called The Irish Players. She knew confusedly
that a man named Gordon Craig had painted scenery--or had he written
plays? She felt that in the turbulence of the drama she was discovering
a history more important than the commonplace chronicles which dealt
with senators and their pompous puerilities. She had a sensation of
familiarity; a dream of sitting in a Brussels cafe and going afterward
to a tiny gay theater under a cathedral wall.

The advertisement in the Minneapolis paper leaped from the page to her
eyes:

     The Cosmos School of Music, Oratory, and
     Dramatic Art announces a program of four
     one-act plays by Schnitzler, Shaw, Yeats,
     and Lord Dunsany.

She had to be there! She begged Kennicott to "run down to the Cities"
with her.

"Well, I don't know. Be fun to take in a show, but why the deuce do you
want to see those darn foreign plays, given by a lot of amateurs? Why
don't you wait for a regular play, later on? There's going to be some
corkers coming: 'Lottie of Two-Gun Rancho,' and 'Cops and Crooks'--real
Broadway stuff, with the New York casts. What's this junk you want
to see? Hm. 'How He Lied to Her Husband.' That doesn't listen so bad.
Sounds racy. And, uh, well, I could go to the motor show, I suppose. I'd
like to see this new Hup roadster. Well----"

She never knew which attraction made him decide.

She had four days of delightful worry--over the hole in her one good
silk petticoat, the loss of a string of beads from her chiffon and brown
velvet frock, the catsup stain on her best georgette crepe blouse. She
wailed, "I haven't a single solitary thing that's fit to be seen in,"
and enjoyed herself very much indeed.

Kennicott went about casually letting people know that he was "going to
run down to the Cities and see some shows."

As the train plodded through the gray prairie, on a windless day with
the smoke from the engine clinging to the fields in giant cotton-rolls,
in a low and writhing wall which shut off the snowy fields, she did not
look out of the window. She closed her eyes and hummed, and did not know
that she was humming.

She was the young poet attacking fame and Paris.

In the Minneapolis station the crowd of lumberjacks, farmers, and
Swedish families with innumerous children and grandparents and paper
parcels, their foggy crowding and their clamor confused her. She felt
rustic in this once familiar city, after a year and a half of
Gopher Prairie. She was certain that Kennicott was taking the wrong
trolley-car. By dusk, the liquor warehouses, Hebraic clothing-shops,
and lodging-houses on lower Hennepin Avenue were smoky, hideous,
ill-tempered. She was battered by the noise and shuttling of the
rush-hour traffic. When a clerk in an overcoat too closely fitted at the
waist stared at her, she moved nearer to Kennicott's arm. The clerk was
flippant and urban. He was a superior person, used to this tumult. Was
he laughing at her?

For a moment she wanted the secure quiet of Gopher Prairie.

In the hotel-lobby she was self-conscious. She was not used to hotels;
she remembered with jealousy how often Juanita Haydock talked of the
famous hotels in Chicago. She could not face the traveling salesmen,
baronial in large leather chairs. She wanted people to believe that her
husband and she were accustomed to luxury and chill elegance; she was
faintly angry at him for the vulgar way in which, after signing the
register "Dr. W. P. Kennicott & wife," he bellowed at the clerk, "Got a
nice room with bath for us, old man?" She gazed about haughtily, but as
she discovered that no one was interested in her she felt foolish, and
ashamed of her irritation.

She asserted, "This silly lobby is too florid," and simultaneously she
admired it: the onyx columns with gilt capitals, the crown-embroidered
velvet curtains at the restaurant door, the silk-roped alcove where
pretty girls perpetually waited for mysterious men, the two-pound boxes
of candy and the variety of magazines at the news-stand. The hidden
orchestra was lively. She saw a man who looked like a European diplomat,
in a loose top-coat and a Homburg hat. A woman with a broadtail coat,
a heavy lace veil, pearl earrings, and a close black hat entered the
restaurant. "Heavens! That's the first really smart woman I've seen in a
year!" Carol exulted. She felt metropolitan.

But as she followed Kennicott to the elevator the coat-check girl, a
confident young woman, with cheeks powdered like lime, and a blouse
low and thin and furiously crimson, inspected her, and under that
supercilious glance Carol was shy again. She unconsciously waited
for the bellboy to precede her into the elevator. When he snorted "Go
ahead!" she was mortified. He thought she was a hayseed, she worried.

The moment she was in their room, with the bellboy safely out of the
way, she looked critically at Kennicott. For the first time in months
she really saw him.

His clothes were too heavy and provincial. His decent gray suit, made
by Nat Hicks of Gopher Prairie, might have been of sheet iron; it had
no distinction of cut, no easy grace like the diplomat's Burberry. His
black shoes were blunt and not well polished. His scarf was a stupid
brown. He needed a shave.

But she forgot her doubt as she realized the ingenuities of the room.
She ran about, turning on the taps of the bathtub, which gushed instead
of dribbling like the taps at home, snatching the new wash-rag out of
its envelope of oiled paper, trying the rose-shaded light between the
twin beds, pulling out the drawers of the kidney-shaped walnut desk to
examine the engraved stationery, planning to write on it to every one
she knew, admiring the claret-colored velvet armchair and the blue rug,
testing the ice-water tap, and squealing happily when the water really
did come out cold. She flung her arms about Kennicott, kissed him.

"Like it, old lady?"

"It's adorable. It's so amusing. I love you for bringing me. You really
are a dear!"

He looked blankly indulgent, and yawned, and condescended, "That's a
pretty slick arrangement on the radiator, so you can adjust it at any
temperature you want. Must take a big furnace to run this place. Gosh, I
hope Bea remembers to turn off the drafts tonight."

Under the glass cover of the dressing-table was a menu with the most
enchanting dishes: breast of guinea hen De Vitresse, pommes de terre a
la Russe, meringue Chantilly, gateaux Bruxelles.

"Oh, let's----I'm going to have a hot bath, and put on my new hat with
the wool flowers, and let's go down and eat for hours, and we'll have a
cocktail!" she chanted.

While Kennicott labored over ordering it was annoying to see him permit
the waiter to be impertinent, but as the cocktail elevated her to a
bridge among colored stars, as the oysters came in--not canned oysters
in the Gopher Prairie fashion, but on the half-shell--she cried, "If you
only knew how wonderful it is not to have had to plan this dinner, and
order it at the butcher's and fuss and think about it, and then
watch Bea cook it! I feel so free. And to have new kinds of food, and
different patterns of dishes and linen, and not worry about whether the
pudding is being spoiled! Oh, this is a great moment for me!"


IV


They had all the experiences of provincials in a metropolis. After
breakfast Carol bustled to a hair-dresser's, bought gloves and a blouse,
and importantly met Kennicott in front of an optician's, in accordance
with plans laid down, revised, and verified. They admired the diamonds
and furs and frosty silverware and mahogany chairs and polished morocco
sewing-boxes in shop-windows, and were abashed by the throngs in the
department-stores, and were bullied by a clerk into buying too many
shirts for Kennicott, and gaped at the "clever novelty perfumes--just
in from New York." Carol got three books on the theater, and spent
an exultant hour in warning herself that she could not afford this
rajah-silk frock, in thinking how envious it would make Juanita Haydock,
in closing her eyes, and buying it. Kennicott went from shop to shop,
earnestly hunting down a felt-covered device to keep the windshield of
his car clear of rain.

They dined extravagantly at their hotel at night, and next morning
sneaked round the corner to economize at a Childs' Restaurant. They were
tired by three in the afternoon, and dozed at the motion-pictures and
said they wished they were back in Gopher Prairie--and by eleven in the
evening they were again so lively that they went to a Chinese restaurant
that was frequented by clerks and their sweethearts on pay-days. They
sat at a teak and marble table eating Eggs Fooyung, and listened to a
brassy automatic piano, and were altogether cosmopolitan.

On the street they met people from home--the McGanums. They laughed,
shook hands repeatedly, and exclaimed, "Well, this is quite a
coincidence!" They asked when the McGanums had come down, and begged for
news of the town they had left two days before. Whatever the
McGanums were at home, here they stood out as so superior to all the
undistinguishable strangers absurdly hurrying past that the Kennicotts
held them as long as they could. The McGanums said good-by as though
they were going to Tibet instead of to the station to catch No. 7 north.

They explored Minneapolis. Kennicott was conversational and technical
regarding gluten and cockle-cylinders and No. I Hard, when they were
shown through the gray stone hulks and new cement elevators of the
largest flour-mills in the world. They looked across Loring Park and
the Parade to the towers of St. Mark's and the Procathedral, and the
red roofs of houses climbing Kenwood Hill. They drove about the chain of
garden-circled lakes, and viewed the houses of the millers and lumbermen
and real estate peers--the potentates of the expanding city. They
surveyed the small eccentric bungalows with pergolas, the houses of
pebbledash and tapestry brick with sleeping-porches above sun-parlors,
and one vast incredible chateau fronting the Lake of the Isles. They
tramped through a shining-new section of apartment-houses; not the tall
bleak apartments of Eastern cities but low structures of cheerful yellow
brick, in which each flat had its glass-enclosed porch with swinging
couch and scarlet cushions and Russian brass bowls. Between a waste of
tracks and a raw gouged hill they found poverty in staggering shanties.

They saw miles of the city which they had never known in their days
of absorption in college. They were distinguished explorers, and they
remarked, in great mutual esteem, "I bet Harry Haydock's never seen the
City like this! Why, he'd never have sense enough to study the machinery
in the mills, or go through all these outlying districts. Wonder folks
in Gopher Prairie wouldn't use their legs and explore, the way we do!"

They had two meals with Carol's sister, and were bored, and felt that
intimacy which beatifies married people when they suddenly admit that
they equally dislike a relative of either of them.

So it was with affection but also with weariness that they approached
the evening on which Carol was to see the plays at the dramatic school.
Kennicott suggested not going. "So darn tired from all this walking;
don't know but what we better turn in early and get rested up." It was
only from duty that Carol dragged him and herself out of the warm
hotel, into a stinking trolley, up the brownstone steps of the converted
residence which lugubriously housed the dramatic school.


V


They were in a long whitewashed hall with a clumsy draw-curtain across
the front. The folding chairs were filled with people who looked washed
and ironed: parents of the pupils, girl students, dutiful teachers.

"Strikes me it's going to be punk. If the first play isn't good, let's
beat it," said Kennicott hopefully.

"All right," she yawned. With hazy eyes she tried to read the lists of
characters, which were hidden among lifeless advertisements of pianos,
music-dealers, restaurants, candy.

She regarded the Schnitzler play with no vast interest. The actors
moved and spoke stiffly. Just as its cynicism was beginning to rouse her
village-dulled frivolity, it was over.

"Don't think a whale of a lot of that. How about taking a sneak?"
petitioned Kennicott.

"Oh, let's try the next one, 'How He Lied to Her Husband.'"

The Shaw conceit amused her, and perplexed Kennicott:

"Strikes me it's darn fresh. Thought it would be racy. Don't know as I
think much of a play where a husband actually claims he wants a fellow
to make love to his wife. No husband ever did that! Shall we shake a
leg?"

"I want to see this Yeats thing, 'Land of Heart's Desire.' I used to
love it in college." She was awake now, and urgent. "I know you didn't
care so much for Yeats when I read him aloud to you, but you just see if
you don't adore him on the stage."

Most of the cast were as unwieldy as oak chairs marching, and the
setting was an arty arrangement of batik scarfs and heavy tables, but
Maire Bruin was slim as Carol, and larger-eyed, and her voice was
a morning bell. In her, Carol lived, and on her lifting voice was
transported from this sleepy small-town husband and all the rows of
polite parents to the stilly loft of a thatched cottage where in a green
dimness, beside a window caressed by linden branches, she bent over a
chronicle of twilight women and the ancient gods.

"Well--gosh--nice kid played that girl--good-looker," said Kennicott.
"Want to stay for the last piece? Heh?"

She shivered. She did not answer.

The curtain was again drawn aside. On the stage they saw nothing but
long green curtains and a leather chair. Two young men in brown robes
like furniture-covers were gesturing vacuously and droning cryptic
sentences full of repetitions.

It was Carol's first hearing of Dunsany. She sympathized with the
restless Kennicott as he felt in his pocket for a cigar and unhappily
put it back.

Without understanding when or how, without a tangible change in the
stilted intoning of the stage-puppets, she was conscious of another time
and place.

Stately and aloof among vainglorious tiring-maids, a queen in robes
that murmured on the marble floor, she trod the gallery of a crumbling
palace. In the courtyard, elephants trumpeted, and swart men with beards
dyed crimson stood with blood-stained hands folded upon their hilts,
guarding the caravan from El Sharnak, the camels with Tyrian stuffs
of topaz and cinnabar. Beyond the turrets of the outer wall the jungle
glared and shrieked, and the sun was furious above drenched orchids.
A youth came striding through the steel-bossed doors, the sword-bitten
doors that were higher than ten tall men. He was in flexible mail, and
under the rim of his planished morion were amorous curls. His hand was
out to her; before she touched it she could feel its warmth----

"Gosh all hemlock! What the dickens is all this stuff about, Carrie?"

She was no Syrian queen. She was Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. She fell with a
jolt into a whitewashed hall and sat looking at two scared girls and a
young man in wrinkled tights.

Kennicott fondly rambled as they left the hall:

"What the deuce did that last spiel mean? Couldn't make head or tail of
it. If that's highbrow drama, give me a cow-puncher movie, every time!
Thank God, that's over, and we can get to bed. Wonder if we wouldn't
make time by walking over to Nicollet to take a car? One thing I will
say for that dump: they had it warm enough. Must have a big hot-air
furnace, I guess. Wonder how much coal it takes to run 'em through the
winter?"

In the car he affectionately patted her knee, and he was for a second
the striding youth in armor; then he was Doc Kennicott of Gopher
Prairie, and she was recaptured by Main Street. Never, not all her life,
would she behold jungles and the tombs of kings. There were strange
things in the world, they really existed; but she would never see them.

She would recreate them in plays!

She would make the dramatic association understand her aspiration. They
would, surely they would----

She looked doubtfully at the impenetrable reality of yawning trolley
conductor and sleepy passengers and placards advertising soap and
underwear.



CHAPTER XVIII

I

SHE hurried to the first meeting of the play-reading committee. Her
jungle romance had faded, but she retained a religious fervor, a surge
of half-formed thought about the creation of beauty by suggestion.

A Dunsany play would be too difficult for the Gopher Prairie
association. She would let them compromise on Shaw--on "Androcles and
the Lion," which had just been published.

The committee was composed of Carol, Vida Sherwin, Guy Pollock, Raymie
Wutherspoon, and Juanita Haydock. They were exalted by the picture of
themselves as being simultaneously business-like and artistic. They
were entertained by Vida in the parlor of Mrs. Elisha Gurrey's
boarding-house, with its steel engraving of Grant at Appomattox, its
basket of stereoscopic views, and its mysterious stains on the gritty
carpet.

Vida was an advocate of culture-buying and efficiency-systems. She
hinted that they ought to have (as at the committee-meetings of the
Thanatopsis) a "regular order of business," and "the reading of the
minutes," but as there were no minutes to read, and as no one knew
exactly what was the regular order of the business of being literary,
they had to give up efficiency.

Carol, as chairman, said politely, "Have you any ideas about what play
we'd better give first?" She waited for them to look abashed and vacant,
so that she might suggest "Androcles."

Guy Pollock answered with disconcerting readiness, "I'll tell you: since
we're going to try to do something artistic, and not simply fool around,
I believe we ought to give something classic. How about 'The School for
Scandal'?"

"Why----Don't you think that has been done a good deal?"

"Yes, perhaps it has."

Carol was ready to say, "How about Bernard Shaw?" when he treacherously
went on, "How would it be then to give a Greek drama--say 'Oedipus
Tyrannus'?"

"Why, I don't believe----"

Vida Sherwin intruded, "I'm sure that would be too hard for us. Now I've
brought something that I think would be awfully jolly."

She held out, and Carol incredulously took, a thin gray pamphlet
entitled "McGinerty's Mother-in-law." It was the sort of farce which is
advertised in "school entertainment" catalogues as:


Riproaring knock-out, 5 m. 3 f., time 2 hrs., interior set, popular with
churches and all high-class occasions.


Carol glanced from the scabrous object to Vida, and realized that she
was not joking.

"But this is--this is--why, it's just a----Why, Vida, I thought you
appreciated--well--appreciated art."

Vida snorted, "Oh. Art. Oh yes. I do like art. It's very nice. But after
all, what does it matter what kind of play we give as long as we get the
association started? The thing that matters is something that none of
you have spoken of, that is: what are we going to do with the money, if
we make any? I think it would be awfully nice if we presented the high
school with a full set of Stoddard's travel-lectures!"

Carol moaned, "Oh, but Vida dear, do forgive me but this farce----Now
what I'd like us to give is something distinguished. Say Shaw's
'Androcles.' Have any of you read it?"

"Yes. Good play," said Guy Pollock.

Then Raymie Wutherspoon astoundingly spoke up:

"So have I. I read through all the plays in the public library, so's
to be ready for this meeting. And----But I don't believe you grasp
the irreligious ideas in this 'Androcles,' Mrs. Kennicott. I guess the
feminine mind is too innocent to understand all these immoral writers.
I'm sure I don't want to criticize Bernard Shaw; I understand he is very
popular with the highbrows in Minneapolis; but just the same----As far
as I can make out, he's downright improper! The things he SAYS----Well,
it would be a very risky thing for our young folks to see. It seems to
me that a play that doesn't leave a nice taste in the mouth and that
hasn't any message is nothing but--nothing but----Well, whatever it may
be, it isn't art. So----Now I've found a play that is clean, and there's
some awfully funny scenes in it, too. I laughed out loud, reading it.
It's called 'His Mother's Heart,' and it's about a young man in college
who gets in with a lot of free-thinkers and boozers and everything, but
in the end his mother's influence----"

Juanita Haydock broke in with a derisive, "Oh rats, Raymie! Can the
mother's influence! I say let's give something with some class to it.
I bet we could get the rights to 'The Girl from Kankakee,' and that's a
real show. It ran for eleven months in New York!"

"That would be lots of fun, if it wouldn't cost too much," reflected
Vida.

Carol's was the only vote cast against "The Girl from Kankakee."


II


She disliked "The Girl from Kankakee" even more than she had expected.
It narrated the success of a farm-lassie in clearing her brother of a
charge of forgery. She became secretary to a New York millionaire and
social counselor to his wife; and after a well-conceived speech on the
discomfort of having money, she married his son.

There was also a humorous office-boy.

Carol discerned that both Juanita Haydock and Ella Stowbody wanted the
lead. She let Juanita have it. Juanita kissed her and in the exuberant
manner of a new star presented to the executive committee her theory,
"What we want in a play is humor and pep. There's where American
playwrights put it all over these darn old European glooms."

As selected by Carol and confirmed by the committee, the persons of the
play were:

     John Grimm, a millionaire .  .   .  .  Guy Pollock
     His wife.   .  .   .  .   .  .   .  .  Miss Vida Sherwin
     His son .   .  .   .  .   .  .   .  .  Dr. Harvey Dillon
     His business rival.   .  .   .  .  . . Raymond T.  Wutherspoon
     Friend of Mrs. Grimm .  .   .  .   . . Miss Ella Stowbody
     The girl from Kankakee .   .  .   .  . Mrs. Harold C.  Haydock
     Her brother.  .   .  .   .  .   .  .   Dr. Terence Gould
     Her mother .  .   .  .   .  .   .  .   Mrs. David Dyer
     Stenographer .   .  .   .  .   .  .  . Miss Rita Simons
     Office-boy .  .   .  .   .  .   .  .   Miss Myrtle Cass
     Maid in the Grimms' home  .  .  .  .   Mrs. W.  P.  Kennicott
     Direction of Mrs. Kennicott

Among the minor lamentations was Maud Dyer's "Well of course I suppose I
look old enough to be Juanita's mother, even if Juanita is eight months
older than I am, but I don't know as I care to have everybody noticing
it and----"

Carol pleaded, "Oh, my DEAR! You two look exactly the same age. I chose
you because you have such a darling complexion, and you know with powder
and a white wig, anybody looks twice her age, and I want the mother to
be sweet, no matter who else is."

Ella Stowbody, the professional, perceiving that it was because of a
conspiracy of jealousy that she had been given a small part, alternated
between lofty amusement and Christian patience.

Carol hinted that the play would be improved by cutting, but as every
actor except Vida and Guy and herself wailed at the loss of a single
line, she was defeated. She told herself that, after all, a great deal
could be done with direction and settings.

Sam Clark had boastfully written about the dramatic association to his
schoolmate, Percy Bresnahan, president of the Velvet Motor Company
of Boston. Bresnahan sent a check for a hundred dollars; Sam added
twenty-five and brought the fund to Carol, fondly crying, "There!
That'll give you a start for putting the thing across swell!"

She rented the second floor of the city hall for two months. All through
the spring the association thrilled to its own talent in that dismal
room. They cleared out the bunting, ballot-boxes, handbills, legless
chairs. They attacked the stage. It was a simple-minded stage. It was
raised above the floor, and it did have a movable curtain, painted with
the advertisement of a druggist dead these ten years, but otherwise
it might not have been recognized as a stage. There were two
dressing-rooms, one for men, one for women, on either side. The
dressing-room doors were also the stage-entrances, opening from the
house, and many a citizen of Gopher Prairie had for his first glimpse of
romance the bare shoulders of the leading woman.

There were three sets of scenery: a woodland, a Poor Interior, and a
Rich Interior, the last also useful for railway stations, offices, and
as a background for the Swedish Quartette from Chicago. There were three
gradations of lighting: full on, half on, and entirely off.

This was the only theater in Gopher Prairie. It was known as the "op'ra
house." Once, strolling companies had used it for performances of "The
Two Orphans," and "Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model," and "Othello" with
specialties between acts, but now the motion-pictures had ousted the
gipsy drama.

Carol intended to be furiously modern in constructing the office-set,
the drawing-room for Mr. Grimm, and the Humble Home near Kankakee.
It was the first time that any one in Gopher Prairie had been so
revolutionary as to use enclosed scenes with continuous side-walls. The
rooms in the op'ra house sets had separate wing-pieces for sides, which
simplified dramaturgy, as the villain could always get out of the hero's
way by walking out through the wall.

The inhabitants of the Humble Home were supposed to be amiable and
intelligent. Carol planned for them a simple set with warm color. She
could see the beginning of the play: all dark save the high settles and
the solid wooden table between them, which were to be illuminated by a
ray from offstage. The high light was a polished copper pot filled with
primroses. Less clearly she sketched the Grimm drawing-room as a series
of cool high white arches.

As to how she was to produce these effects she had no notion.

She discovered that, despite the enthusiastic young writers, the
drama was not half so native and close to the soil as motor cars and
telephones. She discovered that simple arts require sophisticated
training. She discovered that to produce one perfect stage-picture would
be as difficult as to turn all of Gopher Prairie into a Georgian garden.

She read all she could find regarding staging, she bought paint and
light wood; she borrowed furniture and drapes unscrupulously; she made
Kennicott turn carpenter. She collided with the problem of lighting.
Against the protest of Kennicott and Vida she mortgaged the association
by sending to Minneapolis for a baby spotlight, a strip light, a dimming
device, and blue and amber bulbs; and with the gloating rapture of
a born painter first turned loose among colors, she spent absorbed
evenings in grouping, dimming-painting with lights.

Only Kennicott, Guy, and Vida helped her. They speculated as to how
flats could be lashed together to form a wall; they hung crocus-yellow
curtains at the windows; they blacked the sheet-iron stove; they put on
aprons and swept. The rest of the association dropped into the theater
every evening, and were literary and superior. They had borrowed
Carol's manuals of play-production and had become extremely stagey in
vocabulary.

Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons, and Raymie Wutherspoon sat on a sawhorse,
watching Carol try to get the right position for a picture on the wall
in the first scene.

"I don't want to hand myself anything but I believe I'll give a swell
performance in this first act," confided Juanita. "I wish Carol wasn't
so bossy though. She doesn't understand clothes. I want to wear, oh,
a dandy dress I have--all scarlet--and I said to her, 'When I enter
wouldn't it knock their eyes out if I just stood there at the door in
this straight scarlet thing?' But she wouldn't let me."

Young Rita agreed, "She's so much taken up with her old details and
carpentering and everything that she can't see the picture as a whole.
Now I thought it would be lovely if we had an office-scene like the one
in 'Little, But Oh My!' Because I SAW that, in Duluth. But she simply
wouldn't listen at all."

Juanita sighed, "I wanted to give one speech like Ethel Barrymore would,
if she was in a play like this. (Harry and I heard her one time in
Minneapolis--we had dandy seats, in the orchestra--I just know I could
imitate her.) Carol didn't pay any attention to my suggestion. I don't
want to criticize but I guess Ethel knows more about acting than Carol
does!"

"Say, do you think Carol has the right dope about using a strip light
behind the fireplace in the second act? I told her I thought we ought to
use a bunch," offered Raymie. "And I suggested it would be lovely if we
used a cyclorama outside the window in the first act, and what do you
think she said? 'Yes, and it would be lovely to have Eleanora Duse play
the lead,' she said, 'and aside from the fact that it's evening in the
first act, you're a great technician,' she said. I must say I think she
was pretty sarcastic. I've been reading up, and I know I could build a
cyclorama, if she didn't want to run everything."

"Yes, and another thing, I think the entrance in the first act ought to
be L. U. E., not L. 3 E.," from Juanita.

"And why does she just use plain white tormenters?"

"What's a tormenter?" blurted Rita Simons.

The savants stared at her ignorance.


III


Carol did not resent their criticisms, she didn't very much resent
their sudden knowledge, so long as they let her make pictures. It was at
rehearsals that the quarrrels broke. No one understood that rehearsals
were as real engagements as bridge-games or sociables at the Episcopal
Church. They gaily came in half an hour late, or they vociferously came
in ten minutes early, and they were so hurt that they whispered about
resigning when Carol protested. They telephoned, "I don't think I'd
better come out; afraid the dampness might start my toothache," or
"Guess can't make it tonight; Dave wants me to sit in on a poker game."

When, after a month of labor, as many as nine-elevenths of the cast were
often present at a rehearsal; when most of them had learned their parts
and some of them spoke like human beings, Carol had a new shock in the
realization that Guy Pollock and herself were very bad actors, and that
Raymie Wutherspoon was a surprisingly good one. For all her visions
she could not control her voice, and she was bored by the fiftieth
repetition of her few lines as maid. Guy pulled his soft mustache,
looked self-conscious, and turned Mr. Grimm into a limp dummy. But
Raymie, as the villain, had no repressions. The tilt of his head was
full of character; his drawl was admirably vicious.

There was an evening when Carol hoped she was going to make a play; a
rehearsal during which Guy stopped looking abashed.

From that evening the play declined.

They were weary. "We know our parts well enough now; what's the use of
getting sick of them?" they complained. They began to skylark; to play
with the sacred lights; to giggle when Carol was trying to make the
sentimental Myrtle Cass into a humorous office-boy; to act everything
but "The Girl from Kankakee." After loafing through his proper part
Dr. Terry Gould had great applause for his burlesque of "Hamlet." Even
Raymie lost his simple faith, and tried to show that he could do a
vaudeville shuffle.

Carol turned on the company. "See here, I want this nonsense to stop.
We've simply got to get down to work."

Juanita Haydock led the mutiny: "Look here, Carol, don't be so bossy.
After all, we're doing this play principally for the fun of it, and if
we have fun out of a lot of monkey-shines, why then----"

"Ye-es," feebly.

"You said one time that folks in G. P. didn't get enough fun out of
life. And now we are having a circus, you want us to stop!"

Carol answered slowly: "I wonder if I can explain what I mean? It's the
difference between looking at the comic page and looking at Manet. I
want fun out of this, of course. Only----I don't think it would be
less fun, but more, to produce as perfect a play as we can." She was
curiously exalted; her voice was strained; she stared not at the company
but at the grotesques scrawled on the backs of wing-pieces by forgotten
stage-hands. "I wonder if you can understand the 'fun' of making a
beautiful thing, the pride and satisfaction of it, and the holiness!"

The company glanced doubtfully at one another. In Gopher Prairie it
is not good form to be holy except at a church, between ten-thirty and
twelve on Sunday.

"But if we want to do it, we've got to work; we must have
self-discipline."

They were at once amused and embarrassed. They did not want to affront
this mad woman. They backed off and tried to rehearse. Carol did not
hear Juanita, in front, protesting to Maud Dyer, "If she calls it fun
and holiness to sweat over her darned old play--well, I don't!"


IV


Carol attended the only professional play which came to Gopher Prairie
that spring. It was a "tent show, presenting snappy new dramas under
canvas." The hard-working actors doubled in brass, and took tickets;
and between acts sang about the moon in June, and sold Dr. Wintergreen's
Surefire Tonic for Ills of the Heart, Lungs, Kidneys, and Bowels. They
presented "Sunbonnet Nell: A Dramatic Comedy of the Ozarks," with J.
Witherbee Boothby wringing the soul by his resonant "Yuh ain't done
right by mah little gal, Mr. City Man, but yer a-goin' to find that back
in these-yere hills there's honest folks and good shots!"

The audience, on planks beneath the patched tent, admired Mr. Boothby's
beard and long rifle; stamped their feet in the dust at the spectacle
of his heroism; shouted when the comedian aped the City Lady's use of a
lorgnon by looking through a doughnut stuck on a fork; wept visibly over
Mr. Boothby's Little Gal Nell, who was also Mr. Boothby's legal wife
Pearl, and when the curtain went down, listened respectfully to Mr.
Boothby's lecture on Dr. Wintergreen's Tonic as a cure for tape-worms,
which he illustrated by horrible pallid objects curled in bottles of
yellowing alcohol.

Carol shook her head. "Juanita is right. I'm a fool. Holiness of the
drama! Bernard Shaw! The only trouble with 'The Girl from Kankakee' is
that it's too subtle for Gopher Prairie!"

She sought faith in spacious banal phrases, taken from books: "the
instinctive nobility of simple souls," "need only the opportunity, to
appreciate fine things," and "sturdy exponents of democracy." But these
optimisms did not sound so loud as the laughter of the audience at the
funny-man's line, "Yes, by heckelum, I'm a smart fella." She wanted to
give up the play, the dramatic association, the town. As she came out
of the tent and walked with Kennicott down the dusty spring street, she
peered at this straggling wooden village and felt that she could not
possibly stay here through all of tomorrow.

It was Miles Bjornstam who gave her strength--he and the fact that every
seat for "The Girl from Kankakee" had been sold.

Bjornstam was "keeping company" with Bea. Every night he was sitting on
the back steps. Once when Carol appeared he grumbled, "Hope you're going
to give this burg one good show. If you don't, reckon nobody ever will."


V


It was the great night; it was the night of the play. The two
dressing-rooms were swirling with actors, panting, twitchy pale. Del
Snafflin the barber, who was as much a professional as Ella, having once
gone on in a mob scene at a stock-company performance in Minneapolis,
was making them up, and showing his scorn for amateurs with, "Stand
still! For the love o' Mike, how do you expect me to get your eyelids
dark if you keep a-wigglin'?" The actors were beseeching, "Hey, Del, put
some red in my nostrils--you put some in Rita's--gee, you didn't hardly
do anything to my face."

They were enormously theatric. They examined Del's makeup box, they
sniffed the scent of grease-paint, every minute they ran out to peep
through the hole in the curtain, they came back to inspect their wigs
and costumes, they read on the whitewashed walls of the dressing-rooms
the pencil inscriptions: "The Flora Flanders Comedy Company," and "This
is a bum theater," and felt that they were companions of these vanished
troupers.

Carol, smart in maid's uniform, coaxed the temporary stage-hands to
finish setting the first act, wailed at Kennicott, the electrician, "Now
for heaven's sake remember the change in cue for the ambers in Act Two,"
slipped out to ask Dave Dyer, the ticket-taker, if he could get some
more chairs, warned the frightened Myrtle Cass to be sure to upset the
waste-basket when John Grimm called, "Here you, Reddy."

Del Snafflin's orchestra of piano, violin, and cornet began to tune up
and every one behind the magic line of the proscenic arch was frightened
into paralysis. Carol wavered to the hole in the curtain. There were so
many people out there, staring so hard----

In the second row she saw Miles Bjornstam, not with Bea but alone.
He really wanted to see the play! It was a good omen. Who could tell?
Perhaps this evening would convert Gopher Prairie to conscious beauty.

She darted into the women's dressing-room, roused Maud Dyer from her
fainting panic, pushed her to the wings, and ordered the curtain up.

It rose doubtfully, it staggered and trembled, but it did get up without
catching--this time. Then she realized that Kennicott had forgotten to
turn off the houselights. Some one out front was giggling.

She galloped round to the left wing, herself pulled the switch, looked
so ferociously at Kennicott that he quaked, and fled back.

Mrs. Dyer was creeping out on the half-darkened stage. The play was
begun.

And with that instant Carol realized that it was a bad play abominably
acted.

Encouraging them with lying smiles, she watched her work go to pieces.
The settings seemed flimsy, the lighting commonplace. She watched
Guy Pollock stammer and twist his mustache when he should have been a
bullying magnate; Vida Sherwin, as Grimm's timid wife, chatter at the
audience as though they were her class in high-school English; Juanita,
in the leading role, defy Mr. Grimm as though she were repeating a list
of things she had to buy at the grocery this morning; Ella Stowbody
remark "I'd like a cup of tea" as though she were reciting "Curfew Shall
Not Ring Tonight"; and Dr. Gould, making love to Rita Simons, squeak,
"My--my--you--are--a--won'erful--girl."

Myrtle Cass, as the office-boy, was so much pleased by the applause of
her relatives, then so much agitated by the remarks of Cy Bogart, in the
back row, in reference to her wearing trousers, that she could hardly
be got off the stage. Only Raymie was so unsociable as to devote himself
entirely to acting.

That she was right in her opinion of the play Carol was certain when
Miles Bjornstam went out after the first act, and did not come back.


VI


Between the second and third acts she called the company together,
and supplicated, "I want to know something, before we have a chance to
separate. Whether we're doing well or badly tonight, it is a beginning.
But will we take it as merely a beginning? How many of you will pledge
yourselves to start in with me, right away, tomorrow, and plan for
another play, to be given in September?"

They stared at her; they nodded at Juanita's protest: "I think
one's enough for a while. It's going elegant tonight, but another
play----Seems to me it'll be time enough to talk about that next fall.
Carol! I hope you don't mean to hint and suggest we're not doing fine
tonight? I'm sure the applause shows the audience think it's just
dandy!"

Then Carol knew how completely she had failed.

As the audience seeped out she heard B. J. Gougerling the banker say to
Howland the grocer, "Well, I think the folks did splendid; just as good
as professionals. But I don't care much for these plays. What I like is
a good movie, with auto accidents and hold-ups, and some git to it, and
not all this talky-talk."

Then Carol knew how certain she was to fail again.

She wearily did not blame them, company nor audience. Herself she blamed
for trying to carve intaglios in good wholesome jack-pine.

"It's the worst defeat of all. I'm beaten. By Main Street. 'I must go
on.' But I can't!"

She was not vastly encouraged by the Gopher Prairie Dauntless:

. . . would be impossible to distinguish among the actors when all gave
such fine account of themselves in difficult roles of this well-known
New York stage play. Guy Pollock as the old millionaire could not have
been bettered for his fine impersonation of the gruff old millionaire;
Mrs. Harry Haydock as the young lady from the West who so easily showed
the New York four-flushers where they got off was a vision of loveliness
and with fine stage presence. Miss Vida Sherwin the ever popular teacher
in our high school pleased as Mrs. Grimm, Dr. Gould was well suited in
the role of young lover--girls you better look out, remember the doc is a
bachelor. The local Four Hundred also report that he is a great hand at
shaking the light fantastic tootsies in the dance. As the stenographer
Rita Simons was pretty as a picture, and Miss Ella Stowbody's long and
intensive study of the drama and kindred arts in Eastern schools was
seen in the fine finish of her part.

. . . to no one is greater credit to be given than to Mrs. Will Kennicott
on whose capable shoulders fell the burden of directing.


"So kindly," Carol mused, "so well meant, so neighborly--and so
confoundedly untrue. Is it really my failure, or theirs?"

She sought to be sensible; she elaborately explained to herself that it
was hysterical to condemn Gopher Prairie because it did not foam over
the drama. Its justification was in its service as a market-town for
farmers. How bravely and generously it did its work, forwarding the
bread of the world, feeding and healing the farmers!

Then, on the corner below her husband's office, she heard a farmer
holding forth:

"Sure. Course I was beaten. The shipper and the grocers here wouldn't
pay us a decent price for our potatoes, even though folks in the cities
were howling for 'em. So we says, well, we'll get a truck and ship 'em
right down to Minneapolis. But the commission merchants there were in
cahoots with the local shipper here; they said they wouldn't pay us
a cent more than he would, not even if they was nearer to the market.
Well, we found we could get higher prices in Chicago, but when we tried
to get freight cars to ship there, the railroads wouldn't let us have
'em--even though they had cars standing empty right here in the yards.
There you got it--good market, and these towns keeping us from it. Gus,
that's the way these towns work all the time. They pay what they want
to for our wheat, but we pay what they want us to for their clothes.
Stowbody and Dawson foreclose every mortgage they can, and put in tenant
farmers. The Dauntless lies to us about the Nonpartisan League, the
lawyers sting us, the machinery-dealers hate to carry us over bad years,
and then their daughters put on swell dresses and look at us as if we
were a bunch of hoboes. Man, I'd like to burn this town!"

Kennicott observed, "There's that old crank Wes Brannigan shooting off
his mouth again. Gosh, but he loves to hear himself talk! They ought to
run that fellow out of town!"


VII


She felt old and detached through high-school commencement week, which
is the fete of youth in Gopher Prairie; through baccalaureate sermon,
senior Parade, junior entertainment, commencement address by an Iowa
clergyman who asserted that he believed in the virtue of virtuousness,
and the procession of Decoration Day, when the few Civil War veterans
followed Champ Perry, in his rusty forage-cap, along the spring-powdered
road to the cemetery. She met Guy; she found that she had nothing to
say to him. Her head ached in an aimless way. When Kennicott rejoiced,
"We'll have a great time this summer; move down to the lake early and
wear old clothes and act natural," she smiled, but her smile creaked.

In the prairie heat she trudged along unchanging ways, talked about
nothing to tepid people, and reflected that she might never escape from
them.

She was startled to find that she was using the word "escape."

Then, for three years which passed like one curt paragraph, she ceased
to find anything interesting save the Bjornstams and her baby.



CHAPTER XIX

I

IN three years of exile from herself Carol had certain experiences
chronicled as important by the Dauntless, or discussed by the Jolly
Seventeen, but the event unchronicled, undiscussed, and supremely
controlling, was her slow admission of longing to find her own people.


II


Bea and Miles Bjornstam were married in June, a month after "The Girl
from Kankakee." Miles had turned respectable. He had renounced his
criticisms of state and society; he had given up roving as horse-trader,
and wearing red mackinaws in lumber-camps; he had gone to work as
engineer in Jackson Elder's planing-mill; he was to be seen upon the
streets endeavoring to be neighborly with suspicious men whom he had
taunted for years.

Carol was the patroness and manager of the wedding. Juanita Haydock
mocked, "You're a chump to let a good hired girl like Bea go. Besides!
How do you know it's a good thing, her marrying a sassy bum like this
awful Red Swede person? Get wise! Chase the man off with a mop, and
hold onto your Svenska while the holding's good. Huh? Me go to their
Scandahoofian wedding? Not a chance!"

The other matrons echoed Juanita. Carol was dismayed by the casualness
of their cruelty, but she persisted. Miles had exclaimed to her, "Jack
Elder says maybe he'll come to the wedding! Gee, it would be nice to
have Bea meet the Boss as a reg'lar married lady. Some day I'll be so
well off that Bea can play with Mrs. Elder--and you! Watch us!"

There was an uneasy knot of only nine guests at the service in the
unpainted Lutheran Church--Carol, Kennicott, Guy Pollock, and the Champ
Perrys, all brought by Carol; Bea's frightened rustic parents, her
cousin Tina, and Pete, Miles's ex-partner in horse-trading, a surly,
hairy man who had bought a black suit and come twelve hundred miles from
Spokane for the event.

Miles continuously glanced back at the church door. Jackson Elder did
not appear. The door did not once open after the awkward entrance of the
first guests. Miles's hand closed on Bea's arm.

He had, with Carol's help, made his shanty over into a cottage with
white curtains and a canary and a chintz chair.

Carol coaxed the powerful matrons to call on Bea. They half scoffed,
half promised to go.

Bea's successor was the oldish, broad, silent Oscarina, who was
suspicious of her frivolous mistress for a month, so that Juanita
Haydock was able to crow, "There, smarty, I told you you'd run into the
Domestic Problem!" But Oscarina adopted Carol as a daughter, and with
her as faithful to the kitchen as Bea had been, there was nothing
changed in Carol's life.


III


She was unexpectedly appointed to the town library-board by Ole Jenson,
the new mayor. The other members were Dr. Westlake, Lyman Cass, Julius
Flickerbaugh the attorney, Guy Pollock, and Martin Mahoney, former
livery-stable keeper and now owner of a garage. She was delighted. She
went to the first meeting rather condescendingly, regarding herself
as the only one besides Guy who knew anything about books or library
methods. She was planning to revolutionize the whole system.

Her condescension was ruined and her humility wholesomely increased when
she found the board, in the shabby room on the second floor of the house
which had been converted into the library, not discussing the weather
and longing to play checkers, but talking about books. She discovered
that amiable old Dr. Westlake read everything in verse and "light
fiction"; that Lyman Cass, the veal-faced, bristly-bearded owner of the
mill, had tramped through Gibbon, Hume, Grote, Prescott, and the other
thick historians; that he could repeat pages from them--and did. When
Dr. Westlake whispered to her, "Yes, Lym is a very well-informed man,
but he's modest about it," she felt uninformed and immodest, and scolded
at herself that she had missed the human potentialities in this vast
Gopher Prairie. When Dr. Westlake quoted the "Paradiso," "Don Quixote,"
"Wilhelm Meister," and the Koran, she reflected that no one she knew,
not even her father, had read all four.

She came diffidently to the second meeting of the board. She did not
plan to revolutionize anything. She hoped that the wise elders might be
so tolerant as to listen to her suggestions about changing the shelving
of the juveniles.

Yet after four sessions of the library-board she was where she had been
before the first session. She had found that for all their pride in
being reading men, Westlake and Cass and even Guy had no conception of
making the library familiar to the whole town. They used it, they passed
resolutions about it, and they left it as dead as Moses. Only the Henty
books and the Elsie books and the latest optimisms by moral female
novelists and virile clergymen were in general demand, and the board
themselves were interested only in old, stilted volumes. They had no
tenderness for the noisiness of youth discovering great literature.

If she was egotistic about her tiny learning, they were at least as much
so regarding theirs. And for all their talk of the need of additional
library-tax none of them was willing to risk censure by battling for it,
though they now had so small a fund that, after paying for rent, heat,
light, and Miss Villets's salary, they had only a hundred dollars a year
for the purchase of books.

The Incident of the Seventeen Cents killed her none too enduring
interest.

She had come to the board-meeting singing with a plan. She had made
a list of thirty European novels of the past ten years, with twenty
important books on psychology, education, and economics which the
library lacked. She had made Kennicott promise to give fifteen dollars.
If each of the board would contribute the same, they could have the
books.

Lym Cass looked alarmed, scratched himself, and protested, "I think
it would be a bad precedent for the board-members to contribute
money--uh--not that I mind, but it wouldn't be fair--establish
precedent. Gracious! They don't pay us a cent for our services!
Certainly can't expect us to pay for the privilege of serving!"

Only Guy looked sympathetic, and he stroked the pine table and said
nothing.

The rest of the meeting they gave to a bellicose investigation of the
fact that there was seventeen cents less than there should be in the
Fund. Miss Villets was summoned; she spent half an hour in explosively
defending herself; the seventeen cents were gnawed over, penny by penny;
and Carol, glancing at the carefully inscribed list which had been
so lovely and exciting an hour before, was silent, and sorry for Miss
Villets, and sorrier for herself.

She was reasonably regular in attendance till her two years were up and
Vida Sherwin was appointed to the board in her place, but she did not
try to be revolutionary. In the plodding course of her life there was
nothing changed, and nothing new.


IV


Kennicott made an excellent land-deal, but as he told her none of the
details, she was not greatly exalted or agitated. What did agitate her
was his announcement, half whispered and half blurted, half tender and
half coldly medical, that they "ought to have a baby, now they could
afford it." They had so long agreed that "perhaps it would be just as
well not to have any children for a while yet," that childlessness had
come to be natural. Now, she feared and longed and did not know; she
hesitatingly assented, and wished that she had not assented.

As there appeared no change in their drowsy relations, she forgot all
about it, and life was planless.


V


Idling on the porch of their summer cottage at the lake, on afternoons
when Kennicott was in town, when the water was glazed and the whole air
languid, she pictured a hundred escapes: Fifth Avenue in a snow-storm,
with limousines, golden shops, a cathedral spire. A reed hut on
fantastic piles above the mud of a jungle river. A suite in Paris,
immense high grave rooms, with lambrequins and a balcony. The Enchanted
Mesa. An ancient stone mill in Maryland, at the turn of the road,
between rocky brook and abrupt hills. An upland moor of sheep and
flitting cool sunlight. A clanging dock where steel cranes unloaded
steamers from Buenos Ayres and Tsing-tao. A Munich concert-hall, and a
famous 'cellist playing--playing to her.

One scene had a persistent witchery:

She stood on a terrace overlooking a boulevard by the warm sea. She was
certain, though she had no reason for it, that the place was Mentone.
Along the drive below her swept barouches, with a mechanical tlot-tlot,
tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, and great cars with polished black hoods and
engines quiet as the sigh of an old man. In them were women erect,
slender, enameled, and expressionless as marionettes, their small hands
upon parasols, their unchanging eyes always forward, ignoring the men
beside them, tall men with gray hair and distinguished faces. Beyond the
drive were painted sea and painted sands, and blue and yellow pavilions.
Nothing moved except the gliding carriages, and the people were small
and wooden, spots in a picture drenched with gold and hard bright blues.
There was no sound of sea or winds; no softness of whispers nor of
falling petals; nothing but yellow and cobalt and staring light, and the
never-changing tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot----

She startled. She whimpered. It was the rapid ticking of the clock which
had hypnotized her into hearing the steady hoofs. No aching color of the
sea and pride of supercilious people, but the reality of a round-bellied
nickel alarm-clock on a shelf against a fuzzy unplaned pine wall, with
a stiff gray wash-rag hanging above it and a kerosene-stove standing
below.

A thousand dreams governed by the fiction she had read, drawn from the
pictures she had envied, absorbed her drowsy lake afternoons, but
always in the midst of them Kennicott came out from town, drew on khaki
trousers which were plastered with dry fish-scales, asked, "Enjoying
yourself?" and did not listen to her answer.

And nothing was changed, and there was no reason to believe that there
ever would be change.


VI


Trains!

At the lake cottage she missed the passing of the trains. She realized
that in town she had depended upon them for assurance that there
remained a world beyond.

The railroad was more than a means of transportation to Gopher Prairie.
It was a new god; a monster of steel limbs, oak ribs, flesh of gravel,
and a stupendous hunger for freight; a deity created by man that he
might keep himself respectful to Property, as elsewhere he had elevated
and served as tribal gods the mines, cotton-mills, motor-factories,
colleges, army.

The East remembered generations when there had been no railroad, and had
no awe of it; but here the railroads had been before time was. The towns
had been staked out on barren prairie as convenient points for future
train-halts; and back in 1860 and 1870 there had been much profit, much
opportunity to found aristocratic families, in the possession of advance
knowledge as to where the towns would arise.

If a town was in disfavor, the railroad could ignore it, cut it off from
commerce, slay it. To Gopher Prairie the tracks were eternal verities,
and boards of railroad directors an omnipotence. The smallest boy or the
most secluded grandam could tell you whether No. 32 had a hot-box last
Tuesday, whether No. 7 was going to put on an extra day-coach; and the
name of the president of the road was familiar to every breakfast table.

Even in this new era of motors the citizens went down to the station
to see the trains go through. It was their romance; their only mystery
besides mass at the Catholic Church; and from the trains came lords of
the outer world--traveling salesmen with piping on their waistcoats, and
visiting cousins from Milwaukee.

Gopher Prairie had once been a "division-point." The roundhouse and
repair-shops were gone, but two conductors still retained residence,
and they were persons of distinction, men who traveled and talked to
strangers, who wore uniforms with brass buttons, and knew all about
these crooked games of con-men. They were a special caste, neither above
nor below the Haydocks, but apart, artists and adventurers.

The night telegraph-operator at the railroad station was the most
melodramatic figure in town: awake at three in the morning, alone in a
room hectic with clatter of the telegraph key. All night he "talked"
to operators twenty, fifty, a hundred miles away. It was always to be
expected that he would be held up by robbers. He never was, but round
him was a suggestion of masked faces at the window, revolvers, cords
binding him to a chair, his struggle to crawl to the key before he
fainted.

During blizzards everything about the railroad was melodramatic. There
were days when the town was completely shut off, when they had no mail,
no express, no fresh meat, no newspapers. At last the rotary snow-plow
came through, bucking the drifts, sending up a geyser, and the way to
the Outside was open again. The brakemen, in mufflers and fur caps,
running along the tops of ice-coated freight-cars; the engineers
scratching frost from the cab windows and looking out, inscrutable,
self-contained, pilots of the prairie sea--they were heroism, they were
to Carol the daring of the quest in a world of groceries and sermons.

To the small boys the railroad was a familiar playground. They climbed
the iron ladders on the sides of the box-cars; built fires behind piles
of old ties; waved to favorite brakemen. But to Carol it was magic.

She was motoring with Kennicott, the car lumping through darkness, the
lights showing mud-puddles and ragged weeds by the road. A train coming!
A rapid chuck-a-chuck, chuck-a-chuck, chuck-a-chuck. It was hurling
past--the Pacific Flyer, an arrow of golden flame. Light from the
fire-box splashed the under side of the trailing smoke. Instantly the
vision was gone; Carol was back in the long darkness; and Kennicott was
giving his version of that fire and wonder: "No. 19. Must be 'bout ten
minutes late."

In town, she listened from bed to the express whistling in the cut a
mile north. Uuuuuuu!--faint, nervous, distrait, horn of the free night
riders journeying to the tall towns where were laughter and
banners and the sound of bells--Uuuuu! Uuuuu!--the world going
by--Uuuuuuu!--fainter, more wistful, gone.

Down here there were no trains. The stillness was very great. The
prairie encircled the lake, lay round her, raw, dusty, thick. Only the
train could cut it. Some day she would take a train; and that would be a
great taking.


VII


She turned to the Chautauqua as she had turned to the dramatic
association, to the library-board.

Besides the permanent Mother Chautauqua, in New York, there are, all
over these States, commercial Chautauqua companies which send out to
every smallest town troupes of lecturers and "entertainers" to give a
week of culture under canvas. Living in Minneapolis, Carol had never
encountered the ambulant Chautauqua, and the announcement of its coming
to Gopher Prairie gave her hope that others might be doing the vague
things which she had attempted. She pictured a condensed university
course brought to the people. Mornings when she came in from the lake
with Kennicott she saw placards in every shop-window, and strung on
a cord across Main Street, a line of pennants alternately worded
"The Boland Chautauqua COMING!" and "A solid week of inspiration and
enjoyment!" But she was disappointed when she saw the program. It did
not seem to be a tabloid university; it did not seem to be any kind of
a university; it seemed to be a combination of vaudeville performance Y.
M. C. A. lecture, and the graduation exercises of an elocution class.

She took her doubt to Kennicott. He insisted, "Well, maybe it won't be
so awful darn intellectual, the way you and I might like it, but it's
a whole lot better than nothing." Vida Sherwin added, "They have
some splendid speakers. If the people don't carry off so much actual
information, they do get a lot of new ideas, and that's what counts."

During the Chautauqua Carol attended three evening meetings, two
afternoon meetings, and one in the morning. She was impressed by the
audience: the sallow women in skirts and blouses, eager to be made to
think, the men in vests and shirt-sleeves, eager to be allowed to laugh,
and the wriggling children, eager to sneak away. She liked the plain
benches, the portable stage under its red marquee, the great tent over
all, shadowy above strings of incandescent bulbs at night and by day
casting an amber radiance on the patient crowd. The scent of dust
and trampled grass and sun-baked wood gave her an illusion of Syrian
caravans; she forgot the speakers while she listened to noises outside
the tent: two farmers talking hoarsely, a wagon creaking down Main
Street, the crow of a rooster. She was content. But it was the
contentment of the lost hunter stopping to rest.

For from the Chautauqua itself she got nothing but wind and chaff and
heavy laughter, the laughter of yokels at old jokes, a mirthless and
primitive sound like the cries of beasts on a farm.

These were the several instructors in the condensed university's
seven-day course:

Nine lecturers, four of them ex-ministers, and one an ex-congressman,
all of them delivering "inspirational addresses." The only facts or
opinions which Carol derived from them were: Lincoln was a celebrated
president of the United States, but in his youth extremely poor. James
J. Hill was the best-known railroad-man of the West, and in his youth
extremely poor. Honesty and courtesy in business are preferable
to boorishness and exposed trickery, but this is not to be taken
personally, since all persons in Gopher Prairie are known to be honest
and courteous. London is a large city. A distinguished statesman once
taught Sunday School.

Four "entertainers" who told Jewish stories, Irish stories, German
stories, Chinese stories, and Tennessee mountaineer stories, most of
which Carol had heard.

A "lady elocutionist" who recited Kipling and imitated children.

A lecturer with motion-pictures of an Andean exploration; excellent
pictures and a halting narrative.

Three brass-bands, a company of six opera-singers, a Hawaiian sextette,
and four youths who played saxophones and guitars disguised as
wash-boards. The most applauded pieces were those, such as the "Lucia"
inevitability, which the audience had heard most often.

The local superintendent, who remained through the week while the other
enlighteners went to other Chautauquas for their daily performances. The
superintendent was a bookish, underfed man who worked hard at rousing
artificial enthusiasm, at trying to make the audience cheer by dividing
them into competitive squads and telling them that they were intelligent
and made splendid communal noises. He gave most of the morning lectures,
droning with equal unhappy facility about poetry, the Holy Land, and the
injustice to employers in any system of profit-sharing.

The final item was a man who neither lectured, inspired, nor
entertained; a plain little man with his hands in his pockets. All the
other speakers had confessed, "I cannot keep from telling the citizens
of your beautiful city that none of the talent on this circuit have
found a more charming spot or more enterprising and hospitable people."
But the little man suggested that the architecture of Gopher Prairie was
haphazard, and that it was sottish to let the lake-front be monopolized
by the cinder-heaped wall of the railroad embankment. Afterward the
audience grumbled, "Maybe that guy's got the right dope, but what's the
use of looking on the dark side of things all the time? New ideas are
first-rate, but not all this criticism. Enough trouble in life without
looking for it!"

Thus the Chautauqua, as Carol saw it. After it, the town felt proud and
educated.


VIII


Two weeks later the Great War smote Europe.

For a month Gopher Prairie had the delight of shuddering, then, as the
war settled down to a business of trench-fighting, they forgot.

When Carol talked about the Balkans, and the possibility of a German
revolution, Kennicott yawned, "Oh yes, it's a great old scrap, but it's
none of our business. Folks out here are too busy growing corn to monkey
with any fool war that those foreigners want to get themselves into."

It was Miles Bjornstam who said, "I can't figure it out. I'm opposed to
wars, but still, seems like Germany has got to be licked because them
Junkers stands in the way of progress."

She was calling on Miles and Bea, early in autumn. They had received
her with cries, with dusting of chairs, and a running to fetch water for
coffee. Miles stood and beamed at her. He fell often and joyously into
his old irreverence about the lords of Gopher Prairie, but always--with
a certain difficulty--he added something decorous and appreciative.

"Lots of people have come to see you, haven't they?" Carol hinted.

"Why, Bea's cousin Tina comes in right along, and the foreman at the
mill, and----Oh, we have good times. Say, take a look at that Bea!
Wouldn't you think she was a canary-bird, to listen to her, and to see
that Scandahoofian tow-head of hers? But say, know what she is? She's
a mother hen! Way she fusses over me--way she makes old Miles wear a
necktie! Hate to spoil her by letting her hear it, but she's one pretty
darn nice--nice----Hell! What do we care if none of the dirty snobs come
and call? We've got each other."

Carol worried about their struggle, but she forgot it in the stress of
sickness and fear. For that autumn she knew that a baby was coming,
that at last life promised to be interesting in the peril of the great
change.



CHAPTER XX

I

THE baby was coming. Each morning she was nauseated, chilly, bedraggled,
and certain that she would never again be attractive; each twilight
she was afraid. She did not feel exalted, but unkempt and furious. The
period of daily sickness crawled into an endless time of boredom. It
became difficult for her to move about, and she raged that she, who
had been slim and light-footed, should have to lean on a stick, and be
heartily commented upon by street gossips. She was encircled by greasy
eyes. Every matron hinted, "Now that you're going to be a mother,
dearie, you'll get over all these ideas of yours and settle down."
She felt that willy-nilly she was being initiated into the assembly
of housekeepers; with the baby for hostage, she would never escape;
presently she would be drinking coffee and rocking and talking about
diapers.

"I could stand fighting them. I'm used to that. But this being taken in,
being taken as a matter of course, I can't stand it--and I must stand
it!"

She alternately detested herself for not appreciating the kindly women,
and detested them for their advice: lugubrious hints as to how much she
would suffer in labor, details of baby-hygiene based on long experience
and total misunderstanding, superstitious cautions about the things she
must eat and read and look at in prenatal care for the baby's soul, and
always a pest of simpering baby-talk. Mrs. Champ Perry bustled in to
lend "Ben Hur," as a preventive of future infant immorality. The Widow
Bogart appeared trailing pinkish exclamations, "And how is our lovely
'ittle muzzy today! My, ain't it just like they always say: being in
a Family Way does make the girlie so lovely, just like a Madonna. Tell
me--" Her whisper was tinged with salaciousness--"does oo feel the dear
itsy one stirring, the pledge of love? I remember with Cy, of course he
was so big----"

"I do not look lovely, Mrs. Bogart. My complexion is rotten, and my hair
is coming out, and I look like a potato-bag, and I think my arches are
falling, and he isn't a pledge of love, and I'm afraid he WILL look like
us, and I don't believe in mother-devotion, and the whole business is a
confounded nuisance of a biological process," remarked Carol.

Then the baby was born, without unusual difficulty: a boy with straight
back and strong legs. The first day she hated him for the tides of pain
and hopeless fear he had caused; she resented his raw ugliness. After
that she loved him with all the devotion and instinct at which she
had scoffed. She marveled at the perfection of the miniature hands as
noisily as did Kennicott, she was overwhelmed by the trust with
which the baby turned to her; passion for him grew with each unpoetic
irritating thing she had to do for him.

He was named Hugh, for her father.

Hugh developed into a thin healthy child with a large head and straight
delicate hair of a faint brown. He was thoughtful and casual--a
Kennicott.

For two years nothing else existed. She did not, as the cynical matrons
had prophesied, "give up worrying about the world and other folks'
babies soon as she got one of her own to fight for." The barbarity of
that willingness to sacrifice other children so that one child might
have too much was impossible to her. But she would sacrifice herself.
She understood consecration--she who answered Kennicott's hints about
having Hugh christened: "I refuse to insult my baby and myself by asking
an ignorant young man in a frock coat to sanction him, to permit me
to have him! I refuse to subject him to any devil-chasing rites! If I
didn't give my baby--MY BABY--enough sanctification in those nine hours
of hell, then he can't get any more out of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel!"

"Well, Baptists hardly ever christen kids. I was kind of thinking more
about Reverend Warren," said Kennicott.

Hugh was her reason for living, promise of accomplishment in the future,
shrine of adoration--and a diverting toy. "I thought I'd be a dilettante
mother, but I'm as dismayingly natural as Mrs. Bogart," she boasted.

For two--years Carol was a part of the town; as much one of Our Young
Mothers as Mrs. McGanum. Her opinionation seemed dead; she had no
apparent desire for escape; her brooding centered on Hugh. While she
wondered at the pearl texture of his ear she exulted, "I feel like an
old woman, with a skin like sandpaper, beside him, and I'm glad of it!
He is perfect. He shall have everything. He sha'n't always stay here in
Gopher Prairie. . . . I wonder which is really the best, Harvard or Yale
or Oxford?"


II


The people who hemmed her in had been brilliantly reinforced by Mr. and
Mrs. Whittier N. Smail--Kennicott's Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie.

The true Main Streetite defines a relative as a person to whose house
you go uninvited, to stay as long as you like. If you hear that Lym Cass
on his journey East has spent all his time "visiting" in Oyster Center,
it does not mean that he prefers that village to the rest of New
England, but that he has relatives there. It does not mean that he has
written to the relatives these many years, nor that they have ever given
signs of a desire to look upon him. But "you wouldn't expect a man to
go and spend good money at a hotel in Boston, when his own third cousins
live right in the same state, would you?"

When the Smails sold their creamery in North Dakota they visited Mr.
Smail's sister, Kennicott's mother, at Lac-qui-Meurt, then plodded on
to Gopher Prairie to stay with their nephew. They appeared unannounced,
before the baby was born, took their welcome for granted, and
immediately began to complain of the fact that their room faced north.

Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie assumed that it was their privilege as
relatives to laugh at Carol, and their duty as Christians to let her
know how absurd her "notions" were. They objected to the food, to
Oscarina's lack of friendliness, to the wind, the rain, and the
immodesty of Carol's maternity gowns. They were strong and enduring; for
an hour at a time they could go on heaving questions about her father's
income, about her theology, and about the reason why she had not put on
her rubbers when she had gone across the street. For fussy discussion
they had a rich, full genius, and their example developed in Kennicott a
tendency to the same form of affectionate flaying.

If Carol was so indiscreet as to murmur that she had a small headache,
instantly the two Smails and Kennicott were at it. Every five minutes,
every time she sat down or rose or spoke to Oscarina, they twanged, "Is
your head better now? Where does it hurt? Don't you keep hartshorn in
the house? Didn't you walk too far today? Have you tried hartshorn?
Don't you keep some in the house so it will be handy? Does it feel
better now? How does it feel? Do your eyes hurt, too? What time do you
usually get to bed? As late as THAT? Well! How does it feel now?"

In her presence Uncle Whittier snorted at Kennicott, "Carol get these
headaches often? Huh? Be better for her if she didn't go gadding around
to all these bridge-whist parties, and took some care of herself once in
a while!"

They kept it up, commenting, questioning, commenting, questioning,
till her determination broke and she bleated, "For heaven's SAKE, don't
dis-CUSS it! My head 's all RIGHT!"

She listened to the Smails and Kennicott trying to determine by
dialectics whether the copy of the Dauntless, which Aunt Bessie wanted
to send to her sister in Alberta, ought to have two or four cents
postage on it. Carol would have taken it to the drug store and weighed
it, but then she was a dreamer, while they were practical people (as
they frequently admitted). So they sought to evolve the postal rate from
their inner consciousnesses, which, combined with entire frankness in
thinking aloud, was their method of settling all problems.

The Smails did not "believe in all this nonsense" about privacy and
reticence. When Carol left a letter from her sister on the table, she
was astounded to hear from Uncle Whittier, "I see your sister says her
husband is doing fine. You ought to go see her oftener. I asked Will
and he says you don't go see her very often. My! You ought to go see her
oftener!"

If Carol was writing a letter to a classmate, or planning the week's
menus, she could be certain that Aunt Bessie would pop in and titter,
"Now don't let me disturb you, I just wanted to see where you were,
don't stop, I'm not going to stay only a second. I just wondered if
you could possibly have thought that I didn't eat the onions this noon
because I didn't think they were properly cooked, but that wasn't the
reason at all, it wasn't because I didn't think they were well cooked,
I'm sure that everything in your house is always very dainty and nice,
though I do think that Oscarina is careless about some things, she
doesn't appreciate the big wages you pay her, and she is so cranky, all
these Swedes are so cranky, I don't really see why you have a Swede,
but----But that wasn't it, I didn't eat them not because I didn't think
they weren't cooked proper, it was just--I find that onions don't agree
with me, it's very strange, ever since I had an attack of biliousness
one time, I have found that onions, either fried onions or raw ones, and
Whittier does love raw onions with vinegar and sugar on them----"

It was pure affection.

Carol was discovering that the one thing that can be more disconcerting
than intelligent hatred is demanding love.

She supposed that she was being gracefully dull and standardized in
the Smails' presence, but they scented the heretic, and with
forward-stooping delight they sat and tried to drag out her ludicrous
concepts for their amusement. They were like the Sunday-afternoon mob
starting at monkeys in the Zoo, poking fingers and making faces and
giggling at the resentment of the more dignified race.

With a loose-lipped, superior, village smile Uncle Whittier hinted,
"What's this I hear about your thinking Gopher Prairie ought to be
all tore down and rebuilt, Carrie? I don't know where folks get these
new-fangled ideas. Lots of farmers in Dakota getting 'em these days.
About co-operation. Think they can run stores better 'n storekeepers!
Huh!"

"Whit and I didn't need no co-operation as long as we was farming!"
triumphed Aunt Bessie. "Carrie, tell your old auntie now: don't you ever
go to church on Sunday? You do go sometimes? But you ought to go every
Sunday! When you're as old as I am, you'll learn that no matter how
smart folks think they are, God knows a whole lot more than they do, and
then you'll realize and be glad to go and listen to your pastor!"

In the manner of one who has just beheld a two-headed calf they repeated
that they had "never HEARD such funny ideas!" They were staggered to
learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married
to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that
divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not
bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical
authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet
not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and
the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden; that
mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word "dude" is
no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel
who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and
business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that
it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin
in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel
organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not
always pedlers or pants-makers.

"Where does she get all them the'ries?" marveled Uncle Whittier Smail;
while Aunt Bessie inquired, "Do you suppose there's many folks got
notions like hers? My! If there are," and her tone settled the fact that
there were not, "I just don't know what the world's coming to!"

Patiently--more or less--Carol awaited the exquisite day when they would
announce departure. After three weeks Uncle Whittier remarked, "We kinda
like Gopher Prairie. Guess maybe we'll stay here. We'd been wondering
what we'd do, now we've sold the creamery and my farms. So I had a talk
with Ole Jenson about his grocery, and I guess I'll buy him out and
storekeep for a while."

He did.

Carol rebelled. Kennicott soothed her: "Oh, we won't see much of them.
They'll have their own house."

She resolved to be so chilly that they would stay away. But she had no
talent for conscious insolence. They found a house, but Carol was never
safe from their appearance with a hearty, "Thought we'd drop in this
evening and keep you from being lonely. Why, you ain't had them curtains
washed yet!" Invariably, whenever she was touched by the realization
that it was they who were lonely, they wrecked her pitying affection by
comments--questions--comments--advice.

They immediately became friendly with all of their own race, with the
Luke Dawsons, the Deacon Piersons, and Mrs. Bogart; and brought them
along in the evening. Aunt Bessie was a bridge over whom the older
women, bearing gifts of counsel and the ignorance of experience, poured
into Carol's island of reserve. Aunt Bessie urged the good Widow Bogart,
"Drop in and see Carrie real often. Young folks today don't understand
housekeeping like we do."

Mrs. Bogart showed herself perfectly willing to be an associate
relative.

Carol was thinking up protective insults when Kennicott's mother came
down to stay with Brother Whittier for two months. Carol was fond of
Mrs. Kennicott. She could not carry out her insults.

She felt trapped.

She had been kidnaped by the town. She was Aunt Bessie's niece, and she
was to be a mother. She was expected, she almost expected herself, to
sit forever talking of babies, cooks, embroidery stitches, the price of
potatoes, and the tastes of husbands in the matter of spinach.

She found a refuge in the Jolly Seventeen. She suddenly understood that
they could be depended upon to laugh with her at Mrs. Bogart, and she
now saw Juanita Haydock's gossip not as vulgarity but as gaiety and
remarkable analysis.

Her life had changed, even before Hugh appeared. She looked forward to
the next bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, and the security of whispering
with her dear friends Maud Dyer and Juanita and Mrs. McGanum.

She was part of the town. Its philosophy and its feuds dominated her.


III


She was no longer irritated by the cooing of the matrons, nor by their
opinion that diet didn't matter so long as the Little Ones had plenty of
lace and moist kisses, but she concluded that in the care of babies as
in politics, intelligence was superior to quotations about pansies. She
liked best to talk about Hugh to Kennicott, Vida, and the Bjornstams.
She was happily domestic when Kennicott sat by her on the floor, to
watch baby make faces. She was delighted when Miles, speaking as one man
to another, admonished Hugh, "I wouldn't stand them skirts if I was you.
Come on. Join the union and strike. Make 'em give you pants."

As a parent, Kennicott was moved to establish the first child-welfare
week held in Gopher Prairie. Carol helped him weigh babies and
examine their throats, and she wrote out the diets for mute German and
Scandinavian mothers.

The aristocracy of Gopher Prairie, even the wives of the rival doctors,
took part, and for several days there was community spirit and much
uplift. But this reign of love was overthrown when the prize for Best
Baby was awarded not to decent parents but to Bea and Miles Bjornstam!
The good matrons glared at Olaf Bjornstam, with his blue eyes, his
honey-colored hair, and magnificent back, and they remarked, "Well, Mrs.
Kennicott, maybe that Swede brat is as healthy as your husband says he
is, but let me tell you I hate to think of the future that awaits any
boy with a hired girl for a mother and an awful irreligious socialist
for a pa!"

She raged, but so violent was the current of their respectability, so
persistent was Aunt Bessie in running to her with their blabber, that
she was embarrassed when she took Hugh to play with Olaf. She hated
herself for it, but she hoped that no one saw her go into the Bjornstam
shanty. She hated herself and the town's indifferent cruelty when she
saw Bea's radiant devotion to both babies alike; when she saw Miles
staring at them wistfully.

He had saved money, had quit Elder's planing-mill and started a dairy
on a vacant lot near his shack. He was proud of his three cows and sixty
chickens, and got up nights to nurse them.

"I'll be a big farmer before you can bat an eye! I tell you that young
fellow Olaf is going to go East to college along with the Haydock kids.
Uh----Lots of folks dropping in to chin with Bea and me now. Say! Ma
Bogart come in one day! She was----I liked the old lady fine. And the
mill foreman comes in right along. Oh, we got lots of friends. You bet!"


IV


Though the town seemed to Carol to change no more than the surrounding
fields, there was a constant shifting, these three years. The citizen of
the prairie drifts always westward. It may be because he is the heir of
ancient migrations--and it may be because he finds within his own
spirit so little adventure that he is driven to seek it by changing his
horizon. The towns remain unvaried, yet the individual faces alter
like classes in college. The Gopher Prairie jeweler sells out, for no
discernible reason, and moves on to Alberta or the state of Washington,
to open a shop precisely like his former one, in a town precisely like
the one he has left. There is, except among professional men and the
wealthy, small permanence either of residence or occupation. A man
becomes farmer, grocer, town policeman, garageman, restaurant-owner,
postmaster, insurance-agent, and farmer all over again, and the
community more or less patiently suffers from his lack of knowledge in
each of his experiments.

Ole Jenson the grocer and Dahl the butcher moved on to South Dakota
and Idaho. Luke and Mrs. Dawson picked up ten thousand acres of prairie
soil, in the magic portable form of a small check book, and went to
Pasadena, to a bungalow and sunshine and cafeterias. Chet Dashaway sold
his furniture and undertaking business and wandered to Los Angeles,
where, the Dauntless reported, "Our good friend Chester has accepted a
fine position with a real-estate firm, and his wife has in the charming
social circles of the Queen City of the Southwestland that same
popularity which she enjoyed in our own society sets."

Rita Simons was married to Terry Gould, and rivaled Juanita Haydock as
the gayest of the Young Married Set. But Juanita also acquired merit.
Harry's father died, Harry became senior partner in the Bon Ton Store,
and Juanita was more acidulous and shrewd and cackling than ever. She
bought an evening frock, and exposed her collar-bone to the wonder of
the Jolly Seventeen, and talked of moving to Minneapolis.

To defend her position against the new Mrs. Terry Gould she sought to
attach Carol to her faction by giggling that "SOME folks might call Rita
innocent, but I've got a hunch that she isn't half as ignorant of things
as brides are supposed to be--and of course Terry isn't one-two-three as
a doctor alongside of your husband."

Carol herself would gladly have followed Mr. Ole Jenson, and migrated
even to another Main Street; flight from familiar tedium to new tedium
would have for a time the outer look and promise of adventure. She
hinted to Kennicott of the probable medical advantages of Montana and
Oregon. She knew that he was satisfied with Gopher Prairie, but it gave
her vicarious hope to think of going, to ask for railroad folders at the
station, to trace the maps with a restless forefinger.

Yet to the casual eye she was not discontented, she was not an abnormal
and distressing traitor to the faith of Main Street.

The settled citizen believes that the rebel is constantly in a stew of
complaining and, hearing of a Carol Kennicott, he gasps, "What an
awful person! She must be a Holy Terror to live with! Glad MY folks are
satisfied with things way they are!" Actually, it was not so much as
five minutes a day that Carol devoted to lonely desires. It is
probable that the agitated citizen has within his circle at least one
inarticulate rebel with aspirations as wayward as Carol's.

The presence of the baby had made her take Gopher Prairie and the brown
house seriously, as natural places of residence. She pleased Kennicott
by being friendly with the complacent maturity of Mrs. Clark and Mrs.
Elder, and when she had often enough been in conference upon the Elders'
new Cadillac car, or the job which the oldest Clark boy had taken in
the office of the flour-mill, these topics became important, things to
follow up day by day.

With nine-tenths of her emotion concentrated upon Hugh, she did not
criticize shops, streets, acquaintances . . . this year or two. She
hurried to Uncle Whittier's store for a package of corn-flakes, she
abstractedly listened to Uncle Whittier's denunciation of Martin
Mahoney for asserting that the wind last Tuesday had been south and not
southwest, she came back along streets that held no surprises nor the
startling faces of strangers. Thinking of Hugh's teething all the way,
she did not reflect that this store, these drab blocks, made up all her
background. She did her work, and she triumphed over winning from the
Clarks at five hundred.

The most considerable event of the two years after the birth of Hugh
occurred when Vida Sherwin resigned from the high school and was
married. Carol was her attendant, and as the wedding was at the
Episcopal Church, all the women wore new kid slippers and long white kid
gloves, and looked refined.

For years Carol had been little sister to Vida, and had never in the
least known to what degree Vida loved her and hated her and in curious
strained ways was bound to her.



CHAPTER XXI

I

GRAY steel that seems unmoving because it spins so fast in the balanced
fly-wheel, gray snow in an avenue of elms, gray dawn with the sun behind
it--this was the gray of Vida Sherwin's life at thirty-six.

She was small and active and sallow; her yellow hair was faded, and
looked dry; her blue silk blouses and modest lace collars and high black
shoes and sailor hats were as literal and uncharming as a schoolroom
desk; but her eyes determined her appearance, revealed her as a
personage and a force, indicated her faith in the goodness and purpose
of everything. They were blue, and they were never still; they expressed
amusement, pity, enthusiasm. If she had been seen in sleep, with the
wrinkles beside her eyes stilled and the creased lids hiding the radiant
irises, she would have lost her potency.

She was born in a hill-smothered Wisconsin village where her father
was a prosy minister; she labored through a sanctimonious college; she
taught for two years in an iron-range town of blurry-faced Tatars and
Montenegrins, and wastes of ore, and when she came to Gopher Prairie,
its trees and the shining spaciousness of the wheat prairie made her
certain that she was in paradise.

She admitted to her fellow-teachers that the schoolbuilding was
slightly damp, but she insisted that the rooms were "arranged so
conveniently--and then that bust of President McKinley at the head of
the stairs, it's a lovely art-work, and isn't it an inspiration to have
the brave, honest, martyr president to think about!" She taught French,
English, and history, and the Sophomore Latin class, which dealt in
matters of a metaphysical nature called Indirect Discourse and the
Ablative Absolute. Each year she was reconvinced that the pupils were
beginning to learn more quickly. She spent four winters in building up
the Debating Society, and when the debate really was lively one Friday
afternoon, and the speakers of pieces did not forget their lines, she
felt rewarded.

She lived an engrossed useful life, and seemed as cool and simple as an
apple. But secretly she was creeping among fears, longing, and guilt.
She knew what it was, but she dared not name it. She hated even the
sound of the word "sex." When she dreamed of being a woman of the harem,
with great white warm limbs, she awoke to shudder, defenseless in
the dusk of her room. She prayed to Jesus, always to the Son of God,
offering him the terrible power of her adoration, addressing him as the
eternal lover, growing passionate, exalted, large, as she contemplated
his splendor. Thus she mounted to endurance and surcease.

By day, rattling about in many activities, she was able to ridicule her
blazing nights of darkness. With spurious cheerfulness she announced
everywhere, "I guess I'm a born spinster," and "No one will ever marry
a plain schoolma'am like me," and "You men, great big noisy bothersome
creatures, we women wouldn't have you round the place, dirtying up nice
clean rooms, if it wasn't that you have to be petted and guided. We just
ought to say 'Scat!' to all of you!"

But when a man held her close at a dance, even when "Professor"
George Edwin Mott patted her hand paternally as they considered the
naughtinesses of Cy Bogart, she quivered, and reflected how superior she
was to have kept her virginity.

In the autumn of 1911, a year before Dr. Will Kennicott was married,
Vida was his partner at a five-hundred tournament. She was thirty-four
then; Kennicott about thirty-six. To her he was a superb, boyish,
diverting creature; all the heroic qualities in a manly magnificent
body. They had been helping the hostess to serve the Waldorf salad and
coffee and gingerbread. They were in the kitchen, side by side on a
bench, while the others ponderously supped in the room beyond.

Kennicott was masculine and experimental. He stroked Vida's hand, he put
his arm carelessly about her shoulder.

"Don't!" she said sharply.

"You're a cunning thing," he offered, patting the back of her shoulder
in an exploratory manner.

While she strained away, she longed to move nearer to him. He bent over,
looked at her knowingly. She glanced down at his left hand as it touched
her knee. She sprang up, started noisily and needlessly to wash the
dishes. He helped her. He was too lazy to adventure further--and too
used to women in his profession. She was grateful for the impersonality
of his talk. It enabled her to gain control. She knew that she had
skirted wild thoughts.

A month after, on a sleighing-party, under the buffalo robes in the
bob-sled, he whispered, "You pretend to be a grown-up schoolteacher, but
you're nothing but a kiddie." His arm was about her. She resisted.

"Don't you like the poor lonely bachelor?" he yammered in a fatuous way.

"No, I don't! You don't care for me in the least. You're just practising
on me."

"You're so mean! I'm terribly fond of you."

"I'm not of you. And I'm not going to let myself be fond of you,
either."

He persistently drew her toward him. She clutched his arm. Then she
threw off the robe, climbed out of the sled, raced after it with Harry
Haydock. At the dance which followed the sleigh-ride Kennicott was
devoted to the watery prettiness of Maud Dyer, and Vida was noisily
interested in getting up a Virginia Reel. Without seeming to watch
Kennicott, she knew that he did not once look at her.

That was all of her first love-affair.

He gave no sign of remembering that he was "terribly fond." She waited
for him; she reveled in longing, and in a sense of guilt because she
longed. She told herself that she did not want part of him; unless he
gave her all his devotion she would never let him touch her; and when
she found that she was probably lying, she burned with scorn. She fought
it out in prayer. She knelt in a pink flannel nightgown, her thin hair
down her back, her forehead as full of horror as a mask of tragedy,
while she identified her love for the Son of God with her love for a
mortal, and wondered if any other woman had ever been so sacrilegious.
She wanted to be a nun and observe perpetual adoration. She bought a
rosary, but she had been so bitterly reared as a Protestant that she
could not bring herself to use it.

Yet none of her intimates in the school and in the boarding-house knew
of her abyss of passion. They said she was "so optimistic."

When she heard that Kennicott was to marry a girl, pretty, young, and
imposingly from the Cities, Vida despaired. She congratulated Kennicott;
carelessly ascertained from him the hour of marriage. At that hour,
sitting in her room, Vida pictured the wedding in St. Paul. Full of an
ecstasy which horrified her, she followed Kennicott and the girl who had
stolen her place, followed them to the train, through the evening, the
night.

She was relieved when she had worked out a belief that she wasn't really
shameful, that there was a mystical relation between herself and Carol,
so that she was vicariously yet veritably with Kennicott, and had the
right to be.

She saw Carol during the first five minutes in Gopher Prairie. She
stared at the passing motor, at Kennicott and the girl beside him. In
that fog world of transference of emotion Vida had no normal jealousy
but a conviction that, since through Carol she had received Kennicott's
love, then Carol was a part of her, an astral self, a heightened and
more beloved self. She was glad of the girl's charm, of the smooth black
hair, the airy head and young shoulders. But she was suddenly angry.
Carol glanced at her for a quarter-second, but looked past her, at an
old roadside barn. If she had made the great sacrifice, at least she
expected gratitude and recognition, Vida raged, while her conscious
schoolroom mind fussily begged her to control this insanity.

During her first call half of her wanted to welcome a fellow reader of
books; the other half itched to find out whether Carol knew anything
about Kennicott's former interest in herself. She discovered that Carol
was not aware that he had ever touched another woman's hand. Carol was
an amusing, naive, curiously learned child. While Vida was most actively
describing the glories of the Thanatopsis, and complimenting this
librarian on her training as a worker, she was fancying that this girl
was the child born of herself and Kennicott; and out of that symbolizing
she had a comfort she had not known for months.

When she came home, after supper with the Kennicotts and Guy Pollock,
she had a sudden and rather pleasant backsliding from devotion. She
bustled into her room, she slammed her hat on the bed, and chattered, "I
don't CARE! I'm a lot like her--except a few years older. I'm light and
quick, too, and I can talk just as well as she can, and I'm sure----Men
are such fools. I'd be ten times as sweet to make love to as that dreamy
baby. And I AM as good-looking!"

But as she sat on the bed and stared at her thin thighs, defiance oozed
away. She mourned:

"No. I'm not. Dear God, how we fool ourselves! I pretend I'm
'spiritual.' I pretend my legs are graceful. They aren't. They're
skinny. Old-maidish. I hate it! I hate that impertinent young woman! A
selfish cat, taking his love for granted. . . . No, she's adorable. . . .
I don't think she ought to be so friendly with Guy Pollock."

For a year Vida loved Carol, longed to and did not pry into the details
of her relations with Kennicott, enjoyed her spirit of play as expressed
in childish tea-parties, and, with the mystic bond between them
forgotten, was healthily vexed by Carol's assumption that she was a
sociological messiah come to save Gopher Prairie. This last facet of
Vida's thought was the one which, after a year, was most often turned to
the light. In a testy way she brooded, "These people that want to change
everything all of a sudden without doing any work, make me tired! Here I
have to go and work for four years, picking out the pupils for
debates, and drilling them, and nagging at them to get them to look up
references, and begging them to choose their own subjects--four years,
to get up a couple of good debates! And she comes rushing in, and
expects in one year to change the whole town into a lollypop paradise
with everybody stopping everything else to grow tulips and drink tea.
And it's a comfy homey old town, too!"

She had such an outburst after each of Carol's campaigns--for better
Thanatopsis programs, for Shavian plays, for more human schools--but she
never betrayed herself, and always she was penitent.

Vida was, and always would be, a reformer, a liberal. She believed that
details could excitingly be altered, but that things-in-general were
comely and kind and immutable. Carol was, without understanding or
accepting it, a revolutionist, a radical, and therefore possessed of
"constructive ideas," which only the destroyer can have, since the
reformer believes that all the essential constructing has already been
done. After years of intimacy it was this unexpressed opposition more
than the fancied loss of Kennicott's love which held Vida irritably
fascinated.

But the birth of Hugh revived the transcendental emotion. She was
indignant that Carol should not be utterly fulfilled in having borne
Kennicott's child. She admitted that Carol seemed to have affection and
immaculate care for the baby, but she began to identify herself now with
Kennicott, and in this phase to feel that she had endured quite too much
from Carol's instability.

She recalled certain other women who had come from the Outside and had
not appreciated Gopher Prairie. She remembered the rector's wife who had
been chilly to callers and who was rumored throughout the town to
have said, "Re-ah-ly I cawn't endure this bucolic heartiness in the
responses." The woman was positively known to have worn handkerchiefs in
her bodice as padding--oh, the town had simply roared at her. Of course
the rector and she were got rid of in a few months.

Then there was the mysterious woman with the dyed hair and penciled
eyebrows, who wore tight English dresses, like basques, who smelled of
stale musk, who flirted with the men and got them to advance money
for her expenses in a lawsuit, who laughed at Vida's reading at a
school-entertainment, and went off owing a hotel-bill and the three
hundred dollars she had borrowed.

Vida insisted that she loved Carol, but with some satisfaction she
compared her to these traducers of the town.


II


Vida had enjoyed Raymie Wutherspoon's singing in the Episcopal choir;
she had thoroughly reviewed the weather with him at Methodist sociables
and in the Bon Ton. But she did not really know him till she moved to
Mrs. Gurrey's boarding-house. It was five years after her affair with
Kennicott. She was thirty-nine, Raymie perhaps a year younger.

She said to him, and sincerely, "My! You can do anything, with your
brains and tact and that heavenly voice. You were so good in 'The Girl
from Kankakee.' You made me feel terribly stupid. If you'd gone on the
stage, I believe you'd be just as good as anybody in Minneapolis. But
still, I'm not sorry you stuck to business. It's such a constructive
career."

"Do you really think so?" yearned Raymie, across the apple-sauce.

It was the first time that either of them had found a dependable
intellectual companionship. They looked down on Willis Woodford the
bank-clerk, and his anxious babycentric wife, the silent Lyman Casses,
the slangy traveling man, and the rest of Mrs. Gurrey's unenlightened
guests. They sat opposite, and they sat late. They were exhilarated to
find that they agreed in confession of faith:

"People like Sam Clark and Harry Haydock aren't earnest about music and
pictures and eloquent sermons and really refined movies, but then, on
the other hand, people like Carol Kennicott put too much stress on all
this art. Folks ought to appreciate lovely things, but just the same,
they got to be practical and--they got to look at things in a practical
way."

Smiling, passing each other the pressed-glass pickle-dish, seeing Mrs.
Gurrey's linty supper-cloth irradiated by the light of intimacy, Vida
and Raymie talked about Carol's rose-colored turban, Carol's sweetness,
Carol's new low shoes, Carol's erroneous theory that there was no need
of strict discipline in school, Carol's amiability in the Bon Ton,
Carol's flow of wild ideas, which, honestly, just simply made you
nervous trying to keep track of them.

About the lovely display of gents' shirts in the Bon Ton window as
dressed by Raymie, about Raymie's offertory last Sunday, the fact that
there weren't any of these new solos as nice as "Jerusalem the Golden,"
and the way Raymie stood up to Juanita Haydock when she came into the
store and tried to run things and he as much as told her that she was
so anxious to have folks think she was smart and bright that she
said things she didn't mean, and anyway, Raymie was running the
shoe-department, and if Juanita, or Harry either, didn't like the way he
ran things, they could go get another man.

About Vida's new jabot which made her look thirty-two (Vida's estimate)
or twenty-two (Raymie's estimate), Vida's plan to have the high-school
Debating Society give a playlet, and the difficulty of keeping the
younger boys well behaved on the playground when a big lubber like Cy
Bogart acted up so.

About the picture post-card which Mrs. Dawson had sent to Mrs. Cass from
Pasadena, showing roses growing right outdoors in February, the change
in time on No. 4, the reckless way Dr. Gould always drove his auto, the
reckless way almost all these people drove their autos, the fallacy of
supposing that these socialists could carry on a government for as much
as six months if they ever did have a chance to try out their theories,
and the crazy way in which Carol jumped from subject to subject.

Vida had once beheld Raymie as a thin man with spectacles, mournful
drawn-out face, and colorless stiff hair. Now she noted that his jaw was
square, that his long hands moved quickly and were bleached in a refined
manner, and that his trusting eyes indicated that he had "led a clean
life." She began to call him "Ray," and to bounce in defense of his
unselfishness and thoughtfulness every time Juanita Haydock or Rita
Gould giggled about him at the Jolly Seventeen.

On a Sunday afternoon of late autumn they walked down to Lake
Minniemashie. Ray said that he would like to see the ocean; it must be a
grand sight; it must be much grander than a lake, even a great big lake.
Vida had seen it, she stated modestly; she had seen it on a summer trip
to Cape Cod.

"Have you been clear to Cape Cod? Massachusetts? I knew you'd traveled,
but I never realized you'd been that far!"

Made taller and younger by his interest she poured out, "Oh my yes.
It was a wonderful trip. So many points of interest through
Massachusetts--historical. There's Lexington where we turned back
the redcoats, and Longfellow's home at Cambridge, and Cape Cod--just
everything--fishermen and whale-ships and sand-dunes and everything."

She wished that she had a little cane to carry. He broke off a willow
branch.

"My, you're strong!" she said.

"No, not very. I wish there was a Y. M. C. A. here, so I could take up
regular exercise. I used to think I could do pretty good acrobatics, if
I had a chance."

"I'm sure you could. You're unusually lithe, for a large man."

"Oh no, not so very. But I wish we had a Y. M. It would be dandy to have
lectures and everything, and I'd like to take a class in improving
the memory--I believe a fellow ought to go on educating himself and
improving his mind even if he is in business, don't you, Vida--I guess
I'm kind of fresh to call you 'Vida'!"

"I've been calling you 'Ray' for weeks!"

He wondered why she sounded tart.

He helped her down the bank to the edge of the lake but dropped her hand
abruptly, and as they sat on a willow log and he brushed her sleeve, he
delicately moved over and murmured, "Oh, excuse me--accident."

She stared at the mud-browned chilly water, the floating gray reeds.

"You look so thoughtful," he said.

She threw out her hands. "I am! Will you kindly tell me what's the use
of--anything! Oh, don't mind me. I'm a moody old hen. Tell me about your
plan for getting a partnership in the Bon Ton. I do think you're right:
Harry Haydock and that mean old Simons ought to give you one."

He hymned the old unhappy wars in which he had been Achilles and the
mellifluous Nestor, yet gone his righteous ways unheeded by the cruel
kings. . . . "Why, if I've told 'em once, I've told 'em a dozen times to
get in a side-line of light-weight pants for gents' summer wear, and of
course here they go and let a cheap kike like Rifkin beat them to it and
grab the trade right off 'em, and then Harry said--you know how Harry
is, maybe he don't mean to be grouchy, but he's such a sore-head----"

He gave her a hand to rise. "If you don't MIND. I think a fellow is
awful if a lady goes on a walk with him and she can't trust him and he
tries to flirt with her and all."

"I'm sure you're highly trustworthy!" she snapped, and she sprang up
without his aid. Then, smiling excessively, "Uh--don't you think Carol
sometimes fails to appreciate Dr. Will's ability?"


III


Ray habitually asked her about his window-trimming, the display of the
new shoes, the best music for the entertainment at the Eastern Star, and
(though he was recognized as a professional authority on what the town
called "gents' furnishings") about his own clothes. She persuaded him
not to wear the small bow ties which made him look like an elongated
Sunday School scholar. Once she burst out:

"Ray, I could shake you! Do you know you're too apologetic? You always
appreciate other people too much. You fuss over Carol Kennicott when she
has some crazy theory that we all ought to turn anarchists or live on
figs and nuts or something. And you listen when Harry Haydock tries to
show off and talk about turnovers and credits and things you know lots
better than he does. Look folks in the eye! Glare at 'em! Talk deep!
You're the smartest man in town, if you only knew it. You ARE!"

He could not believe it. He kept coming back to her for confirmation. He
practised glaring and talking deep, but he circuitously hinted to Vida
that when he had tried to look Harry Haydock in the eye, Harry had
inquired, "What's the matter with you, Raymie? Got a pain?" But
afterward Harry had asked about Kantbeatum socks in a manner which, Ray
felt, was somehow different from his former condescension.

They were sitting on the squat yellow satin settee in the boarding-house
parlor. As Ray reannounced that he simply wouldn't stand it many more
years if Harry didn't give him a partnership, his gesticulating hand
touched Vida's shoulders.

"Oh, excuse me!" he pleaded.

"It's all right. Well, I think I must be running up to my room.
Headache," she said briefly.


IV


Ray and she had stopped in at Dyer's for a hot chocolate on their way
home from the movies, that March evening. Vida speculated, "Do you know
that I may not be here next year?"

"What do you mean?"

With her fragile narrow nails she smoothed the glass slab which formed
the top of the round table at which they sat. She peeped through the
glass at the perfume-boxes of black and gold and citron in the hollow
table. She looked about at shelves of red rubber water-bottles, pale
yellow sponges, wash-rags with blue borders, hair-brushes of polished
cherry backs. She shook her head like a nervous medium coming out of a
trance, stared at him unhappily, demanded:

"Why should I stay here? And I must make up my mind. Now. Time to renew
our teaching-contracts for next year. I think I'll go teach in some
other town. Everybody here is tired of me. I might as well go. Before
folks come out and SAY they're tired of me. I have to decide tonight. I
might as well----Oh, no matter. Come. Let's skip. It's late."

She sprang up, ignoring his wail of "Vida! Wait! Sit down! Gosh! I'm
flabbergasted! Gee! Vida!" She marched out. While he was paying his
check she got ahead. He ran after her, blubbering, "Vida! Wait!" In the
shade of the lilacs in front of the Gougerling house he came up with
her, stayed her flight by a hand on her shoulder.

"Oh, don't! Don't! What does it matter?" she begged. She was sobbing,
her soft wrinkly lids soaked with tears. "Who cares for my affection or
help? I might as well drift on, forgotten. O Ray, please don't hold
me. Let me go. I'll just decide not to renew my contract here, and--and
drift--way off----"

His hand was steady on her shoulder. She dropped her head, rubbed the
back of his hand with her cheek.

They were married in June.


V


They took the Ole Jenson house. "It's small," said Vida, "but it's got
the dearest vegetable garden, and I love having time to get near to
Nature for once."

Though she became Vida Wutherspoon technically, and though she certainly
had no ideals about the independence of keeping her name, she continued
to be known as Vida Sherwin.

She had resigned from the school, but she kept up one class in English.
She bustled about on every committee of the Thanatopsis; she was always
popping into the rest-room to make Mrs. Nodelquist sweep the floor;
she was appointed to the library-board to succeed Carol; she taught the
Senior Girls' Class in the Episcopal Sunday School, and tried to revive
the King's Daughters. She exploded into self-confidence and happiness;
her draining thoughts were by marriage turned into energy. She became
daily and visibly more plump, and though she chattered as eagerly, she
was less obviously admiring of marital bliss, less sentimental about
babies, sharper in demanding that the entire town share her reforms--the
purchase of a park, the compulsory cleaning of back-yards.

She penned Harry Haydock at his desk in the Bon Ton; she interrupted
his joking; she told him that it was Ray who had built up the
shoe-department and men's department; she demanded that he be made a
partner. Before Harry could answer she threatened that Ray and she would
start a rival shop. "I'll clerk behind the counter myself, and a Certain
Party is all ready to put up the money."

She rather wondered who the Certain Party was.

Ray was made a one-sixth partner.

He became a glorified floor-walker, greeting the men with new poise, no
longer coyly subservient to pretty women. When he was not affectionately
coercing people into buying things they did not need, he stood at the
back of the store, glowing, abstracted, feeling masculine as he recalled
the tempestuous surprises of love revealed by Vida.

The only remnant of Vida's identification of herself with Carol was a
jealousy when she saw Kennicott and Ray together, and reflected that
some people might suppose that Kennicott was his superior. She was sure
that Carol thought so, and she wanted to shriek, "You needn't try to
gloat! I wouldn't have your pokey old husband. He hasn't one single bit
of Ray's spiritual nobility."



CHAPTER XXII

I

THE greatest mystery about a human being is not his reaction to sex or
praise, but the manner in which he contrives to put in twenty-four hours
a day. It is this which puzzles the long-shoreman about the clerk, the
Londoner about the bushman. It was this which puzzled Carol in regard
to the married Vida. Carol herself had the baby, a larger house to care
for, all the telephone calls for Kennicott when he was away; and she
read everything, while Vida was satisfied with newspaper headlines.

But after detached brown years in boarding-houses, Vida was hungry for
housework, for the most pottering detail of it. She had no maid, nor
wanted one. She cooked, baked, swept, washed supper-cloths, with
the triumph of a chemist in a new laboratory. To her the hearth was
veritably the altar. When she went shopping she hugged the cans of soup,
and she bought a mop or a side of bacon as though she were preparing for
a reception. She knelt beside a bean sprout and crooned, "I raised this
with my own hands--I brought this new life into the world."

"I love her for being so happy," Carol brooded. "I ought to be that way.
I worship the baby, but the housework----Oh, I suppose I'm fortunate; so
much better off than farm-women on a new clearing, or people in a slum."

It has not yet been recorded that any human being has gained a very
large or permanent contentment from meditation upon the fact that he is
better off than others.

In Carol's own twenty-four hours a day she got up, dressed the baby, had
breakfast, talked to Oscarina about the day's shopping, put the baby on
the porch to play, went to the butcher's to choose between steak and
pork chops, bathed the baby, nailed up a shelf, had dinner, put the baby
to bed for a nap, paid the iceman, read for an hour, took the baby out
for a walk, called on Vida, had supper, put the baby to bed, darned
socks, listened to Kennicott's yawning comment on what a fool Dr.
McGanum was to try to use that cheap X-ray outfit of his on an
epithelioma, repaired a frock, drowsily heard Kennicott stoke the
furnace, tried to read a page of Thorstein Veblen--and the day was gone.

Except when Hugh was vigorously naughty, or whiney, or laughing,
or saying "I like my chair" with thrilling maturity, she was always
enfeebled by loneliness. She no longer felt superior about that
misfortune. She would gladly have been converted to Vida's satisfaction
in Gopher Prairie and mopping the floor.


II


Carol drove through an astonishing number of books from the public
library and from city shops. Kennicott was at first uncomfortable over
her disconcerting habit of buying them. A book was a book, and if you
had several thousand of them right here in the library, free, why the
dickens should you spend your good money? After worrying about it for
two or three years, he decided that this was one of the Funny Ideas
which she had caught as a librarian and from which she would never
entirely recover.

The authors whom she read were most of them frightfully annoyed by the
Vida Sherwins. They were young American sociologists, young English
realists, Russian horrorists; Anatole France, Rolland, Nexo, Wells,
Shaw, Key, Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Henry
Mencken, and all the other subversive philosophers and artists whom
women were consulting everywhere, in batik-curtained studios in New
York, in Kansas farmhouses, San Francisco drawing-rooms, Alabama schools
for negroes. From them she got the same confused desire which the
million other women felt; the same determination to be class-conscious
without discovering the class of which she was to be conscious.

Certainly her reading precipitated her observations of Main Street, of
Gopher Prairie and of the several adjacent Gopher Prairies which she had
seen on drives with Kennicott. In her fluid thought certain convictions
appeared, jaggedly, a fragment of an impression at a time, while she was
going to sleep, or manicuring her nails, or waiting for Kennicott.

These convictions she presented to Vida Sherwin--Vida
Wutherspoon--beside a radiator, over a bowl of not very good walnuts and
pecans from Uncle Whittier's grocery, on an evening when both Kennicott
and Raymie had gone out of town with the other officers of the Ancient
and Affiliated Order of Spartans, to inaugurate a new chapter at
Wakamin. Vida had come to the house for the night. She helped in putting
Hugh to bed, sputtering the while about his soft skin. Then they talked
till midnight.

What Carol said that evening, what she was passionately thinking, was
also emerging in the minds of women in ten thousand Gopher Prairies. Her
formulations were not pat solutions but visions of a tragic futility.
She did not utter them so compactly that they can be given in her words;
they were roughened with "Well, you see" and "if you get what I mean"
and "I don't know that I'm making myself clear." But they were definite
enough, and indignant enough.


III


In reading popular stories and seeing plays, asserted Carol, she
had found only two traditions of the American small town. The first
tradition, repeated in scores of magazines every month, is that the
American village remains the one sure abode of friendship, honesty,
and clean sweet marriageable girls. Therefore all men who succeed in
painting in Paris or in finance in New York at last become weary of
smart women, return to their native towns, assert that cities are
vicious, marry their childhood sweethearts and, presumably, joyously
abide in those towns until death.

The other tradition is that the significant features of all villages are
whiskers, iron dogs upon lawns, gold bricks, checkers, jars of gilded
cat-tails, and shrewd comic old men who are known as "hicks" and who
ejaculate "Waal I swan." This altogether admirable tradition rules
the vaudeville stage, facetious illustrators, and syndicated newspaper
humor, but out of actual life it passed forty years ago. Carol's small
town thinks not in hoss-swapping but in cheap motor cars,
telephones, ready-made clothes, silos, alfalfa, kodaks, phonographs,
leather-upholstered Morris chairs, bridge-prizes, oil-stocks,
motion-pictures, land-deals, unread sets of Mark Twain, and a chaste
version of national politics.

With such a small-town life a Kennicott or a Champ Perry is content, but
there are also hundreds of thousands, particularly women and young men,
who are not at all content. The more intelligent young people (and the
fortunate widows!) flee to the cities with agility and, despite the
fictional tradition, resolutely stay there, seldom returning even for
holidays. The most protesting patriots of the towns leave them in old
age, if they can afford it, and go to live in California or in the
cities.

The reason, Carol insisted, is not a whiskered rusticity. It is nothing
so amusing!

It is an unimaginatively standardized background, a sluggishness of
speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit by the desire to appear
respectable. It is contentment . . . the contentment of the quiet
dead, who are scornful of the living for their restless walking. It is
negation canonized as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of
happiness. It is slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness
made God.

A savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterward,
coatless and thoughtless, in rocking-chairs prickly with inane
decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things
about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves as the
greatest race in the world.


IV


She had inquired as to the effect of this dominating dullness upon
foreigners. She remembered the feeble exotic quality to be found in the
first-generation Scandinavians; she recalled the Norwegian Fair at the
Lutheran Church, to which Bea had taken her. There, in the bondestue,
the replica of a Norse farm kitchen, pale women in scarlet jackets
embroidered with gold thread and colored beads, in black skirts with a
line of blue, green-striped aprons, and ridged caps very pretty to set
off a fresh face, had served rommegrod og lefse--sweet cakes and sour
milk pudding spiced with cinnamon. For the first time in Gopher Prairie
Carol had found novelty. She had reveled in the mild foreignness of it.

But she saw these Scandinavian women zealously exchanging their spiced
puddings and red jackets for fried pork chops and congealed white
blouses, trading the ancient Christmas hymns of the fjords for "She's My
Jazzland Cutie," being Americanized into uniformity, and in less than
a generation losing in the grayness whatever pleasant new customs
they might have added to the life of the town. Their sons finished the
process. In ready-made clothes and ready-made high-school phrases they
sank into propriety, and the sound American customs had absorbed without
one trace of pollution another alien invasion.

And along with these foreigners, she felt herself being ironed into
glossy mediocrity, and she rebelled, in fear.

The respectability of the Gopher Prairies, said Carol, is reinforced by
vows of poverty and chastity in the matter of knowledge. Except for
half a dozen in each town the citizens are proud of that achievement
of ignorance which it is so easy to come by. To be "intellectual" or
"artistic" or, in their own word, to be "highbrow," is to be priggish
and of dubious virtue.

Large experiments in politics and in co-operative distribution, ventures
requiring knowledge, courage, and imagination, do originate in the West
and Middlewest, but they are not of the towns, they are of the farmers.
If these heresies are supported by the townsmen it is only by occasional
teachers doctors, lawyers, the labor unions, and workmen like Miles
Bjornstam, who are punished by being mocked as "cranks," as "half-baked
parlor socialists." The editor and the rector preach at them. The cloud
of serene ignorance submerges them in unhappiness and futility.


V


Here Vida observed, "Yes--well----Do you know, I've always thought
that Ray would have made a wonderful rector. He has what I call an
essentially religious soul. My! He'd have read the service beautifully!
I suppose it's too late now, but as I tell him, he can also serve
the world by selling shoes and----I wonder if we oughtn't to have
family-prayers?"


VI


Doubtless all small towns, in all countries, in all ages, Carol
admitted, have a tendency to be not only dull but mean, bitter, infested
with curiosity. In France or Tibet quite as much as in Wyoming or
Indiana these timidities are inherent in isolation.

But a village in a country which is taking pains to become altogether
standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed Victorian England as the
chief mediocrity of the world, is no longer merely provincial, no longer
downy and restful in its leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking
to dominate the earth, to drain the hills and sea of color, to set Dante
at boosting Gopher Prairie, and to dress the high gods in Klassy Kollege
Klothes. Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations, as a traveling
salesman in a brown derby conquers the wisdom of China and tacks
advertisements of cigarettes over arches for centuries dedicate to the
sayings of Confucius.

Such a society functions admirably in the large production of cheap
automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors. But it is not satisfied
until the entire world also admits that the end and joyous purpose of
living is to ride in flivvers, to make advertising-pictures of dollar
watches, and in the twilight to sit talking not of love and courage but
of the convenience of safety razors.

And such a society, such a nation, is determined by the Gopher Prairies.
The greatest manufacturer is but a busier Sam Clark, and all the rotund
senators and presidents are village lawyers and bankers grown nine feet
tall.

Though a Gopher Prairie regards itself as a part of the Great World,
compares itself to Rome and Vienna, it will not acquire the scientific
spirit, the international mind, which would make it great. It picks at
information which will visibly procure money or social distinction.
Its conception of a community ideal is not the grand manner, the noble
aspiration, the fine aristocratic pride, but cheap labor for the kitchen
and rapid increase in the price of land. It plays at cards on greasy
oil-cloth in a shanty, and does not know that prophets are walking and
talking on the terrace.

If all the provincials were as kindly as Champ Perry and Sam Clark there
would be no reason for desiring the town to seek great traditions. It is
the Harry Haydocks, the Dave Dyers, the Jackson Elders, small busy men
crushingly powerful in their common purpose, viewing themselves as men
of the world but keeping themselves men of the cash-register and the
comic film, who make the town a sterile oligarchy.


VII


She had sought to be definite in analyzing the surface ugliness of
the Gopher Prairies. She asserted that it is a matter of universal
similarity; of flimsiness of construction, so that the towns resemble
frontier camps; of neglect of natural advantages, so that the hills
are covered with brush, the lakes shut off by railroads, and the
creeks lined with dumping-grounds; of depressing sobriety of color;
rectangularity of buildings; and excessive breadth and straightness of
the gashed streets, so that there is no escape from gales and from sight
of the grim sweep of land, nor any windings to coax the loiterer along,
while the breadth which would be majestic in an avenue of palaces makes
the low shabby shops creeping down the typical Main Street the more mean
by comparison.

The universal similarity--that is the physical expression of the
philosophy of dull safety. Nine-tenths of the American towns are so
alike that it is the completest boredom to wander from one to another.
Always, west of Pittsburg, and often, east of it, there is the same
lumber yard, the same railroad station, the same Ford garage, the same
creamery, the same box-like houses and two-story shops. The new, more
conscious houses are alike in their very attempts at diversity: the same
bungalows, the same square houses of stucco or tapestry brick. The shops
show the same standardized, nationally advertised wares; the newspapers
of sections three thousand miles apart have the same "syndicated
features"; the boy in Arkansas displays just such a flamboyant
ready-made suit as is found on just such a boy in Delaware, both of them
iterate the same slang phrases from the same sporting-pages, and if
one of them is in college and the other is a barber, no one may surmise
which is which.

If Kennicott were snatched from Gopher Prairie and instantly conveyed
to a town leagues away, he would not realize it. He would go down
apparently the same Main Street (almost certainly it would be called
Main Street); in the same drug store he would see the same young man
serving the same ice-cream soda to the same young woman with the same
magazines and phonograph records under her arm. Not till he had climbed
to his office and found another sign on the door, another Dr. Kennicott
inside, would he understand that something curious had presumably
happened.

Finally, behind all her comments, Carol saw the fact that the prairie
towns no more exist to serve the farmers who are their reason of
existence than do the great capitals; they exist to fatten on the
farmers, to provide for the townsmen large motors and social preferment;
and, unlike the capitals, they do not give to the district in return for
usury a stately and permanent center, but only this ragged camp. It is a
"parasitic Greek civilization"--minus the civilization.

"There we are then," said Carol. "The remedy? Is there any? Criticism,
perhaps, for the beginning of the beginning. Oh, there's nothing that
attacks the Tribal God Mediocrity that doesn't help a little . . . and
probably there's nothing that helps very much. Perhaps some day the
farmers will build and own their market-towns. (Think of the club they
could have!) But I'm afraid I haven't any 'reform program.' Not any
more! The trouble is spiritual, and no League or Party can enact a
preference for gardens rather than dumping-grounds. . . . There's my
confession. WELL?"

"In other words, all you want is perfection?"

"Yes! Why not?"

"How you hate this place! How can you expect to do anything with it if
you haven't any sympathy?"

"But I have! And affection. Or else I wouldn't fume so. I've learned
that Gopher Prairie isn't just an eruption on the prairie, as I thought
first, but as large as New York. In New York I wouldn't know more than
forty or fifty people, and I know that many here. Go on! Say what you're
thinking."

"Well, my dear, if I DID take all your notions seriously, it would be
pretty discouraging. Imagine how a person would feel, after working hard
for years and helping to build up a nice town, to have you airily flit
in and simply say 'Rotten!' Think that's fair?"

"Why not? It must be just as discouraging for the Gopher Prairieite to
see Venice and make comparisons."

"It would not! I imagine gondolas are kind of nice to ride in, but we've
got better bath-rooms! But----My dear, you're not the only person in
this town who has done some thinking for herself, although (pardon my
rudeness) I'm afraid you think so. I'll admit we lack some things. Maybe
our theater isn't as good as shows in Paris. All right! I don't want
to see any foreign culture suddenly forced on us--whether it's
street-planning or table-manners or crazy communistic ideas."

Vida sketched what she termed "practical things that will make a happier
and prettier town, but that do belong to our life, that actually are
being done." Of the Thanatopsis Club she spoke; of the rest-room, the
fight against mosquitos, the campaign for more gardens and shade-trees
and sewers--matters not fantastic and nebulous and distant, but
immediate and sure.

Carol's answer was fantastic and nebulous enough:

"Yes. . . . Yes. . . . I know. They're good. But if I could put through
all those reforms at once, I'd still want startling, exotic things. Life
is comfortable and clean enough here already. And so secure. What it
needs is to be less secure, more eager. The civic improvements which
I'd like the Thanatopsis to advocate are Strindberg plays, and classic
dancers--exquisite legs beneath tulle--and (I can see him so clearly!)
a thick, black-bearded, cynical Frenchman who would sit about and drink
and sing opera and tell bawdy stories and laugh at our proprieties and
quote Rabelais and not be ashamed to kiss my hand!"

"Huh! Not sure about the rest of it but I guess that's what you and all
the other discontented young women really want: some stranger kissing
your hand!" At Carol's gasp, the old squirrel-like Vida darted out and
cried, "Oh, my dear, don't take that too seriously. I just meant----"

"I know. You just meant it. Go on. Be good for my soul. Isn't it funny:
here we all are--me trying to be good for Gopher Prairie's soul, and
Gopher Prairie trying to be good for my soul. What are my other sins?"

"Oh, there's plenty of them. Possibly some day we shall have your fat
cynical Frenchman (horrible, sneering, tobacco-stained object, ruining
his brains and his digestion with vile liquor!) but, thank heaven, for
a while we'll manage to keep busy with our lawns and pavements! You see,
these things really are coming! The Thanatopsis is getting somewhere.
And you----" Her tone italicized the words--"to my great disappointment,
are doing less, not more, than the people you laugh at! Sam Clark,
on the school-board, is working for better school ventilation. Ella
Stowbody (whose elocuting you always think is so absurd) has persuaded
the railroad to share the expense of a parked space at the station, to
do away with that vacant lot.

"You sneer so easily. I'm sorry, but I do think there's something
essentially cheap in your attitude. Especially about religion.

"If you must know, you're not a sound reformer at all. You're an
impossibilist. And you give up too easily. You gave up on the new
city hall, the anti-fly campaign, club papers, the library-board, the
dramatic association--just because we didn't graduate into Ibsen the
very first thing. You want perfection all at once. Do you know what the
finest thing you've done is--aside from bringing Hugh into the world?
It was the help you gave Dr. Will during baby-welfare week. You didn't
demand that each baby be a philosopher and artist before you weighed
him, as you do with the rest of us.

"And now I'm afraid perhaps I'll hurt you. We're going to have a new
schoolbuilding in this town--in just a few years--and we'll have it
without one bit of help or interest from you!

"Professor Mott and I and some others have been dinging away at the
moneyed men for years. We didn't call on you because you would never
stand the pound-pound-pounding year after year without one bit of
encouragement. And we've won! I've got the promise of everybody who
counts that just as soon as war-conditions permit, they'll vote the
bonds for the schoolhouse. And we'll have a wonderful building--lovely
brown brick, with big windows, and agricultural and manual-training
departments. When we get it, that'll be my answer to all your theories!"

"I'm glad. And I'm ashamed I haven't had any part in getting it.
But----Please don't think I'm unsympathetic if I ask one question: Will
the teachers in the hygienic new building go on informing the children
that Persia is a yellow spot on the map, and 'Caesar' the title of a
book of grammatical puzzles?"


VIII


Vida was indignant; Carol was apologetic; they talked for another hour,
the eternal Mary and Martha--an immoralist Mary and a reformist Martha.
It was Vida who conquered.

The fact that she had been left out of the campaign for the new
schoolbuilding disconcerted Carol. She laid her dreams of perfection
aside. When Vida asked her to take charge of a group of Camp Fire Girls,
she obeyed, and had definite pleasure out of the Indian dances and
ritual and costumes. She went more regularly to the Thanatopsis. With
Vida as lieutenant and unofficial commander she campaigned for a village
nurse to attend poor families, raised the fund herself, saw to it that
the nurse was young and strong and amiable and intelligent.

Yet all the while she beheld the burly cynical Frenchman and the
diaphanous dancers as clearly as the child sees its air-born playmates;
she relished the Camp Fire Girls not because, in Vida's words, "this
Scout training will help so much to make them Good Wives," but because
she hoped that the Sioux dances would bring subversive color into their
dinginess.

She helped Ella Stowbody to set out plants in the tiny triangular park
at the railroad station; she squatted in the dirt, with a small curved
trowel and the most decorous of gardening gauntlets; she talked to Ella
about the public-spiritedness of fuchsias and cannas; and she felt
that she was scrubbing a temple deserted by the gods and empty even of
incense and the sound of chanting. Passengers looking from trains saw
her as a village woman of fading prettiness, incorruptible virtue, and
no abnormalities; the baggageman heard her say, "Oh yes, I do think
it will be a good example for the children"; and all the while she saw
herself running garlanded through the streets of Babylon.

Planting led her to botanizing. She never got much farther than
recognizing the tiger lily and the wild rose, but she rediscovered
Hugh. "What does the buttercup say, mummy?" he cried, his hand full of
straggly grasses, his cheek gilded with pollen. She knelt to embrace
him; she affirmed that he made life more than full; she was altogether
reconciled . . . for an hour.

But she awoke at night to hovering death. She crept away from the hump
of bedding that was Kennicott; tiptoed into the bathroom and, by the
mirror in the door of the medicine-cabinet, examined her pallid face.

Wasn't she growing visibly older in ratio as Vida grew plumper and
younger? Wasn't her nose sharper? Wasn't her neck granulated? She
stared and choked. She was only thirty. But the five years since her
marriage--had they not gone by as hastily and stupidly as though she had
been under ether; would time not slink past till death? She pounded her
fist on the cool enameled rim of the bathtub and raged mutely against
the indifferent gods:

"I don't care! I won't endure it! They lie so--Vida and Will and Aunt
Bessie--they tell me I ought to be satisfied with Hugh and a good home
and planting seven nasturtiums in a station garden! I am I! When I die
the world will be annihilated, as far as I'm concerned. I am I! I'm not
content to leave the sea and the ivory towers to others. I want them for
me! Damn Vida! Damn all of them! Do they think they can make me believe
that a display of potatoes at Howland & Gould's is enough beauty and
strangeness?"



CHAPTER XXIII

I

WHEN America entered the Great European War, Vida sent Raymie off to an
officers' training-camp--less than a year after her wedding. Raymie was
diligent and rather strong. He came out a first lieutenant of infantry,
and was one of the earliest sent abroad.

Carol grew definitely afraid of Vida as Vida transferred the passion
which had been released in marriage to the cause of the war; as she
lost all tolerance. When Carol was touched by the desire for heroism
in Raymie and tried tactfully to express it, Vida made her feel like an
impertinent child.

By enlistment and draft, the sons of Lyman Cass, Nat Hicks, Sam Clark
joined the army. But most of the soldiers were the sons of German and
Swedish farmers unknown to Carol. Dr. Terry Gould and Dr. McGanum became
captains in the medical corps, and were stationed at camps in Iowa and
Georgia. They were the only officers, besides Raymie, from the Gopher
Prairie district. Kennicott wanted to go with them, but the several
doctors of the town forgot medical rivalry and, meeting in council,
decided that he would do better to wait and keep the town well till he
should be needed. Kennicott was forty-two now; the only youngish doctor
left in a radius of eighteen miles. Old Dr. Westlake, who loved comfort
like a cat, protestingly rolled out at night for country calls, and
hunted through his collar-box for his G. A. R. button.

Carol did not quite know what she thought about Kennicott's going.
Certainly she was no Spartan wife. She knew that he wanted to go; she
knew that this longing was always in him, behind his unchanged
trudging and remarks about the weather. She felt for him an admiring
affection--and she was sorry that she had nothing more than affection.

Cy Bogart was the spectacular warrior of the town. Cy was no longer the
weedy boy who had sat in the loft speculating about Carol's egotism and
the mysteries of generation. He was nineteen now, tall, broad, busy, the
"town sport," famous for his ability to drink beer, to shake dice, to
tell undesirable stories, and, from his post in front of Dyer's drug
store, to embarrass the girls by "jollying" them as they passed. His
face was at once peach-bloomed and pimply.

Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn't get the
Widow Bogart's permission to enlist, he'd run away and enlist without
it. He shouted that he "hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just
poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and
democracy, he'd die happy." Cy got much reputation by whipping a farmboy
named Adolph Pochbauer for being a "damn hyphenated German." . . . This
was the younger Pochbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was
trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At
this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to
go to war.


II


Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring a basic change
in psychology, to purify and uplift everything from marital relations to
national politics, and she tried to exult in it. Only she did not find
it. She saw the women who made bandages for the Red Cross giving
up bridge, and laughing at having to do without sugar, but over the
surgical-dressings they did not speak of God and the souls of men, but
of Miles Bjornstam's impudence, of Terry Gould's scandalous carryings-on
with a farmer's daughter four years ago, of cooking cabbage, and of
altering blouses. Their references to the war touched atrocities only.
She herself was punctual, and efficient at making dressings, but she
could not, like Mrs. Lyman Cass and Mrs. Bogart, fill the dressings with
hate for enemies.

When she protested to Vida, "The young do the work while these old ones
sit around and interrupt us and gag with hate because they're too feeble
to do anything but hate," then Vida turned on her:

"If you can't be reverent, at least don't be so pert and opinionated,
now when men and women are dying. Some of us--we have given up so much,
and we're glad to. At least we expect that you others sha'n't try to be
witty at our expense."

There was weeping.

Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated; she did
persuade herself that there were no autocracies save that of Prussia;
she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops embarking in New York; and
she was uncomfortable when she met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he
croaked:

"How's tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new cows. Well, have
you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they'll bring democracy--the democracy
of death. Yes, sure, in every war since the Garden of Eden the workmen
have gone out to fight each other for perfectly good reasons--handed to
them by their bosses. Now me, I'm wise. I'm so wise that I know I don't
know anything about the war."

It was not a thought of the war that remained with her after Miles's
declamation but a perception that she and Vida and all of the
good-intentioners who wanted to "do something for the common people"
were insignificant, because the "common people" were able to do things
for themselves, and highly likely to, as soon as they learned the
fact. The conception of millions of workmen like Miles taking control
frightened her, and she scuttled rapidly away from the thought of a time
when she might no longer retain the position of Lady Bountiful to the
Bjornstams and Beas and Oscarinas whom she loved--and patronized.


III


It was in June, two months after America's entrance into the war, that
the momentous event happened--the visit of the great Percy Bresnahan,
the millionaire president of the Velvet Motor Car Company of Boston, the
one native son who was always to be mentioned to strangers.

For two weeks there were rumors. Sam Clark cried to Kennicott, "Say, I
hear Perce Bresnahan is coming! By golly it'll be great to see the old
scout, eh?" Finally the Dauntless printed, on the front page with a No. 1
head, a letter from Bresnahan to Jackson Elder:

DEAR JACK:

Well, Jack, I find I can make it. I'm to go to Washington as a dollar
a year man for the government, in the aviation motor section, and tell
them how much I don't know about carburetors. But before I start in
being a hero I want to shoot out and catch me a big black bass and cuss
out you and Sam Clark and Harry Haydock and Will Kennicott and the rest
of you pirates. I'll land in G. P. on June 7, on No. 7 from Mpls. Shake
a day-day. Tell Bert Tybee to save me a glass of beer.

Sincerely yours,

Perce.



All members of the social, financial, scientific, literary, and sporting
sets were at No. 7 to meet Bresnahan; Mrs. Lyman Cass was beside Del
Snafflin the barber, and Juanita Haydock almost cordial to Miss Villets
the librarian. Carol saw Bresnahan laughing down at them from the train
vestibule--big, immaculate, overjawed, with the eye of an executive. In
the voice of the professional Good Fellow he bellowed, "Howdy, folks!"
As she was introduced to him (not he to her) Bresnahan looked into her
eyes, and his hand-shake was warm, unhurried.

He declined the offers of motors; he walked off, his arm about the
shoulder of Nat Hicks the sporting tailor, with the elegant Harry
Haydock carrying one of his enormous pale leather bags, Del Snafflin
the other, Jack Elder bearing an overcoat, and Julius Flickerbaugh
the fishing-tackle. Carol noted that though Bresnahan wore spats and
a stick, no small boy jeered. She decided, "I must have Will get a
double-breasted blue coat and a wing collar and a dotted bow-tie like
his."

That evening, when Kennicott was trimming the grass along the walk
with sheep-shears, Bresnahan rolled up, alone. He was now in corduroy
trousers, khaki shirt open at the throat, a white boating hat, and
marvelous canvas-and-leather shoes "On the job there, old Will! Say, my
Lord, this is living, to come back and get into a regular man-sized pair
of pants. They can talk all they want to about the city, but my idea of
a good time is to loaf around and see you boys and catch a gamey bass!"

He hustled up the walk and blared at Carol, "Where's that little fellow?
I hear you've got one fine big he-boy that you're holding out on me!"

"He's gone to bed," rather briefly.

"I know. And rules are rules, these days. Kids get routed through the
shop like a motor. But look here, sister; I'm one great hand at busting
rules. Come on now, let Uncle Perce have a look at him. Please now,
sister?"

He put his arm about her waist; it was a large, strong, sophisticated
arm, and very agreeable; he grinned at her with a devastating
knowingness, while Kennicott glowed inanely. She flushed; she was
alarmed by the ease with which the big-city man invaded her guarded
personality. She was glad, in retreat, to scamper ahead of the two men
up-stairs to the hall-room in which Hugh slept. All the way Kennicott
muttered, "Well, well, say, gee whittakers but it's good to have you
back, certainly is good to see you!"

Hugh lay on his stomach, making an earnest business of sleeping. He
burrowed his eyes in the dwarf blue pillow to escape the electric light,
then sat up abruptly, small and frail in his woolly nightdrawers, his
floss of brown hair wild, the pillow clutched to his breast. He
wailed. He stared at the stranger, in a manner of patient dismissal.
He explained confidentially to Carol, "Daddy wouldn't let it be morning
yet. What does the pillow say?"

Bresnahan dropped his arm caressingly on Carol's shoulder; he
pronounced, "My Lord, you're a lucky girl to have a fine young husk like
that. I figure Will knew what he was doing when he persuaded you to take
a chance on an old bum like him! They tell me you come from St. Paul.
We're going to get you to come to Boston some day." He leaned over
the bed. "Young man, you're the slickest sight I've seen this side of
Boston. With your permission, may we present you with a slight token of
our regard and appreciation of your long service?"

He held out a red rubber Pierrot. Hugh remarked, "Gimme it," hid it
under the bedclothes, and stared at Bresnahan as though he had never
seen the man before.

For once Carol permitted herself the spiritual luxury of not asking
"Why, Hugh dear, what do you say when some one gives you a present?"
The great man was apparently waiting. They stood in inane suspense till
Bresnahan led them out, rumbling, "How about planning a fishing-trip,
Will?"

He remained for half an hour. Always he told Carol what a charming
person she was; always he looked at her knowingly.

"Yes. He probably would make a woman fall in love with him. But it
wouldn't last a week. I'd get tired of his confounded buoyancy.
His hypocrisy. He's a spiritual bully. He makes me rude to him in
self-defense. Oh yes, he is glad to be here. He does like us. He's so
good an actor that he convinces his own self. . . . I'd HATE him in
Boston. He'd have all the obvious big-city things. Limousines.
Discreet evening-clothes. Order a clever dinner at a smart restaurant.
Drawing-room decorated by the best firm--but the pictures giving him
away. I'd rather talk to Guy Pollock in his dusty office. . . . How I
lie! His arm coaxed my shoulder and his eyes dared me not to admire him.
I'd be afraid of him. I hate him! . . . Oh, the inconceivable egotistic
imagination of women! All this stew of analysis about a man, a good,
decent, friendly, efficient man, because he was kind to me, as Will's
wife!"


IV


The Kennicotts, the Elders, the Clarks, and Bresnahan went fishing
at Red Squaw Lake. They drove forty miles to the lake in Elder's new
Cadillac. There was much laughter and bustle at the start, much storing
of lunch-baskets and jointed poles, much inquiry as to whether it would
really bother Carol to sit with her feet up on a roll of shawls.
When they were ready to go Mrs. Clark lamented, "Oh, Sam, I forgot
my magazine," and Bresnahan bullied, "Come on now, if you women think
you're going to be literary, you can't go with us tough guys!" Every
one laughed a great deal, and as they drove on Mrs. Clark explained that
though probably she would not have read it, still, she might have wanted
to, while the other girls had a nap in the afternoon, and she was right
in the middle of a serial--it was an awfully exciting story--it seems
that this girl was a Turkish dancer (only she was really the daughter of
an American lady and a Russian prince) and men kept running after her,
just disgustingly, but she remained pure, and there was a scene----

While the men floated on the lake, casting for black bass, the women
prepared lunch and yawned. Carol was a little resentful of the manner in
which the men assumed that they did not care to fish. "I don't want to
go with them, but I would like the privilege of refusing."

The lunch was long and pleasant. It was a background for the talk of the
great man come home, hints of cities and large imperative affairs and
famous people, jocosely modest admissions that, yes, their friend Perce
was doing about as well as most of these "Boston swells that think so
much of themselves because they come from rich old families and went to
college and everything. Believe me, it's us new business men that are
running Beantown today, and not a lot of fussy old bucks snoozing in
their clubs!"

Carol realized that he was not one of the sons of Gopher Prairie who,
if they do not actually starve in the East, are invariably spoken of as
"highly successful"; and she found behind his too incessant flattery a
genuine affection for his mates. It was in the matter of the war that
he most favored and thrilled them. Dropping his voice while they bent
nearer (there was no one within two miles to overhear), he disclosed
the fact that in both Boston and Washington he'd been getting a lot of
inside stuff on the war--right straight from headquarters--he was in
touch with some men--couldn't name them but they were darn high up in
both the War and State Departments--and he would say--only for Pete's
sake they mustn't breathe one word of this; it was strictly on the
Q.T. and not generally known outside of Washington--but just between
ourselves--and they could take this for gospel--Spain had finally
decided to join the Entente allies in the Grand Scrap. Yes, sir, there'd
be two million fully equipped Spanish soldiers fighting with us in
France in one month now. Some surprise for Germany, all right!

"How about the prospects for revolution in Germany?" reverently asked
Kennicott.

The authority grunted, "Nothing to it. The one thing you can bet on is
that no matter what happens to the German people, win or lose, they'll
stick by the Kaiser till hell freezes over. I got that absolutely
straight, from a fellow who's on the inside of the inside in Washington.
No, sir! I don't pretend to know much about international affairs
but one thing you can put down as settled is that Germany will be a
Hohenzollern empire for the next forty years. At that, I don't know as
it's so bad. The Kaiser and the Junkers keep a firm hand on a lot
of these red agitators who'd be worse than a king if they could get
control."

"I'm terribly interested in this uprising that overthrew the Czar in
Russia," suggested Carol. She had finally been conquered by the man's
wizard knowledge of affairs.

Kennicott apologized for her: "Carrie's nuts about this Russian
revolution. Is there much to it, Perce?"

"There is not!" Bresnahan said flatly. "I can speak by the book there.
Carol, honey, I'm surprised to find you talking like a New York Russian
Jew, or one of these long-hairs! I can tell you, only you don't need to
let every one in on it, this is confidential, I got it from a man who's
close to the State Department, but as a matter of fact the Czar will
be back in power before the end of the year. You read a lot about his
retiring and about his being killed, but I know he's got a big army back
of him, and he'll show these damn agitators, lazy beggars hunting for
a soft berth bossing the poor goats that fall for 'em, he'll show 'em
where they get off!"

Carol was sorry to hear that the Czar was coming back, but she said
nothing. The others had looked vacant at the mention of a country so far
away as Russia. Now they edged in and asked Bresnahan what he thought
about the Packard car, investments in Texas oil-wells, the comparative
merits of young men born in Minnesota and in Massachusetts, the question
of prohibition, the future cost of motor tires, and wasn't it true that
American aviators put it all over these Frenchmen?

They were glad to find that he agreed with them on every point.

As she heard Bresnahan announce, "We're perfectly willing to talk to
any committee the men may choose, but we're not going to stand for some
outside agitator butting in and telling us how we're going to run our
plant!" Carol remembered that Jackson Elder (now meekly receiving New
Ideas) had said the same thing in the same words.

While Sam Clark was digging up from his memory a long and immensely
detailed story of the crushing things he had said to a Pullman porter,
named George, Bresnahan hugged his knees and rocked and watched Carol.
She wondered if he did not understand the laboriousness of the smile
with which she listened to Kennicott's account of the "good one he had
on Carrie," that marital, coyly improper, ten-times-told tale of how she
had forgotten to attend to Hugh because she was "all het up pounding the
box"--which may be translated as "eagerly playing the piano." She was
certain that Bresnahan saw through her when she pretended not to hear
Kennicott's invitation to join a game of cribbage. She feared the
comments he might make; she was irritated by her fear.

She was equally irritated, when the motor returned through Gopher
Prairie, to find that she was proud of sharing in Bresnahan's kudos
as people waved, and Juanita Haydock leaned from a window. She said to
herself, "As though I cared whether I'm seen with this fat phonograph!"
and simultaneously, "Everybody has noticed how much Will and I are
playing with Mr. Bresnahan."

The town was full of his stories, his friendliness, his memory for
names, his clothes, his trout-flies, his generosity. He had given
a hundred dollars to Father Klubok the priest, and a hundred to the
Reverend Mr. Zitterel the Baptist minister, for Americanization work.

At the Bon Ton, Carol heard Nat Hicks the tailor exulting:

"Old Perce certainly pulled a good one on this fellow Bjornstam that
always is shooting off his mouth. He's supposed to of settled down since
he got married, but Lord, those fellows that think they know it all,
they never change. Well, the Red Swede got the grand razz handed to him,
all right. He had the nerve to breeze up to Perce, at Dave Dyer's, and
he said, he said to Perce, 'I've always wanted to look at a man that was
so useful that folks would pay him a million dollars for existing,' and
Perce gave him the once-over and come right back, 'Have, eh?' he says.
'Well,' he says, 'I've been looking for a man so useful sweeping floors
that I could pay him four dollars a day. Want the job, my friend?' Ha,
ha, ha! Say, you know how lippy Bjornstam is? Well for once he didn't
have a thing to say. He tried to get fresh, and tell what a rotten
town this is, and Perce come right back at him, 'If you don't like this
country, you better get out of it and go back to Germany, where you
belong!' Say, maybe us fellows didn't give Bjornstam the horse-laugh
though! Oh, Perce is the white-haired boy in this burg, all rightee!"


V


Bresnahan had borrowed Jackson Elder's motor; he stopped at the
Kennicotts'; he bawled at Carol, rocking with Hugh on the porch, "Better
come for a ride."

She wanted to snub him. "Thanks so much, but I'm being maternal."

"Bring him along! Bring him along!" Bresnahan was out of the seat,
stalking up the sidewalk, and the rest of her protests and dignities
were feeble.

She did not bring Hugh along.

Bresnahan was silent for a mile, in words, But he looked at her as
though he meant her to know that he understood everything she thought.

She observed how deep was his chest.

"Lovely fields over there," he said.

"You really like them? There's no profit in them."

He chuckled. "Sister, you can't get away with it. I'm onto you. You
consider me a big bluff. Well, maybe I am. But so are you, my dear--and
pretty enough so that I'd try to make love to you, if I weren't afraid
you'd slap me."

"Mr. Bresnahan, do you talk that way to your wife's friends? And do you
call them 'sister'?"

"As a matter of fact, I do! And I make 'em like it. Score two!" But his
chuckle was not so rotund, and he was very attentive to the ammeter.

In a moment he was cautiously attacking: "That's a wonderful boy, Will
Kennicott. Great work these country practitioners are doing. The other
day, in Washington, I was talking to a big scientific shark, a professor
in Johns Hopkins medical school, and he was saying that no one has ever
sufficiently appreciated the general practitioner and the sympathy
and help he gives folks. These crack specialists, the young scientific
fellows, they're so cocksure and so wrapped up in their laboratories
that they miss the human element. Except in the case of a few freak
diseases that no respectable human being would waste his time having,
it's the old doc that keeps a community well, mind and body. And
strikes me that Will is one of the steadiest and clearest-headed counter
practitioners I've ever met. Eh?"

"I'm sure he is. He's a servant of reality."

"Come again? Um. Yes. All of that, whatever that is. . . . Say, child,
you don't care a whole lot for Gopher Prairie, if I'm not mistaken."

"Nope."

"There's where you're missing a big chance. There's nothing to these
cities. Believe me, I KNOW! This is a good town, as they go. You're
lucky to be here. I wish I could shy on!"

"Very well, why don't you?"

"Huh? Why--Lord--can't get away fr----"

"You don't have to stay. I do! So I want to change it. Do you know that
men like you, prominent men, do quite a reasonable amount of harm by
insisting that your native towns and native states are perfect? It's
you who encourage the denizens not to change. They quote you, and go on
believing that they live in paradise, and----" She clenched her fist.
"The incredible dullness of it!"

"Suppose you were right. Even so, don't you think you waste a lot of
thundering on one poor scared little town? Kind of mean!"

"I tell you it's dull. DULL!"

"The folks don't find it dull. These couples like the Haydocks have a
high old time; dances and cards----"

"They don't. They're bored. Almost every one here is. Vacuousness and
bad manners and spiteful gossip--that's what I hate."

"Those things--course they're here. So are they in Boston! And every
place else! Why, the faults you find in this town are simply human
nature, and never will be changed."

"Perhaps. But in a Boston all the good Carols (I'll admit I have no
faults) can find one another and play. But here--I'm alone, in a stale
pool--except as it's stirred by the great Mr. Bresnahan!"

"My Lord, to hear you tell it, a fellow 'd think that all the denizens,
as you impolitely call 'em, are so confoundedly unhappy that it's a
wonder they don't all up and commit suicide. But they seem to struggle
along somehow!"

"They don't know what they miss. And anybody can endure anything. Look
at men in mines and in prisons."

He drew up on the south shore of Lake Minniemashie. He glanced across
the reeds reflected on the water, the quiver of wavelets like crumpled
tinfoil, the distant shores patched with dark woods, silvery oats and
deep yellow wheat. He patted her hand. "Sis----Carol, you're a darling
girl, but you're difficult. Know what I think?"

"Yes."

"Humph. Maybe you do, but----My humble (not too humble!) opinion is that
you like to be different. You like to think you're peculiar. Why, if you
knew how many tens of thousands of women, especially in New York, say
just what you do, you'd lose all the fun of thinking you're a lone
genius and you'd be on the band-wagon whooping it up for Gopher Prairie
and a good decent family life. There's always about a million young
women just out of college who want to teach their grandmothers how to
suck eggs."

"How proud you are of that homely rustic metaphor! You use it at
'banquets' and directors' meetings, and boast of your climb from a
humble homestead."

"Huh! You may have my number. I'm not telling. But look here: You're
so prejudiced against Gopher Prairie that you overshoot the mark;
you antagonize those who might be inclined to agree with you in some
particulars but----Great guns, the town can't be all wrong!"

"No, it isn't. But it could be. Let me tell you a fable. Imagine a
cavewoman complaining to her mate. She doesn't like one single thing;
she hates the damp cave, the rats running over her bare legs, the stiff
skin garments, the eating of half-raw meat, her husband's bushy face,
the constant battles, and the worship of the spirits who will hoodoo her
unless she gives the priests her best claw necklace. Her man protests,
'But it can't all be wrong!' and he thinks he has reduced her to
absurdity. Now you assume that a world which produces a Percy Bresnahan
and a Velvet Motor Company must be civilized. It is? Aren't we only
about half-way along in barbarism? I suggest Mrs. Bogart as a test. And
we'll continue in barbarism just as long as people as nearly intelligent
as you continue to defend things as they are because they are."

"You're a fair spieler, child. But, by golly, I'd like to see you try
to design a new manifold, or run a factory and keep a lot of your fellow
reds from Czech-slovenski-magyar-godknowswheria on the job! You'd drop
your theories so darn quick! I'm not any defender of things as they are.
Sure. They're rotten. Only I'm sensible."

He preached his gospel: love of outdoors, Playing the Game, loyalty
to friends. She had the neophyte's shock of discovery that, outside
of tracts, conservatives do not tremble and find no answer when
an iconoclast turns on them, but retort with agility and confusing
statistics.

He was so much the man, the worker, the friend, that she liked him when
she most tried to stand out against him; he was so much the successful
executive that she did not want him to despise her. His manner of
sneering at what he called "parlor socialists" (though the phrase was
not overwhelmingly new) had a power which made her wish to placate his
company of well-fed, speed-loving administrators. When he demanded,
"Would you like to associate with nothing but a lot of turkey-necked,
horn-spectacled nuts that have adenoids and need a hair-cut, and that
spend all their time kicking about 'conditions' and never do a lick of
work?" she said, "No, but just the same----" When he asserted, "Even
if your cavewoman was right in knocking the whole works, I bet some
red-blooded Regular Fellow, some real He-man, found her a nice dry cave,
and not any whining criticizing radical," she wriggled her head feebly,
between a nod and a shake.

His large hands, sensual lips, easy voice supported his self-confidence.
He made her feel young and soft--as Kennicott had once made her feel.
She had nothing to say when he bent his powerful head and experimented,
"My dear, I'm sorry I'm going away from this town. You'd be a darling
child to play with. You ARE pretty! Some day in Boston I'll show you how
we buy a lunch. Well, hang it, got to be starting back."

The only answer to his gospel of beef which she could find, when she was
home, was a wail of "But just the same----"

She did not see him again before he departed for Washington.

His eyes remained. His glances at her lips and hair and shoulders had
revealed to her that she was not a wife-and-mother alone, but a girl;
that there still were men in the world, as there had been in college
days.

That admiration led her to study Kennicott, to tear at the shroud of
intimacy, to perceive the strangeness of the most familiar.



CHAPTER XXIV

I

ALL that midsummer month Carol was sensitive to Kennicott. She recalled
a hundred grotesqueries: her comic dismay at his having chewed tobacco,
the evening when she had tried to read poetry to him; matters which had
seemed to vanish with no trace or sequence. Always she repeated that
he had been heroically patient in his desire to join the army. She made
much of her consoling affection for him in little things. She liked the
homeliness of his tinkering about the house; his strength and handiness
as he tightened the hinges of a shutter; his boyishness when he ran
to her to be comforted because he had found rust in the barrel of his
pump-gun. But at the highest he was to her another Hugh, without the
glamor of Hugh's unknown future.

There was, late in June, a day of heat-lightning.

Because of the work imposed by the absence of the other doctors the
Kennicotts had not moved to the lake cottage but remained in town, dusty
and irritable. In the afternoon, when she went to Oleson & McGuire's
(formerly Dahl & Oleson's), Carol was vexed by the assumption of
the youthful clerk, recently come from the farm, that he had to be
neighborly and rude. He was no more brusquely familiar than a dozen
other clerks of the town, but her nerves were heat-scorched.

When she asked for codfish, for supper, he grunted, "What d'you want
that darned old dry stuff for?"

"I like it!"

"Punk! Guess the doc can afford something better than that. Try some of
the new wienies we got in. Swell. The Haydocks use 'em."

She exploded. "My dear young man, it is not your duty to instruct me in
housekeeping, and it doesn't particularly concern me what the Haydocks
condescend to approve!"

He was hurt. He hastily wrapped up the leprous fragment of fish; he
gaped as she trailed out. She lamented, "I shouldn't have spoken so. He
didn't mean anything. He doesn't know when he is being rude."

Her repentance was not proof against Uncle Whittier when she stopped in
at his grocery for salt and a package of safety matches. Uncle Whittier,
in a shirt collarless and soaked with sweat in a brown streak down his
back, was whining at a clerk, "Come on now, get a hustle on and lug
that pound cake up to Mis' Cass's. Some folks in this town think a
storekeeper ain't got nothing to do but chase out 'phone-orders. . . .
Hello, Carrie. That dress you got on looks kind of low in the neck to
me. May be decent and modest--I suppose I'm old-fashioned--but I never
thought much of showing the whole town a woman's bust! Hee, hee, hee!
. . . Afternoon, Mrs. Hicks. Sage? Just out of it. Lemme sell you some
other spices. Heh?" Uncle Whittier was nasally indignant "CERTAINLY! Got
PLENTY other spices jus' good as sage for any purp'se whatever! What's
the matter with--well, with allspice?" When Mrs. Hicks had gone, he
raged, "Some folks don't know what they want!"

"Sweating sanctimonious bully--my husband's uncle!" thought Carol.

She crept into Dave Dyer's. Dave held up his arms with, "Don't shoot!
I surrender!" She smiled, but it occurred to her that for nearly five
years Dave had kept up this game of pretending that she threatened his
life.

As she went dragging through the prickly-hot street she reflected that a
citizen of Gopher Prairie does not have jests--he has a jest. Every
cold morning for five winters Lyman Cass had remarked, "Fair to middlin'
chilly--get worse before it gets better." Fifty times had Ezra Stowbody
informed the public that Carol had once asked, "Shall I indorse this
check on the back?" Fifty times had Sam Clark called to her, "Where'd
you steal that hat?" Fifty times had the mention of Barney Cahoon,
the town drayman, like a nickel in a slot produced from Kennicott the
apocryphal story of Barney's directing a minister, "Come down to the
depot and get your case of religious books--they're leaking!"

She came home by the unvarying route. She knew every house-front, every
street-crossing, every billboard, every tree, every dog. She knew every
blackened banana-skin and empty cigarette-box in the gutters. She knew
every greeting. When Jim Howland stopped and gaped at her there was
no possibility that he was about to confide anything but his grudging,
"Well, haryuh t'day?"

All her future life, this same red-labeled bread-crate in front of the
bakery, this same thimble-shaped crack in the sidewalk a quarter of a
block beyond Stowbody's granite hitching-post----

She silently handed her purchases to the silent Oscarina. She sat on the
porch, rocking, fanning, twitchy with Hugh's whining.

Kennicott came home, grumbled, "What the devil is the kid yapping
about?"

"I guess you can stand it ten minutes if I can stand it all day!"

He came to supper in his shirt sleeves, his vest partly open, revealing
discolored suspenders.

"Why don't you put on your nice Palm Beach suit, and take off that
hideous vest?" she complained.

"Too much trouble. Too hot to go up-stairs."

She realized that for perhaps a year she had not definitely looked
at her husband. She regarded his table-manners. He violently chased
fragments of fish about his plate with a knife and licked the knife
after gobbling them. She was slightly sick. She asserted, "I'm
ridiculous. What do these things matter! Don't be so simple!" But she
knew that to her they did matter, these solecisms and mixed tenses of
the table.

She realized that they found little to say; that, incredibly, they were
like the talked-out couples whom she had pitied at restaurants.

Bresnahan would have spouted in a lively, exciting, unreliable manner.

She realized that Kennicott's clothes were seldom pressed. His coat was
wrinkled; his trousers would flap at the knees when he arose. His shoes
were unblacked, and they were of an elderly shapelessness. He refused
to wear soft hats; cleaved to a hard derby, as a symbol of virility and
prosperity; and sometimes he forgot to take it off in the house. She
peeped at his cuffs. They were frayed in prickles of starched linen.
She had turned them once; she clipped them every week; but when she had
begged him to throw the shirt away, last Sunday morning at the crisis
of the weekly bath, he had uneasily protested, "Oh, it'll wear quite a
while yet."

He was shaved (by himself or more socially by Del Snafflin) only three
times a week. This morning had not been one of the three times.

Yet he was vain of his new turn-down collars and sleek ties; he often
spoke of the "sloppy dressing" of Dr. McGanum; and he laughed at old men
who wore detachable cuffs or Gladstone collars.

Carol did not care much for the creamed codfish that evening.

She noted that his nails were jagged and ill-shaped from his habit of
cutting them with a pocket-knife and despising a nail-file as effeminate
and urban. That they were invariably clean, that his were the scoured
fingers of the surgeon, made his stubborn untidiness the more jarring.
They were wise hands, kind hands, but they were not the hands of love.

She remembered him in the days of courtship. He had tried to please her,
then, had touched her by sheepishly wearing a colored band on his straw
hat. Was it possible that those days of fumbling for each other were
gone so completely? He had read books, to impress her; had said (she
recalled it ironically) that she was to point out his every fault; had
insisted once, as they sat in the secret place beneath the walls of Fort
Snelling----

She shut the door on her thoughts. That was sacred ground. But it WAS a
shame that----

She nervously pushed away her cake and stewed apricots.

After supper, when they had been driven in from the porch by mosquitos,
when Kennicott had for the two-hundredth time in five years commented,
"We must have a new screen on the porch--lets all the bugs in," they sat
reading, and she noted, and detested herself for noting, and noted again
his habitual awkwardness. He slumped down in one chair, his legs up on
another, and he explored the recesses of his left ear with the end of
his little finger--she could hear the faint smack--he kept it up--he
kept it up----

He blurted, "Oh. Forgot tell you. Some of the fellows coming in to play
poker this evening. Suppose we could have some crackers and cheese and
beer?"

She nodded.

"He might have mentioned it before. Oh well, it's his house."

The poker-party straggled in: Sam Clark, Jack Elder, Dave Dyer, Jim
Howland. To her they mechanically said, "'Devenin'," but to Kennicott,
in a heroic male manner, "Well, well, shall we start playing? Got a
hunch I'm going to lick somebody real bad." No one suggested that she
join them. She told herself that it was her own fault, because she was
not more friendly; but she remembered that they never asked Mrs. Sam
Clark to play.

Bresnahan would have asked her.

She sat in the living-room, glancing across the hall at the men as they
humped over the dining table.

They were in shirt sleeves; smoking, chewing, spitting incessantly;
lowering their voices for a moment so that she did not hear what they
said and afterward giggling hoarsely; using over and over the canonical
phrases: "Three to dole," "I raise you a finif," "Come on now, ante up;
what do you think this is, a pink tea?" The cigar-smoke was acrid and
pervasive. The firmness with which the men mouthed their cigars made the
lower part of their faces expressionless, heavy, unappealing. They were
like politicians cynically dividing appointments.

How could they understand her world?

Did that faint and delicate world exist? Was she a fool? She doubted her
world, doubted herself, and was sick in the acid, smoke-stained air.

She slipped back into brooding upon the habituality of the house.

Kennicott was as fixed in routine as an isolated old man. At first
he had amorously deceived himself into liking her experiments with
food--the one medium in which she could express imagination--but now
he wanted only his round of favorite dishes: steak, roast beef, boiled
pig's-feet, oatmeal, baked apples. Because at some more flexible period
he had advanced from oranges to grape-fruit he considered himself an
epicure.

During their first autumn she had smiled over his affection for his
hunting-coat, but now that the leather had come unstitched in dribbles
of pale yellow thread, and tatters of canvas, smeared with dirt of the
fields and grease from gun-cleaning, hung in a border of rags, she hated
the thing.

Wasn't her whole life like that hunting-coat?

She knew every nick and brown spot on each piece of the set of china
purchased by Kennicott's mother in 1895--discreet china with a pattern
of washed-out forget-me-nots, rimmed with blurred gold: the gravy-boat,
in a saucer which did not match, the solemn and evangelical covered
vegetable-dishes, the two platters.

Twenty times had Kennicott sighed over the fact that Bea had broken the
other platter--the medium-sized one.

The kitchen.

Damp black iron sink, damp whitey-yellow drain-board with shreds of
discolored wood which from long scrubbing were as soft as cotton thread,
warped table, alarm clock, stove bravely blackened by Oscarina but an
abomination in its loose doors and broken drafts and oven that never
would keep an even heat.

Carol had done her best by the kitchen: painted it white, put up
curtains, replaced a six-year-old calendar by a color print. She had
hoped for tiling, and a kerosene range for summer cooking, but Kennicott
always postponed these expenses.

She was better acquainted with the utensils in the kitchen than with
Vida Sherwin or Guy Pollock. The can-opener, whose soft gray metal
handle was twisted from some ancient effort to pry open a window,
was more pertinent to her than all the cathedrals in Europe; and
more significant than the future of Asia was the never-settled weekly
question as to whether the small kitchen knife with the unpainted handle
or the second-best buckhorn carving-knife was better for cutting up cold
chicken for Sunday supper.


II


She was ignored by the males till midnight. Her husband called, "Suppose
we could have some eats, Carrie?" As she passed through the dining-room
the men smiled on her, belly-smiles. None of them noticed her while she
was serving the crackers and cheese and sardines and beer. They were
determining the exact psychology of Dave Dyer in standing pat, two hours
before.

When they were gone she said to Kennicott, "Your friends have the
manners of a barroom. They expect me to wait on them like a servant.
They're not so much interested in me as they would be in a waiter,
because they don't have to tip me. Unfortunately! Well, good night."

So rarely did she nag in this petty, hot-weather fashion that he was
astonished rather than angry. "Hey! Wait! What's the idea? I must say
I don't get you. The boys----Barroom? Why, Perce Bresnahan was saying
there isn't a finer bunch of royal good fellows anywhere than just the
crowd that were here tonight!"

They stood in the lower hall. He was too shocked to go on with his
duties of locking the front door and winding his watch and the clock.

"Bresnahan! I'm sick of him!" She meant nothing in particular.

"Why, Carrie, he's one of the biggest men in the country! Boston just
eats out of his hand!"

"I wonder if it does? How do we know but that in Boston, among well-bred
people, he may be regarded as an absolute lout? The way he calls women
'Sister,' and the way----"

"Now look here! That'll do! Of course I know you don't mean it--you're
simply hot and tired, and trying to work off your peeve on me. But just
the same, I won't stand your jumping on Perce. You----It's just like
your attitude toward the war--so darn afraid that America will become
militaristic----"

"But you are the pure patriot!"

"By God, I am!"

"Yes, I heard you talking to Sam Clark tonight about ways of avoiding
the income tax!"

He had recovered enough to lock the door; he clumped up-stairs ahead of
her, growling, "You don't know what you're talking about. I'm perfectly
willing to pay my full tax--fact, I'm in favor of the income tax--even
though I do think it's a penalty on frugality and enterprise--fact, it's
an unjust, darn-fool tax. But just the same, I'll pay it. Only, I'm not
idiot enough to pay more than the government makes me pay, and Sam and
I were just figuring out whether all automobile expenses oughn't to be
exemptions. I'll take a lot off you, Carrie, but I don't propose for one
second to stand your saying I'm not patriotic. You know mighty well and
good that I've tried to get away and join the army. And at the beginning
of the whole fracas I said--I've said right along--that we ought to have
entered the war the minute Germany invaded Belgium. You don't get me at
all. You can't appreciate a man's work. You're abnormal. You've
fussed so much with these fool novels and books and all this highbrow
junk----You like to argue!"

It ended, a quarter of an hour later, in his calling her a "neurotic"
before he turned away and pretended to sleep.

For the first time they had failed to make peace.

"There are two races of people, only two, and they live side by
side. His calls mine 'neurotic'; mine calls his 'stupid.' We'll never
understand each other, never; and it's madness for us to debate--to lie
together in a hot bed in a creepy room--enemies, yoked."


III


It clarified in her the longing for a place of her own.

"While it's so hot, I think I'll sleep in the spare room," she said next
day.

"Not a bad idea." He was cheerful and kindly.

The room was filled with a lumbering double bed and a cheap pine bureau.
She stored the bed in the attic; replaced it by a cot which, with a
denim cover, made a couch by day; put in a dressing-table, a rocker
transformed by a cretonne cover; had Miles Bjornstam build book-shelves.

Kennicott slowly understood that she meant to keep up her seclusion. In
his queries, "Changing the whole room?" "Putting your books in there?"
she caught his dismay. But it was so easy, once her door was closed, to
shut out his worry. That hurt her--the ease of forgetting him.

Aunt Bessie Smail sleuthed out this anarchy. She yammered, "Why, Carrie,
you ain't going to sleep all alone by yourself? I don't believe in that.
Married folks should have the same room, of course! Don't go getting
silly notions. No telling what a thing like that might lead to. Suppose
I up and told your Uncle Whit that I wanted a room of my own!"

Carol spoke of recipes for corn-pudding.

But from Mrs. Dr. Westlake she drew encouragement. She had made an
afternoon call on Mrs. Westlake. She was for the first time invited
up-stairs, and found the suave old woman sewing in a white and mahogany
room with a small bed.

"Oh, do you have your own royal apartments, and the doctor his?" Carol
hinted.

"Indeed I do! The doctor says it's bad enough to have to stand my temper
at meals. Do----" Mrs. Westlake looked at her sharply. "Why, don't you
do the same thing?"

"I've been thinking about it." Carol laughed in an embarrassed way.
"Then you wouldn't regard me as a complete hussy if I wanted to be by
myself now and then?"

"Why, child, every woman ought to get off by herself and turn over her
thoughts--about children, and God, and how bad her complexion is, and
the way men don't really understand her, and how much work she finds to
do in the house, and how much patience it takes to endure some things in
a man's love."

"Yes!" Carol said it in a gasp, her hands twisted together. She wanted
to confess not only her hatred for the Aunt Bessies but her covert
irritation toward those she best loved: her alienation from Kennicott,
her disappointment in Guy Pollock, her uneasiness in the presence of
Vida. She had enough self-control to confine herself to, "Yes. Men! The
dear blundering souls, we do have to get off and laugh at them."

"Of course we do. Not that you have to laugh at Dr. Kennicott so much,
but MY man, heavens, now there's a rare old bird! Reading story-books
when he ought to be tending to business! 'Marcus Westlake,' I say to
him, 'you're a romantic old fool.' And does he get angry? He does not!
He chuckles and says, 'Yes, my beloved, folks do say that married
people grow to resemble each other!' Drat him!" Mrs. Westlake laughed
comfortably.

After such a disclosure what could Carol do but return the courtesy by
remarking that as for Kennicott, he wasn't romantic enough--the darling.
Before she left she had babbled to Mrs. Westlake her dislike for Aunt
Bessie, the fact that Kennicott's income was now more than five thousand
a year, her view of the reason why Vida had married Raymie (which
included some thoroughly insincere praise of Raymie's "kind heart"), her
opinion of the library-board, just what Kennicott had said about Mrs.
Carthal's diabetes, and what Kennicott thought of the several surgeons
in the Cities.

She went home soothed by confession, inspirited by finding a new friend.


IV


The tragicomedy of the "domestic situation."

Oscarina went back home to help on the farm, and Carol had a succession
of maids, with gaps between. The lack of servants was becoming one
of the most cramping problems of the prairie town. Increasingly the
farmers' daughters rebelled against village dullness, and against the
unchanged attitude of the Juanitas toward "hired girls." They went off
to city kitchens, or to city shops and factories, that they might be
free and even human after hours.

The Jolly Seventeen were delighted at Carol's desertion by the loyal
Oscarina. They reminded her that she had said, "I don't have any trouble
with maids; see how Oscarina stays on."

Between incumbencies of Finn maids from the North Woods, Germans from
the prairies, occasional Swedes and Norwegians and Icelanders, Carol did
her own work--and endured Aunt Bessie's skittering in to tell her how to
dampen a broom for fluffy dust, how to sugar doughnuts, how to stuff
a goose. Carol was deft, and won shy praise from Kennicott, but as her
shoulder blades began to sting, she wondered how many millions of women
had lied to themselves during the death-rimmed years through which they
had pretended to enjoy the puerile methods persisting in housework.

She doubted the convenience and, as a natural sequent, the sanctity of
the monogamous and separate home which she had regarded as the basis of
all decent life.

She considered her doubts vicious. She refused to remember how many of
the women of the Jolly Seventeen nagged their husbands and were nagged
by them.

She energetically did not whine to Kennicott. But her eyes ached; she
was not the girl in breeches and a flannel shirt who had cooked over a
camp-fire in the Colorado mountains five years ago. Her ambition was to
get to bed at nine; her strongest emotion was resentment over rising at
half-past six to care for Hugh. The back of her neck ached as she got
out of bed. She was cynical about the joys of a simple laborious life.
She understood why workmen and workmen's wives are not grateful to their
kind employers.

At mid-morning, when she was momentarily free from the ache in her neck
and back, she was glad of the reality of work. The hours were living
and nimble. But she had no desire to read the eloquent little newspaper
essays in praise of labor which are daily written by the white-browed
journalistic prophets. She felt independent and (though she hid it) a
bit surly.

In cleaning the house she pondered upon the maid's-room. It was a
slant-roofed, small-windowed hole above the kitchen, oppressive in
summer, frigid in winter. She saw that while she had been considering
herself an unusually good mistress, she had been permitting her friends
Bea and Oscarina to live in a sty. She complained to Kennicott. "What's
the matter with it?" he growled, as they stood on the perilous stairs
dodging up from the kitchen. She commented upon the sloping roof of
unplastered boards stained in brown rings by the rain, the uneven floor,
the cot and its tumbled discouraged-looking quilts, the broken rocker,
the distorting mirror.

"Maybe it ain't any Hotel Radisson parlor, but still, it's so much
better than anything these hired girls are accustomed to at home that
they think it's fine. Seems foolish to spend money when they wouldn't
appreciate it."

But that night he drawled, with the casualness of a man who wishes to be
surprising and delightful, "Carrie, don't know but what we might begin
to think about building a new house, one of these days. How'd you like
that?"

"W-why----"

"I'm getting to the point now where I feel we can afford one--and a
corker! I'll show this burg something like a real house! We'll put one
over on Sam and Harry! Make folks sit up an' take notice!"

"Yes," she said.

He did not go on.

Daily he returned to the subject of the new house, but as to time and
mode he was indefinite. At first she believed. She babbled of a low
stone house with lattice windows and tulip-beds, of colonial brick, of
a white frame cottage with green shutters and dormer windows. To her
enthusiasms he answered, "Well, ye-es, might be worth thinking about.
Remember where I put my pipe?" When she pressed him he fidgeted, "I
don't know; seems to me those kind of houses you speak of have been
overdone."

It proved that what he wanted was a house exactly like Sam Clark's,
which was exactly like every third new house in every town in the
country: a square, yellow stolidity with immaculate clapboards, a broad
screened porch, tidy grass-plots, and concrete walks; a house resembling
the mind of a merchant who votes the party ticket straight and goes to
church once a month and owns a good car.

He admitted, "Well, yes, maybe it isn't so darn artistic but----Matter
of fact, though, I don't want a place just like Sam's. Maybe I would cut
off that fool tower he's got, and I think probably it would look better
painted a nice cream color. That yellow on Sam's house is too kind
of flashy. Then there's another kind of house that's mighty nice and
substantial-looking, with shingles, in a nice brown stain, instead of
clapboards--seen some in Minneapolis. You're way off your base when you
say I only like one kind of house!"

Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie came in one evening when Carol was
sleepily advocating a rose-garden cottage.

"You've had a lot of experience with housekeeping, aunty, and don't you
think," Kennicott appealed, "that it would be sensible to have a nice
square house, and pay more attention to getting a crackajack furnace
than to all this architecture and doodads?"

Aunt Bessie worked her lips as though they were an elastic band. "Why
of course! I know how it is with young folks like you, Carrie; you want
towers and bay-windows and pianos and heaven knows what all, but the
thing to get is closets and a good furnace and a handy place to hang out
the washing, and the rest don't matter."

Uncle Whittier dribbled a little, put his face near to Carol's, and
sputtered, "Course it don't! What d'you care what folks think about
the outside of your house? It's the inside you're living in. None of my
business, but I must say you young folks that'd rather have cakes than
potatoes get me riled."

She reached her room before she became savage. Below, dreadfully
near, she could hear the broom-swish of Aunt Bessie's voice, and the
mop-pounding of Uncle Whittier's grumble. She had a reasonless dread
that they would intrude on her, then a fear that she would yield
to Gopher Prairie's conception of duty toward an Aunt Bessie and go
down-stairs to be "nice." She felt the demand for standardized behavior
coming in waves from all the citizens who sat in their sitting-rooms
watching her with respectable eyes, waiting, demanding, unyielding. She
snarled, "Oh, all right, I'll go!" She powdered her nose, straightened
her collar, and coldly marched down-stairs. The three elders ignored
her. They had advanced from the new house to agreeable general fussing.
Aunt Bessie was saying, in a tone like the munching of dry toast:

"I do think Mr. Stowbody ought to have had the rain-pipe fixed at our
store right away. I went to see him on Tuesday morning before ten, no,
it was couple minutes after ten, but anyway, it was long before noon--I
know because I went right from the bank to the meat market to get some
steak--my! I think it's outrageous, the prices Oleson & McGuire charge
for their meat, and it isn't as if they gave you a good cut either but
just any old thing, and I had time to get it, and I stopped in at Mrs.
Bogart's to ask about her rheumatism----"

Carol was watching Uncle Whittier. She knew from his taut expression
that he was not listening to Aunt Bessie but herding his own thoughts,
and that he would interrupt her bluntly. He did:

"Will, where c'n I get an extra pair of pants for this coat and vest? D'
want to pay too much."

"Well, guess Nat Hicks could make you up a pair. But if I were you, I'd
drop into Ike Rifkin's--his prices are lower than the Bon Ton's."

"Humph. Got the new stove in your office yet?"

"No, been looking at some at Sam Clark's but----"

"Well, y' ought get 't in. Don't do to put off getting a stove all
summer, and then have it come cold on you in the fall."

Carol smiled upon them ingratiatingly. "Do you dears mind if I slip up
to bed? I'm rather tired--cleaned the upstairs today."

She retreated. She was certain that they were discussing her, and foully
forgiving her. She lay awake till she heard the distant creak of a bed
which indicated that Kennicott had retired. Then she felt safe.

It was Kennicott who brought up the matter of the Smails at breakfast.
With no visible connection he said, "Uncle Whit is kind of clumsy, but
just the same, he's a pretty wise old coot. He's certainly making good
with the store."

Carol smiled, and Kennicott was pleased that she had come to her senses.
"As Whit says, after all the first thing is to have the inside of a
house right, and darn the people on the outside looking in!"

It seemed settled that the house was to be a sound example of the Sam
Clark school.

Kennicott made much of erecting it entirely for her and the baby. He
spoke of closets for her frocks, and "a comfy sewing-room." But when
he drew on a leaf from an old account-book (he was a paper-saver and a
string-picker) the plans for the garage, he gave much more attention
to a cement floor and a work-bench and a gasoline-tank than he had to
sewing-rooms.

She sat back and was afraid.

In the present rookery there were odd things--a step up from the hall
to the dining-room, a picturesqueness in the shed and bedraggled lilac
bush. But the new place would be smooth, standardized, fixed. It was
probable, now that Kennicott was past forty, and settled, that this
would be the last venture he would ever make in building. So long as she
stayed in this ark, she would always have a possibility of change, but
once she was in the new house, there she would sit for all the rest of
her life--there she would die. Desperately she wanted to put it off,
against the chance of miracles. While Kennicott was chattering about a
patent swing-door for the garage she saw the swing-doors of a prison.

She never voluntarily returned to the project. Aggrieved, Kennicott
stopped drawing plans, and in ten days the new house was forgotten.


V


Every year since their marriage Carol had longed for a trip through the
East. Every year Kennicott had talked of attending the American Medical
Association convention, "and then afterwards we could do the East
up brown. I know New York clean through--spent pretty near a week
there--but I would like to see New England and all these historic places
and have some sea-food." He talked of it from February to May, and in
May he invariably decided that coming confinement-cases or land-deals
would prevent his "getting away from home-base for very long THIS
year--and no sense going till we can do it right."

The weariness of dish-washing had increased her desire to go. She
pictured herself looking at Emerson's manse, bathing in a surf of jade
and ivory, wearing a trottoir and a summer fur, meeting an aristocratic
Stranger. In the spring Kennicott had pathetically volunteered, "S'pose
you'd like to get in a good long tour this summer, but with Gould and
Mac away and so many patients depending on me, don't see how I can make
it. By golly, I feel like a tightwad though, not taking you." Through
all this restless July after she had tasted Bresnahan's disturbing
flavor of travel and gaiety, she wanted to go, but she said nothing.
They spoke of and postponed a trip to the Twin Cities. When she
suggested, as though it were a tremendous joke, "I think baby and I
might up and leave you, and run off to Cape Cod by ourselves!" his only
reaction was "Golly, don't know but what you may almost have to do that,
if we don't get in a trip next year."

Toward the end of July he proposed, "Say, the Beavers are holding a
convention in Joralemon, street fair and everything. We might go down
tomorrow. And I'd like to see Dr. Calibree about some business. Put in
the whole day. Might help some to make up for our trip. Fine fellow, Dr.
Calibree."

Joralemon was a prairie town of the size of Gopher Prairie.

Their motor was out of order, and there was no passenger-train at an
early hour. They went down by freight-train, after the weighty and
conversational business of leaving Hugh with Aunt Bessie. Carol was
exultant over this irregular jaunting. It was the first unusual thing,
except the glance of Bresnahan, that had happened since the weaning of
Hugh. They rode in the caboose, the small red cupola-topped car jerked
along at the end of the train. It was a roving shanty, the cabin of a
land schooner, with black oilcloth seats along the side, and for desk, a
pine board to be let down on hinges. Kennicott played seven-up with the
conductor and two brakemen. Carol liked the blue silk kerchiefs about
the brakemen's throats; she liked their welcome to her, and their air of
friendly independence. Since there were no sweating passengers crammed
in beside her, she reveled in the train's slowness. She was part of
these lakes and tawny wheat-fields. She liked the smell of hot earth and
clean grease; and the leisurely chug-a-chug, chug-a-chug of the trucks
was a song of contentment in the sun.

She pretended that she was going to the Rockies. When they reached
Joralemon she was radiant with holiday-making.

Her eagerness began to lessen the moment they stopped at a red frame
station exactly like the one they had just left at Gopher Prairie,
and Kennicott yawned, "Right on time. Just in time for dinner at the
Calibrees'. I 'phoned the doctor from G. P. that we'd be here. 'We'll
catch the freight that gets in before twelve,' I told him. He said
he'd meet us at the depot and take us right up to the house for dinner.
Calibree is a good man, and you'll find his wife is a mighty brainy
little woman, bright as a dollar. By golly, there he is."

Dr. Calibree was a squat, clean-shaven, conscientious-looking man of
forty. He was curiously like his own brown-painted motor car, with
eye-glasses for windshield. "Want you to meet my wife, doctor--Carrie,
make you 'quainted with Dr. Calibree," said Kennicott. Calibree bowed
quietly and shook her hand, but before he had finished shaking it he was
concentrating upon Kennicott with, "Nice to see you, doctor. Say, don't
let me forget to ask you about what you did in that exopthalmic goiter
case--that Bohemian woman at Wahkeenyan."

The two men, on the front seat of the car, chanted goiters and ignored
her. She did not know it. She was trying to feed her illusion of
adventure by staring at unfamiliar houses . . . drab cottages, artificial
stone bungalows, square painty stolidities with immaculate clapboards
and broad screened porches and tidy grass-plots.

Calibree handed her over to his wife, a thick woman who called
her "dearie," and asked if she was hot and, visibly searching for
conversation, produced, "Let's see, you and the doctor have a Little
One, haven't you?" At dinner Mrs. Calibree served the corned beef and
cabbage and looked steamy, looked like the steamy leaves of cabbage. The
men were oblivious of their wives as they gave the social passwords of
Main Street, the orthodox opinions on weather, crops, and motor cars,
then flung away restraint and gyrated in the debauch of shop-talk.
Stroking his chin, drawling in the ecstasy of being erudite, Kennicott
inquired, "Say, doctor, what success have you had with thyroid for
treatment of pains in the legs before child-birth?"

Carol did not resent their assumption that she was too ignorant to be
admitted to masculine mysteries. She was used to it. But the cabbage and
Mrs. Calibree's monotonous "I don't know what we're coming to with
all this difficulty getting hired girls" were gumming her eyes with
drowsiness. She sought to clear them by appealing to Calibree, in a
manner of exaggerated liveliness, "Doctor, have the medical societies
in Minnesota ever advocated legislation for help to nursing mothers?"

Calibree slowly revolved toward her. "Uh--I've never--uh--never looked
into it. I don't believe much in getting mixed up in politics." He
turned squarely from her and, peering earnestly at Kennicott, resumed,
"Doctor, what's been your experience with unilateral pyelonephritis?
Buckburn of Baltimore advocates decapsulation and nephrotomy, but seems
to me----"

Not till after two did they rise. In the lee of the stonily mature trio
Carol proceeded to the street fair which added mundane gaiety to the
annual rites of the United and Fraternal Order of Beavers. Beavers,
human Beavers, were everywhere: thirty-second degree Beavers in gray
sack suits and decent derbies, more flippant Beavers in crash summer
coats and straw hats, rustic Beavers in shirt sleeves and frayed
suspenders; but whatever his caste-symbols, every Beaver was
distinguished by an enormous shrimp-colored ribbon lettered in silver,
"Sir Knight and Brother, U. F. O. B., Annual State Convention." On the
motherly shirtwaist of each of their wives was a badge "Sir Knight's
Lady." The Duluth delegation had brought their famous Beaver amateur
band, in Zouave costumes of green velvet jacket, blue trousers, and
scarlet fez. The strange thing was that beneath their scarlet pride the
Zouaves' faces remained those of American business-men, pink, smooth,
eye-glassed; and as they stood playing in a circle, at the corner of
Main Street and Second, as they tootled on fifes or with swelling cheeks
blew into cornets, their eyes remained as owlish as though they were
sitting at desks under the sign "This Is My Busy Day."

Carol had supposed that the Beavers were average citizens organized for
the purposes of getting cheap life-insurance and playing poker at the
lodge-rooms every second Wednesday, but she saw a large poster which
proclaimed:

     BEAVERS
     U. F. O. B.

     The greatest influence for good citizenship in the
     country.  The jolliest aggregation of red-blooded,
     open-handed, hustle-em-up good fellows in the world.
     Joralemon welcomes you to her hospitable city.

Kennicott read the poster and to Calibree admired, "Strong lodge, the
Beavers. Never joined. Don't know but what I will."

Calibree adumbrated, "They're a good bunch. Good strong lodge. See that
fellow there that's playing the snare drum? He's the smartest wholesale
grocer in Duluth, they say. Guess it would be worth joining. Oh say, are
you doing much insurance examining?"

They went on to the street fair.

Lining one block of Main Street were the "attractions"--two hot-dog
stands, a lemonade and pop-corn stand, a merry-go-round, and booths in
which balls might be thrown at rag dolls, if one wished to throw balls
at rag dolls. The dignified delegates were shy of the booths, but
country boys with brickred necks and pale-blue ties and bright-yellow
shoes, who had brought sweethearts into town in somewhat dusty and
listed Fords, were wolfing sandwiches, drinking strawberry pop out of
bottles, and riding the revolving crimson and gold horses. They shrieked
and giggled; peanut-roasters whistled; the merry-go-round pounded out
monotonous music; the barkers bawled, "Here's your chance--here's
your chance--come on here, boy--come on here--give that girl a good
time--give her a swell time--here's your chance to win a genuwine gold
watch for five cents, half a dime, the twentieth part of a dollah!"
The prairie sun jabbed the unshaded street with shafts that were like
poisonous thorns the tinny cornices above the brick stores were glaring;
the dull breeze scattered dust on sweaty Beavers who crawled along in
tight scorching new shoes, up two blocks and back, up two blocks and
back, wondering what to do next, working at having a good time.

Carol's head ached as she trailed behind the unsmiling Calibrees along
the block of booths. She chirruped at Kennicott, "Let's be wild! Let's
ride on the merry-go-round and grab a gold ring!"

Kennicott considered it, and mumbled to Calibree, "Think you folks would
like to stop and try a ride on the merry-go-round?"

Calibree considered it, and mumbled to his wife, "Think you'd like to
stop and try a ride on the merry-go-round?"

Mrs. Calibree smiled in a washed-out manner, and sighed, "Oh no, I don't
believe I care to much, but you folks go ahead and try it."

Calibree stated to Kennicott, "No, I don't believe we care to a whole
lot, but you folks go ahead and try it."

Kennicott summarized the whole case against wildness: "Let's try it some
other time, Carrie."

She gave it up. She looked at the town. She saw that in adventuring
from Main Street, Gopher Prairie, to Main Street, Joralemon, she had not
stirred. There were the same two-story brick groceries with lodge-signs
above the awnings; the same one-story wooden millinery shop; the same
fire-brick garages; the same prairie at the open end of the wide
street; the same people wondering whether the levity of eating a hot-dog
sandwich would break their taboos.

They reached Gopher Prairie at nine in the evening.

"You look kind of hot," said Kennicott.

"Yes."

"Joralemon is an enterprising town, don't you think so?" She broke. "No!
I think it's an ash-heap."

"Why, Carrie!"

He worried over it for a week. While he ground his plate with his knife
as he energetically pursued fragments of bacon, he peeped at her.



CHAPTER XXV

"CARRIE'S all right. She's finicky, but she'll get over it. But I wish
she'd hurry up about it! What she can't understand is that a fellow
practising medicine in a small town like this has got to cut out the
highbrow stuff, and not spend all his time going to concerts and
shining his shoes. (Not but what he might be just as good at all these
intellectual and art things as some other folks, if he had the time
for it!)" Dr. Will Kennicott was brooding in his office, during a free
moment toward the end of the summer afternoon. He hunched down in his
tilted desk-chair, undid a button of his shirt, glanced at the state
news in the back of the Journal of the American Medical Association,
dropped the magazine, leaned back with his right thumb hooked in the
arm-hole of his vest and his left thumb stroking the back of his hair.

"By golly, she's taking an awful big chance, though. You'd expect her
to learn by and by that I won't be a parlor lizard. She says we try
to 'make her over.' Well, she's always trying to make me over, from a
perfectly good M. D. into a damn poet with a socialist necktie! She'd
have a fit if she knew how many women would be willing to cuddle up to
Friend Will and comfort him, if he'd give 'em the chance! There's still
a few dames that think the old man isn't so darn unattractive! I'm
glad I've ducked all that woman-game since I've been married but----Be
switched if sometimes I don't feel tempted to shine up to some girl that
has sense enough to take life as it is; some frau that doesn't want to
talk Longfellow all the time, but just hold my hand and say, 'You look
all in, honey. Take it easy, and don't try to talk.'

"Carrie thinks she's such a whale at analyzing folks. Giving the town
the once-over. Telling us where we get off. Why, she'd simply turn up
her toes and croak if she found out how much she doesn't know about the
high old times a wise guy could have in this burg on the Q.T., if he
wasn't faithful to his wife. But I am. At that, no matter what faults
she's got, there's nobody here, no, nor in Minn'aplus either, that's as
nice-looking and square and bright as Carrie. She ought to of been an
artist or a writer or one of those things. But once she took a shot at
living here, she ought to stick by it. Pretty----Lord yes. But cold. She
simply doesn't know what passion is. She simply hasn't got an -dea how
hard it is for a full-blooded man to go on pretending to be satisfied
with just being endured. It gets awful tiresome, having to feel like a
criminal just because I'm normal. She's getting so she doesn't even care
for my kissing her. Well----

"I guess I can weather it, same as I did earning my way through school
and getting started in practise. But I wonder how long I can stand being
an outsider in my own home?"

He sat up at the entrance of Mrs. Dave Dyer. She slumped into a chair
and gasped with the heat. He chuckled, "Well, well, Maud, this is fine.
Where's the subscription-list? What cause do I get robbed for, this
trip?"

"I haven't any subscription-list, Will. I want to see you
professionally."

"And you a Christian Scientist? Have you given that up? What next? New
Thought or Spiritualism?"

"No, I have not given it up!"

"Strikes me it's kind of a knock on the sisterhood, your coming to see a
doctor!"

"No, it isn't. It's just that my faith isn't strong enough yet. So there
now! And besides, you ARE kind of consoling, Will. I mean as a man, not
just as a doctor. You're so strong and placid."

He sat on the edge of his desk, coatless, his vest swinging open with
the thick gold line of his watch-chain across the gap, his hands in his
trousers pockets, his big arms bent and easy. As she purred he cocked
an interested eye. Maud Dyer was neurotic, religiocentric, faded; her
emotions were moist, and her figure was unsystematic--splendid thighs
and arms, with thick ankles, and a body that was bulgy in the wrong
places. But her milky skin was delicious, her eyes were alive, her
chestnut hair shone, and there was a tender slope from her ears to the
shadowy place below her jaw.

With unusual solicitude he uttered his stock phrase, "Well, what seems
to be the matter, Maud?"

"I've got such a backache all the time. I'm afraid the organic trouble
that you treated me for is coming back."

"Any definite signs of it?"

"N-no, but I think you'd better examine me."

"Nope. Don't believe it's necessary, Maud. To be honest, between old
friends, I think your troubles are mostly imaginary. I can't really
advise you to have an examination."

She flushed, looked out of the window. He was conscious that his voice
was not impersonal and even.

She turned quickly. "Will, you always say my troubles are imaginary. Why
can't you be scientific? I've been reading an article about these new
nerve-specialists, and they claim that lots of 'imaginary' ailments,
yes, and lots of real pain, too, are what they call psychoses, and they
order a change in a woman's way of living so she can get on a higher
plane----"

"Wait! Wait! Whoa-up! Wait now! Don't mix up your Christian Science and
your psychology! They're two entirely different fads! You'll be mixing
in socialism next! You're as bad as Carrie, with your 'psychoses.'
Why, Good Lord, Maud, I could talk about neuroses and psychoses and
inhibitions and repressions and complexes just as well as any damn
specialist, if I got paid for it, if I was in the city and had the nerve
to charge the fees that those fellows do. If a specialist stung you for
a hundred-dollar consultation-fee and told you to go to New York to duck
Dave's nagging, you'd do it, to save the hundred dollars! But you know
me--I'm your neighbor--you see me mowing the lawn--you figure I'm just
a plug general practitioner. If I said, 'Go to New York,' Dave and you
would laugh your heads off and say, 'Look at the airs Will is putting
on. What does he think he is?'

"As a matter of fact, you're right. You have a perfectly well-developed
case of repression of sex instinct, and it raises the old Ned with your
body. What you need is to get away from Dave and travel, yes, and go to
every dog-gone kind of New Thought and Bahai and Swami and Hooptedoodle
meeting you can find. I know it, well 's you do. But how can I advise
it? Dave would be up here taking my hide off. I'm willing to be family
physician and priest and lawyer and plumber and wet-nurse, but I draw
the line at making Dave loosen up on money. Too hard a job in weather
like this! So, savvy, my dear? Believe it will rain if this heat
keeps----"

"But, Will, he'd never give it to me on my say-so. He'd never let me
go away. You know how Dave is: so jolly and liberal in society, and oh,
just LOVES to match quarters, and such a perfect sport if he loses! But
at home he pinches a nickel till the buffalo drips blood. I have to nag
him for every single dollar."

"Sure, I know, but it's your fight, honey. Keep after him. He'd simply
resent my butting in."

He crossed over and patted her shoulder. Outside the window, beyond the
fly-screen that was opaque with dust and cottonwood lint, Main Street
was hushed except for the impatient throb of a standing motor car. She
took his firm hand, pressed his knuckles against her cheek.

"O Will, Dave is so mean and little and noisy--the shrimp! You're
so calm. When he's cutting up at parties I see you standing back and
watching him--the way a mastiff watches a terrier."

He fought for professional dignity with, "Dave 's not a bad fellow."

Lingeringly she released his hand. "Will, drop round by the house this
evening and scold me. Make me be good and sensible. And I'm so lonely."

"If I did, Dave would be there, and we'd have to play cards. It's his
evening off from the store."

"No. The clerk just got called to Corinth--mother sick. Dave will be in
the store till midnight. Oh, come on over. There's some lovely beer on
the ice, and we can sit and talk and be all cool and lazy. That wouldn't
be wrong of us, WOULD it!"

"No, no, course it wouldn't be wrong. But still, oughtn't to----" He saw
Carol, slim black and ivory, cool, scornful of intrigue.

"All right. But I'll be so lonely."

Her throat seemed young, above her loose blouse of muslin and
machine-lace.

"Tell you, Maud: I'll drop in just for a minute, if I happen to be
called down that way."

"If you'd like," demurely. "O Will, I just want comfort. I know you're
all married, and my, such a proud papa, and of course now----If I could
just sit near you in the dusk, and be quiet, and forget Dave! You WILL
come?"

"Sure I will!"

"I'll expect you. I'll be lonely if you don't come! Good-by."

He cursed himself: "Darned fool, what 'd I promise to go for? I'll
have to keep my promise, or she'll feel hurt. She's a good, decent,
affectionate girl, and Dave's a cheap skate, all right. She's got more
life to her than Carol has. All my fault, anyway. Why can't I be more
cagey, like Calibree and McGanum and the rest of the doctors? Oh, I
am, but Maud's such a demanding idiot. Deliberately bamboozling me into
going up there tonight. Matter of principle: ought not to let her get
away with it. I won't go. I'll call her up and tell her I won't go.
Me, with Carrie at home, finest little woman in the world, and a
messy-minded female like Maud Dyer--no, SIR! Though there's no need of
hurting her feelings. I may just drop in for a second, to tell her I
can't stay. All my fault anyway; ought never to have started in and
jollied Maud along in the old days. If it's my fault, I've got no right
to punish Maud. I could just drop in for a second and then pretend I
had a country call and beat it. Damn nuisance, though, having to fake up
excuses. Lord, why can't the women let you alone? Just because once or
twice, seven hundred million years ago, you were a poor fool, why can't
they let you forget it? Maud's own fault. I'll stay strictly away. Take
Carrie to the movies, and forget Maud. . . . But it would be kind of hot
at the movies tonight."

He fled from himself. He rammed on his hat, threw his coat over his arm,
banged the door, locked it, tramped downstairs. "I won't go!" he said
sturdily and, as he said it, he would have given a good deal to know
whether he was going.

He was refreshed, as always, by the familiar windows and faces. It
restored his soul to have Sam Clark trustingly bellow, "Better come down
to the lake this evening and have a swim, doc. Ain't you going to open
your cottage at all, this summer? By golly, we miss you." He noted the
progress on the new garage. He had triumphed in the laying of every
course of bricks; in them he had seen the growth of the town. His pride
was ushered back to its throne by the respectfulness of Oley Sundquist:
"Evenin', doc! The woman is a lot better. That was swell medicine you
gave her." He was calmed by the mechanicalness of the tasks at home:
burning the gray web of a tent-worm on the wild cherry tree, sealing
with gum a cut in the right front tire of the car, sprinkling the road
before the house. The hose was cool to his hands. As the bright arrows
fell with a faint puttering sound, a crescent of blackness was formed in
the gray dust.

Dave Dyer came along.

"Where going, Dave?"

"Down to the store. Just had supper."

"But Thursday 's your night off."

"Sure, but Pete went home. His mother 's supposed to be sick. Gosh,
these clerks you get nowadays--overpay 'em and then they won't work!"

"That's tough, Dave. You'll have to work clear up till twelve, then."

"Yup. Better drop in and have a cigar, if you're downtown.

"Well, I may, at that. May have to go down and see Mrs. Champ Perry.
She's ailing. So long, Dave."

Kennicott had not yet entered the house. He was conscious that Carol was
near him, that she was important, that he was afraid of her disapproval;
but he was content to be alone. When he had finished sprinkling he
strolled into the house, up to the baby's room, and cried to Hugh,
"Story-time for the old man, eh?"

Carol was in a low chair, framed and haloed by the window behind her,
an image in pale gold. The baby curled in her lap, his head on her arm,
listening with gravity while she sang from Gene Field:

     'Tis little Luddy-Dud in the morning--
     'Tis little Luddy-Dud at night:
     And all day long
     'Tis the same dear song
     Of that growing, crowing, knowing little sprite.

Kennicott was enchanted.

"Maud Dyer? I should say not!"

When the current maid bawled up-stairs, "Supper on de table!" Kennicott
was upon his back, flapping his hands in the earnest effort to be a
seal, thrilled by the strength with which his son kicked him. He slipped
his arm about Carol's shoulder; he went down to supper rejoicing that he
was cleansed of perilous stuff. While Carol was putting the baby to
bed he sat on the front steps. Nat Hicks, tailor and roue, came to sit
beside him. Between waves of his hand as he drove off mosquitos, Nat
whispered, "Say, doc, you don't feel like imagining you're a bacheldore
again, and coming out for a Time tonight, do you?"

"As how?"

"You know this new dressmaker, Mrs. Swiftwaite?--swell dame with
blondine hair? Well, she's a pretty good goer. Me and Harry Haydock are
going to take her and that fat wren that works in the Bon Ton--nice kid,
too--on an auto ride tonight. Maybe we'll drive down to that farm Harry
bought. We're taking some beer, and some of the smoothest rye you ever
laid tongue to. I'm not predicting none, but if we don't have a picnic,
I'll miss my guess."

"Go to it. No skin off my ear, Nat. Think I want to be fifth wheel in
the coach?"

"No, but look here: The little Swiftwaite has a friend with her from
Winona, dandy looker and some gay bird, and Harry and me thought maybe
you'd like to sneak off for one evening."

"No--no----"

"Rats now, doc, forget your everlasting dignity. You used to be a pretty
good sport yourself, when you were foot-free."

It may have been the fact that Mrs. Swiftwaite's friend remained to
Kennicott an ill-told rumor, it may have been Carol's voice, wistful
in the pallid evening as she sang to Hugh, it may have been natural and
commendable virtue, but certainly he was positive:

"Nope. I'm married for keeps. Don't pretend to be any saint. Like to
get out and raise Cain and shoot a few drinks. But a fellow owes a
duty----Straight now, won't you feel like a sneak when you come back to
the missus after your jamboree?"

"Me? My moral in life is, 'What they don't know won't hurt 'em none.'
The way to handle wives, like the fellow says, is to catch 'em early,
treat 'em rough, and tell 'em nothing!"

"Well, that's your business, I suppose. But I can't get away with it.
Besides that--way I figure it, this illicit love-making is the one game
that you always lose at. If you do lose, you feel foolish; and if you
win, as soon as you find out how little it is that you've been scheming
for, why then you lose worse than ever. Nature stinging us, as usual.
But at that, I guess a lot of wives in this burg would be surprised if
they knew everything that goes on behind their backs, eh, Nattie?"

"WOULD they! Say, boy! If the good wives knew what some of the boys get
away with when they go down to the Cities, why, they'd throw a fit!
Sure you won't come, doc? Think of getting all cooled off by a good long
drive, and then the lov-e-ly Swiftwaite's white hand mixing you a good
stiff highball!"

"Nope. Nope. Sorry. Guess I won't," grumbled Kennicott.

He was glad that Nat showed signs of going. But he was restless. He
heard Carol on the stairs. "Come have a seat--have the whole earth!" he
shouted jovially.

She did not answer his joviality. She sat on the porch, rocked silently,
then sighed, "So many mosquitos out here. You haven't had the screen
fixed."

As though he was testing her he said quietly, "Head aching again?"

"Oh, not much, but----This maid is SO slow to learn. I have to show her
everything. I had to clean most of the silver myself. And Hugh was so
bad all afternoon. He whined so. Poor soul, he was hot, but he did wear
me out."

"Uh----You usually want to get out. Like to walk down to the lake shore?
(The girl can stay home.) Or go to the movies? Come on, let's go to the
movies! Or shall we jump in the car and run out to Sam's, for a swim?"

"If you don't mind, dear, I'm afraid I'm rather tired."

"Why don't you sleep down-stairs tonight, on the couch? Be cooler. I'm
going to bring down my mattress. Come on! Keep the old man company.
Can't tell--I might get scared of burglars. Lettin' little fellow like
me stay all alone by himself!"

"It's sweet of you to think of it, but I like my own room so much. But
you go ahead and do it, dear. Why don't you sleep on the couch, instead
of putting your mattress on the floor? Well I believe I'll run in and
read for just a second--want to look at the last Vogue--and then perhaps
I'll go by-by. Unless you want me, dear? Of course if there's anything
you really WANT me for?"

"No. No. . . . Matter of fact, I really ought to run down and see Mrs.
Champ Perry. She's ailing. So you skip in and----May drop in at the drug
store. If I'm not home when you get sleepy, don't wait up for me."

He kissed her, rambled off, nodded to Jim Howland, stopped indifferently
to speak to Mrs. Terry Gould. But his heart was racing, his stomach
was constricted. He walked more slowly. He reached Dave Dyer's yard. He
glanced in. On the porch, sheltered by a wild-grape vine, was the
figure of a woman in white. He heard the swing-couch creak as she sat up
abruptly, peered, then leaned back and pretended to relax.

"Be nice to have some cool beer. Just drop in for a second," he
insisted, as he opened the Dyer gate.


II


Mrs. Bogart was calling upon Carol, protected by Aunt Bessie Smail.

"Have you heard about this awful woman that's supposed to have come here
to do dressmaking--a Mrs. Swiftwaite--awful peroxide blonde?" moaned
Mrs. Bogart. "They say there's some of the awfullest goings-on at her
house--mere boys and old gray-headed rips sneaking in there evenings
and drinking licker and every kind of goings-on. We women can't never
realize the carnal thoughts in the hearts of men. I tell you, even
though I been acquainted with Will Kennicott almost since he was a mere
boy, seems like, I wouldn't trust even him! Who knows what designin'
women might tempt him! Especially a doctor, with women rushin' in to see
him at his office and all! You know I never hint around, but haven't you
felt that----"

Carol was furious. "I don't pretend that Will has no faults. But one
thing I do know: He's as simple-hearted about what you call 'goings-on'
as a babe. And if he ever were such a sad dog as to look at another
woman, I certainly hope he'd have spirit enough to do the tempting, and
not be coaxed into it, as in your depressing picture!"

"Why, what a wicked thing to say, Carrie!" from Aunt Bessie.

"No, I mean it! Oh, of course, I don't mean it! But----I know every
thought in his head so well that he couldn't hide anything even if he
wanted to. Now this morning----He was out late, last night; he had to
go see Mrs. Perry, who is ailing, and then fix a man's hand, and this
morning he was so quiet and thoughtful at breakfast and----" She leaned
forward, breathed dramatically to the two perched harpies, "What do you
suppose he was thinking of?"

"What?" trembled Mrs. Bogart.

"Whether the grass needs cutting, probably! There, there! Don't mind my
naughtiness. I have some fresh-made raisin cookies for you."



CHAPTER XXVI

CAROL'S liveliest interest was in her walks with the baby. Hugh wanted
to know what the box-elder tree said, and what the Ford garage said, and
what the big cloud said, and she told him, with a feeling that she was
not in the least making up stories, but discovering the souls of things.
They had an especial fondness for the hitching-post in front of the
mill. It was a brown post, stout and agreeable; the smooth leg of it
held the sunlight, while its neck, grooved by hitching-straps, tickled
one's fingers. Carol had never been awake to the earth except as a show
of changing color and great satisfying masses; she had lived in people
and in ideas about having ideas; but Hugh's questions made her attentive
to the comedies of sparrows, robins, blue jays, yellowhammers; she
regained her pleasure in the arching flight of swallows, and added to it
a solicitude about their nests and family squabbles.

She forgot her seasons of boredom. She said to Hugh, "We're two fat
disreputable old minstrels roaming round the world," and he echoed her,
"Roamin' round--roamin' round."

The high adventure, the secret place to which they both fled joyously,
was the house of Miles and Bea and Olaf Bjornstam.

Kennicott steadily disapproved of the Bjornstams. He protested, "What
do you want to talk to that crank for?" He hinted that a former "Swede
hired girl" was low company for the son of Dr. Will Kennicott. She did
not explain. She did not quite understand it herself; did not know that
in the Bjornstams she found her friends, her club, her sympathy and her
ration of blessed cynicism. For a time the gossip of Juanita Haydock and
the Jolly Seventeen had been a refuge from the droning of Aunt Bessie,
but the relief had not continued. The young matrons made her nervous.
They talked so loud, always so loud. They filled a room with
clashing cackle; their jests and gags they repeated nine times over.
Unconsciously, she had discarded the Jolly Seventeen, Guy Pollock, Vida,
and every one save Mrs. Dr. Westlake and the friends whom she did not
clearly know as friends--the Bjornstams.

To Hugh, the Red Swede was the most heroic and powerful person in the
world. With unrestrained adoration he trotted after while Miles fed the
cows, chased his one pig--an animal of lax and migratory instincts--or
dramatically slaughtered a chicken. And to Hugh, Olaf was lord among
mortal men, less stalwart than the old monarch, King Miles, but more
understanding of the relations and values of things, of small sticks,
lone playing-cards, and irretrievably injured hoops.

Carol saw, though she did not admit, that Olaf was not only more
beautiful than her own dark child, but more gracious. Olaf was a Norse
chieftain: straight, sunny-haired, large-limbed, resplendently amiable
to his subjects. Hugh was a vulgarian; a bustling business man. It was
Hugh that bounced and said "Let's play"; Olaf that opened luminous blue
eyes and agreed "All right," in condescending gentleness. If Hugh batted
him--and Hugh did bat him--Olaf was unafraid but shocked. In magnificent
solitude he marched toward the house, while Hugh bewailed his sin and
the overclouding of august favor.

The two friends played with an imperial chariot which Miles had made out
of a starch-box and four red spools; together they stuck switches into
a mouse-hole, with vast satisfaction though entirely without known
results.

Bea, the chubby and humming Bea, impartially gave cookies and scoldings
to both children, and if Carol refused a cup of coffee and a wafer of
buttered knackebrod, she was desolated.

Miles had done well with his dairy. He had six cows, two hundred
chickens, a cream separator, a Ford truck. In the spring he had built a
two-room addition to his shack. That illustrious building was to Hugh a
carnival. Uncle Miles did the most spectacular, unexpected things: ran
up the ladder; stood on the ridge-pole, waving a hammer and singing
something about "To arms, my citizens"; nailed shingles faster than
Aunt Bessie could iron handkerchiefs; and lifted a two-by-six with Hugh
riding on one end and Olaf on the other. Uncle Miles's most ecstatic
trick was to make figures not on paper but right on a new pine board,
with the broadest softest pencil in the world. There was a thing worth
seeing!

The tools! In his office Father had tools fascinating in their shininess
and curious shapes, but they were sharp, they were something called
sterized, and they distinctly were not for boys to touch. In fact it
was a good dodge to volunteer "I must not touch," when you looked at the
tools on the glass shelves in Father's office. But Uncle Miles, who
was a person altogether superior to Father, let you handle all his kit
except the saws. There was a hammer with a silver head; there was a
metal thing like a big L; there was a magic instrument, very precious,
made out of costly red wood and gold, with a tube which contained a
drop--no, it wasn't a drop, it was a nothing, which lived in the water,
but the nothing LOOKED like a drop, and it ran in a frightened way
up and down the tube, no matter how cautiously you tilted the magic
instrument. And there were nails, very different and clever--big
valiant spikes, middle-sized ones which were not very interesting, and
shingle-nails much jollier than the fussed-up fairies in the yellow
book.


II


While he had worked on the addition Miles had talked frankly to Carol.
He admitted now that so long as he stayed in Gopher Prairie he would
remain a pariah. Bea's Lutheran friends were as much offended by his
agnostic gibes as the merchants by his radicalism. "And I can't seem to
keep my mouth shut. I think I'm being a baa-lamb, and not springing any
theories wilder than 'c-a-t spells cat,' but when folks have gone, I
re'lize I've been stepping on their pet religious corns. Oh, the mill
foreman keeps dropping in, and that Danish shoemaker, and one fellow
from Elder's factory, and a few Svenskas, but you know Bea: big
good-hearted wench like her wants a lot of folks around--likes to fuss
over 'em--never satisfied unless she tiring herself out making coffee
for somebody.

"Once she kidnapped me and drug me to the Methodist Church. I goes in,
pious as Widow Bogart, and sits still and never cracks a smile while
the preacher is favoring us with his misinformation on evolution. But
afterwards, when the old stalwarts were pumphandling everybody at the
door and calling 'em 'Brother' and 'Sister,' they let me sail right by
with nary a clinch. They figure I'm the town badman. Always will be, I
guess. It'll have to be Olaf who goes on. 'And sometimes----Blamed if I
don't feel like coming out and saying, 'I've been conservative. Nothing
to it. Now I'm going to start something in these rotten one-horse
lumber-camps west of town.' But Bea's got me hypnotized. Lord, Mrs.
Kennicott, do you re'lize what a jolly, square, faithful woman she is?
And I love Olaf----Oh well, I won't go and get sentimental on you.

"Course I've had thoughts of pulling up stakes and going West. Maybe
if they didn't know it beforehand, they wouldn't find out I'd ever been
guilty of trying to think for myself. But--oh, I've worked hard, and
built up this dairy business, and I hate to start all over again, and
move Bea and the kid into another one-room shack. That's how they get
us! Encourage us to be thrifty and own our own houses, and then, by
golly, they've got us; they know we won't dare risk everything by
committing lez--what is it? lez majesty?--I mean they know we won't be
hinting around that if we had a co-operative bank, we could get along
without Stowbody. Well----As long as I can sit and play pinochle with
Bea, and tell whoppers to Olaf about his daddy's adventures in the
woods, and how he snared a wapaloosie and knew Paul Bunyan, why, I
don't mind being a bum. It's just for them that I mind. Say! Say! Don't
whisper a word to Bea, but when I get this addition done, I'm going to
buy her a phonograph!"

He did.

While she was busy with the activities her work-hungry muscles
found--washing, ironing, mending, baking, dusting, preserving, plucking
a chicken, painting the sink; tasks which, because she was Miles's full
partner, were exciting and creative--Bea listened to the phonograph
records with rapture like that of cattle in a warm stable. The addition
gave her a kitchen with a bedroom above. The original one-room shack was
now a living-room, with the phonograph, a genuine leather-upholstered
golden-oak rocker, and a picture of Governor John Johnson.

In late July Carol went to the Bjornstams' desirous of a chance to
express her opinion of Beavers and Calibrees and Joralemons. She found
Olaf abed, restless from a slight fever, and Bea flushed and dizzy but
trying to keep up her work. She lured Miles aside and worried:

"They don't look at all well. What's the matter?"

"Their stomachs are out of whack. I wanted to call in Doc Kennicott, but
Bea thinks the doc doesn't like us--she thinks maybe he's sore because
you come down here. But I'm getting worried."

"I'm going to call the doctor at once."

She yearned over Olaf. His lambent eyes were stupid, he moaned, he
rubbed his forehead.

"Have they been eating something that's been bad for them?" she
fluttered to Miles.

"Might be bum water. I'll tell you: We used to get our water at Oscar
Eklund's place, over across the street, but Oscar kept dinging at me,
and hinting I was a tightwad not to dig a well of my own. One time
he said, 'Sure, you socialists are great on divvying up other folks'
money--and water!' I knew if he kept it up there'd be a fuss, and I
ain't safe to have around, once a fuss starts; I'm likely to forget
myself and let loose with a punch in the snoot. I offered to pay Oscar
but he refused--he'd rather have the chance to kid me. So I starts
getting water down at Mrs. Fageros's, in the hollow there, and I don't
believe it's real good. Figuring to dig my own well this fall."

One scarlet word was before Carol's eyes while she listened. She fled to
Kennicott's office. He gravely heard her out; nodded, said, "Be right
over."

He examined Bea and Olaf. He shook his head. "Yes. Looks to me like
typhoid."

"Golly, I've seen typhoid in lumber-camps," groaned Miles, all the
strength dripping out of him. "Have they got it very bad?"

"Oh, we'll take good care of them," said Kennicott, and for the first
time in their acquaintance he smiled on Miles and clapped his shoulder.

"Won't you need a nurse?" demanded Carol.

"Why----" To Miles, Kennicott hinted, "Couldn't you get Bea's cousin,
Tina?"

"She's down at the old folks', in the country."

"Then let me do it!" Carol insisted. "They need some one to cook for
them, and isn't it good to give them sponge baths, in typhoid?"

"Yes. All right." Kennicott was automatic; he was the official, the
physician. "I guess probably it would be hard to get a nurse here in
town just now. Mrs. Stiver is busy with an obstetrical case, and that
town nurse of yours is off on vacation, ain't she? All right, Bjornstam
can spell you at night."

All week, from eight each morning till midnight, Carol fed them, bathed
them, smoothed sheets, took temperatures. Miles refused to let her cook.
Terrified, pallid, noiseless in stocking feet, he did the kitchen work
and the sweeping, his big red hands awkwardly careful. Kennicott came
in three times a day, unchangingly tender and hopeful in the sick-room,
evenly polite to Miles.

Carol understood how great was her love for her friends. It bore
her through; it made her arm steady and tireless to bathe them.
What exhausted her was the sight of Bea and Olaf turned into flaccid
invalids, uncomfortably flushed after taking food, begging for the
healing of sleep at night.

During the second week Olaf's powerful legs were flabby. Spots of a
viciously delicate pink came out on his chest and back. His cheeks sank.
He looked frightened. His tongue was brown and revolting. His confident
voice dwindled to a bewildered murmur, ceaseless and racking.

Bea had stayed on her feet too long at the beginning. The moment
Kennicott had ordered her to bed she had begun to collapse. One early
evening she startled them by screaming, in an intense abdominal pain,
and within half an hour she was in a delirium. Till dawn Carol was
with her, and not all of Bea's groping through the blackness of
half-delirious pain was so pitiful to Carol as the way in which Miles
silently peered into the room from the top of the narrow stairs.
Carol slept three hours next morning, and ran back. Bea was altogether
delirious but she muttered nothing save, "Olaf--ve have such a good
time----"

At ten, while Carol was preparing an ice-bag in the kitchen, Miles
answered a knock. At the front door she saw Vida Sherwin, Maud Dyer, and
Mrs. Zitterel, wife of the Baptist pastor. They were carrying grapes,
and women's-magazines, magazines with high-colored pictures and
optimistic fiction.

"We just heard your wife was sick. We've come to see if there isn't
something we can do," chirruped Vida.

Miles looked steadily at the three women. "You're too late. You can't
do nothing now. Bea's always kind of hoped that you folks would come see
her. She wanted to have a chance and be friends. She used to sit waiting
for somebody to knock. I've seen her sitting here, waiting. Now----Oh,
you ain't worth God-damning." He shut the door.

All day Carol watched Olaf's strength oozing. He was emaciated. His ribs
were grim clear lines, his skin was clammy, his pulse was feeble but
terrifyingly rapid. It beat--beat--beat in a drum-roll of death. Late
that afternoon he sobbed, and died.

Bea did not know it. She was delirious. Next morning, when she went,
she did not know that Olaf would no longer swing his lath sword on the
door-step, no longer rule his subjects of the cattle-yard; that Miles's
son would not go East to college.

Miles, Carol, Kennicott were silent. They washed the bodies together,
their eyes veiled.

"Go home now and sleep. You're pretty tired. I can't ever pay you back
for what you done," Miles whispered to Carol.

"Yes. But I'll be back here tomorrow. Go with you to the funeral," she
said laboriously.

When the time for the funeral came, Carol was in bed, collapsed. She
assumed that neighbors would go. They had not told her that word of
Miles's rebuff to Vida had spread through town, a cyclonic fury.

It was only by chance that, leaning on her elbow in bed, she glanced
through the window and saw the funeral of Bea and Olaf. There was
no music, no carriages. There was only Miles Bjornstam, in his black
wedding-suit, walking quite alone, head down, behind the shabby hearse
that bore the bodies of his wife and baby.

An hour after, Hugh came into her room crying, and when she said as
cheerily as she could, "What is it, dear?" he besought, "Mummy, I want
to go play with Olaf."

That afternoon Juanita Haydock dropped in to brighten Carol. She said,
"Too bad about this Bea that was your hired girl. But I don't waste
any sympathy on that man of hers. Everybody says he drank too much, and
treated his family awful, and that's how they got sick."



CHAPTER XXVII

I

A LETTER from Raymie Wutherspoon, in France, said that he had been sent
to the front, been slightly wounded, been made a captain. From Vida's
pride Carol sought to draw a stimulant to rouse her from depression.

Miles had sold his dairy. He had several thousand dollars. To Carol he
said good-by with a mumbled word, a harsh hand-shake, "Going to buy a
farm in northern Alberta--far off from folks as I can get." He turned
sharply away, but he did not walk with his former spring. His shoulders
seemed old.

It was said that before he went he cursed the town. There was talk
of arresting him, of riding him on a rail. It was rumored that at the
station old Champ Perry rebuked him, "You better not come back here.
We've got respect for your dead, but we haven't got any for a blasphemer
and a traitor that won't do anything for his country and only bought one
Liberty Bond."

Some of the people who had been at the station declared that Miles made
some dreadful seditious retort: something about loving German workmen
more than American bankers; but others asserted that he couldn't find
one word with which to answer the veteran; that he merely sneaked up on
the platform of the train. He must have felt guilty, everybody agreed,
for as the train left town, a farmer saw him standing in the vestibule
and looking out.

His house--with the addition which he had built four months ago--was
very near the track on which his train passed.

When Carol went there, for the last time, she found Olaf's chariot with
its red spool wheels standing in the sunny corner beside the stable. She
wondered if a quick eye could have noticed it from a train.

That day and that week she went reluctantly to Red Cross work; she
stitched and packed silently, while Vida read the war bulletins. And she
said nothing at all when Kennicott commented, "From what Champ says,
I guess Bjornstam was a bad egg, after all. In spite of Bea, don't
know but what the citizens' committee ought to have forced him to
be patriotic--let on like they could send him to jail if he didn't
volunteer and come through for bonds and the Y. M. C. A. They've worked
that stunt fine with all these German farmers."


II


She found no inspiration but she did find a dependable kindness in Mrs.
Westlake, and at last she yielded to the old woman's receptivity and had
relief in sobbing the story of Bea.

Guy Pollock she often met on the street, but he was merely a pleasant
voice which said things about Charles Lamb and sunsets.

Her most positive experience was the revelation of Mrs. Flickerbaugh,
the tall, thin, twitchy wife of the attorney. Carol encountered her at
the drug store.

"Walking?" snapped Mrs. Flickerbaugh.

"Why, yes."

"Humph. Guess you're the only female in this town that retains the use
of her legs. Come home and have a cup o' tea with me."

Because she had nothing else to do, Carol went. But she was
uncomfortable in the presence of the amused stares which Mrs.
Flickerbaugh's raiment drew. Today, in reeking early August, she wore a
man's cap, a skinny fur like a dead cat, a necklace of imitation pearls,
a scabrous satin blouse, and a thick cloth skirt hiked up in front.

"Come in. Sit down. Stick the baby in that rocker. Hope you don't mind
the house looking like a rat's nest. You don't like this town. Neither
do I," said Mrs. Flickerbaugh.

"Why----"

"Course you don't!"

"Well then, I don't! But I'm sure that some day I'll find some solution.
Probably I'm a hexagonal peg. Solution: find the hexagonal hole." Carol
was very brisk.

"How do you know you ever will find it?"

"There's Mrs. Westlake. She's naturally a big-city woman--she ought to
have a lovely old house in Philadelphia or Boston--but she escapes by
being absorbed in reading."

"You be satisfied to never do anything but read?"

"No, but Heavens, one can't go on hating a town always!"

"Why not? I can! I've hated it for thirty-two years. I'll die here--and
I'll hate it till I die. I ought to have been a business woman. I had
a good deal of talent for tending to figures. All gone now. Some folks
think I'm crazy. Guess I am. Sit and grouch. Go to church and sing
hymns. Folks think I'm religious. Tut! Trying to forget washing and
ironing and mending socks. Want an office of my own, and sell things.
Julius never hear of it. Too late."

Carol sat on the gritty couch, and sank into fear. Could this drabness
of life keep up forever, then? Would she some day so despise herself
and her neighbors that she too would walk Main Street an old skinny
eccentric woman in a mangy cat's-fur? As she crept home she felt that
the trap had finally closed. She went into the house, a frail small
woman, still winsome but hopeless of eye as she staggered with the
weight of the drowsy boy in her arms.

She sat alone on the porch, that evening. It seemed that Kennicott had
to make a professional call on Mrs. Dave Dyer.

Under the stilly boughs and the black gauze of dusk the street was
meshed in silence. There was but the hum of motor tires crunching the
road, the creak of a rocker on the Howlands' porch, the slap of a hand
attacking a mosquito, a heat-weary conversation starting and dying, the
precise rhythm of crickets, the thud of moths against the screen--sounds
that were a distilled silence. It was a street beyond the end of
the world, beyond the boundaries of hope. Though she should sit here
forever, no brave procession, no one who was interesting, would be
coming by. It was tediousness made tangible, a street builded of
lassitude and of futility.

Myrtle Cass appeared, with Cy Bogart. She giggled and bounced when Cy
tickled her ear in village love. They strolled with the half-dancing
gait of lovers, kicking their feet out sideways or shuffling a dragging
jig, and the concrete walk sounded to the broken two-four rhythm. Their
voices had a dusky turbulence. Suddenly, to the woman rocking on the
porch of the doctor's house, the night came alive, and she felt that
everywhere in the darkness panted an ardent quest which she was missing
as she sank back to wait for----There must be something.



CHAPTER XXVIII

IT WAS at a supper of the Jolly Seventeen in August that Carol heard of
"Elizabeth," from Mrs. Dave Dyer.

Carol was fond of Maud Dyer, because she had been particularly agreeable
lately; had obviously repented of the nervous distaste which she had
once shown. Maud patted her hand when they met, and asked about Hugh.

Kennicott said that he was "kind of sorry for the girl, some ways; she's
too darn emotional, but still, Dave is sort of mean to her." He was
polite to poor Maud when they all went down to the cottages for a swim.
Carol was proud of that sympathy in him, and now she took pains to sit
with their new friend.

Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, "Oh, have you folks heard about this young
fellow that's just come to town that the boys call 'Elizabeth'? He's
working in Nat Hicks's tailor shop. I bet he doesn't make eighteen a
week, but my! isn't he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and
oh, the lugs he puts on--belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin,
and socks to match his necktie, and honest--you won't believe this, but
I got it straight--this fellow, you know he's staying at Mrs. Gurrey's
punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought
to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that? And him
nothing but a Swede tailor--Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be
in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he's a smart needle-pusher,
at that) and he tries to let on that he's a regular city fellow. They
say he tries to make people think he's a poet--carries books around and
pretends to read 'em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he
was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like
flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a
regular United States Senator; and Myrtle--she's a devil, that girl,
ha! ha!--she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d'you
think he said? He said he didn't find any intellectual companionship
in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And
they say he's the most awful mollycoddle--looks just like a girl. The
boys call him 'Elizabeth,' and they stop him and ask about the books he
lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it
all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they're
kidding him. Oh, I think it's just TOO funny!"

The Jolly Seventeen laughed, and Carol laughed with them. Mrs. Jack
Elder added that this Erik Valborg had confided to Mrs. Gurrey that he
would "love to design clothes for women." Imagine! Mrs. Harvey Dillon
had had a glimpse of him, but honestly, she'd thought he was awfully
handsome. This was instantly controverted by Mrs. B. J. Gougerling, wife
of the banker. Mrs. Gougerling had had, she reported, a good look
at this Valborg fellow. She and B. J. had been motoring, and passed
"Elizabeth" out by McGruder's Bridge. He was wearing the awfullest
clothes, with the waist pinched in like a girl's. He was sitting on
a rock doing nothing, but when he heard the Gougerling car coming he
snatched a book out of his pocket, and as they went by he pretended to
be reading it, to show off. And he wasn't really good-looking--just kind
of soft, as B. J. had pointed out.

When the husbands came they joined in the expose. "My name is Elizabeth.
I'm the celebrated musical tailor. The skirts fall for me by the thou.
Do I get some more veal loaf?" merrily shrieked Dave Dyer. He had some
admirable stories about the tricks the town youngsters had played on
Valborg. They had dropped a decaying perch into his pocket. They had
pinned on his back a sign, "I'm the prize boob, kick me."

Glad of any laughter, Carol joined the frolic, and surprised them by
crying, "Dave, I do think you're the dearest thing since you got your
hair cut!" That was an excellent sally. Everybody applauded. Kennicott
looked proud.

She decided that sometime she really must go out of her way to pass
Hicks's shop and see this freak.


II


She was at Sunday morning service at the Baptist Church, in a solemn row
with her husband, Hugh, Uncle Whittier, Aunt Bessie.

Despite Aunt Bessie's nagging the Kennicotts rarely attended church. The
doctor asserted, "Sure, religion is a fine influence--got to have it to
keep the lower classes in order--fact, it's the only thing that appeals
to a lot of those fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property.
And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it
all out, and they knew more about it than we do." He believed in the
Christian religion, and never thought about it, he believed in the
church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of
faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she
lacked.

Carol herself was an uneasy and dodging agnostic.

When she ventured to Sunday School and heard the teachers droning that
the genealogy of Shamsherai was a valuable ethical problem for children
to think about; when she experimented with Wednesday prayer-meeting and
listened to store-keeping elders giving their unvarying weekly testimony
in primitive erotic symbols and such gory Chaldean phrases as "washed
in the blood of the lamb" and "a vengeful God"; when Mrs. Bogart boasted
that through his boyhood she had made Cy confess nightly upon the basis
of the Ten Commandments; then Carol was dismayed to find the Christian
religion, in America, in the twentieth century, as abnormal as
Zoroastrianism--without the splendor. But when she went to church
suppers and felt the friendliness, saw the gaiety with which the sisters
served cold ham and scalloped potatoes; when Mrs. Champ Perry cried to
her, on an afternoon call, "My dear, if you just knew how happy it makes
you to come into abiding grace," then Carol found the humanness behind
the sanguinary and alien theology. Always she perceived that the
churches--Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Catholic, all of
them--which had seemed so unimportant to the judge's home in her
childhood, so isolated from the city struggle in St. Paul, were
still, in Gopher Prairie, the strongest of the forces compelling
respectability.

This August Sunday she had been tempted by the announcement that the
Reverend Edmund Zitterel would preach on the topic "America, Face Your
Problems!" With the great war, workmen in every nation showing a desire
to control industries, Russia hinting a leftward revolution against
Kerensky, woman suffrage coming, there seemed to be plenty of problems
for the Reverend Mr. Zitterel to call on America to face. Carol gathered
her family and trotted off behind Uncle Whittier.

The congregation faced the heat with informality. Men with highly
plastered hair, so painfully shaved that their faces looked sore,
removed their coats, sighed, and unbuttoned two buttons of their
uncreased Sunday vests. Large-bosomed, white-bloused, hot-necked,
spectacled matrons--the Mothers in Israel, pioneers and friends of Mrs.
Champ Perry--waved their palm-leaf fans in a steady rhythm. Abashed boys
slunk into the rear pews and giggled, while milky little girls, up front
with their mothers, self-consciously kept from turning around.

The church was half barn and half Gopher Prairie parlor. The streaky
brown wallpaper was broken in its dismal sweep only by framed texts,
"Come unto Me" and "The Lord is My Shepherd," by a list of hymns, and by
a crimson and green diagram, staggeringly drawn upon hemp-colored paper,
indicating the alarming ease with which a young man may descend from
Palaces of Pleasure and the House of Pride to Eternal Damnation. But the
varnished oak pews and the new red carpet and the three large chairs on
the platform, behind the bare reading-stand, were all of a rocking-chair
comfort.

Carol was civic and neighborly and commendable today. She beamed and
bowed. She trolled out with the others the hymn:

     How pleasant 'tis on Sabbath morn
     To gather in the church
     And there I'll have no carnal thoughts,
     Nor sin shall me besmirch.

With a rustle of starched linen skirts and stiff shirt-fronts, the
congregation sat down, and gave heed to the Reverend Mr. Zitterel. The
priest was a thin, swart, intense young man with a bang. He wore a
black sack suit and a lilac tie. He smote the enormous Bible on the
reading-stand, vociferated, "Come, let us reason together," delivered a
prayer informing Almighty God of the news of the past week, and began to
reason.

It proved that the only problems which America had to face were
Mormonism and Prohibition:

"Don't let any of these self-conceited fellows that are always trying to
stir up trouble deceive you with the belief that there's anything to
all these smart-aleck movements to let the unions and the Farmers'
Nonpartisan League kill all our initiative and enterprise by fixing
wages and prices. There isn't any movement that amounts to a whoop
without it's got a moral background. And let me tell you that while
folks are fussing about what they call 'economics' and 'socialism'
and 'science' and a lot of things that are nothing in the world but a
disguise for atheism, the Old Satan is busy spreading his secret net
and tentacles out there in Utah, under his guise of Joe Smith or Brigham
Young or whoever their leaders happen to be today, it doesn't make any
difference, and they're making game of the Old Bible that has led this
American people through its manifold trials and tribulations to its firm
position as the fulfilment of the prophecies and the recognized leader
of all nations. 'Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies
the footstool of my feet,' said the Lord of Hosts, Acts II, the
thirty-fourth verse--and let me tell you right now, you got to get up a
good deal earlier in the morning than you get up even when you're going
fishing, if you want to be smarter than the Lord, who has shown us the
straight and narrow way, and he that passeth therefrom is in
eternal peril and, to return to this vital and terrible subject of
Mormonism--and as I say, it is terrible to realize how little attention
is given to this evil right here in our midst and on our very doorstep,
as it were--it's a shame and a disgrace that the Congress of these
United States spends all its time talking about inconsequential
financial matters that ought to be left to the Treasury Department, as I
understand it, instead of arising in their might and passing a law that
any one admitting he is a Mormon shall simply be deported and as it were
kicked out of this free country in which we haven't got any room for
polygamy and the tyrannies of Satan.

"And, to digress for a moment, especially as there are more of them in
this state than there are Mormons, though you never can tell what will
happen with this vain generation of young girls, that think more about
wearing silk stockings than about minding their mothers and learning to
bake a good loaf of bread, and many of them listening to these sneaking
Mormon missionaries--and I actually heard one of them talking right out
on a street-corner in Duluth, a few years ago, and the officers of the
law not protesting--but still, as they are a smaller but more immediate
problem, let me stop for just a moment to pay my respects to these
Seventh-Day Adventists. Not that they are immoral, I don't mean, but
when a body of men go on insisting that Saturday is the Sabbath, after
Christ himself has clearly indicated the new dispensation, then I think
the legislature ought to step in----"

At this point Carol awoke.

She got through three more minutes by studying the face of a girl in
the pew across: a sensitive unhappy girl whose longing poured out
with intimidating self-revelation as she worshiped Mr. Zitterel. Carol
wondered who the girl was. She had seen her at church suppers. She
considered how many of the three thousand people in the town she did not
know; to how many of them the Thanatopsis and the Jolly Seventeen were
icy social peaks; how many of them might be toiling through boredom
thicker than her own--with greater courage.

She examined her nails. She read two hymns. She got some satisfaction
out of rubbing an itching knuckle. She pillowed on her shoulder the head
of the baby who, after killing time in the same manner as his mother,
was so fortunate as to fall asleep. She read the introduction,
title-page, and acknowledgment of copyrights, in the hymnal. She tried
to evolve a philosophy which would explain why Kennicott could never
tie his scarf so that it would reach the top of the gap in his turn-down
collar.

There were no other diversions to be found in the pew. She glanced back
at the congregation. She thought that it would be amiable to bow to Mrs.
Champ Perry.

Her slow turning head stopped, galvanized.

Across the aisle, two rows back, was a strange young man who shone among
the cud-chewing citizens like a visitant from the sun-amber curls, low
forehead, fine nose, chin smooth but not raw from Sabbath shaving. His
lips startled her. The lips of men in Gopher Prairie are flat in the
face, straight and grudging. The stranger's mouth was arched, the upper
lip short. He wore a brown jersey coat, a delft-blue bow, a white silk
shirt, white flannel trousers. He suggested the ocean beach, a tennis
court, anything but the sun-blistered utility of Main Street.

A visitor from Minneapolis, here for business? No. He wasn't a business
man. He was a poet. Keats was in his face, and Shelley, and Arthur
Upson, whom she had once seen in Minneapolis. He was at once too
sensitive and too sophisticated to touch business as she knew it in
Gopher Prairie.

With restrained amusement he was analyzing the noisy Mr. Zitterel. Carol
was ashamed to have this spy from the Great World hear the pastor's
maundering. She felt responsible for the town. She resented his gaping
at their private rites. She flushed, turned away. But she continued to
feel his presence.

How could she meet him? She must! For an hour of talk. He was all that
she was hungry for. She could not let him get away without a word--and
she would have to. She pictured, and ridiculed, herself as walking up
to him and remarking, "I am sick with the Village Virus. Will you please
tell me what people are saying and playing in New York?" She pictured,
and groaned over, the expression of Kennicott if she should say,
"Why wouldn't it be reasonable for you, my soul, to ask that complete
stranger in the brown jersey coat to come to supper tonight?"

She brooded, not looking back. She warned herself that she was probably
exaggerating; that no young man could have all these exalted qualities.
Wasn't he too obviously smart, too glossy-new? Like a movie actor.
Probably he was a traveling salesman who sang tenor and fancied himself
in imitations of Newport clothes and spoke of "the swellest business
proposition that ever came down the pike." In a panic she peered at him.
No! This was no hustling salesman, this boy with the curving Grecian
lips and the serious eyes.

She rose after the service, carefully taking Kennicott's arm and smiling
at him in a mute assertion that she was devoted to him no matter what
happened. She followed the Mystery's soft brown jersey shoulders out of
the church.

Fatty Hicks, the shrill and puffy son of Nat, flapped his hand at the
beautiful stranger and jeered, "How's the kid? All dolled up like a
plush horse today, ain't we!"

Carol was exceeding sick. Her herald from the outside was Erik Valborg,
"Elizabeth." Apprentice tailor! Gasoline and hot goose! Mending dirty
jackets! Respectfully holding a tape-measure about a paunch!

And yet, she insisted, this boy was also himself.


III


They had Sunday dinner with the Smails, in a dining-room which centered
about a fruit and flower piece and a crayon-enlargement of Uncle
Whittier. Carol did not heed Aunt Bessie's fussing in regard to Mrs.
Robert B. Schminke's bead necklace and Whittier's error in putting on
the striped pants, day like this. She did not taste the shreds of roast
pork. She said vacuously:

"Uh--Will, I wonder if that young man in the white flannel trousers, at
church this morning, was this Valborg person that they're all talking
about?"

"Yump. That's him. Wasn't that the darndest get-up he had on!" Kennicott
scratched at a white smear on his hard gray sleeve.

"It wasn't so bad. I wonder where he comes from? He seems to have lived
in cities a good deal. Is he from the East?"

"The East? Him? Why, he comes from a farm right up north here, just this
side of Jefferson. I know his father slightly--Adolph Valborg--typical
cranky old Swede farmer."

"Oh, really?" blandly.

"Believe he has lived in Minneapolis for quite some time, though.
Learned his trade there. And I will say he's bright, some ways. Reads
a lot. Pollock says he takes more books out of the library than anybody
else in town. Huh! He's kind of like you in that!"

The Smails and Kennicott laughed very much at this sly jest. Uncle
Whittier seized the conversation. "That fellow that's working for Hicks?
Milksop, that's what he is. Makes me tired to see a young fellow that
ought to be in the war, or anyway out in the fields earning his living
honest, like I done when I was young, doing a woman's work and then come
out and dress up like a show-actor! Why, when I was his age----"

Carol reflected that the carving-knife would make an excellent dagger
with which to kill Uncle Whittier. It would slide in easily. The
headlines would be terrible.

Kennicott said judiciously, "Oh, I don't want to be unjust to him.
I believe he took his physical examination for military service. Got
varicose veins--not bad, but enough to disqualify him. Though I will say
he doesn't look like a fellow that would be so awful darn crazy to poke
his bayonet into a Hun's guts."

"Will! PLEASE!"

"Well, he don't. Looks soft to me. And they say he told Del Snafflin,
when he was getting a hair-cut on Saturday, that he wished he could play
the piano."

"Isn't it wonderful how much we all know about one another in a town
like this," said Carol innocently.

Kennicott was suspicious, but Aunt Bessie, serving the floating island
pudding, agreed, "Yes, it is wonderful. Folks can get away with all
sorts of meannesses and sins in these terrible cities, but they can't
here. I was noticing this tailor fellow this morning, and when Mrs.
Riggs offered to share her hymn-book with him, he shook his head, and
all the while we was singing he just stood there like a bump on a log
and never opened his mouth. Everybody says he's got an idea that he's
got so much better manners and all than what the rest of us have, but if
that's what he calls good manners, I want to know!"

Carol again studied the carving-knife. Blood on the whiteness of a
tablecloth might be gorgeous.

Then:

"Fool! Neurotic impossibilist! Telling yourself orchard fairy-tales--at
thirty. . . . Dear Lord, am I really THIRTY? That boy can't be more than
twenty-five."


IV


She went calling.

Boarding with the Widow Bogart was Fern Mullins, a girl of twenty-two
who was to be teacher of English, French, and gymnastics in the high
school this coming session. Fern Mullins had come to town early, for the
six-weeks normal course for country teachers. Carol had noticed her on
the street, had heard almost as much about her as about Erik Valborg.
She was tall, weedy, pretty, and incurably rakish. Whether she wore a
low middy collar or dressed reticently for school in a black suit with a
high-necked blouse, she was airy, flippant. "She looks like an absolute
totty," said all the Mrs. Sam Clarks, disapprovingly, and all the
Juanita Haydocks, enviously.

That Sunday evening, sitting in baggy canvas lawn-chairs beside the
house, the Kennicotts saw Fern laughing with Cy Bogart who, though still
a junior in high school, was now a lump of a man, only two or three
years younger than Fern. Cy had to go downtown for weighty matters
connected with the pool-parlor. Fern drooped on the Bogart porch, her
chin in her hands.

"She looks lonely," said Kennicott.

"She does, poor soul. I believe I'll go over and speak to her. I was
introduced to her at Dave's but I haven't called." Carol was slipping
across the lawn, a white figure in the dimness, faintly brushing the
dewy grass. She was thinking of Erik and of the fact that her feet
were wet, and she was casual in her greeting: "Hello! The doctor and I
wondered if you were lonely."

Resentfully, "I am!"

Carol concentrated on her. "My dear, you sound so! I know how it is. I
used to be tired when I was on the job--I was a librarian. What was your
college? I was Blodgett."

More interestedly, "I went to the U." Fern meant the University of
Minnesota.

"You must have had a splendid time. Blodgett was a bit dull."

"Where were you a librarian?" challengingly.

"St. Paul--the main library."

"Honest? Oh dear, I wish I was back in the Cities! This is my first year
of teaching, and I'm scared stiff. I did have the best time in college:
dramatics and basket-ball and fussing and dancing--I'm simply crazy
about dancing. And here, except when I have the kids in gymnasium class,
or when I'm chaperoning the basket-ball team on a trip out-of-town, I
won't dare to move above a whisper. I guess they don't care much if
you put any pep into teaching or not, as long as you look like a Good
Influence out of school-hours--and that means never doing anything you
want to. This normal course is bad enough, but the regular school will
be FIERCE! If it wasn't too late to get a job in the Cities, I swear I'd
resign here. I bet I won't dare to go to a single dance all winter. If
I cut loose and danced the way I like to, they'd think I was a perfect
hellion--poor harmless me! Oh, I oughtn't to be talking like this. Fern,
you never could be cagey!"

"Don't be frightened, my dear! . . . Doesn't that sound atrociously old
and kind! I'm talking to you the way Mrs. Westlake talks to me! That's
having a husband and a kitchen range, I suppose. But I feel young, and I
want to dance like a--like a hellion?--too. So I sympathize."

Fern made a sound of gratitude. Carol inquired, "What experience did you
have with college dramatics? I tried to start a kind of Little Theater
here. It was dreadful. I must tell you about it----"

Two hours later, when Kennicott came over to greet Fern and to yawn,
"Look here, Carrie, don't you suppose you better be thinking about
turning in? I've got a hard day tomorrow," the two were talking so
intimately that they constantly interrupted each other.

As she went respectably home, convoyed by a husband, and decorously
holding up her skirts, Carol rejoiced, "Everything has changed! I have
two friends, Fern and----But who's the other? That's queer; I thought
there was----Oh, how absurd!"


V


She often passed Erik Valborg on the street; the brown jersey coat
became unremarkable. When she was driving with Kennicott, in early
evening, she saw him on the lake shore, reading a thin book which might
easily have been poetry. She noted that he was the only person in the
motorized town who still took long walks.

She told herself that she was the daughter of a judge, the wife of a
doctor, and that she did not care to know a capering tailor. She told
herself that she was not responsive to men . . . not even to Percy
Bresnahan. She told herself that a woman of thirty who heeded a boy
of twenty-five was ridiculous. And on Friday, when she had convinced
herself that the errand was necessary, she went to Nat Hicks's shop,
bearing the not very romantic burden of a pair of her husband's
trousers. Hicks was in the back room. She faced the Greek god who, in a
somewhat ungodlike way, was stitching a coat on a scaley sewing-machine,
in a room of smutted plaster walls.

She saw that his hands were not in keeping with a Hellenic face. They
were thick, roughened with needle and hot iron and plow-handle. Even
in the shop he persisted in his finery. He wore a silk shirt, a topaz
scarf, thin tan shoes.

This she absorbed while she was saying curtly, "Can I get these pressed,
please?"

Not rising from the sewing-machine he stuck out his hand, mumbled, "When
do you want them?"

"Oh, Monday."

The adventure was over. She was marching out.

"What name?" he called after her.

He had risen and, despite the farcicality of Dr. Will Kennicott's bulgy
trousers draped over his arm, he had the grace of a cat.

"Kennicott."

"Kennicott. Oh! Oh say, you're Mrs. Dr. Kennicott then, aren't you?"

"Yes." She stood at the door. Now that she had carried out her
preposterous impulse to see what he was like, she was cold, she was as
ready to detect familiarities as the virtuous Miss Ella Stowbody.

"I've heard about you. Myrtle Cass was saying you got up a dramatic club
and gave a dandy play. I've always wished I had a chance to belong to a
Little Theater, and give some European plays, or whimsical like Barrie,
or a pageant."

He pronounced it "pagent"; he rhymed "pag" with "rag."

Carol nodded in the manner of a lady being kind to a tradesman, and one
of her selves sneered, "Our Erik is indeed a lost John Keats."

He was appealing, "Do you suppose it would be possible to get up another
dramatic club this coming fall?"

"Well, it might be worth thinking of." She came out of her several
conflicting poses, and said sincerely, "There's a new teacher, Miss
Mullins, who might have some talent. That would make three of us for a
nucleus. If we could scrape up half a dozen we might give a real play
with a small cast. Have you had any experience?"

"Just a bum club that some of us got up in Minneapolis when I was
working there. We had one good man, an interior decorator--maybe he was
kind of sis and effeminate, but he really was an artist, and we gave one
dandy play. But I----Of course I've always had to work hard, and study
by myself, and I'm probably sloppy, and I'd love it if I had training in
rehearsing--I mean, the crankier the director was, the better I'd like
it. If you didn't want to use me as an actor, I'd love to design the
costumes. I'm crazy about fabrics--textures and colors and designs."

She knew that he was trying to keep her from going, trying to indicate
that he was something more than a person to whom one brought trousers
for pressing. He besought:

"Some day I hope I can get away from this fool repairing, when I have
the money saved up. I want to go East and work for some big dressmaker,
and study art drawing, and become a high-class designer. Or do you think
that's a kind of fiddlin' ambition for a fellow? I was brought up on
a farm. And then monkeyin' round with silks! I don't know. What do you
think? Myrtle Cass says you're awfully educated."

"I am. Awfully. Tell me: Have the boys made fun of your ambition?"

She was seventy years old, and sexless, and more advisory than Vida
Sherwin.

"Well, they have, at that. They've jollied me a good deal, here and
Minneapolis both. They say dressmaking is ladies' work. (But I was
willing to get drafted for the war! I tried to get in. But they
rejected me. But I did try! ) I thought some of working up in a gents'
furnishings store, and I had a chance to travel on the road for a
clothing house, but somehow--I hate this tailoring, but I can't seem
to get enthusiastic about salesmanship. I keep thinking about a room in
gray oatmeal paper with prints in very narrow gold frames--or would it
be better in white enamel paneling?--but anyway, it looks out on
Fifth Avenue, and I'm designing a sumptuous----" He made it
"sump-too-ous"--"robe of linden green chiffon over cloth of gold! You
know--tileul. It's elegant. . . . What do you think?"

"Why not? What do you care for the opinion of city rowdies, or a lot
of farm boys? But you mustn't, you really mustn't, let casual strangers
like me have a chance to judge you."

"Well----You aren't a stranger, one way. Myrtle Cass--Miss Cass, should
say--she's spoken about you so often. I wanted to call on you--and the
doctor--but I didn't quite have the nerve. One evening I walked past
your house, but you and your husband were talking on the porch, and you
looked so chummy and happy I didn't dare butt in."

Maternally, "I think it's extremely nice of you to want to be trained
in--in enunciation by a stage-director. Perhaps I could help you. I'm
a thoroughly sound and uninspired schoolma'am by instinct; quite
hopelessly mature."

"Oh, you aren't EITHER!"

She was not very successful at accepting his fervor with the air of
amused woman of the world, but she sounded reasonably impersonal: "Thank
you. Shall we see if we really can get up a new dramatic club? I'll tell
you: Come to the house this evening, about eight. I'll ask Miss Mullins
to come over, and we'll talk about it."


VI


"He has absolutely no sense of humor. Less than Will. But hasn't
he-----What is a 'sense of humor'? Isn't the thing he lacks the
back-slapping jocosity that passes for humor here? Anyway----Poor lamb,
coaxing me to stay and play with him! Poor lonely lamb! If he could be
free from Nat Hickses, from people who say 'dandy' and 'bum,' would he
develop?

"I wonder if Whitman didn't use Brooklyn back-street slang, as a boy?

"No. Not Whitman. He's Keats--sensitive to silken things. 'Innumerable
of stains and splendid dyes as are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd
wings.' Keats, here! A bewildered spirit fallen on Main Street. And Main
Street laughs till it aches, giggles till the spirit doubts his own self
and tries to give up the use of wings for the correct uses of a 'gents'
furnishings store.' Gopher Prairie with its celebrated eleven miles of
cement walk. . . . I wonder how much of the cement is made out of the
tombstones of John Keatses?"


VII


Kennicott was cordial to Fern Mullins, teased her, told her he was a
"great hand for running off with pretty school-teachers," and promised
that if the school-board should object to her dancing, he would "bat 'em
one over the head and tell 'em how lucky they were to get a girl with
some go to her, for once."

But to Erik Valborg he was not cordial. He shook hands loosely, and
said, "H' are yuh."

Nat Hicks was socially acceptable; he had been here for years, and
owned his shop; but this person was merely Nat's workman, and the
town's principle of perfect democracy was not meant to be applied
indiscriminately.

The conference on a dramatic club theoretically included Kennicott, but
he sat back, patting yawns, conscious of Fern's ankles, smiling amiably
on the children at their sport.

Fern wanted to tell her grievances; Carol was sulky every time she
thought of "The Girl from Kankakee"; it was Erik who made suggestions.
He had read with astounding breadth, and astounding lack of judgment.
His voice was sensitive to liquids, but he overused the word "glorious."
He mispronounced a tenth of the words he had from books, but he knew it.
He was insistent, but he was shy.

When he demanded, "I'd like to stage 'Suppressed Desires,' by Cook and
Miss Glaspell," Carol ceased to be patronizing. He was not the yearner:
he was the artist, sure of his vision. "I'd make it simple. Use a big
window at the back, with a cyclorama of a blue that would simply hit you
in the eye, and just one tree-branch, to suggest a park below. Put
the breakfast table on a dais. Let the colors be kind of arty and
tea-roomy--orange chairs, and orange and blue table, and blue Japanese
breakfast set, and some place, one big flat smear of black--bang! Oh.
Another play I wish we could do is Tennyson Jesse's 'The Black Mask.'
I've never seen it but----Glorious ending, where this woman looks at
the man with his face all blown away, and she just gives one horrible
scream."

"Good God, is that your idea of a glorious ending?" bayed Kennicott.

"That sounds fierce! I do love artistic things, but not the horrible
ones," moaned Fern Mullins.

Erik was bewildered; glanced at Carol. She nodded loyally.

At the end of the conference they had decided nothing.



CHAPTER XXIX

SHE had walked up the railroad track with Hugh, this Sunday afternoon.

She saw Erik Valborg coming, in an ancient highwater suit, tramping
sullenly and alone, striking at the rails with a stick. For a second
she unreasoningly wanted to avoid him, but she kept on, and she serenely
talked about God, whose voice, Hugh asserted, made the humming in the
telegraph wires. Erik stared, straightened. They greeted each other with
"Hello."

"Hugh, say how-do-you-do to Mr. Valborg."

"Oh, dear me, he's got a button unbuttoned," worried Erik, kneeling.
Carol frowned, then noted the strength with which he swung the baby in
the air.

"May I walk along a piece with you?"

"I'm tired. Let's rest on those ties. Then I must be trotting back."

They sat on a heap of discarded railroad ties, oak logs spotted with
cinnamon-colored dry-rot and marked with metallic brown streaks where
iron plates had rested. Hugh learned that the pile was the hiding-place
of Injuns; he went gunning for them while the elders talked of
uninteresting things.

The telegraph wires thrummed, thrummed, thrummed above them; the rails
were glaring hard lines; the goldenrod smelled dusty. Across the track
was a pasture of dwarf clover and sparse lawn cut by earthy cow-paths;
beyond its placid narrow green, the rough immensity of new stubble,
jagged with wheat-stacks like huge pineapples.

Erik talked of books; flamed like a recent convert to any faith. He
exhibited as many titles and authors as possible, halting only to
appeal, "Have you read his last book? Don't you think he's a terribly
strong writer?"

She was dizzy. But when he insisted, "You've been a librarian; tell
me; do I read too much fiction?" she advised him loftily, rather
discursively. He had, she indicated, never studied. He had skipped from
one emotion to another. Especially--she hesitated, then flung it at
him--he must not guess at pronunciations; he must endure the nuisance of
stopping to reach for the dictionary.

"I'm talking like a cranky teacher," she sighed.

"No! And I will study! Read the damned dictionary right through." He
crossed his legs and bent over, clutching his ankle with both hands. "I
know what you mean. I've been rushing from picture to picture, like a
kid let loose in an art gallery for the first time. You see, it's so
awful recent that I've found there was a world--well, a world where
beautiful things counted. I was on the farm till I was nineteen. Dad is
a good farmer, but nothing else. Do you know why he first sent me off to
learn tailoring? I wanted to study drawing, and he had a cousin that'd
made a lot of money tailoring out in Dakota, and he said tailoring was
a lot like drawing, so he sent me down to a punk hole called Curlew,
to work in a tailor shop. Up to that time I'd only had three months'
schooling a year--walked to school two miles, through snow up to my
knees--and Dad never would stand for my having a single book except
schoolbooks.

"I never read a novel till I got 'Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall' out
of the library at Curlew. I thought it was the loveliest thing in the
world! Next I read 'Barriers Burned Away' and then Pope's translation of
Homer. Some combination, all right! When I went to Minneapolis, just
two years ago, I guess I'd read pretty much everything in that Curlew
library, but I'd never heard of Rossetti or John Sargent or Balzac or
Brahms. But----Yump, I'll study. Look here! Shall I get out of this
tailoring, this pressing and repairing?"

"I don't see why a surgeon should spend very much time cobbling shoes."

"But what if I find I can't really draw and design? After fussing around
in New York or Chicago, I'd feel like a fool if I had to go back to work
in a gents' furnishings store!"

"Please say 'haberdashery.'"

"Haberdashery? All right. I'll remember." He shrugged and spread his
fingers wide.

She was humbled by his humility; she put away in her mind, to take out
and worry over later, a speculation as to whether it was not she who
was naive. She urged, "What if you do have to go back? Most of us do! We
can't all be artists--myself, for instance. We have to darn socks, and
yet we're not content to think of nothing but socks and darning-cotton.
I'd demand all I could get--whether I finally settled down to designing
frocks or building temples or pressing pants. What if you do drop back?
You'll have had the adventure. Don't be too meek toward life! Go! You're
young, you're unmarried. Try everything! Don't listen to Nat Hicks and
Sam Clark and be a 'steady young man'--in order to help them make
money. You're still a blessed innocent. Go and play till the Good People
capture you!"

"But I don't just want to play. I want to make something beautiful. God!
And I don't know enough. Do you get it? Do you understand? Nobody else
ever has! Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"And so----But here's what bothers me: I like fabrics; dinky things like
that; little drawings and elegant words. But look over there at those
fields. Big! New! Don't it seem kind of a shame to leave this and go
back to the East and Europe, and do what all those people have been
doing so long? Being careful about words, when there's millions of
bushels off wheat here! Reading this fellow Pater, when I've helped Dad
to clear fields!"

"It's good to clear fields. But it's not for you. It's one of our
favorite American myths that broad plains necessarily make broad minds,
and high mountains make high purpose. I thought that myself, when I
first came to the prairie. 'Big--new.' Oh, I don't want to deny the
prairie future. It will be magnificent. But equally I'm hanged if I want
to be bullied by it, go to war on behalf of Main Street, be bullied and
BULLIED by the faith that the future is already here in the present, and
that all of us must stay and worship wheat-stacks and insist that
this is 'God's Country'--and never, of course, do anything original
or gay-colored that would help to make that future! Anyway, you don't
belong here. Sam Clark and Nat Hicks, that's what our big newness has
produced. Go! Before it's too late, as it has been for--for some of us.
Young man, go East and grow up with the revolution! Then perhaps you
may come back and tell Sam and Nat and me what to do with the land we've
been clearing--if we'll listen--if we don't lynch you first!"

He looked at her reverently. She could hear him saying,

"I've always wanted to know a woman who would talk to me like that."

Her hearing was faulty. He was saying nothing of the sort. He was
saying:

"Why aren't you happy with your husband?"

"I--you----"

"He doesn't care for the 'blessed innocent' part of you, does he!"

"Erik, you mustn't----"

"First you tell me to go and be free, and then you say that I
'mustn't'!"

"I know. But you mustn't----You must be more impersonal!"

He glowered at her like a downy young owl. She wasn't sure but she
thought that he muttered, "I'm damned if I will." She considered with
wholesome fear the perils of meddling with other people's destinies, and
she said timidly, "Hadn't we better start back now?"

He mused, "You're younger than I am. Your lips are for songs about
rivers in the morning and lakes at twilight. I don't see how anybody
could ever hurt you. . . . Yes. We better go."

He trudged beside her, his eyes averted. Hugh experimentally took his
thumb. He looked down at the baby seriously. He burst out, "All right.
I'll do it. I'll stay here one year. Save. Not spend so much money on
clothes. And then I'll go East, to art-school. Work on the side-tailor
shop, dressmaker's. I'll learn what I'm good for: designing clothes,
stage-settings, illustrating, or selling collars to fat men. All
settled." He peered at her, unsmiling.

"Can you stand it here in town for a year?"

"With you to look at?"

"Please! I mean: Don't the people here think you're an odd bird? (They
do me, I assure you!)"

"I don't know. I never notice much. Oh, they do kid me about not being
in the army--especially the old warhorses, the old men that aren't going
themselves. And this Bogart boy. And Mr. Hicks's son--he's a horrible
brat. But probably he's licensed to say what he thinks about his
father's hired man!"

"He's beastly!"

They were in town. They passed Aunt Bessie's house. Aunt Bessie and
Mrs. Bogart were at the window, and Carol saw that they were staring so
intently that they answered her wave only with the stiffly raised hands
of automatons. In the next block Mrs. Dr. Westlake was gaping from her
porch. Carol said with an embarrassed quaver:

"I want to run in and see Mrs. Westlake. I'll say good-by here."

She avoided his eyes.

Mrs. Westlake was affable. Carol felt that she was expected to explain;
and while she was mentally asserting that she'd be hanged if she'd
explain, she was explaining:

"Hugh captured that Valborg boy up the track. They became such good
friends. And I talked to him for a while. I'd heard he was eccentric,
but really, I found him quite intelligent. Crude, but he reads--reads
almost the way Dr. Westlake does."

"That's fine. Why does he stick here in town? What's this I hear about
his being interested in Myrtle Cass?"

"I don't know. Is he? I'm sure he isn't! He said he was quite lonely!
Besides, Myrtle is a babe in arms!"

"Twenty-one if she's a day!"

"Well----Is the doctor going to do any hunting this fall?"


II


The need of explaining Erik dragged her back into doubting. For all his
ardent reading, and his ardent life, was he anything but a small-town
youth bred on an illiberal farm and in cheap tailor shops? He had rough
hands. She had been attracted only by hands that were fine and suave,
like those of her father. Delicate hands and resolute purpose. But this
boy--powerful seamed hands and flabby will.

"It's not appealing weakness like his, but sane strength that win
animate the Gopher Prairies. Only----Does that mean anything? Or am
I echoing Vida? The world has always let 'strong' statesmen and
soldiers--the men with strong voices--take control, and what have the
thundering boobies done? What is 'strength'?

"This classifying of people! I suppose tailors differ as much as
burglars or kings.

"Erik frightened me when he turned on me. Of course he didn't mean
anything, but I mustn't let him be so personal.

"Amazing impertinence!

"But he didn't mean to be.

"His hands are FIRM. I wonder if sculptors don't have thick hands, too?

"Of course if there really is anything I can do to HELP the boy----

"Though I despise these people who interfere. He must be independent."


III


She wasn't altogether pleased, the week after, when Erik was independent
and, without asking for her inspiration, planned the tennis tournament.
It proved that he had learned to play in Minneapolis; that, next to
Juanita Haydock, he had the best serve in town. Tennis was well spoken
of in Gopher Prairie and almost never played. There were three courts:
one belonging to Harry Haydock, one to the cottages at the lake, and
one, a rough field on the outskirts, laid out by a defunct tennis
association.

Erik had been seen in flannels and an imitation panama hat, playing on
the abandoned court with Willis Woodford, the clerk in Stowbody's bank.
Suddenly he was going about proposing the reorganization of the tennis
association, and writing names in a fifteen-cent note-book bought for
the purpose at Dyer's. When he came to Carol he was so excited over
being an organizer that he did not stop to talk of himself and Aubrey
Beardsley for more than ten minutes. He begged, "Will you get some of
the folks to come in?" and she nodded agreeably.

He proposed an informal exhibition match to advertise the association;
he suggested that Carol and himself, the Haydocks, the Woodfords, and
the Dillons play doubles, and that the association be formed from
the gathered enthusiasts. He had asked Harry Haydock to be tentative
president. Harry, he reported, had promised, "All right. You bet. But
you go ahead and arrange things, and I'll O.K. 'em." Erik planned that
the match should be held Saturday afternoon, on the old public court
at the edge of town. He was happy in being, for the first time, part of
Gopher Prairie.

Through the week Carol heard how select an attendance there was to be.

Kennicott growled that he didn't care to go.

Had he any objections to her playing with Erik?

No; sure not; she needed the exercise. Carol went to the match early.
The court was in a meadow out on the New Antonia road. Only Erik was
there. He was dashing about with a rake, trying to make the court
somewhat less like a plowed field. He admitted that he had stage fright
at the thought of the coming horde. Willis and Mrs. Woodford arrived,
Willis in home-made knickers and black sneakers through at the toe;
then Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon, people as harmless and grateful as the
Woodfords.

Carol was embarrassed and excessively agreeable, like the bishop's lady
trying not to feel out of place at a Baptist bazaar.

They waited.

The match was scheduled for three. As spectators there assembled one
youthful grocery clerk, stopping his Ford delivery wagon to stare from
the seat, and one solemn small boy, tugging a smaller sister who had a
careless nose.

"I wonder where the Haydocks are? They ought to show up, at least," said
Erik.

Carol smiled confidently at him, and peered down the empty road toward
town. Only heat-waves and dust and dusty weeds.

At half-past three no one had come, and the grocery boy reluctantly got
out, cranked his Ford, glared at them in a disillusioned manner, and
rattled away. The small boy and his sister ate grass and sighed.

The players pretended to be exhilarated by practising service, but they
startled at each dust-cloud from a motor car. None of the cars turned
into the meadow-none till a quarter to four, when Kennicott drove in.

Carol's heart swelled. "How loyal he is! Depend on him! He'd come,
if nobody else did. Even though he doesn't care for the game. The old
darling!"

Kennicott did not alight. He called out, "Carrie! Harry Haydock 'phoned
me that they've decided to hold the tennis matches, or whatever you call
'em, down at the cottages at the lake, instead of here. The bunch are
down there now: Haydocks and Dyers and Clarks and everybody. Harry
wanted to know if I'd bring you down. I guess I can take the time--come
right back after supper."

Before Carol could sum it all up, Erik stammered, "Why, Haydock didn't
say anything to me about the change. Of course he's the president,
but----"

Kennicott looked at him heavily, and grunted, "I don't know a thing
about it. . . . Coming, Carrie?"

"I am not! The match was to be here, and it will be here! You can tell
Harry Haydock that he's beastly rude!" She rallied the five who had
been left out, who would always be left out. "Come on! We'll toss to
see which four of us play the Only and Original First Annual Tennis
Tournament of Forest Hills, Del Monte, and Gopher Prairie!"

"Don't know as I blame you," said Kennicott. "Well have supper at home
then?" He drove off.

She hated him for his composure. He had ruined her defiance. She felt
much less like Susan B. Anthony as she turned to her huddled followers.

Mrs. Dillon and Willis Woodford lost the toss. The others played out
the game, slowly, painfully, stumbling on the rough earth, muffing the
easiest shots, watched only by the small boy and his sniveling sister.
Beyond the court stretched the eternal stubble-fields. The four
marionettes, awkwardly going through exercises, insignificant in the hot
sweep of contemptuous land, were not heroic; their voices did not ring
out in the score, but sounded apologetic; and when the game was over
they glanced about as though they were waiting to be laughed at.

They walked home. Carol took Erik's arm. Through her thin linen sleeve
she could feel the crumply warmth of his familiar brown jersey coat. She
observed that there were purple and red gold threads interwoven with the
brown. She remembered the first time she had seen it.

Their talk was nothing but improvisations on the theme: "I never did
like this Haydock. He just considers his own convenience." Ahead
of them, the Dillons and Woodfords spoke of the weather and B. J.
Gougerling's new bungalow. No one referred to their tennis tournament.
At her gate Carol shook hands firmly with Erik and smiled at him.

Next morning, Sunday morning, when Carol was on the porch, the Haydocks
drove up.

"We didn't mean to be rude to you, dearie!" implored Juanita. "I
wouldn't have you think that for anything. We planned that Will and you
should come down and have supper at our cottage."

"No. I'm sure you didn't mean to be." Carol was super-neighborly. "But
I do think you ought to apologize to poor Erik Valborg. He was terribly
hurt."

"Oh. Valborg. I don't care so much what he thinks," objected Harry.
"He's nothing but a conceited buttinsky. Juanita and I kind of figured
he was trying to run this tennis thing too darn much anyway."

"But you asked him to make arrangements."

"I know, but I don't like him. Good Lord, you couldn't hurt his
feelings! He dresses up like a chorus man--and, by golly, he looks like
one!--but he's nothing but a Swede farm boy, and these foreigners, they
all got hides like a covey of rhinoceroses ."

"But he IS hurt!"

"Well----I don't suppose I ought to have gone off half-cocked, and not
jollied him along. I'll give him a cigar. He'll----"

Juanita had been licking her lips and staring at Carol. She interrupted
her husband, "Yes, I do think Harry ought to fix it up with him. You
LIKE him, DON'T you, Carol??"

Over and through Carol ran a frightened cautiousness. "Like him? I
haven't an -dea. He seems to be a very decent young man. I just felt
that when he'd worked so hard on the plans for the match, it was a shame
not to be nice to him."

"Maybe there's something to that," mumbled Harry; then, at sight of
Kennicott coming round the corner tugging the red garden hose by its
brass nozzle, he roared in relief, "What d' you think you're trying to
do, doc?"

While Kennicott explained in detail all that he thought he was trying
to do, while he rubbed his chin and gravely stated, "Struck me the grass
was looking kind of brown in patches--didn't know but what I'd give it
a sprinkling," and while Harry agreed that this was an excellent
idea, Juanita made friendly noises and, behind the gilt screen of an
affectionate smile, watched Carol's face.


IV


She wanted to see Erik. She wanted some one to play with! There wasn't
even so dignified and sound an excuse as having Kennicott's trousers
pressed; when she inspected them, all three pairs looked discouragingly
neat. She probably would not have ventured on it had she not spied Nat
Hicks in the pool-parlor, being witty over bottle-pool. Erik was alone!
She fluttered toward the tailor shop, dashed into its slovenly heat
with the comic fastidiousness of a humming bird dipping into a dry
tiger-lily. It was after she had entered that she found an excuse.

Erik was in the back room, cross-legged on a long table, sewing a vest.
But he looked as though he were doing this eccentric thing to amuse
himself.

"Hello. I wonder if you couldn't plan a sports-suit for me?" she said
breathlessly.

He stared at her; he protested, "No, I won't! God! I'm not going to be a
tailor with you!"

"Why, Erik!" she said, like a mildly shocked mother.

It occurred to her that she did not need a suit, and that the order
might have been hard to explain to Kennicott.

He swung down from the table. "I want to show you something." He
rummaged in the roll-top desk on which Nat Hicks kept bills, buttons,
calendars, buckles, thread-channeled wax, shotgun shells, samples of
brocade for "fancy vests," fishing-reels, pornographic post-cards,
shreds of buckram lining. He pulled out a blurred sheet of Bristol board
and anxiously gave it to her. It was a sketch for a frock. It was not
well drawn; it was too finicking; the pillars in the background were
grotesquely squat. But the frock had an original back, very low, with
a central triangular section from the waist to a string of jet beads at
the neck.

"It's stunning. But how it would shock Mrs. Clark!"

"Yes, wouldn't it!"

"You must let yourself go more when you're drawing."

"Don't know if I can. I've started kind of late. But listen! What do you
think I've done this two weeks? I've read almost clear through a Latin
grammar, and about twenty pages of Caesar."

"Splendid! You are lucky. You haven't a teacher to make you artificial."

"You're my teacher!"

There was a dangerous edge of personality to his voice. She was offended
and agitated. She turned her shoulder on him, stared through the back
window, studying this typical center of a typical Main Street block,
a vista hidden from casual strollers. The backs of the chief
establishments in town surrounded a quadrangle neglected, dirty, and
incomparably dismal. From the front, Howland & Gould's grocery was smug
enough, but attached to the rear was a lean-to of storm streaked pine
lumber with a sanded tar roof--a staggering doubtful shed behind which
was a heap of ashes, splintered packing-boxes, shreds of excelsior,
crumpled straw-board, broken olive-bottles, rotten fruit, and utterly
disintegrated vegetables: orange carrots turning black, and potatoes
with ulcers. The rear of the Bon Ton Store was grim with blistered
black-painted iron shutters, under them a pile of once glossy red
shirt-boxes, now a pulp from recent rain.

As seen from Main Street, Oleson & McGuire's Meat Market had a sanitary
and virtuous expression with its new tile counter, fresh sawdust on the
floor, and a hanging veal cut in rosettes. But she now viewed a back
room with a homemade refrigerator of yellow smeared with black grease.
A man in an apron spotted with dry blood was hoisting out a hard slab of
meat.

Behind Billy's Lunch, the cook, in an apron which must long ago have
been white, smoked a pipe and spat at the pest of sticky flies. In the
center of the block, by itself, was the stable for the three horses of
the drayman, and beside it a pile of manure.

The rear of Ezra Stowbody's bank was whitewashed, and back of it was
a concrete walk and a three-foot square of grass, but the window was
barred, and behind the bars she saw Willis Woodford cramped over figures
in pompous books. He raised his head, jerkily rubbed his eyes, and went
back to the eternity of figures.

The backs of the other shops were an impressionistic picture of dirty
grays, drained browns, writhing heaps of refuse.

"Mine is a back-yard romance--with a journeyman tailor!"

She was saved from self-pity as she began to think through Erik's mind.
She turned to him with an indignant, "It's disgusting that this is all
you have to look at."

He considered it. "Outside there? I don't notice much. I'm learning to
look inside. Not awful easy!"

"Yes. . . . I must be hurrying."

As she walked home--without hurrying--she remembered her father saying
to a serious ten-year-old Carol, "Lady, only a fool thinks he's superior
to beautiful bindings, but only a double-distilled fool reads nothing
but bindings."

She was startled by the return of her father, startled by a sudden
conviction that in this flaxen boy she had found the gray reticent judge
who was divine love, perfect under-standing. She debated it, furiously
denied it, reaffirmed it, ridiculed it. Of one thing she was unhappily
certain: there was nothing of the beloved father image in Will
Kennicott.


V


She wondered why she sang so often, and why she found so many pleasant
things--lamplight seen though trees on a cool evening, sunshine on brown
wood, morning sparrows, black sloping roofs turned to plates of silver
by moonlight. Pleasant things, small friendly things, and pleasant
places--a field of goldenrod, a pasture by the creek--and suddenly
a wealth of pleasant people. Vida was lenient to Carol at the
surgical-dressing class; Mrs. Dave Dyer flattered her with questions
about her health, baby, cook, and opinions on the war.

Mrs. Dyer seemed not to share the town's prejudice against Erik. "He's
a nice-looking fellow; we must have him go on one of our picnics some
time." Unexpectedly, Dave Dyer also liked him. The tight-fisted little
farceur had a confused reverence for anything that seemed to him refined
or clever. He answered Harry Haydock's sneers, "That's all right now!
Elizabeth may doll himself up too much, but he's smart, and don't you
forget it! I was asking round trying to find out where this Ukraine is,
and darn if he didn't tell me. What's the matter with his talking so
polite? Hell's bells, Harry, no harm in being polite. There's some
regular he-men that are just as polite as women, prett' near."

Carol found herself going about rejoicing, "How neighborly the town is!"
She drew up with a dismayed "Am I falling in love with this boy? That's
ridiculous! I'm merely interested in him. I like to think of helping him
to succeed."

But as she dusted the living-room, mended a collar-band, bathed Hugh,
she was picturing herself and a young artistan Apollo nameless and
evasive--building a house in the Berkshires or in Virginia; exuberantly
buying a chair with his first check; reading poetry together, and
frequently being earnest over valuable statistics about labor; tumbling
out of bed early for a Sunday walk, and chattering (where Kennicott
would have yawned) over bread and butter by a lake. Hugh was in her
pictures, and he adored the young artist, who made castles of chairs and
rugs for him. Beyond these playtimes she saw the "things I could do for
Erik"--and she admitted that Erik did partly make up the image of her
altogether perfect artist.

In panic she insisted on being attentive to Kennicott, when he wanted to
be left alone to read the newspaper.


VI


She needed new clothes. Kennicott had promised, "We'll have a good trip
down to the Cities in the fall, and take plenty of time for it, and you
can get your new glad-rags then." But as she examined her wardrobe she
flung her ancient black velvet frock on the floor and raged, "They're
disgraceful. Everything I have is falling to pieces."

There was a new dressmaker and milliner, a Mrs. Swiftwaite. It was
said that she was not altogether an elevating influence in the way she
glanced at men; that she would as soon take away a legally appropriated
husband as not; that if there WAS any Mr. Swiftwaite, "it certainly was
strange that nobody seemed to know anything about him!" But she had made
for Rita Gould an organdy frock and hat to match universally admitted
to be "too cunning for words," and the matrons went cautiously,
with darting eyes and excessive politeness, to the rooms which Mrs.
Swiftwaite had taken in the old Luke Dawson house, on Floral Avenue.

With none of the spiritual preparation which normally precedes the
buying of new clothes in Gopher Prairie, Carol marched into Mrs.
Swiftwaite's, and demanded, "I want to see a hat, and possibly a
blouse."

In the dingy old front parlor which she had tried to make smart with a
pier glass, covers from fashion magazines, anemic French prints, Mrs.
Swiftwaite moved smoothly among the dress-dummies and hat-rests, spoke
smoothly as she took up a small black and red turban. "I am sure the
lady will find this extremely attractive."

"It's dreadfully tabby and small-towny," thought Carol, while she
soothed, "I don't believe it quite goes with me."

"It's the choicest thing I have, and I'm sure you'll find it suits you
beautifully. It has a great deal of chic. Please try it on," said Mrs.
Swiftwaite, more smoothly than ever.

Carol studied the woman. She was as imitative as a glass diamond. She
was the more rustic in her effort to appear urban. She wore a severe
high-collared blouse with a row of small black buttons, which
was becoming to her low-breasted slim neatness, but her skirt was
hysterically checkered, her cheeks were too highly rouged, her lips too
sharply penciled. She was magnificently a specimen of the illiterate
divorcee of forty made up to look thirty, clever, and alluring.

While she was trying on the hat Carol felt very condescending. She took
it off, shook her head, explained with the kind smile for inferiors,
"I'm afraid it won't do, though it's unusually nice for so small a town
as this."

"But it's really absolutely New-Yorkish."

"Well, it----"

"You see, I know my New York styles. I lived in New York for years,
besides almost a year in Akron!"

"You did?" Carol was polite, and edged away, and went home unhappily.
She was wondering whether her own airs were as laughable as Mrs.
Swiftwaite's. She put on the eye-glasses which Kennicott had recently
given to her for reading, and looked over a grocery bill. She
went hastily up to her room, to her mirror. She was in a mood of
self-depreciation. Accurately or not, this was the picture she saw in
the mirror:

Neat rimless eye-glasses. Black hair clumsily tucked under a mauve straw
hat which would have suited a spinster. Cheeks clear, bloodless. Thin
nose. Gentle mouth and chin. A modest voile blouse with an edging of
lace at the neck. A virginal sweetness and timorousness--no flare of
gaiety, no suggestion of cities, music, quick laughter.

"I have become a small-town woman. Absolute. Typical. Modest and moral
and safe. Protected from life. GENTEEL! The Village Virus--the village
virtuousness. My hair--just scrambled together. What can Erik see in
that wedded spinster there? He does like me! Because I'm the only woman
who's decent to him! How long before he'll wake up to me? . . . I've
waked up to myself. . . . Am I as old as--as old as I am?

"Not really old. Become careless. Let myself look tabby.

"I want to chuck every stitch I own. Black hair and pale cheeks--they'd
go with a Spanish dancer's costume--rose behind my ear, scarlet mantilla
over one shoulder, the other bare."

She seized the rouge sponge, daubed her cheeks, scratched at her lips
with the vermilion pencil until they stung, tore open her collar. She
posed with her thin arms in the attitude of the fandango. She dropped
them sharply. She shook her head. "My heart doesn't dance," she said.
She flushed as she fastened her blouse.

"At least I'm much more graceful than Fern Mullins. Heavens! When I came
here from the Cities, girls imitated me. Now I'm trying to imitate a
city girl."



CHAPTER XXX

FERN Mullins rushed into the house on a Saturday morning early in
September and shrieked at Carol, "School starts next Tuesday. I've got
to have one more spree before I'm arrested. Let's get up a picnic down
the lake for this afternoon. Won't you come, Mrs. Kennicott, and the
doctor? Cy Bogart wants to go--he's a brat but he's lively."

"I don't think the doctor can go," sedately. "He said something about
having to make a country call this afternoon. But I'd love to."

"That's dandy! Who can we get?"

"Mrs. Dyer might be chaperon. She's been so nice. And maybe Dave, if he
could get away from the store."

"How about Erik Valborg? I think he's got lots more style than these
town boys. You like him all right, don't you?"

So the picnic of Carol, Fern, Erik, Cy Bogart, and the Dyers was not
only moral but inevitable.

They drove to the birch grove on the south shore of Lake Minniemashie.
Dave Dyer was his most clownish self. He yelped, jigged, wore Carol's
hat, dropped an ant down Fern's back, and when they went swimming (the
women modestly changing in the car with the side curtains up, the men
undressing behind the bushes, constantly repeating, "Gee, hope we don't
run into poison ivy"), Dave splashed water on them and dived to clutch
his wife's ankle. He infected the others. Erik gave an imitation of
the Greek dancers he had seen in vaudeville, and when they sat down to
picnic supper spread on a lap-robe on the grass, Cy climbed a tree to
throw acorns at them.

But Carol could not frolic.

She had made herself young, with parted hair, sailor blouse and large
blue bow, white canvas shoes and short linen skirt. Her mirror had
asserted that she looked exactly as she had in college, that her throat
was smooth, her collar-bone not very noticeable. But she was under
restraint. When they swam she enjoyed the freshness of the water but
she was irritated by Cy's tricks, by Dave's excessive good spirits. She
admired Erik's dance; he could never betray bad taste, as Cy did,
and Dave. She waited for him to come to her. He did not come. By his
joyousness he had apparently endeared himself to the Dyers. Maud watched
him and, after supper, cried to him, "Come sit down beside me, bad boy!"
Carol winced at his willingness to be a bad boy and come and sit, at
his enjoyment of a not very stimulating game in which Maud, Dave, and
Cy snatched slices of cold tongue from one another's plates. Maud, it
seemed, was slightly dizzy from the swim. She remarked publicly, "Dr.
Kennicott has helped me so much by putting me on a diet," but it was
to Erik alone that she gave the complete version of her peculiarity in
being so sensitive, so easily hurt by the slightest cross word, that she
simply had to have nice cheery friends.

Erik was nice and cheery.

Carol assured herself, "Whatever faults I may have, I certainly couldn't
ever be jealous. I do like Maud; she's always so pleasant. But I wonder
if she isn't just a bit fond of fishing for men's sympathy? Playing
with Erik, and her married----Well----But she looks at him in that
languishing, swooning, mid-Victorian way. Disgusting!"

Cy Bogart lay between the roots of a big birch, smoking his pipe and
teasing Fern, assuring her that a week from now, when he was again a
high-school boy and she his teacher, he'd wink at her in class. Maud
Dyer wanted Erik to "come down to the beach to see the darling little
minnies." Carol was left to Dave, who tried to entertain her with
humorous accounts of Ella Stowbody's fondness for chocolate peppermints.
She watched Maud Dyer put her hand on Erik's shoulder to steady herself.

"Disgusting!" she thought.

Cy Bogart covered Fern's nervous hand with his red paw, and when she
bounced with half-anger and shrieked, "Let go, I tell you!" he grinned
and waved his pipe--a gangling twenty-year-old satyr.

"Disgusting!"

When Maud and Erik returned and the grouping shifted, Erik muttered at
Carol, "There's a boat on shore. Let's skip off and have a row."

"What will they think?" she worried. She saw Maud Dyer peer at Erik with
moist possessive eyes. "Yes! Let's!" she said.

She cried to the party, with the canonical amount of sprightliness,
"Good-by, everybody. We'll wireless you from China."

As the rhythmic oars plopped and creaked, as she floated on an unreality
of delicate gray over which the sunset was poured out thin, the
irritation of Cy and Maud slipped away. Erik smiled at her proudly. She
considered him--coatless, in white thin shirt. She was conscious of his
male differentness, of his flat masculine sides, his thin thighs, his
easy rowing. They talked of the library, of the movies. He hummed and
she softly sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." A breeze shivered across the
agate lake. The wrinkled water was like armor damascened and polished.
The breeze flowed round the boat in a chill current. Carol drew the
collar of her middy blouse over her bare throat.

"Getting cold. Afraid we'll have to go back," she said.

"Let's not go back to them yet. They'll be cutting up. Let's keep along
the shore."

"But you enjoy the 'cutting up!' Maud and you had a beautiful time."

"Why! We just walked on the shore and talked about fishing!"

She was relieved, and apologetic to her friend Maud. "Of course. I was
joking."

"I'll tell you! Let's land here and sit on the shore--that bunch of
hazel-brush will shelter us from the wind--and watch the sunset. It's
like melted lead. Just a short while! We don't want to go back and
listen to them!"

"No, but----" She said nothing while he sped ashore. The keel clashed
on the stones. He stood on the forward seat, holding out his hand.
They were alone, in the ripple-lapping silence. She rose slowly, slowly
stepped over the water in the bottom of the old boat. She took his hand
confidently. Unspeaking they sat on a bleached log, in a russet twilight
which hinted of autumn. Linden leaves fluttered about them.

"I wish----Are you cold now?" he whispered.

"A little." She shivered. But it was not with cold.

"I wish we could curl up in the leaves there, covered all up, and lie
looking out at the dark."

"I wish we could." As though it was comfortably understood that he did
not mean to be taken seriously.

"Like what all the poets say--brown nymph and faun."

"No. I can't be a nymph any more. Too old----Erik, am I old? Am I faded
and small-towny?"

"Why, you're the youngest----Your eyes are like a girl's. They're
so--well, I mean, like you believed everything. Even if you do teach
me, I feel a thousand years older than you, instead of maybe a year
younger."

"Four or five years younger!"

"Anyway, your eyes are so innocent and your cheeks so soft----Damn it,
it makes me want to cry, somehow, you're so defenseless; and I want to
protect you and----There's nothing to protect you against!"

"Am I young? Am I? Honestly? Truly?" She betrayed for a moment the
childish, mock-imploring tone that comes into the voice of the most
serious woman when an agreeable man treats her as a girl; the childish
tone and childish pursed-up lips and shy lift of the cheek.

"Yes, you are!"

"You're dear to believe it, Will--ERIK!"

"Will you play with me? A lot?"

"Perhaps."

"Would you really like to curl in the leaves and watch the stars swing
by overhead?"

"I think it's rather better to be sitting here!" He twined his fingers
with hers. "And Erik, we must go back."

"Why?"

"It's somewhat late to outline all the history of social custom!"

"I know. We must. Are you glad we ran away though?"

"Yes." She was quiet, perfectly simple. But she rose.

He circled her waist with a brusque arm. She did not resist. She did
not care. He was neither a peasant tailor, a potential artist, a
social complication, nor a peril. He was himself, and in him, in the
personality flowing from him, she was unreasoningly content. In his
nearness she caught a new view of his head; the last light brought out
the planes of his neck, his flat ruddied cheeks, the side of his nose,
the depression of his temples. Not as coy or uneasy lovers but as
companions they walked to the boat, and he lifted her up on the prow.

She began to talk intently, as he rowed: "Erik, you've got to work! You
ought to be a personage. You're robbed of your kingdom. Fight for it!
Take one of these correspondence courses in drawing--they mayn't be any
good in themselves, but they'll make you try to draw and----"

As they reached the picnic ground she perceived that it was dark, that
they had been gone for a long time.

"What will they say?" she wondered.

The others greeted them with the inevitable storm of humor and slight
vexation: "Where the deuce do you think you've been?" "You're a fine
pair, you are!" Erik and Carol looked self-conscious; failed in their
effort to be witty. All the way home Carol was embarrassed. Once Cy
winked at her. That Cy, the Peeping Tom of the garage-loft, should
consider her a fellow-sinner----She was furious and frightened and
exultant by turns, and in all her moods certain that Kennicott would
read her adventuring in her face.

She came into the house awkwardly defiant.

Her husband, half asleep under the lamp, greeted her, "Well, well, have
nice time?"

She could not answer. He looked at her. But his look did not sharpen.
He began to wind his watch, yawning the old "Welllllll, guess it's about
time to turn in."

That was all. Yet she was not glad. She was almost disappointed.


II


Mrs. Bogart called next day. She had a hen-like, crumb-pecking, diligent
appearance. Her smile was too innocent. The pecking started instantly:

"Cy says you had lots of fun at the picnic yesterday. Did you enjoy it?"

"Oh yes. I raced Cy at swimming. He beat me badly. He's so strong, isn't
he!"

"Poor boy, just crazy to get into the war, too, but----This Erik Valborg
was along, wa'n't he?"

"Yes."

"I think he's an awful handsome fellow, and they say he's smart. Do you
like him?"

"He seems very polite."

"Cy says you and him had a lovely boat-ride. My, that must have been
pleasant."

"Yes, except that I couldn't get Mr. Valborg to say a word. I wanted
to ask him about the suit Mr. Hicks is making for my husband. But he
insisted on singing. Still, it was restful, floating around on the water
and singing. So happy and innocent. Don't you think it's a shame, Mrs.
Bogart, that people in this town don't do more nice clean things like
that, instead of all this horrible gossiping?"

"Yes. . . . Yes."

Mrs. Bogart sounded vacant. Her bonnet was awry; she was incomparably
dowdy. Carol stared at her, felt contemptuous, ready at last to rebel
against the trap, and as the rusty goodwife fished again, "Plannin' some
more picnics?" she flung out, "I haven't the slightest idea! Oh. Is that
Hugh crying? I must run up to him."

But up-stairs she remembered that Mrs. Bogart had seen her walking
with Erik from the railroad track into town, and she was chilly with
disquietude.

At the Jolly Seventeen, two days after, she was effusive to Maud Dyer,
to Juanita Haydock. She fancied that every one was watching her, but
she could not be sure, and in rare strong moments she did not care.
She could rebel against the town's prying now that she had something,
however indistinct, for which to rebel.

In a passionate escape there must be not only a place from which to flee
but a place to which to flee. She had known that she would gladly leave
Gopher Prairie, leave Main Street and all that it signified, but she
had had no destination. She had one now. That destination was not Erik
Valborg and the love of Erik. She continued to assure herself that she
wasn't in love with him but merely "fond of him, and interested in his
success." Yet in him she had discovered both her need of youth and the
fact that youth would welcome her. It was not Erik to whom she must
escape, but universal and joyous youth, in class-rooms, in studios, in
offices, in meetings to protest against Things in General. . . . But
universal and joyous youth rather resembled Erik.

All week she thought of things she wished to say to him. High, improving
things. She began to admit that she was lonely without him. Then she was
afraid.

It was at the Baptist church supper, a week after the picnic, that
she saw him again. She had gone with Kennicott and Aunt Bessie to the
supper, which was spread on oilcloth-covered and trestle-supported
tables in the church basement. Erik was helping Myrtle Cass to fill
coffee cups for the wait-resses. The congregation had doffed their
piety. Children tumbled under the tables, and Deacon Pierson greeted the
women with a rolling, "Where's Brother Jones, sister, where's Brother
Jones? Not going to be with us tonight? Well, you tell Sister Perry to
hand you a plate, and make 'em give you enough oyster pie!"

Erik shared in the cheerfulness. He laughed with Myrtle, jogged her
elbow when she was filling cups, made deep mock bows to the waitresses
as they came up for coffee. Myrtle was enchanted by his humor. From the
other end of the room, a matron among matrons, Carol observed
Myrtle, and hated her, and caught herself at it. "To be jealous of
a wooden-faced village girl!" But she kept it up. She detested Erik;
gloated over his gaucheries--his "breaks," she called them. When he
was too expressive, too much like a Russian dancer, in saluting Deacon
Pierson, Carol had the ecstasy of pain in seeing the deacon's sneer.
When, trying to talk to three girls at once, he dropped a cup and
effeminately wailed, "Oh dear!" she sympathized with--and ached
over--the insulting secret glances of the girls.

From meanly hating him she rose to compassion as she saw that his eyes
begged every one to like him. She perceived how inaccurate her judgments
could be. At the picnic she had fancied that Maud Dyer looked upon Erik
too sentimentally, and she had snarled, "I hate these married women who
cheapen themselves and feed on boys." But at the supper Maud was one of
the waitresses; she bustled with platters of cake, she was pleasant to
old women; and to Erik she gave no attention at all. Indeed, when she
had her own supper, she joined the Kennicotts, and how ludicrous it was
to suppose that Maud was a gourmet of emotions Carol saw in the fact
that she talked not to one of the town beaux but to the safe Kennicott
himself!

When Carol glanced at Erik again she discovered that Mrs. Bogart had
an eye on her. It was a shock to know that at last there was something
which could make her afraid of Mrs. Bogart's spying.

"What am I doing? Am I in love with Erik? Unfaithful? I? I want youth
but I don't want him--I mean, I don't want youth--enough to break up my
life. I must get out of this. Quick."

She said to Kennicott on their way home, "Will! I want to run away for a
few days. Wouldn't you like to skip down to Chicago?"

"Still be pretty hot there. No fun in a big city till winter. What do
you want to go for?"

"People! To occupy my mind. I want stimulus."

"Stimulus?" He spoke good-naturedly. "Who's been feeding you meat? You
got that 'stimulus' out of one of these fool stories about wives that
don't know when they're well off. Stimulus! Seriously, though, to cut
out the jollying, I can't get away."

"Then why don't I run off by myself?"

"Why----'Tisn't the money, you understand. But what about Hugh?"

"Leave him with Aunt Bessie. It would be just for a few days."

"I don't think much of this business of leaving kids around. Bad for
'em."

"So you don't think----"

"I'll tell you: I think we better stay put till after the war. Then
we'll have a dandy long trip. No, I don't think you better plan much
about going away now."

So she was thrown at Erik.


III


She awoke at ebb-time, at three of the morning, woke sharply and fully;
and sharply and coldly as her father pronouncing sentence on a cruel
swindler she gave judgment:

"A pitiful and tawdry love-affair.

"No splendor, no defiance. A self-deceived little woman whispering in
corners with a pretentious little man.

"No, he is not. He is fine. Aspiring. It's not his fault. His eyes are
sweet when he looks at me. Sweet, so sweet."

She pitied herself that her romance should be pitiful; she sighed that
in this colorless hour, to this austere self, it should seem tawdry.

Then, in a very great desire of rebellion and unleashing of all her
hatreds, "The pettier and more tawdry it is, the more blame to Main
Street. It shows how much I've been longing to escape. Any way out! Any
humility so long as I can flee. Main Street has done this to me. I came
here eager for nobilities, ready for work, and now----Any way out.

"I came trusting them. They beat me with rods of dullness. They don't
know, they don't understand how agonizing their complacent dullness is.
Like ants and August sun on a wound.

"Tawdry! Pitiful! Carol--the clean girl that used to walk so
fast!--sneaking and tittering in dark corners, being sentimental and
jealous at church suppers!"

At breakfast-time her agonies were night-blurred, and persisted only as
a nervous irresolution.


IV


Few of the aristocrats of the Jolly Seventeen attended the humble
folk-meets of the Baptist and Methodist church suppers, where the Willis
Woodfords, the Dillons, the Champ Perrys, Oleson the butcher, Brad Bemis
the tinsmith, and Deacon Pierson found release from loneliness. But all
of the smart set went to the lawn-festivals of the Episcopal Church, and
were reprovingly polite to outsiders.

The Harry Haydocks gave the last lawn-festival of the season; a splendor
of Japanese lanterns and card-tables and chicken patties and Neapolitan
ice-cream. Erik was no longer entirely an outsider. He was eating his
ice-cream with a group of the people most solidly "in"--the Dyers,
Myrtle Cass, Guy Pollock, the Jackson Elders. The Haydocks themselves
kept aloof, but the others tolerated him. He would never, Carol fancied,
be one of the town pillars, because he was not orthodox in hunting and
motoring and poker. But he was winning approbation by his liveliness,
his gaiety--the qualities least important in him.

When the group summoned Carol she made several very well-taken points in
regard to the weather.

Myrtle cried to Erik, "Come on! We don't belong with these old folks.
I want to make you 'quainted with the jolliest girl, she comes from
Wakamin, she's staying with Mary Howland."

Carol saw him being profuse to the guest from Wakamin. She saw him
confidentially strolling with Myrtle. She burst out to Mrs. Westlake,
"Valborg and Myrtle seem to have quite a crush on each other."

Mrs. Westlake glanced at her curiously before she mumbled, "Yes, don't
they."

"I'm mad, to talk this way," Carol worried.

She had regained a feeling of social virtue by telling Juanita Haydock
"how darling her lawn looked with the Japanese lanterns" when she saw
that Erik was stalking her. Though he was merely ambling about with his
hands in his pockets, though he did not peep at her, she knew that he
was calling her. She sidled away from Juanita. Erik hastened to her. She
nodded coolly (she was proud of her coolness).

"Carol! I've got a wonderful chance! Don't know but what some ways
it might be better than going East to take art. Myrtle Cass says----I
dropped in to say howdy to Myrtle last evening, and had quite a long
talk with her father, and he said he was hunting for a fellow to go to
work in the flour mill and learn the whole business, and maybe become
general manager. I know something about wheat from my farming, and I
worked a couple of months in the flour mill at Curlew when I got sick of
tailoring. What do you think? You said any work was artistic if it was
done by an artist. And flour is so important. What do you think?"

"Wait! Wait!"

This sensitive boy would be very skilfully stamped into conformity by
Lyman Cass and his sallow daughter; but did she detest the plan for this
reason? "I must be honest. I mustn't tamper with his future to please my
vanity." But she had no sure vision. She turned on him:

"How can I decide? It's up to you. Do you want to become a person like
Lym Cass, or do you want to become a person like--yes, like me! Wait!
Don't be flattering. Be honest. This is important."

"I know. I am a person like you now! I mean, I want to rebel."

"Yes. We're alike," gravely.

"Only I'm not sure I can put through my schemes. I really can't draw
much. I guess I have pretty fair taste in fabrics, but since I've known
you I don't like to think about fussing with dress-designing. But as a
miller, I'd have the means--books, piano, travel."

"I'm going to be frank and beastly. Don't you realize that it isn't just
because her papa needs a bright young man in the mill that Myrtle is
amiable to you? Can't you understand what she'll do to you when she has
you, when she sends you to church and makes you become respectable?"

He glared at her. "I don't know. I suppose so."

"You are thoroughly unstable!"

"What if I am? Most fish out of water are! Don't talk like Mrs. Bogart!
How can I be anything but 'unstable'--wandering from farm to tailor
shop to books, no training, nothing but trying to make books talk to
me! Probably I'll fail. Oh, I know it; probably I'm uneven. But I'm not
unstable in thinking about this job in the mill--and Myrtle. I know what
I want. I want you!"

"Please, please, oh, please!"

"I do. I'm not a schoolboy any more. I want you. If I take Myrtle, it's
to forget you."

"Please, please!"

"It's you that are unstable! You talk at things and play at things, but
you're scared. Would I mind it if you and I went off to poverty, and I
had to dig ditches? I would not! But you would. I think you would come
to like me, but you won't admit it. I wouldn't have said this, but when
you sneer at Myrtle and the mill----If I'm not to have good sensible
things like those, d' you think I'll be content with trying to become a
damn dressmaker, after YOU? Are you fair? Are you?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Do you like me? Do you?"

"Yes----No! Please! I can't talk any more."

"Not here. Mrs. Haydock is looking at us."

"No, nor anywhere. O Erik, I am fond of you, but I'm afraid."

"What of?"

"Of Them! Of my rulers--Gopher Prairie. . . . My dear boy, we are
talking very foolishly. I am a normal wife and a good mother, and you
are--oh, a college freshman."

"You do like me! I'm going to make you love me!"

She looked at him once, recklessly, and walked away with a serene gait
that was a disordered flight.

Kennicott grumbled on their way home, "You and this Valborg fellow seem
quite chummy."

"Oh, we are. He's interested in Myrtle Cass, and I was telling him how
nice she is."

In her room she marveled, "I have become a liar. I'm snarled with lies
and foggy analyses and desires--I who was clear and sure."

She hurried into Kennicott's room, sat on the edge of his bed. He
flapped a drowsy welcoming hand at her from the expanse of quilt and
dented pillows.

"Will, I really think I ought to trot off to St. Paul or Chicago or some
place."

"I thought we settled all that, few nights ago! Wait till we can have a
real trip." He shook himself out of his drowsiness. "You might give me a
good-night kiss."

She did--dutifully. He held her lips against his for an intolerable
time. "Don't you like the old man any more?" he coaxed. He sat up and
shyly fitted his palm about the slimness of her waist.

"Of course. I like you very much indeed." Even to herself it sounded
flat. She longed to be able to throw into her voice the facile passion
of a light woman. She patted his cheek.

He sighed, "I'm sorry you're so tired. Seems like----But of course you
aren't very strong."

"Yes. . . . Then you don't think--you're quite sure I ought to stay here
in town?"

"I told you so! I certainly do!"

She crept back to her room, a small timorous figure in white.

"I can't face Will down--demand the right. He'd be obstinate. And I
can't even go off and earn my living again. Out of the habit of it. He's
driving me----I'm afraid of what he's driving me to. Afraid.

"That man in there, snoring in stale air, my husband? Could any ceremony
make him my husband?

"No. I don't want to hurt him. I want to love him. I can't, when I'm
thinking of Erik. Am I too honest--a funny topsy-turvy honesty--the
faithfulness of unfaith? I wish I had a more compartmental mind, like
men. I'm too monogamous--toward Erik!--my child Erik, who needs me.

"Is an illicit affair like a gambling debt--demands stricter honor than
the legitimate debt of matrimony, because it's not legally enforced?

"That's nonsense! I don't care in the least for Erik! Not for any man. I
want to be let alone, in a woman world--a world without Main Street,
or politicians, or business men, or men with that sudden beastly hungry
look, that glistening unfrank expression that wives know----

"If Erik were here, if he would just sit quiet and kind and talk, I
could be still, I could go to sleep.

"I am so tired. If I could sleep----"



CHAPTER XXXI

THEIR night came unheralded.

Kennicott was on a country call. It was cool but Carol huddled on the
porch, rocking, meditating, rocking. The house was lonely and repellent,
and though she sighed, "I ought to go in and read--so many things to
read--ought to go in," she remained. Suddenly Erik was coming, turning
in, swinging open the screen door, touching her hand.

"Erik!"

"Saw your husband driving out of town. Couldn't stand it."

"Well----You mustn't stay more than five minutes."

"Couldn't stand not seeing you. Every day, towards evening, felt I had
to see you--pictured you so clear. I've been good though, staying away,
haven't I!"

"And you must go on being good."

"Why must I?"

"We better not stay here on the porch. The Howlands across the street
are such window-peepers, and Mrs. Bogart----"

She did not look at him but she could divine his tremulousness as he
stumbled indoors. A moment ago the night had been coldly empty; now it
was incalculable, hot, treacherous. But it is women who are the calm
realists once they discard the fetishes of the premarital hunt. Carol
was serene as she murmured, "Hungry? I have some little honey-colored
cakes. You may have two, and then you must skip home."

"Take me up and let me see Hugh asleep."

"I don't believe----"

"Just a glimpse!"

"Well----"

She doubtfully led the way to the hallroom-nursery. Their heads close,
Erik's curls pleasant as they touched her cheek, they looked in at the
baby. Hugh was pink with slumber. He had burrowed into his pillow with
such energy that it was almost smothering him. Beside it was a celluloid
rhinoceros; tight in his hand a torn picture of Old King Cole.

"Shhh!" said Carol, quite automatically. She tiptoed in to pat the
pillow. As she returned to Erik she had a friendly sense of his waiting
for her. They smiled at each other. She did not think of Kennicott, the
baby's father. What she did think was that some one rather like Erik, an
older and surer Erik, ought to be Hugh's father. The three of them would
play--incredible imaginative games.

"Carol! You've told me about your own room. Let me peep in at it."

"But you mustn't stay, not a second. We must go downstairs."

"Yes."

"Will you be good?"

"R-reasonably!" He was pale, large-eyed, serious.

"You've got to be more than reasonably good!" She felt sensible and
superior; she was energetic about pushing open the door.

Kennicott had always seemed out of place there but Erik surprisingly
harmonized with the spirit of the room as he stroked the books, glanced
at the prints. He held out his hands. He came toward her. She was weak,
betrayed to a warm softness. Her head was tilted back. Her eyes were
closed. Her thoughts were formless but many-colored. She felt his kiss,
diffident and reverent, on her eyelid.

Then she knew that it was impossible.

She shook herself. She sprang from him. "Please!" she said sharply.

He looked at her unyielding.

"I am fond of you," she said. "Don't spoil everything. Be my friend."

"How many thousands and millions of women must have said that! And now
you! And it doesn't spoil everything. It glorifies everything."

"Dear, I do think there's a tiny streak of fairy in you--whatever you do
with it. Perhaps I'd have loved that once. But I won't. It's too late.
But I'll keep a fondness for you. Impersonal--I will be impersonal! It
needn't be just a thin talky fondness. You do need me, don't you? Only
you and my son need me. I've wanted so to be wanted! Once I wanted
love to be given to me. Now I'll be content if I can give. . . . Almost
content!

"We women, we like to do things for men. Poor men! We swoop on you when
you're defenseless and fuss over you and insist on reforming you. But
it's so pitifully deep in us. You'll be the one thing in which I haven't
failed. Do something definite! Even if it's just selling cottons. Sell
beautiful cottons--caravans from China----"

"Carol! Stop! You do love me!"

"I do not! It's just----Can't you understand? Everything crushes in on
me so, all the gaping dull people, and I look for a way out----Please
go. I can't stand any more. Please!"

He was gone. And she was not relieved by the quiet of the house. She was
empty and the house was empty and she needed him. She wanted to go
on talking, to get this threshed out, to build a sane friendship. She
wavered down to the living-room, looked out of the bay-window. He was
not to be seen. But Mrs. Westlake was. She was walking past, and in
the light from the corner arc-lamp she quickly inspected the porch, the
windows. Carol dropped the curtain, stood with movement and reflection
paralyzed. Automatically, without reasoning, she mumbled, "I will see
him again soon and make him understand we must be friends. But----The
house is so empty. It echoes so."


II


Kennicott had seemed nervous and absent-minded through that supper-hour,
two evenings after. He prowled about the living-room, then growled:

"What the dickens have you been saying to Ma Westlake?"

Carol's book rattled. "What do you mean?"

"I told you that Westlake and his wife were jealous of us, and here you
been chumming up to them and----From what Dave tells me, Ma Westlake has
been going around town saying you told her that you hate Aunt Bessie,
and that you fixed up your own room because I snore, and you said
Bjornstam was too good for Bea, and then, just recent, that you were
sore on the town because we don't all go down on our knees and beg this
Valborg fellow to come take supper with us. God only knows what else she
says you said."

"It's not true, any of it! I did like Mrs. Westlake, and I've called on
her, and apparently she's gone and twisted everything I've said----"

"Sure. Of course she would. Didn't I tell you she would? She's an old
cat, like her pussyfooting, hand-holding husband. Lord, if I was sick,
I'd rather have a faith-healer than Westlake, and she's another slice
off the same bacon. What I can't understand though----"

She waited, taut.

"----is whatever possessed you to let her pump you, bright a girl as
you are. I don't care what you told her--we all get peeved sometimes
and want to blow off steam, that's natural--but if you wanted to keep it
dark, why didn't you advertise it in the Dauntless, or get a megaphone
and stand on top of the hotel and holler, or do anything besides spill
it to her!"

"I know. You told me. But she was so motherly. And I didn't have any
woman----Vida 's become so married and proprietary."

"Well, next time you'll have better sense."

He patted her head, flumped down behind his newspaper, said nothing
more.

Enemies leered through the windows, stole on her from the hall. She had
no one save Erik. This kind good man Kennicott--he was an elder
brother. It was Erik, her fellow outcast, to whom she wanted to run for
sanctuary. Through her storm she was, to the eye, sitting quietly with
her fingers between the pages of a baby-blue book on home-dressmaking.
But her dismay at Mrs. Westlake's treachery had risen to active dread.
What had the woman said of her and Erik? What did she know? What had she
seen? Who else would join in the baying hunt? Who else had seen her
with Erik? What had she to fear from the Dyers, Cy Bogart, Juanita, Aunt
Bessie? What precisely had she answered to Mrs. Bogart's questioning?

All next day she was too restless to stay home, yet as she walked the
streets on fictitious errands she was afraid of every person she met.
She waited for them to speak; waited with foreboding. She repeated, "I
mustn't ever see Erik again." But the words did not register. She had no
ecstatic indulgence in the sense of guilt which is, to the women of Main
Street, the surest escape from blank tediousness.

At five, crumpled in a chair in the living-room, she started at the
sound of the bell. Some one opened the door. She waited, uneasy. Vida
Sherwin charged into the room. "Here's the one person I can trust!"
Carol rejoiced.

Vida was serious but affectionate. She bustled at Carol with, "Oh, there
you are, dearie, so glad t' find you in, sit down, want to talk to you."

Carol sat, obedient.

Vida fussily tugged over a large chair and launched out:

"I've been hearing vague rumors you were interested in this Erik
Valborg. I knew you couldn't be guilty, and I'm surer than ever of it
now. Here we are, as blooming as a daisy."

"How does a respectable matron look when she feels guilty?"

Carol sounded resentful.

"Why----Oh, it would show! Besides! I know that you, of all people, are
the one that can appreciate Dr. Will."

"What have you been hearing?"

"Nothing, really. I just heard Mrs. Bogart say she'd seen you and
Valborg walking together a lot." Vida's chirping slackened. She looked
at her nails. "But----I suspect you do like Valborg. Oh, I don't mean in
any wrong way. But you're young; you don't know what an innocent liking
might drift into. You always pretend to be so sophisticated and all,
but you're a baby. Just because you are so innocent, you don't know what
evil thoughts may lurk in that fellow's brain."

"You don't suppose Valborg could actually think about making love to
me?"

Her rather cheap sport ended abruptly as Vida cried, with contorted
face, "What do you know about the thoughts in hearts? You just play at
reforming the world. You don't know what it means to suffer."

There are two insults which no human being will endure: the assertion
that he hasn't a sense of humor, and the doubly impertinent assertion
that he has never known trouble. Carol said furiously, "You think I
don't suffer? You think I've always had an easy----"

"No, you don't. I'm going to tell you something I've never told a living
soul, not even Ray." The dam of repressed imagination which Vida had
builded for years, which now, with Raymie off at the wars, she was
building again, gave way.

"I was--I liked Will terribly well. One time at a party--oh, before
he met you, of course--but we held hands, and we were so happy. But I
didn't feel I was really suited to him. I let him go. Please don't think
I still love him! I see now that Ray was predestined to be my mate. But
because I liked him, I know how sincere and pure and noble Will is, and
his thoughts never straying from the path of rectitude, and----If I gave
him up to you, at least you've got to appreciate him! We danced together
and laughed so, and I gave him up, but----This IS my affair! I'm NOT
intruding! I see the whole thing as he does, because of all I've told
you. Maybe it's shameless to bare my heart this way, but I do it for
him--for him and you!"

Carol understood that Vida believed herself to have recited minutely and
brazenly a story of intimate love; understood that, in alarm, she was
trying to cover her shame as she struggled on, "Liked him in the most
honorable way--simply can't help it if I still see things through
his eyes----If I gave him up, I certainly am not beyond my rights
in demanding that you take care to avoid even the appearance of evil
and----" She was weeping; an insignificant, flushed, ungracefully
weeping woman.

Carol could not endure it. She ran to Vida, kissed her forehead,
comforted her with a murmur of dove-like sounds, sought to reassure her
with worn and hastily assembled gifts of words: "Oh, I appreciate it so
much," and "You are so fine and splendid," and "Let me assure you there
isn't a thing to what you've heard," and "Oh, indeed, I do know how
sincere Will is, and as you say, so--so sincere."

Vida believed that she had explained many deep and devious matters. She
came out of her hysteria like a sparrow shaking off rain-drops. She sat
up, and took advantage of her victory:

"I don't want to rub it in, but you can see for yourself now, this is
all a result of your being so discontented and not appreciating the dear
good people here. And another thing: People like you and me, who want to
reform things, have to be particularly careful about appearances. Think
how much better you can criticize conventional customs if you yourself
live up to them, scrupulously. Then people can't say you're attacking
them to excuse your own infractions."

To Carol was given a sudden great philosophical understanding, an
explanation of half the cautious reforms in history. "Yes. I've heard
that plea. It's a good one. It sets revolts aside to cool. It keeps
strays in the flock. To word it differently: 'You must live up to the
popular code if you believe in it; but if you don't believe in it, then
you MUST live up to it!'"

"I don't think so at all," said Vida vaguely. She began to look hurt,
and Carol let her be oracular.


III


Vida had done her a service; had made all agonizing seem so fatuous that
she ceased writhing and saw that her whole problem was simple as mutton:
she was interested in Erik's aspiration; interest gave her a hesitating
fondness for him; and the future would take care of the event. . . .
But at night, thinking in bed, she protested, "I'm not a falsely
accused innocent, though! If it were some one more resolute than Erik, a
fighter, an artist with bearded surly lips----They're only in books.
Is that the real tragedy, that I never shall know tragedy, never find
anything but blustery complications that turn out to be a farce?

"No one big enough or pitiful enough to sacrifice for. Tragedy in
neat blouses; the eternal flame all nice and safe in a kerosene stove.
Neither heroic faith nor heroic guilt. Peeping at love from behind lace
curtains--on Main Street!"

Aunt Bessie crept in next day, tried to pump her, tried to prime the
pump by again hinting that Kennicott might have his own affairs. Carol
snapped, "Whatever I may do, I'll have you to understand that Will is
only too safe!" She wished afterward that she had not been so lofty. How
much would Aunt Bessie make of "Whatever I may do?"

When Kennicott came home he poked at things, and hemmed, and brought
out, "Saw aunty, this afternoon. She said you weren't very polite to
her."

Carol laughed. He looked at her in a puzzled way and fled to his
newspaper.


IV


She lay sleepless. She alternately considered ways of leaving Kennicott,
and remembered his virtues, pitied his bewilderment in face of the
subtle corroding sicknesses which he could not dose nor cut out. Didn't
he perhaps need her more than did the book-solaced Erik? Suppose Will
were to die, suddenly. Suppose she never again saw him at breakfast,
silent but amiable, listening to her chatter. Suppose he never again
played elephant for Hugh. Suppose----A country call, a slippery road,
his motor skidding, the edge of the road crumbling, the car turning
turtle, Will pinned beneath, suffering, brought home maimed, looking at
her with spaniel eyes--or waiting for her, calling for her, while she
was in Chicago, knowing nothing of it. Suppose he were sued by some
vicious shrieking woman for malpractice. He tried to get witnesses;
Westlake spread lies; his friends doubted him; his self-confidence was
so broken that it was horrible to see the indecision of the decisive
man; he was convicted, handcuffed, taken on a train----

She ran to his room. At her nervous push the door swung sharply in,
struck a chair. He awoke, gasped, then in a steady voice: "What is it,
dear? Anything wrong?" She darted to him, fumbled for the familiar harsh
bristly cheek. How well she knew it, every seam, and hardness of bone,
and roll of fat! Yet when he sighed, "This is a nice visit," and dropped
his hand on her thin-covered shoulder, she said, too cheerily, "I
thought I heard you moaning. So silly of me. Good night, dear."


V


She did not see Erik for a fortnight, save once at church and once when
she went to the tailor shop to talk over the plans, contingencies, and
strategy of Kennicott's annual campaign for getting a new suit. Nat
Hicks was there, and he was not so deferential as he had been. With
unnecessary jauntiness he chuckled, "Some nice flannels, them
samples, heh?" Needlessly he touched her arm to call attention to the
fashion-plates, and humorously he glanced from her to Erik. At home she
wondered if the little beast might not be suggesting himself as a rival
to Erik, but that abysmal bedragglement she would not consider.

She saw Juanita Haydock slowly walking past the house--as Mrs. Westlake
had once walked past.

She met Mrs. Westlake in Uncle Whittier's store, and before that alert
stare forgot her determination to be rude, and was shakily cordial.

She was sure that all the men on the street, even Guy Pollock and Sam
Clark, leered at her in an interested hopeful way, as though she were
a notorious divorcee. She felt as insecure as a shadowed criminal. She
wished to see Erik, and wished that she had never seen him. She fancied
that Kennicott was the only person in town who did not know all--know
incomparably more than there was to know--about herself and Erik. She
crouched in her chair as she imagined men talking of her, thick-voiced,
obscene, in barber shops and the tobacco-stinking pool parlor.

Through early autumn Fern Mullins was the only person who broke the
suspense. The frivolous teacher had come to accept Carol as of her
own youth, and though school had begun she rushed in daily to suggest
dances, welsh-rabbit parties.

Fern begged her to go as chaperon to a barn-dance in the country, on a
Saturday evening. Carol could not go. The next day, the storm crashed.



CHAPTER XXXII

I

CAROL was on the back porch, tightening a bolt on the baby's go-cart,
this Sunday afternoon. Through an open window of the Bogart house she
heard a screeching, heard Mrs. Bogart's haggish voice:

" . . . did too, and there's no use your denying it no you don't, you march
yourself right straight out of the house . . . never in my life heard of
such . . . never had nobody talk to me like . . . walk in the ways of sin
and nastiness . . . leave your clothes here, and heaven knows that's more
than you deserve . . . any of your lip or I'll call the policeman."

The voice of the other interlocutor Carol did not catch, nor, though
Mrs. Bogart was proclaiming that he was her confidant and present
assistant, did she catch the voice of Mrs. Bogart's God.

"Another row with Cy," Carol inferred.

She trundled the go-cart down the back steps and tentatively wheeled it
across the yard, proud of her repairs. She heard steps on the sidewalk.
She saw not Cy Bogart but Fern Mullins, carrying a suit-case, hurrying
up the street with her head low. The widow, standing on the porch with
buttery arms akimbo, yammered after the fleeing girl:

"And don't you dare show your face on this block again. You can send the
drayman for your trunk. My house has been contaminated long enough. Why
the Lord should afflict me----"

Fern was gone. The righteous widow glared, banged into the house, came
out poking at her bonnet, marched away. By this time Carol was staring
in a manner not visibly to be distinguished from the window-peeping of
the rest of Gopher Prairie. She saw Mrs. Bogart enter the Howland house,
then the Casses'. Not till suppertime did she reach the Kennicotts. The
doctor answered her ring, and greeted her, "Well, well? how's the good
neighbor?"

The good neighbor charged into the living-room, waving the most unctuous
of black kid gloves and delightedly sputtering:

"You may well ask how I am! I really do wonder how I could go through
the awful scenes of this day--and the impudence I took from that woman's
tongue, that ought to be cut out----"

"Whoa! Whoa! Hold up!" roared Kennicott. "Who's the hussy, Sister
Bogart? Sit down and take it cool and tell us about it."

"I can't sit down, I must hurry home, but I couldn't devote myself to my
own selfish cares till I'd warned you, and heaven knows I don't expect
any thanks for trying to warn the town against her, there's always so
much evil in the world that folks simply won't see or appreciate your
trying to safeguard them----And forcing herself in here to get in with
you and Carrie, many 's the time I've seen her doing it, and, thank
heaven, she was found out in time before she could do any more harm, it
simply breaks my heart and prostrates me to think what she may have done
already, even if some of us that understand and know about things----"

"Whoa-up! Who are you talking about?"

"She's talking about Fern Mullins," Carol put in, not pleasantly.

"Huh?"

Kennicott was incredulous.

"I certainly am!" flourished Mrs. Bogart, "and good and thankful you
may be that I found her out in time, before she could get YOU into
something, Carol, because even if you are my neighbor and Will's wife
and a cultured lady, let me tell you right now, Carol Kennicott, that
you ain't always as respectful to--you ain't as reverent--you don't
stick by the good old ways like they was laid down for us by God in the
Bible, and while of course there ain't a bit of harm in having a good
laugh, and I know there ain't any real wickedness in you, yet just the
same you don't fear God and hate the transgressors of his commandments
like you ought to, and you may be thankful I found out this serpent I
nourished in my bosom--and oh yes! oh yes indeed! my lady must have
two eggs every morning for breakfast, and eggs sixty cents a dozen, and
wa'n't satisfied with one, like most folks--what did she care how much
they cost or if a person couldn't make hardly nothing on her board and
room, in fact I just took her in out of charity and I might have known
from the kind of stockings and clothes that she sneaked into my house in
her trunk----"

Before they got her story she had five more minutes of obscene
wallowing. The gutter comedy turned into high tragedy, with Nemesis
in black kid gloves. The actual story was simple, depressing, and
unimportant. As to details Mrs. Bogart was indefinite, and angry that
she should be questioned.

Fern Mullins and Cy had, the evening before, driven alone to a
barn-dance in the country. (Carol brought out the admission that Fern
had tried to get a chaperon.) At the dance Cy had kissed Fern--she
confessed that. Cy had obtained a pint of whisky; he said that he didn't
remember where he had got it; Mrs. Bogart implied that Fern had given
it to him; Fern herself insisted that he had stolen it from a farmer's
overcoat--which, Mrs. Bogart raged, was obviously a lie. He had become
soggily drunk. Fern had driven him home; deposited him, retching and
wabbling, on the Bogart porch.

Never before had her boy been drunk, shrieked Mrs. Bogart. When
Kennicott grunted, she owned, "Well, maybe once or twice I've smelled
licker on his breath." She also, with an air of being only too
scrupulously exact, granted that sometimes he did not come home till
morning. But he couldn't ever have been drunk, for he always had
the best excuses: the other boys had tempted him to go down the lake
spearing pickerel by torchlight, or he had been out in a "machine that
ran out of gas." Anyway, never before had her boy fallen into the hands
of a "designing woman."

"What do you suppose Miss Mullins could design to do with him?" insisted
Carol.

Mrs. Bogart was puzzled, gave it up, went on. This morning, when she had
faced both of them, Cy had manfully confessed that all of the blame was
on Fern, because the teacher--his own teacher--had dared him to take a
drink. Fern had tried to deny it.

"Then," gabbled Mrs. Bogart, "then that woman had the impudence to
say to me, 'What purpose could I have in wanting the filthy pup to get
drunk?' That's just what she called him--pup. 'I'll have no such nasty
language in my house,' I says, 'and you pretending and pulling the wool
over people's eyes and making them think you're educated and fit to be
a teacher and look out for young people's morals--you're worse 'n any
street-walker!' I says. I let her have it good. I wa'n't going to flinch
from my bounden duty and let her think that decent folks had to stand
for her vile talk. 'Purpose?' I says, 'Purpose? I'll tell you what
purpose you had! Ain't I seen you making up to everything in pants
that'd waste time and pay attention to your impert'nence? Ain't I seen
you showing off your legs with them short skirts of yours, trying
to make out like you was so girlish and la-de-da, running along the
street?'"

Carol was very sick at this version of Fern's eager youth, but she was
sicker as Mrs. Bogart hinted that no one could tell what had happened
between Fern and Cy before the drive home. Without exactly describing
the scene, by her power of lustful imagination the woman suggested dark
country places apart from the lanterns and rude fiddling and banging
dance-steps in the barn, then madness and harsh hateful conquest. Carol
was too sick to interrupt. It was Kennicott who cried, "Oh, for God's
sake quit it! You haven't any idea what happened. You haven't given us a
single proof yet that Fern is anything but a rattle-brained youngster."

"I haven't, eh? Well, what do you say to this? I come straight out and
I says to her, 'Did you or did you not taste the whisky Cy had?' and she
says, 'I think I did take one sip--Cy made me,' she said. She owned up
to that much, so you can imagine----"

"Does that prove her a prostitute?" asked Carol.

"Carrie! Don't you never use a word like that again!" wailed the
outraged Puritan.

"Well, does it prove her to be a bad woman, that she took a taste of
whisky? I've done it myself!"

"That's different. Not that I approve your doing it. What do the
Scriptures tell us? 'Strong drink is a mocker'! But that's entirely
different from a teacher drinking with one of her own pupils."

"Yes, it does sound bad. Fern was silly, undoubtedly. But as a matter
of fact she's only a year or two older than Cy and probably a good many
years younger in experience of vice."

"That's--not--true! She is plenty old enough to corrupt him!

"The job of corrupting Cy was done by your sinless town, five years
ago!"

Mrs. Bogart did not rage in return. Suddenly she was hopeless. Her head
drooped. She patted her black kid gloves, picked at a thread of her
faded brown skirt, and sighed, "He's a good boy, and awful affectionate
if you treat him right. Some thinks he's terrible wild, but that's
because he's young. And he's so brave and truthful--why, he was one of
the first in town that wanted to enlist for the war, and I had to speak
real sharp to him to keep him from running away. I didn't want him to
get into no bad influences round these camps--and then," Mrs. Bogart
rose from her pitifulness, recovered her pace, "then I go and bring into
my own house a woman that's worse, when all's said and done, than any
bad woman he could have met. You say this Mullins woman is too young
and inexperienced to corrupt Cy. Well then, she's too young and
inexperienced to teach him, too, one or t'other, you can't have your
cake and eat it! So it don't make no difference which reason they fire
her for, and that's practically almost what I said to the school-board."

"Have you been telling this story to the members of the school-board?"

"I certainly have! Every one of 'em! And their wives I says to them,
''Tain't my affair to decide what you should or should not do with your
teachers,' I says, 'and I ain't presuming to dictate in any way, shape,
manner, or form. I just want to know,' I says, 'whether you're going
to go on record as keeping here in our schools, among a lot of innocent
boys and girls, a woman that drinks, smokes, curses, uses bad language,
and does such dreadful things as I wouldn't lay tongue to but you know
what I mean,' I says, 'and if so, I'll just see to it that the town
learns about it.' And that's what I told Professor Mott, too, being
superintendent--and he's a righteous man, not going autoing on the
Sabbath like the school-board members. And the professor as much as
admitted he was suspicious of the Mullins woman himself."


II


Kennicott was less shocked and much less frightened than Carol, and more
articulate in his description of Mrs. Bogart, when she had gone.

Maud Dyer telephoned to Carol and, after a rather improbable question
about cooking lima beans with bacon, demanded, "Have you heard the
scandal about this Miss Mullins and Cy Bogart?"

"I'm sure it's a lie."

"Oh, probably is." Maud's manner indicated that the falsity of the story
was an insignificant flaw in its general delightfulness.

Carol crept to her room, sat with hands curled tight together as she
listened to a plague of voices. She could hear the town yelping with it,
every soul of them, gleeful at new details, panting to win importance by
having details of their own to add. How well they would make up for what
they had been afraid to do by imagining it in another! They who had
not been entirely afraid (but merely careful and sneaky), all the
barber-shop roues and millinery-parlor mondaines, how archly they
were giggling (this second--she could hear them at it); with what
self-commendation they were cackling their suavest wit: "You can't tell
ME she ain't a gay bird; I'm wise!"

And not one man in town to carry out their pioneer tradition of superb
and contemptuous cursing, not one to verify the myth that their "rough
chivalry" and "rugged virtues" were more generous than the petty
scandal-picking of older lands, not one dramatic frontiersman to
thunder, with fantastic and fictional oaths, "What are you hinting
at? What are you snickering at? What facts have you? What are these
unheard-of sins you condemn so much--and like so well?"

No one to say it. Not Kennicott nor Guy Pollock nor Champ Perry.

Erik? Possibly. He would sputter uneasy protest.

She suddenly wondered what subterranean connection her interest in Erik
had with this affair. Wasn't it because they had been prevented by her
caste from bounding on her own trail that they were howling at Fern?


III


Before supper she found, by half a dozen telephone calls, that Fern had
fled to the Minniemashie House. She hastened there, trying not to be
self-conscious about the people who looked at her on the street. The
clerk said indifferently that he "guessed" Miss Mullins was up in Room
37, and left Carol to find the way. She hunted along the stale-smelling
corridors with their wallpaper of cerise daisies and poison-green
rosettes, streaked in white spots from spilled water, their frayed red
and yellow matting, and rows of pine doors painted a sickly blue. She
could not find the number. In the darkness at the end of a corridor she
had to feel the aluminum figures on the door-panels. She was startled
once by a man's voice: "Yep? Whadyuh want?" and fled. When she reached
the right door she stood listening. She made out a long sobbing. There
was no answer till her third knock; then an alarmed "Who is it? Go
away!"

Her hatred of the town turned resolute as she pushed open the door.

Yesterday she had seen Fern Mullins in boots and tweed skirt and
canary-yellow sweater, fleet and self-possessed. Now she lay across
the bed, in crumpled lavender cotton and shabby pumps, very feminine,
utterly cowed. She lifted her head in stupid terror. Her hair was in
tousled strings and her face was sallow, creased. Her eyes were a blur
from weeping.

"I didn't! I didn't!" was all she would say at first, and she repeated
it while Carol kissed her cheek, stroked her hair, bathed her forehead.
She rested then, while Carol looked about the room--the welcome to
strangers, the sanctuary of hospitable Main Street, the lucrative
property of Kennicott's friend, Jackson Elder. It smelled of old linen
and decaying carpet and ancient tobacco smoke. The bed was rickety,
with a thin knotty mattress; the sand-colored walls were scratched and
gouged; in every corner, under everything, were fluffy dust and cigar
ashes; on the tilted wash-stand was a nicked and squatty pitcher; the
only chair was a grim straight object of spotty varnish; but there was
an altogether splendid gilt and rose cuspidor.

She did not try to draw out Fern's story; Fern insisted on telling it.

She had gone to the party, not quite liking Cy but willing to endure him
for the sake of dancing, of escaping from Mrs. Bogart's flow of moral
comments, of relaxing after the first strained weeks of teaching. Cy
"promised to be good." He was, on the way out. There were a few workmen
from Gopher Prairie at the dance, with many young farm-people. Half
a dozen squatters from a degenerate colony in a brush-hidden hollow,
planters of potatoes, suspected thieves, came in noisily drunk. They all
pounded the floor of the barn in old-fashioned square dances, swinging
their partners, skipping, laughing, under the incantations of Del
Snafflin the barber, who fiddled and called the figures. Cy had two
drinks from pocket-flasks. Fern saw him fumbling among the overcoats
piled on the feedbox at the far end of the barn; soon after she heard a
farmer declaring that some one had stolen his bottle. She taxed Cy with
the theft; he chuckled, "Oh, it's just a joke; I'm going to give it
back." He demanded that she take a drink. Unless she did, he wouldn't
return the bottle.

"I just brushed my lips with it, and gave it back to him," moaned Fern.
She sat up, glared at Carol. "Did you ever take a drink?"

"I have. A few. I'd love to have one right now! This contact with
righteousness has about done me up!"

Fern could laugh then. "So would I! I don't suppose I've had five drinks
in my life, but if I meet just one more Bogart and Son----Well, I didn't
really touch that bottle--horrible raw whisky--though I'd have loved
some wine. I felt so jolly. The barn was almost like a stage scene--the
high rafters, and the dark stalls, and tin lanterns swinging, and a
silage-cutter up at the end like some mysterious kind of machine. And
I'd been having lots of fun dancing with the nicest young farmer, so
strong and nice, and awfully intelligent. But I got uneasy when I saw
how Cy was. So I doubt if I touched two drops of the beastly stuff. Do
you suppose God is punishing me for even wanting wine?"

"My dear, Mrs. Bogart's god may be--Main Street's god. But all the
courageous intelligent people are fighting him . . . though he slay us."

Fern danced again with the young farmer; she forgot Cy while she was
talking with a girl who had taken the University agricultural course.
Cy could not have returned the bottle; he came staggering toward
her--taking time to make himself offensive to every girl on the way
and to dance a jig. She insisted on their returning. Cy went with her,
chuckling and jigging. He kissed her, outside the door. . . . "And
to think I used to think it was interesting to have men kiss you at
a dance!". . . She ignored the kiss, in the need of getting him home
before he started a fight. A farmer helped her harness the buggy, while
Cy snored in the seat. He awoke before they set out; all the way home he
alternately slept and tried to make love to her.

"I'm almost as strong as he is. I managed to keep him away while I
drove--such a rickety buggy. I didn't feel like a girl; I felt like a
scrubwoman--no, I guess I was too scared to have any feelings at all. It
was terribly dark. I got home, somehow. But it was hard, the time I had
to get out, and it was quite muddy, to read a sign-post--I lit matches
that I took from Cy's coat pocket, and he followed me--he fell off
the buggy step into the mud, and got up and tried to make love to me,
and----I was scared. But I hit him. Quite hard. And got in, and so he
ran after the buggy, crying like a baby, and I let him in again, and
right away again he was trying----But no matter. I got him home. Up on
the porch. Mrs. Bogart was waiting up. . . .

"You know, it was funny; all the time she was--oh, talking to me--and Cy
was being terribly sick--I just kept thinking, 'I've still got to drive
the buggy down to the livery stable. I wonder if the livery man will be
awake?' But I got through somehow. I took the buggy down to the stable,
and got to my room. I locked my door, but Mrs. Bogart kept saying
things, outside the door. Stood out there saying things about me,
dreadful things, and rattling the knob. And all the while I could hear
Cy in the back yard-being sick. I don't think I'll ever marry any man.
And then today----

"She drove me right out of the house. She wouldn't listen to me, all
morning. Just to Cy. I suppose he's over his headache now. Even at
breakfast he thought the whole thing was a grand joke. I suppose right
this minute he's going around town boasting about his 'conquest.' You
understand--oh, DON'T you understand? I DID keep him away! But I don't
see how I can face my school. They say country towns are fine for
bringing up boys in, but----I can't believe this is me, lying here and
saying this. I don't BELIEVE what happened last night.

"Oh. This was curious: When I took off my dress last night--it was a
darling dress, I loved it so, but of course the mud had spoiled it. I
cried over it and----No matter. But my white silk stockings were all
torn, and the strange thing is, I don't know whether I caught my legs
in the briers when I got out to look at the sign-post, or whether Cy
scratched me when I was fighting him off."


IV


Sam Clark was president of the school-board. When Carol told him Fern's
story Sam looked sympathetic and neighborly, and Mrs. Clark sat by
cooing, "Oh, isn't that too bad." Carol was interrupted only when Mrs.
Clark begged, "Dear, don't speak so bitter about 'pious' people. There's
lots of sincere practising Christians that are real tolerant. Like the
Champ Perrys."

"Yes. I know. Unfortunately there are enough kindly people in the
churches to keep them going."

When Carol had finished, Mrs. Clark breathed, "Poor girl; I don't doubt
her story a bit," and Sam rumbled, "Yuh, sure. Miss Mullins is young and
reckless, but everybody in town, except Ma Bogart, knows what Cy is. But
Miss Mullins was a fool to go with him."

"But not wicked enough to pay for it with disgrace?"

"N-no, but----" Sam avoided verdicts, clung to the entrancing horrors
of the story. "Ma Bogart cussed her out all morning, did she? Jumped her
neck, eh? Ma certainly is one hell-cat."

"Yes, you know how she is; so vicious."

"Oh no, her best style ain't her viciousness. What she pulls in our
store is to come in smiling with Christian Fortitude and keep a clerk
busy for one hour while she picks out half a dozen fourpenny nails. I
remember one time----"

"Sam!" Carol was uneasy. "You'll fight for Fern, won't you? When Mrs.
Bogart came to see you did she make definite charges?"

"Well, yes, you might say she did."

"But the school-board won't act on them?"

"Guess we'll more or less have to."

"But you'll exonerate Fern?"

"I'll do what I can for the girl personally, but you know what the board
is. There's Reverend Zitterel; Sister Bogart about half runs his church,
so of course he'll take her say-so; and Ezra Stowbody, as a banker he
has to be all hell for morality and purity. Might 's well admit it,
Carrie; I'm afraid there'll be a majority of the board against her. Not
that any of us would believe a word Cy said, not if he swore it on a
stack of Bibles, but still, after all this gossip, Miss Mullins wouldn't
hardly be the party to chaperon our basket-ball team when it went out of
town to play other high schools, would she!"

"Perhaps not, but couldn't some one else?"

"Why, that's one of the things she was hired for." Sam sounded stubborn.

"Do you realize that this isn't just a matter of a job, and hiring and
firing; that it's actually sending a splendid girl out with a beastly
stain on her, giving all the other Bogarts in the world a chance at her?
That's what will happen if you discharge her."

Sam moved uncomfortably, looked at his wife, scratched his head, sighed,
said nothing.

"Won't you fight for her on the board? If you lose, won't you, and
whoever agrees with you, make a minority report?"

"No reports made in a case like this. Our rule is to just decide the
thing and announce the final decision, whether it's unanimous or not."

"Rules! Against a girl's future! Dear God! Rules of a school-board! Sam!
Won't you stand by Fern, and threaten to resign from the board if they
try to discharge her?"

Rather testy, tired of so many subtleties, he complained, "Well, I'll do
what I can, but I'll have to wait till the board meets."

And "I'll do what I can," together with the secret admission "Of
course you and I know what Ma Bogart is," was all Carol could get
from Superintendent George Edwin Mott, Ezra Stowbody, the Reverend Mr.
Zitterel or any other member of the school-board.

Afterward she wondered whether Mr. Zitterel could have been referring
to herself when he observed, "There's too much license in high places
in this town, though, and the wages of sin is death--or anyway, bein'
fired." The holy leer with which the priest said it remained in her
mind.

She was at the hotel before eight next morning. Fern longed to go to
school, to face the tittering, but she was too shaky. Carol read to
her all day and, by reassuring her, convinced her own self that the
school-board would be just. She was less sure of it that evening when,
at the motion pictures, she heard Mrs. Gougerling exclaim to Mrs.
Howland, "She may be so innocent and all, and I suppose she probably is,
but still, if she drank a whole bottle of whisky at that dance, the way
everybody says she did, she may have forgotten she was so innocent! Hee,
hee, hee!" Maud Dyer, leaning back from her seat, put in, "That's what
I've said all along. I don't want to roast anybody, but have you noticed
the way she looks at men?"

"When will they have me on the scaffold?" Carol speculated.

Nat Hicks stopped the Kennicotts on their way home. Carol hated him for
his manner of assuming that they two had a mysterious understanding.
Without quite winking he seemed to wink at her as he gurgled, "What do
you folks think about this Mullins woman? I'm not strait-laced, but I
tell you we got to have decent women in our schools. D' you know what I
heard? They say whatever she may of done afterwards, this Mullins dame
took two quarts of whisky to the dance with her, and got stewed before
Cy did! Some tank, that wren! Ha, ha, ha!"

"Rats, I don't believe it," Kennicott muttered.

He got Carol away before she was able to speak.

She saw Erik passing the house, late, alone, and she stared after him,
longing for the lively bitterness of the things he would say about the
town. Kennicott had nothing for her but "Oh, course, ev'body likes a
juicy story, but they don't intend to be mean."

She went up to bed proving to herself that the members of the
school-board were superior men.

It was Tuesday afternoon before she learned that the board had met
at ten in the morning and voted to "accept Miss Fern Mullins's
resignation." Sam Clark telephoned the news to her. "We're not making
any charges. We're just letting her resign. Would you like to drop over
to the hotel and ask her to write the resignation, now we've accepted
it? Glad I could get the board to put it that way. It's thanks to you."

"But can't you see that the town will take this as proof of the
charges?"

"We're--not--making--no--charges--whatever!" Sam was obviously finding
it hard to be patient.

Fern left town that evening.

Carol went with her to the train. The two girls elbowed through a silent
lip-licking crowd. Carol tried to stare them down but in face of
the impishness of the boys and the bovine gaping of the men, she was
embarrassed. Fern did not glance at them. Carol felt her arm tremble,
though she was tearless, listless, plodding. She squeezed Carol's hand,
said something unintelligible, stumbled up into the vestibule.

Carol remembered that Miles Bjornstam had also taken a train. What would
be the scene at the station when she herself took departure?

She walked up-town behind two strangers.

One of them was giggling, "See that good-looking wench that got on here?
The swell kid with the small black hat? She's some charmer! I was here
yesterday, before my jump to Ojibway Falls, and I heard all about
her. Seems she was a teacher, but she certainly was a high-roller--O
boy!--high, wide, and fancy! Her and couple of other skirts bought a
whole case of whisky and went on a tear, and one night, darned if this
bunch of cradle-robbers didn't get hold of some young kids, just small
boys, and they all got lit up like a White Way, and went out to a
roughneck dance, and they say----"

The narrator turned, saw a woman near and, not being a common person nor
a coarse workman but a clever salesman and a householder, lowered
his voice for the rest of the tale. During it the other man laughed
hoarsely.

Carol turned off on a side-street.

She passed Cy Bogart. He was humorously narrating some achievement to a
group which included Nat Hicks, Del Snafflin, Bert Tybee the bartender,
and A. Tennyson O'Hearn the shyster lawyer. They were men far older than
Cy but they accepted him as one of their own, and encouraged him to go
on.

It was a week before she received from Fern a letter of which this was a
part:

. . . & of course my family did not really believe the story but as
they were sure I must have done something wrong they just lectured
me generally, in fact jawed me till I have gone to live at a boarding
house. The teachers' agencies must know the story, man at one almost
slammed the door in my face when I went to ask about a job, & at another
the woman in charge was beastly. Don't know what I will do. Don't seem
to feel very well. May marry a fellow that's in love with me but he's so
stupid that he makes me SCREAM.

Dear Mrs. Kennicott you were the only one that believed me. I guess it's
a joke on me, I was such a simp, I felt quite heroic while I was driving
the buggy back that night & keeping Cy away from me. I guess I expected
the people in Gopher Prairie to admire me. I did use to be admired for
my athletics at the U.--just five months ago.



CHAPTER XXXIII

FOR a month which was one suspended moment of doubt she saw Erik only
casually, at an Eastern Star dance, at the shop, where, in the
presence of Nat Hicks, they conferred with immense particularity on the
significance of having one or two buttons on the cuff of Kennicott's New
Suit. For the benefit of beholders they were respectably vacuous.

Thus barred from him, depressed in the thought of Fern, Carol was
suddenly and for the first time convinced that she loved Erik.

She told herself a thousand inspiriting things which he would say if he
had the opportunity; for them she admired him, loved him. But she was
afraid to summon him. He understood, he did not come. She forgot her
every doubt of him, and her discomfort in his background. Each day it
seemed impossible to get through the desolation of not seeing him. Each
morning, each afternoon, each evening was a compartment divided from all
other units of time, distinguished by a sudden "Oh! I want to see Erik!"
which was as devastating as though she had never said it before.

There were wretched periods when she could not picture him. Usually
he stood out in her mind in some little moment--glancing up from his
preposterous pressing-iron, or running on the beach with Dave Dyer.
But sometimes he had vanished; he was only an opinion. She worried then
about his appearance: Weren't his wrists too large and red? Wasn't his
nose a snub, like so many Scandinavians? Was he at all the graceful
thing she had fancied? When she encountered him on the street she was
as much reassuring herself as rejoicing in his presence. More disturbing
than being unable to visualize him was the darting remembrance of some
intimate aspect: his face as they had walked to the boat together at the
picnic; the ruddy light on his temples, neck-cords, flat cheeks.

On a November evening when Kennicott was in the country she answered the
bell and was confused to find Erik at the door, stooped, imploring, his
hands in the pockets of his topcoat. As though he had been rehearsing
his speech he instantly besought:

"Saw your husband driving away. I've got to see you. I can't stand it.
Come for a walk. I know! People might see us. But they won't if we hike
into the country. I'll wait for you by the elevator. Take as long as you
want to--oh, come quick!"

"In a few minutes," she promised.

She murmured, "I'll just talk to him for a quarter of an hour and come
home." She put an her tweed coat and rubber overshoes, considering how
honest and hopeless are rubbers, how clearly their chaperonage proved
that she wasn't going to a lovers' tryst.

She found him in the shadow of the grain-elevator, sulkily kicking at
a rail of the side-track. As she came toward him she fancied that his
whole body expanded. But he said nothing, nor she; he patted her sleeve,
she returned the pat, and they crossed the railroad tracks, found a
road, clumped toward open country.

"Chilly night, but I like this melancholy gray," he said.

"Yes."

They passed a moaning clump of trees and splashed along the wet road.
He tucked her hand into the side-pocket of his overcoat. She caught his
thumb and, sighing, held it exactly as Hugh held hers when they went
walking. She thought about Hugh. The current maid was in for the
evening, but was it safe to leave the baby with her? The thought was
distant and elusive.

Erik began to talk, slowly, revealingly. He made for her a picture of
his work in a large tailor shop in Minneapolis: the steam and heat, and
the drudgery; the men in darned vests and crumpled trousers, men who
"rushed growlers of beer" and were cynical about women, who laughed at
him and played jokes on him. "But I didn't mind, because I could keep
away from them outside. I used to go to the Art Institute and the Walker
Gallery, and tramp clear around Lake Harriet, or hike out to the Gates
house and imagine it was a chateau in Italy and I lived in it. I was a
marquis and collected tapestries--that was after I was wounded in Padua.
The only really bad time was when a tailor named Finkelfarb found a
diary I was trying to keep and he read it aloud in the shop--it was a
bad fight." He laughed. "I got fined five dollars. But that's all gone
now. Seems as though you stand between me and the gas stoves--the long
flames with mauve edges, licking up around the irons and making that
sneering sound all day--aaaaah!"

Her fingers tightened about his thumb as she perceived the hot low room,
the pounding of pressing-irons, the reek of scorched cloth, and Erik
among giggling gnomes. His fingertip crept through the opening of her
glove and smoothed her palm. She snatched her hand away, stripped off
her glove, tucked her hand back into his.

He was saying something about a "wonderful person." In her tranquillity
she let the words blow by and heeded only the beating wings of his
voice.

She was conscious that he was fumbling for impressive speech.

"Say, uh--Carol, I've written a poem about you."

"That's nice. Let's hear it."

"Damn it, don't be so casual about it! Can't you take me seriously?"

"My dear boy, if I took you seriously----! I don't want us to be hurt
more than--more than we will be. Tell me the poem. I've never had a poem
written about me!"

"It isn't really a poem. It's just some words that I love because it
seems to me they catch what you are. Of course probably they won't seem
so to anybody else, but----Well----

     Little and tender and merry and wise
     With eyes that meet my eyes.

Do you get the idea the way I do?"

"Yes! I'm terribly grateful!" And she was grateful--while she
impersonally noted how bad a verse it was.

She was aware of the haggard beauty in the lowering night. Monstrous
tattered clouds sprawled round a forlorn moon; puddles and rocks
glistened with inner light. They were passing a grove of scrub poplars,
feeble by day but looming now like a menacing wall. She stopped. They
heard the branches dripping, the wet leaves sullenly plumping on the
soggy earth.

"Waiting--waiting--everything is waiting," she whispered. She drew her
hand from his, pressed her clenched fingers against her lips. She was
lost in the somberness. "I am happy--so we must go home, before we have
time to become unhappy. But can't we sit on a log for a minute and just
listen?"

"No. Too wet. But I wish we could build a fire, and you could sit on
my overcoat beside it. I'm a grand fire-builder! My cousin Lars and me
spent a week one time in a cabin way up in the Big Woods, snowed in.
The fireplace was filled with a dome of ice when we got there, but we
chopped it out, and jammed the thing full of pine-boughs. Couldn't we
build a fire back here in the woods and sit by it for a while?"

She pondered, half-way between yielding and refusal. Her head ached
faintly. She was in abeyance. Everything, the night, his silhouette, the
cautious-treading future, was as undistinguishable as though she were
drifting bodiless in a Fourth Dimension. While her mind groped, the
lights of a motor car swooped round a bend in the road, and they stood
farther apart. "What ought I to do?" she mused. "I think----Oh, I won't
be robbed! I AM good! If I'm so enslaved that I can't sit by the fire
with a man and talk, then I'd better be dead!"

The lights of the thrumming car grew magically; were upon them; abruptly
stopped. From behind the dimness of the windshield a voice, annoyed,
sharp: "Hello there!"

She realized that it was Kennicott.

The irritation in his voice smoothed out. "Having a walk?"

They made schoolboyish sounds of assent.

"Pretty wet, isn't it? Better ride back. Jump up in front here,
Valborg."

His manner of swinging open the door was a command. Carol was conscious
that Erik was climbing in, that she was apparently to sit in the back,
and that she had been left to open the rear door for herself. Instantly
the wonder which had flamed to the gusty skies was quenched, and she was
Mrs. W. P. Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, riding in a squeaking old car,
and likely to be lectured by her husband.

She feared what Kennicott would say to Erik. She bent toward them.
Kennicott was observing, "Going to have some rain before the night 's
over, all right."

"Yes," said Erik.

"Been funny season this year, anyway. Never saw it with such a cold
October and such a nice November. 'Member we had a snow way back on
October ninth! But it certainly was nice up to the twenty-first, this
month--as I remember it, not a flake of snow in November so far, has
there been? But I shouldn't wonder if we'd be having some snow 'most any
time now."

"Yes, good chance of it," said Erik.

"Wish I'd had more time to go after the ducks this fall. By golly, what
do you think?" Kennicott sounded appealing. "Fellow wrote me from Man
Trap Lake that he shot seven mallards and couple of canvas-back in one
hour!"

"That must have been fine," said Erik.

Carol was ignored. But Kennicott was blustrously cheerful. He shouted
to a farmer, as he slowed up to pass the frightened team, "There we
are--schon gut!" She sat back, neglected, frozen, unheroic heroine in
a drama insanely undramatic. She made a decision resolute and enduring.
She would tell Kennicott----What would she tell him? She could not say
that she loved Erik. DID she love him? But she would have it out.
She was not sure whether it was pity for Kennicott's blindness, or
irritation at his assumption that he was enough to fill any woman's
life, which prompted her, but she knew that she was out of the trap,
that she could be frank; and she was exhilarated with the adventure of
it . . . while in front he was entertaining Erik:

"Nothing like an hour on a duck-pass to make you relish your victuals
and----Gosh, this machine hasn't got the power of a fountain pen. Guess
the cylinders are jam-cram-full of carbon again. Don't know but what
maybe I'll have to put in another set of piston-rings."

He stopped on Main Street and clucked hospitably, "There, that'll give
you just a block to walk. G' night."

Carol was in suspense. Would Erik sneak away?

He stolidly moved to the back of the car, thrust in his hand, muttered,
"Good night--Carol. I'm glad we had our walk." She pressed his hand. The
car was flapping on. He was hidden from her--by a corner drug store on
Main Street!

Kennicott did not recognize her till he drew up before the house. Then
he condescended, "Better jump out here and I'll take the boat around
back. Say, see if the back door is unlocked, will you?" She unlatched
the door for him. She realized that she still carried the damp glove she
had stripped off for Erik. She drew it on. She stood in the center of
the living-room, unmoving, in damp coat and muddy rubbers. Kennicott was
as opaque as ever. Her task wouldn't be anything so lively as having
to endure a scolding, but only an exasperating effort to command his
attention so that he would understand the nebulous things she had to
tell him, instead of interrupting her by yawning, winding the clock, and
going up to bed. She heard him shoveling coal into the furnace. He came
through the kitchen energetically, but before he spoke to her he did
stop in the hall, did wind the clock.

He sauntered into the living-room and his glance passed from her
drenched hat to her smeared rubbers. She could hear--she could hear,
see, taste, smell, touch--his "Better take your coat off, Carrie; looks
kind of wet." Yes, there it was:

"Well, Carrie, you better----" He chucked his own coat on a chair,
stalked to her, went on with a rising tingling voice, "----you better
cut it out now. I'm not going to do the out-raged husband stunt. I like
you and I respect you, and I'd probably look like a boob if I tried to
be dramatic. But I think it's about time for you and Valborg to call a
halt before you get in Dutch, like Fern Mullins did."

"Do you----"

"Course. I know all about it. What d' you expect in a town that's as
filled with busybodies, that have plenty of time to stick their noses
into other folks' business, as this is? Not that they've had the nerve
to do much tattling to me, but they've hinted around a lot, and anyway,
I could see for myself that you liked him. But of course I knew how cold
you were, I knew you wouldn't stand it even if Valborg did try to hold
your hand or kiss you, so I didn't worry. But same time, I hope you
don't suppose this husky young Swede farmer is as innocent and Platonic
and all that stuff as you are! Wait now, don't get sore! I'm not
knocking him. He isn't a bad sort. And he's young and likes to gas about
books. Course you like him. That isn't the real rub. But haven't you
just seen what this town can do, once it goes and gets moral on you,
like it did with Fern? You probably think that two young folks making
love are alone if anybody ever is, but there's nothing in this town
that you don't do in company with a whole lot of uninvited but awful
interested guests. Don't you realize that if Ma Westlake and a few
others got started they'd drive you up a tree, and you'd find yourself
so well advertised as being in love with this Valborg fellow that you'd
HAVE to be, just to spite 'em!"

"Let me sit down," was all Carol could say. She drooped on the couch,
wearily, without elasticity.

He yawned, "Gimme your coat and rubbers," and while she stripped them
off he twiddled his watch-chain, felt the radiator, peered at the
thermometer. He shook out her wraps in the hall, hung them up with
exactly his usual care. He pushed a chair near to her and sat bolt up.
He looked like a physician about to give sound and undesired advice.

Before he could launch into his heavy discourse she desperately got in,
"Please! I want you to know that I was going to tell you everything,
tonight."

"Well, I don't suppose there's really much to tell."

"But there is. I'm fond of Erik. He appeals to something in here." She
touched her breast. "And I admire him. He isn't just a 'young Swede
farmer.' He's an artist----"

"Wait now! He's had a chance all evening to tell you what a whale of
a fine fellow he is. Now it's my turn. I can't talk artistic,
but----Carrie, do you understand my work?" He leaned forward, thick
capable hands on thick sturdy thighs, mature and slow, yet beseeching.
"No matter even if you are cold, I like you better than anybody in
the world. One time I said that you were my soul. And that still goes.
You're all the things that I see in a sunset when I'm driving in from
the country, the things that I like but can't make poetry of. Do you
realize what my job is? I go round twenty-four hours a day, in mud and
blizzard, trying my damnedest to heal everybody, rich or poor. You--that
're always spieling about how scientists ought to rule the world,
instead of a bunch of spread-eagle politicians--can't you see that I'm
all the science there is here? And I can stand the cold and the bumpy
roads and the lonely rides at night. All I need is to have you here at
home to welcome me. I don't expect you to be passionate--not any more
I don't--but I do expect you to appreciate my work. I bring babies into
the world, and save lives, and make cranky husbands quit being mean to
their wives. And then you go and moon over a Swede tailor because he can
talk about how to put ruchings on a skirt! Hell of a thing for a man to
fuss over!"

She flew out at him: "You make your side clear. Let me give mine. I
admit all you say--except about Erik. But is it only you, and the baby,
that want me to back you up, that demand things from me? They're all on
me, the whole town! I can feel their hot breaths on my neck! Aunt Bessie
and that horrible slavering old Uncle Whittier and Juanita and Mrs.
Westlake and Mrs. Bogart and all of them. And you welcome them, you
encourage them to drag me down into their cave! I won't stand it! Do you
hear? Now, right now, I'm done. And it's Erik who gives me the courage.
You say he just thinks about ruches (which do not usually go on skirts,
by the way!). I tell you he thinks about God, the God that Mrs. Bogart
covers up with greasy gingham wrappers! Erik will be a great man some
day, and if I could contribute one tiny bit to his success----"

"Wait, wait, wait now! Hold up! You're assuming that your Erik will make
good. As a matter of fact, at my age he'll be running a one-man tailor
shop in some burg about the size of Schoenstrom."

"He will not!"

"That's what he's headed for now all right, and he's twenty-five or -six
and----What's he done to make you think he'll ever be anything but a
pants-presser?"

"He has sensitiveness and talent----"

"Wait now! What has he actually done in the art line? Has he done one
first-class picture or--sketch, d' you call it? Or one poem, or played
the piano, or anything except gas about what he's going to do?"

She looked thoughtful.

"Then it's a hundred to one shot that he never will. Way I understand
it, even these fellows that do something pretty good at home and get to
go to art school, there ain't more than one out of ten of 'em, maybe one
out of a hundred, that ever get above grinding out a bum living--about
as artistic as plumbing. And when it comes down to this tailor, why,
can't you see--you that take on so about psychology--can't you see that
it's just by contrast with folks like Doc McGanum or Lym Cass that this
fellow seems artistic? Suppose you'd met up with him first in one of
these reg'lar New York studios! You wouldn't notice him any more 'n a
rabbit!"

She huddled over folded hands like a temple virgin shivering on her
knees before the thin warmth of a brazier. She could not answer.

Kennicott rose quickly, sat on the couch, took both her hands. "Suppose
he fails--as he will! Suppose he goes back to tailoring, and you're his
wife. Is that going to be this artistic life you've been thinking about?
He's in some bum shack, pressing pants all day, or stooped over sewing,
and having to be polite to any grouch that blows in and jams a dirty
stinking old suit in his face and says, 'Here you, fix this, and be
blame quick about it.' He won't even have enough savvy to get him a big
shop. He'll pike along doing his own work--unless you, his wife, go help
him, go help him in the shop, and stand over a table all day, pushing a
big heavy iron. Your complexion will look fine after about fifteen years
of baking that way, won't it! And you'll be humped over like an old
hag. And probably you'll live in one room back of the shop. And then
at night--oh, you'll have your artist--sure! He'll come in stinking
of gasoline, and cranky from hard work, and hinting around that if it
hadn't been for you, he'd of gone East and been a great artist. Sure!
And you'll be entertaining his relatives----Talk about Uncle Whit!
You'll be having some old Axel Axelberg coming in with manure on his
boots and sitting down to supper in his socks and yelling at you, 'Hurry
up now, you vimmin make me sick!' Yes, and you'll have a squalling brat
every year, tugging at you while you press clothes, and you won't love
'em like you do Hugh up-stairs, all downy and asleep----"

"Please! Not any more!"

Her face was on his knee.

He bent to kiss her neck. "I don't want to be unfair. I guess love is
a great thing, all right. But think it would stand much of that kind of
stuff? Oh, honey, am I so bad? Can't you like me at all? I've--I've been
so fond of you!"

She snatched up his hand, she kissed it. Presently she sobbed, "I won't
ever see him again. I can't, now. The hot living-room behind the tailor
shop----I don't love him enough for that. And you are----Even if I were
sure of him, sure he was the real thing, I don't think I could actually
leave you. This marriage, it weaves people together. It's not easy to
break, even when it ought to be broken."

"And do you want to break it?"

"No!"

He lifted her, carried her up-stairs, laid her on her bed, turned to the
door.

"Come kiss me," she whimpered.

He kissed her lightly and slipped away. For an hour she heard him moving
about his room, lighting a cigar, drumming with his knuckles on a chair.
She felt that he was a bulwark between her and the darkness that grew
thicker as the delayed storm came down in sleet.


II


He was cheery and more casual than ever at breakfast. All day she tried
to devise a way of giving Erik up. Telephone? The village central would
unquestionably "listen in." A letter? It might be found. Go to see
him? Impossible. That evening Kennicott gave her, without comment, an
envelope. The letter was signed "E. V."


I know I can't do anything but make trouble for you, I think. I am going
to Minneapolis tonight and from there as soon as I can either to New
York or Chicago. I will do as big things as I can. I--I can't write I
love you too much--God keep you.


Until she heard the whistle which told her that the Minneapolis train
was leaving town, she kept herself from thinking, from moving. Then it
was all over. She had no plan nor desire for anything.

When she caught Kennicott looking at her over his newspaper she fled
to his arms, thrusting the paper aside, and for the first time in years
they were lovers. But she knew that she still had no plan in life, save
always to go along the same streets, past the same people, to the same
shops.


III


A week after Erik's going the maid startled her by announcing, "There's
a Mr. Valborg down-stairs say he vant to see you."

She was conscious of the maid's interested stare, angry at this
shattering of the calm in which she had hidden. She crept down, peeped
into the living-room. It was not Erik Valborg who stood there; it was a
small, gray-bearded, yellow-faced man in mucky boots, canvas jacket, and
red mittens. He glowered at her with shrewd red eyes.

"You de doc's wife?"

"Yes."

"I'm Adolph Valborg, from up by Jefferson. I'm Erik's father."

"Oh!" He was a monkey-faced little man, and not gentle.

"What you done wit' my son?"

"I don't think I understand you."

"I t'ink you're going to understand before I get t'rough! Where is he?"

"Why, really----I presume that he's in Minneapolis."

"You presume!" He looked through her with a contemptuousness such as
she could not have imagined. Only an insane contortion of spelling could
portray his lyric whine, his mangled consonants. He clamored, "Presume!
Dot's a fine word! I don't want no fine words and I don't want no more
lies! I want to know what you KNOW!"

"See here, Mr. Valborg, you may stop this bullying right now. I'm not
one of your farmwomen. I don't know where your son is, and there's no
reason why I should know." Her defiance ran out in face of his immense
flaxen stolidity. He raised his fist, worked up his anger with the
gesture, and sneered:

"You dirty city women wit' your fine ways and fine dresses! A father
come here trying to save his boy from wickedness, and you call him a
bully! By God, I don't have to take nothin' off you nor your husband! I
ain't one of your hired men. For one time a woman like you is going to
hear de trut' about what you are, and no fine city words to it, needer."

"Really, Mr. Valborg----"

"What you done wit' him? Heh? I'll yoost tell you what you done! He was
a good boy, even if he was a damn fool. I want him back on de farm. He
don't make enough money tailoring. And I can't get me no hired man! I
want to take him back on de farm. And you butt in and fool wit' him and
make love wit' him, and get him to run away!"

"You are lying! It's not true that----It's not true, and if it were, you
would have no right to speak like this."

"Don't talk foolish. I know. Ain't I heard from a fellow dot live right
here in town how you been acting wit' de boy? I know what you done!
Walking wit' him in de country! Hiding in de woods wit' him! Yes and I
guess you talk about religion in de woods! Sure! Women like you--you're
worse dan street-walkers! Rich women like you, wit' fine husbands and
no decent work to do--and me, look at my hands, look how I work, look at
those hands! But you, oh God no, you mustn't work, you're too fine to
do decent work. You got to play wit' young fellows, younger as you are,
laughing and rolling around and acting like de animals! You let my son
alone, d' you hear?" He was shaking his fist in her face. She could
smell the manure and sweat. "It ain't no use talkin' to women like you.
Get no trut' out of you. But next time I go by your husband!"

He was marching into the hall. Carol flung herself on him, her clenching
hand on his hayseed-dusty shoulder. "You horrible old man, you've always
tried to turn Erik into a slave, to fatten your pocketbook! You've
sneered at him, and overworked him, and probably you've succeeded in
preventing his ever rising above your muck-heap! And now because you
can't drag him back, you come here to vent----Go tell my husband, go
tell him, and don't blame me when he kills you, when my husband kills
you--he will kill you----"

The man grunted, looked at her impassively, said one word, and walked
out.

She heard the word very plainly.

She did not quite reach the couch. Her knees gave way, she pitched
forward. She heard her mind saying, "You haven't fainted. This is
ridiculous. You're simply dramatizing yourself. Get up." But she could
not move. When Kennicott arrived she was lying on the couch. His step
quickened. "What's happened, Carrie? You haven't got a bit of blood in
your face."

She clutched his arm. "You've got to be sweet to me, and kind! I'm going
to California--mountains, sea. Please don't argue about it, because I'm
going."

Quietly, "All right. We'll go. You and I. Leave the kid here with Aunt
Bessie."

"Now!"

"Well yes, just as soon as we can get away. Now don't talk any more.
Just imagine you've already started." He smoothed her hair, and not till
after supper did he continue: "I meant it about California. But I think
we better wait three weeks or so, till I get hold of some young fellow
released from the medical corps to take my practice. And if people are
gossiping, you don't want to give them a chance by running away. Can you
stand it and face 'em for three weeks or so?"

"Yes," she said emptily.


IV


People covertly stared at her on the street. Aunt Bessie tried to
catechize her about Erik's disappearance, and it was Kennicott who
silenced the woman with a savage, "Say, are you hinting that Carrie had
anything to do with that fellow's beating it? Then let me tell you, and
you can go right out and tell the whole bloomin' town, that Carrie and
I took Val--took Erik riding, and he asked me about getting a better job
in Minneapolis, and I advised him to go to it. . . . Getting much sugar
in at the store now?"

Guy Pollock crossed the street to be pleasant apropos of California and
new novels. Vida Sherwin dragged her to the Jolly Seventeen. There, with
every one rigidly listening, Maud Dyer shot at Carol, "I hear Erik has
left town."

Carol was amiable. "Yes, so I hear. In fact, he called me up--told me he
had been offered a lovely job in the city. So sorry he's gone. He would
have been valuable if we'd tried to start the dramatic association
again. Still, I wouldn't be here for the association myself, because
Will is all in from work, and I'm thinking of taking him to California.
Juanita--you know the Coast so well--tell me: would you start in at Los
Angeles or San Francisco, and what are the best hotels?"

The Jolly Seventeen looked disappointed, but the Jolly Seventeen liked
to give advice, the Jolly Seventeen liked to mention the expensive
hotels at which they had stayed. (A meal counted as a stay.) Before they
could question her again Carol escorted in with drum and fife the topic
of Raymie Wutherspoon. Vida had news from her husband. He had been
gassed in the trenches, had been in a hospital for two weeks, had been
promoted to major, was learning French.

She left Hugh with Aunt Bessie.

But for Kennicott she would have taken him. She hoped that in some
miraculous way yet unrevealed she might find it possible to remain in
California. She did not want to see Gopher Prairie again.

The Smails were to occupy the Kennicott house, and quite the hardest
thing to endure in the month of waiting was the series of conferences
between Kennicott and Uncle Whittier in regard to heating the garage and
having the furnace flues cleaned.

Did Carol, Kennicott inquired, wish to stop in Minneapolis to buy new
clothes?

"No! I want to get as far away as I can as soon as I can. Let's wait
till Los Angeles."

"Sure, sure! Just as you like. Cheer up! We're going to have a large
wide time, and everything 'll be different when we come back."


VI


Dusk on a snowy December afternoon. The sleeper which would connect
at Kansas City with the California train rolled out of St. Paul with
a chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick as it crossed the other
tracks. It bumped through the factory belt, gained speed. Carol could
see nothing but gray fields, which had closed in on her all the way from
Gopher Prairie. Ahead was darkness.

"For an hour, in Minneapolis, I must have been near Erik. He's still
there, somewhere. He'll be gone when I come back. I'll never know where
he has gone."

As Kennicott switched on the seat-light she turned drearily to the
illustrations in a motion-picture magazine.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THEY journeyed for three and a half months. They saw the Grand Canyon,
the adobe walls of Sante Fe and, in a drive from El Paso into Mexico,
their first foreign land. They jogged from San Diego and La Jolla to Los
Angeles, Pasadena, Riverside, through towns with bell-towered missions
and orange-groves; they viewed Monterey and San Francisco and a forest
of sequoias. They bathed in the surf and climbed foothills and danced,
they saw a polo game and the making of motion-pictures, they sent one
hundred and seventeen souvenir post-cards to Gopher Prairie, and once,
on a dune by a foggy sea when she was walking alone, Carol found an
artist, and he looked up at her and said, "Too damned wet to paint; sit
down and talk," and so for ten minutes she lived in a romantic novel.

Her only struggle was in coaxing Kennicott not to spend all his time
with the tourists from the ten thousand other Gopher Prairies. In
winter, California is full of people from Iowa and Nebraska, Ohio and
Oklahoma, who, having traveled thousands of miles from their familiar
villages, hasten to secure an illusion of not having left them. They
hunt for people from their own states to stand between them and the
shame of naked mountains; they talk steadily, in Pullmans, on hotel
porches, at cafeterias and motion-picture shows, about the motors and
crops and county politics back home. Kennicott discussed land-prices
with them, he went into the merits of the several sorts of motor cars
with them, he was intimate with train porters, and he insisted on seeing
the Luke Dawsons at their flimsy bungalow in Pasadena, where Luke sat
and yearned to go back and make some more money. But Kennicott gave
promise of learning to play. He shouted in the pool at the Coronado, and
he spoke of (though he did nothing more radical than speak of) buying
evening-clothes. Carol was touched by his efforts to enjoy picture
galleries, and the dogged way in which he accumulated dates and
dimensions when they followed monkish guides through missions.

She felt strong. Whenever she was restless she dodged her thoughts by
the familiar vagabond fallacy of running away from them, of moving on
to a new place, and thus she persuaded herself that she was tranquil. In
March she willingly agreed with Kennicott that it was time to go home.
She was longing for Hugh.

They left Monterey on April first, on a day of high blue skies and
poppies and a summer sea.

As the train struck in among the hills she resolved, "I'm going to love
the fine Will Kennicott quality that there is in Gopher Prairie. The
nobility of good sense. It will be sweet to see Vida and Guy and the
Clarks. And I'm going to see my baby! All the words he'll be able to say
now! It's a new start. Everything will be different!"

Thus on April first, among dappled hills and the bronze of scrub oaks,
while Kennicott seesawed on his toes and chuckled, "Wonder what Hugh'll
say when he sees us?"

Three days later they reached Gopher Prairie in a sleet storm.


II


No one knew that they were coming; no one met them; and because of the
icy roads, the only conveyance at the station was the hotel 'bus, which
they missed while Kennicott was giving his trunk-check to the station
agent--the only person to welcome them. Carol waited for him in the
station, among huddled German women with shawls and umbrellas, and
ragged-bearded farmers in corduroy coats; peasants mute as oxen, in a
room thick with the steam of wet coats, the reek of the red-hot stove,
the stench of sawdust boxes which served as cuspidors. The afternoon
light was as reluctant as a winter dawn.

"This is a useful market-center, an interesting pioneer post, but it is
not a home for me," meditated the stranger Carol.

Kennicott suggested, "I'd 'phone for a flivver but it'd take quite a
while for it to get here. Let's walk."

They stepped uncomfortably from the safety of the plank platform and,
balancing on their toes, taking cautious strides, ventured along the
road. The sleety rain was turning to snow. The air was stealthily cold.
Beneath an inch of water was a layer of ice, so that as they wavered
with their suit-cases they slid and almost fell. The wet snow drenched
their gloves; the water underfoot splashed their itching ankles. They
scuffled inch by inch for three blocks. In front of Harry Haydock's
Kennicott sighed:

"We better stop in here and 'phone for a machine."

She followed him like a wet kitten.

The Haydocks saw them laboring up the slippery concrete walk, up the
perilous front steps, and came to the door chanting:

"Well, well, well, back again, eh? Say, this is fine! Have a fine trip?
My, you look like a rose, Carol. How did you like the coast, doc? Well,
well, well! Where-all did you go?"

But as Kennicott began to proclaim the list of places achieved, Harry
interrupted with an account of how much he himself had seen, two years
ago. When Kennicott boasted, "We went through the mission at Santa
Barbara," Harry broke in, "Yeh, that's an interesting old mission. Say,
I'll never forget that hotel there, doc. It was swell. Why, the rooms
were made just like these old monasteries. Juanita and I went from Santa
Barbara to San Luis Obispo. You folks go to San Luis Obispo?"

"No, but----"

"Well you ought to gone to San Luis Obispo. And then we went from there
to a ranch, least they called it a ranch----"

Kennicott got in only one considerable narrative, which began:

"Say, I never knew--did you, Harry?--that in the Chicago district the
Kutz Kar sells as well as the Overland? I never thought much of the
Kutz. But I met a gentleman on the train--it was when we were pulling
out of Albuquerque, and I was sitting on the back platform of the
observation car, and this man was next to me and he asked me for a
light, and we got to talking, and come to find out, he came from Aurora,
and when he found out I came from Minnesota he asked me if I knew Dr.
Clemworth of Red Wing, and of course, while I've never met him, I've
heard of Clemworth lots of times, and seems he's this man's brother!
Quite a coincidence! Well, we got to talking, and we called the
porter--that was a pretty good porter on that car--and we had a couple
bottles of ginger ale, and I happened to mention the Kutz Kar, and this
man--seems he's driven a lot of different kinds of cars--he's got
a Franklin now--and he said that he'd tried the Kutz and liked it
first-rate. Well, when we got into a station--I don't remember the name
of it--Carrie, what the deuce was the name of that first stop we made
the other side of Albuquerque?--well, anyway, I guess we must have
stopped there to take on water, and this man and I got out to stretch
our legs, and darned if there wasn't a Kutz drawn right up at the depot
platform, and he pointed out something I'd never noticed, and I was
glad to learn about it: seems that the gear lever in the Kutz is an inch
longer----"

Even this chronicle of voyages Harry interrupted, with remarks on the
advantages of the ball-gear-shift.

Kennicott gave up hope of adequate credit for being a traveled man, and
telephoned to a garage for a Ford taxicab, while Juanita kissed Carol
and made sure of being the first to tell the latest, which included
seven distinct and proven scandals about Mrs. Swiftwaite, and one
considerable doubt as to the chastity of Cy Bogart.

They saw the Ford sedan making its way over the water-lined ice, through
the snow-storm, like a tug-boat in a fog. The driver stopped at a
corner. The car skidded, it turned about with comic reluctance, crashed
into a tree, and stood tilted on a broken wheel.

The Kennicotts refused Harry Haydock's not too urgent offer to take them
home in his car "if I can manage to get it out of the garage--terrible
day--stayed home from the store--but if you say so, I'll take a shot at
it." Carol gurgled, "No, I think we'd better walk; probably make better
time, and I'm just crazy to see my baby." With their suit-cases they
waddled on. Their coats were soaked through.

Carol had forgotten her facile hopes. She looked about with impersonal
eyes. But Kennicott, through rain-blurred lashes, caught the glory that
was Back Home.

She noted bare tree-trunks, black branches, the spongy brown earth
between patches of decayed snow on the lawns. The vacant lots were
full of tall dead weeds. Stripped of summer leaves the houses were
hopeless--temporary shelters.

Kennicott chuckled, "By golly, look down there! Jack Elder must have
painted his garage. And look! Martin Mahoney has put up a new fence
around his chicken yard. Say, that's a good fence, eh? Chicken-tight
and dog-tight. That's certainly a dandy fence. Wonder how much it cost a
yard? Yes, sir, they been building right along, even in winter. Got more
enterprise than these Californians. Pretty good to be home, eh?"

She noted that all winter long the citizens had been throwing garbage
into their back yards, to be cleaned up in spring. The recent thaw had
disclosed heaps of ashes, dog-bones, torn bedding, clotted paint-cans,
all half covered by the icy pools which filled the hollows of the yards.
The refuse had stained the water to vile colors of waste: thin red, sour
yellow, streaky brown.

Kennicott chuckled, "Look over there on Main Street! They got the
feed store all fixed up, and a new sign on it, black and gold. That'll
improve the appearance of the block a lot."

She noted that the few people whom they passed wore their raggedest
coats for the evil day. They were scarecrows in a shanty town. . . . "To
think," she marveled, "of coming two thousand miles, past mountains
and cities, to get off here, and to plan to stay here! What conceivable
reason for choosing this particular place?"

She noted a figure in a rusty coat and a cloth cap.

Kennicott chuckled, "Look who's coming! It's Sam Clark! Gosh, all rigged
out for the weather."

The two men shook hands a dozen times and, in the Western fashion,
bumbled, "Well, well, well, well, you old hell-hound, you old devil,
how are you, anyway? You old horse-thief, maybe it ain't good to see
you again!" While Sam nodded at her over Kennicott's shoulder, she was
embarrassed.

"Perhaps I should never have gone away. I'm out of practise in lying. I
wish they would get it over! Just a block more and--my baby!"

They were home. She brushed past the welcoming Aunt Bessie and knelt
by Hugh. As he stammered, "O mummy, mummy, don't go away! Stay with me,
mummy!" she cried, "No, I'll never leave you again!"

He volunteered, "That's daddy."

"By golly, he knows us just as if we'd never been away!" said Kennicott.
"You don't find any of these California kids as bright as he is, at his
age!"

When the trunk came they piled about Hugh the bewhiskered little wooden
men fitting one inside another, the miniature junk, and the Oriental
drum, from San Francisco Chinatown; the blocks carved by the old
Frenchman in San Diego; the lariat from San Antonio.

"Will you forgive mummy for going away? Will you?" she whispered.

Absorbed in Hugh, asking a hundred questions about him--had he had any
colds? did he still dawdle over his oatmeal? what about unfortunate
morning incidents? she viewed Aunt Bessie only as a source of
information, and was able to ignore her hint, pointed by a coyly shaken
finger, "Now that you've had such a fine long trip and spent so much
money and all, I hope you're going to settle down and be satisfied and
not----"

"Does he like carrots yet?" replied Carol.

She was cheerful as the snow began to conceal the slatternly yards. She
assured herself that the streets of New York and Chicago were as ugly as
Gopher Prairie in such weather; she dismissed the thought, "But they
do have charming interiors for refuge." She sang as she energetically
looked over Hugh's clothes.

The afternoon grew old and dark. Aunt Bessie went home. Carol took the
baby into her own room. The maid came in complaining, "I can't get no
extra milk to make chipped beef for supper." Hugh was sleepy, and he had
been spoiled by Aunt Bessie. Even to a returned mother, his whining and
his trick of seven times snatching her silver brush were fatiguing. As a
background, behind the noises of Hugh and the kitchen, the house reeked
with a colorless stillness.

From the window she heard Kennicott greeting the Widow Bogart as he had
always done, always, every snowy evening: "Guess this 'll keep up all
night." She waited. There they were, the furnace sounds, unalterable,
eternal: removing ashes, shoveling coal.

Yes. She was back home! Nothing had changed. She had never been away.
California? Had she seen it? Had she for one minute left this scraping
sound of the small shovel in the ash-pit of the furnace? But Kennicott
preposterously supposed that she had. Never had she been quite so far
from going away as now when he believed she had just come back. She
felt oozing through the walls the spirit of small houses and righteous
people. At that instant she knew that in running away she had merely
hidden her doubts behind the officious stir of travel.

"Dear God, don't let me begin agonizing again!" she sobbed. Hugh wept
with her.

"Wait for mummy a second!" She hastened down to the cellar, to
Kennicott.

He was standing before the furnace. However inadequate the rest of the
house, he had seen to it that the fundamental cellar should be large
and clean, the square pillars whitewashed, and the bins for coal and
potatoes and trunks convenient. A glow from the drafts fell on the
smooth gray cement floor at his feet. He was whistling tenderly, staring
at the furnace with eyes which saw the black-domed monster as a symbol
of home and of the beloved routine to which he had returned--his
gipsying decently accomplished, his duty of viewing "sights" and
"curios" performed with thoroughness. Unconscious of her, he stooped
and peered in at the blue flames among the coals. He closed the door
briskly, and made a whirling gesture with his right hand, out of pure
bliss.

He saw her. "Why, hello, old lady! Pretty darn good to be back, eh?"

"Yes," she lied, while she quaked, "Not now. I can't face the job of
explaining now. He's been so good. He trusts me. And I'm going to break
his heart!"

She smiled at him. She tidied his sacred cellar by throwing an empty
bluing bottle into the trash bin. She mourned, "It's only the baby that
holds me. If Hugh died----" She fled upstairs in panic and made sure
that nothing had happened to Hugh in these four minutes.

She saw a pencil-mark on a window-sill. She had made it on a September
day when she had been planning a picnic for Fern Mullins and Erik. Fern
and she had been hysterical with nonsense, had invented mad parties for
all the coming winter. She glanced across the alley at the room which
Fern had occupied. A rag of a gray curtain masked the still window.

She tried to think of some one to whom she wanted to telephone. There
was no one.

The Sam Clarks called that evening and encouraged her to describe the
missions. A dozen times they told her how glad they were to have her
back.

"It is good to be wanted," she thought. "It will drug me. But----Oh, is
all life, always, an unresolved But?"



CHAPTER XXXV

SHE tried to be content, which was a contradiction in terms. She
fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater for Hugh.
She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was silent when Vida raved that
though America hated war as much as ever, we must invade Germany and
wipe out every man, because it was now proven that there was no soldier
in the German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off
babies' hands.

Carol was volunteer nurse when Mrs. Champ Perry suddenly died of
pneumonia.

In her funeral procession were the eleven people left out of the Grand
Army and the Territorial Pioneers, old men and women, very old and weak,
who a few decades ago had been boys and girls of the frontier, riding
broncos through the rank windy grass of this prairie. They hobbled
behind a band made up of business men and high-school boys, who
straggled along without uniforms or ranks or leader, trying to play
Chopin's Funeral March--a shabby group of neighbors with grave eyes,
stumbling through the slush under a solemnity of faltering music.

Champ was broken. His rheumatism was worse. The rooms over the store
were silent. He could not do his work as buyer at the elevator. Farmers
coming in with sled-loads of wheat complained that Champ could not read
the scale, that he seemed always to be watching some one back in the
darkness of the bins. He was seen slipping through alleys, talking to
himself, trying to avoid observation, creeping at last to the cemetery.
Once Carol followed him and found the coarse, tobacco-stained,
unimaginative old man lying on the snow of the grave, his thick arms
spread out across the raw mound as if to protect her from the cold, her
whom he had carefully covered up every night for sixty years, who was
alone there now, uncared for.

The elevator company, Ezra Stowbody president, let him go. The company,
Ezra explained to Carol, had no funds for giving pensions.

She tried to have him appointed to the postmastership, which, since all
the work was done by assistants, was the one sinecure in town, the one
reward for political purity. But it proved that Mr. Bert Tybee, the
former bartender, desired the postmastership.

At her solicitation Lyman Cass gave Champ a warm berth as night
watchman. Small boys played a good many tricks on Champ when he fell
asleep at the mill.


II


She had vicarious happiness in the return of Major Raymond Wutherspoon.
He was well, but still weak from having been gassed; he had been
discharged and he came home as the first of the war veterans. It was
rumored that he surprised Vida by coming unannounced, that Vida fainted
when she saw him, and for a night and day would not share him with the
town. When Carol saw them Vida was hazy about everything except Raymie,
and never went so far from him that she could not slip her hand under
his. Without understanding why Carol was troubled by this intensity. And
Raymie--surely this was not Raymie, but a sterner brother of his, this
man with the tight blouse, the shoulder emblems, the trim legs in boots.
His face seemed different, his lips more tight. He was not Raymie; he
was Major Wutherspoon; and Kennicott and Carol were grateful when he
divulged that Paris wasn't half as pretty as Minneapolis, that all of
the American soldiers had been distinguished by their morality when on
leave. Kennicott was respectful as he inquired whether the Germans had
good aeroplanes, and what a salient was, and a cootie, and Going West.

In a week Major Wutherspoon was made full manager of the Bon Ton. Harry
Haydock was going to devote himself to the half-dozen branch stores
which he was establishing at crossroads hamlets. Harry would be the
town's rich man in the coming generation, and Major Wutherspoon would
rise with him, and Vida was jubilant, though she was regretful at having
to give up most of her Red Cross work. Ray still needed nursing, she
explained.

When Carol saw him with his uniform off, in a pepper-and salt suit and
a new gray felt hat, she was disappointed. He was not Major Wutherspoon;
he was Raymie.

For a month small boys followed him down the street, and everybody
called him Major, but that was presently shortened to Maje, and the
small boys did not look up from their marbles as he went by.



III


The town was booming, as a result of the war price of wheat.

The wheat money did not remain in the pockets of the farmers; the towns
existed to take care of all that. Iowa farmers were selling their land
at four hundred dollars an acre and coming into Minnesota. But whoever
bought or sold or mortgaged, the townsmen invited themselves to the
feast--millers, real-estate men, lawyers, merchants, and Dr. Will
Kennicott. They bought land at a hundred and fifty, sold it next day at
a hundred and seventy, and bought again. In three months Kennicott made
seven thousand dollars, which was rather more than four times as much as
society paid him for healing the sick.

In early summer began a "campaign of boosting." The Commercial Club
decided that Gopher Prairie was not only a wheat-center but also the
perfect site for factories, summer cottages, and state institutions. In
charge of the campaign was Mr. James Blausser, who had recently come to
town to speculate in land. Mr. Blausser was known as a Hustler. He liked
to be called Honest Jim. He was a bulky, gauche, noisy, humorous man,
with narrow eyes, a rustic complexion, large red hands, and brilliant
clothes. He was attentive to all women. He was the first man in town who
had not been sensitive enough to feel Carol's aloofness. He put his arm
about her shoulder while he condescended to Kennicott, "Nice lil wifey,
I'll say, doc," and when she answered, not warmly, "Thank you very much
for the imprimatur," he blew on her neck, and did not know that he had
been insulted.

He was a layer-on of hands. He never came to the house without trying to
paw her. He touched her arm, let his fist brush her side. She hated the
man, and she was afraid of him. She wondered if he had heard of Erik,
and was taking advantage. She spoke ill of him at home and in public
places, but Kennicott and the other powers insisted, "Maybe he is
kind of a roughneck, but you got to hand it to him; he's got more
git-up-and-git than any fellow that ever hit this burg. And he's pretty
cute, too. Hear what he said to old Ezra? Chucked him in the ribs and
said, 'Say, boy, what do you want to go to Denver for? Wait 'll I get
time and I'll move the mountains here. Any mountain will be tickled to
death to locate here once we get the White Way in!'"

The town welcomed Mr. Blausser as fully as Carol snubbed him. He was the
guest of honor at the Commercial Club Banquet at the Minniemashie House,
an occasion for menus printed in gold (but injudiciously proof-read),
for free cigars, soft damp slabs of Lake Superior whitefish served as
fillet of sole, drenched cigar-ashes gradually filling the saucers
of coffee cups, and oratorical references to Pep, Punch, Go, Vigor,
Enterprise, Red Blood, He-Men, Fair Women, God's Country, James J.
Hill, the Blue Sky, the Green Fields, the Bountiful Harvest, Increasing
Population, Fair Return on Investments, Alien Agitators Who Threaten
the Security of Our Institutions, the Hearthstone the Foundation of
the State, Senator Knute Nelson, One Hundred Per Cent. Americanism, and
Pointing with Pride.

Harry Haydock, as chairman, introduced Honest Jim Blausser. "And I
am proud to say, my fellow citizens, that in his brief stay here
Mr. Blausser has become my warm personal friend as well as my fellow
booster, and I advise you all to very carefully attend to the hints of a
man who knows how to achieve."

Mr. Blausser reared up like an elephant with a camel's neck--red faced,
red eyed, heavy fisted, slightly belching--a born leader, divinely
intended to be a congressman but deflected to the more lucrative honors
of real-estate. He smiled on his warm personal friends and fellow
boosters, and boomed:

"I certainly was astonished in the streets of our lovely little
city, the other day. I met the meanest kind of critter that God ever
made--meaner than the horned toad or the Texas lallapaluza! (Laughter.)
And do you know what the animile was? He was a knocker! (Laughter and
applause.)

"I want to tell you good people, and it's just as sure as God made
little apples, the thing that distinguishes our American commonwealth
from the pikers and tin-horns in other countries is our Punch. You take
a genuwine, honest-to-God homo Americanibus and there ain't anything
he's afraid to tackle. Snap and speed are his middle name! He'll put
her across if he has to ride from hell to breakfast, and believe me, I'm
mighty good and sorry for the boob that's so unlucky as to get in his
way, because that poor slob is going to wonder where he was at when Old
Mr. Cyclone hit town! (Laughter.)

"Now, frien's, there's some folks so yellow and small and so few in the
pod that they go to work and claim that those of us that have the big
vision are off our trolleys. They say we can't make Gopher Prairie, God
bless her! just as big as Minneapolis or St. Paul or Duluth. But lemme
tell you right here and now that there ain't a town under the blue
canopy of heaven that's got a better chance to take a running jump and
go scooting right up into the two-hundred-thousand class than little
old G. P.! And if there's anybody that's got such cold kismets that he's
afraid to tag after Jim Blausser on the Big Going Up, then we don't want
him here! Way I figger it, you folks are just patriotic enough so that
you ain't going to stand for any guy sneering and knocking his own town,
no matter how much of a smart Aleck he is--and just on the side I want
to add that this Farmers' Nonpartisan League and the whole bunch of
socialists are right in the same category, or, as the fellow says,
in the same scategory, meaning This Way Out, Exit, Beat It While the
Going's Good, This Means You, for all knockers of prosperity and the
rights of property!

"Fellow citizens, there's a lot of folks, even right here in this fair
state, fairest and richest of all the glorious union, that stand up on
their hind legs and claim that the East and Europe put it all over
the golden Northwestland. Now let me nail that lie right here and now.
'Ah-ha,' says they, 'so Jim Blausser is claiming that Gopher Prairie is
as good a place to live in as London and Rome and--and all the rest of
the Big Burgs, is he? How does the poor fish know?' says they. Well I'll
tell you how I know! I've seen 'em! I've done Europe from soup to nuts!
They can't spring that stuff on Jim Blausser and get away with it! And
let me tell you that the only live thing in Europe is our boys that are
fighting there now! London--I spent three days, sixteen straight hours a
day, giving London the once-over, and let me tell you that it's nothing
but a bunch of fog and out-of-date buildings that no live American burg
would stand for one minute. You may not believe it, but there ain't one
first-class skyscraper in the whole works. And the same thing goes for
that crowd of crabs and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob
from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag and bulling and trying to
get your goat, you tell him that no two-fisted enterprising Westerner
would have New York for a gift!

"Now the point of this is: I'm not only insisting that Gopher Prairie
is going to be Minnesota's pride, the brightest ray in the glory of the
North Star State, but also and furthermore that it is right now, and
still more shall be, as good a place to live in, and love in, and bring
up the Little Ones in, and it's got as much refinement and culture, as
any burg on the whole bloomin' expanse of God's Green Footstool, and
that goes, get me, that goes!"

Half an hour later Chairman Haydock moved a vote of thanks to Mr.
Blausser.

The boosters' campaign was on.

The town sought that efficient and modern variety of fame which is known
as "publicity." The band was reorganized, and provided by the Commercial
Club with uniforms of purple and gold. The amateur baseball-team hired a
semi-professional pitcher from Des Moines, and made a schedule of games
with every town for fifty miles about. The citizens accompanied it as
"rooters," in a special car, with banners lettered "Watch Gopher Prairie
Grow," and with the band playing "Smile, Smile, Smile." Whether the
team won or lost the Dauntless loyally shrieked, "Boost, Boys, and
Boost Together--Put Gopher Prairie on the Map--Brilliant Record of Our
Matchless Team."

Then, glory of glories, the town put in a White Way. White Ways were in
fashion in the Middlewest. They were composed of ornamented posts with
clusters of high-powered electric lights along two or three blocks on
Main Street. The Dauntless confessed: "White Way Is Installed--Town
Lit Up Like Broadway--Speech by Hon. James Blausser--Come On You Twin
Cities--Our Hat Is In the Ring."

The Commercial Club issued a booklet prepared by a great and expensive
literary person from a Minneapolis advertising agency, a red-headed
young man who smoked cigarettes in a long amber holder. Carol read the
booklet with a certain wonder. She learned that Plover and Minniemashie
Lakes were world-famed for their beauteous wooded shores and gamey pike
and bass not to be equalled elsewhere in the entire country; that
the residences of Gopher Prairie were models of dignity, comfort, and
culture, with lawns and gardens known far and wide; that the Gopher
Prairie schools and public library, in its neat and commodious building,
were celebrated throughout the state; that the Gopher Prairie mills
made the best flour in the country; that the surrounding farm lands were
renowned, where'er men ate bread and butter, for their incomparable No. 1
Hard Wheat and Holstein-Friesian cattle; and that the stores in
Gopher Prairie compared favorably with Minneapolis and Chicago in their
abundance of luxuries and necessities and the ever-courteous attention
of the skilled clerks. She learned, in brief, that this was the one
Logical Location for factories and wholesale houses.

"THERE'S where I want to go; to that model town Gopher Prairie," said
Carol.

Kennicott was triumphant when the Commercial Club did capture one small
shy factory which planned to make wooden automobile-wheels, but
when Carol saw the promoter she could not feel that his coming much
mattered--and a year after, when he failed, she could not be very
sorrowful.

Retired farmers were moving into town. The price of lots had increased
a third. But Carol could discover no more pictures nor interesting food
nor gracious voices nor amusing conversation nor questing minds. She
could, she asserted, endure a shabby but modest town; the town shabby
and egomaniac she could not endure. She could nurse Champ Perry,
and warm to the neighborliness of Sam Clark, but she could not sit
applauding Honest Jim Blausser. Kennicott had begged her, in courtship
days, to convert the town to beauty. If it was now as beautiful as Mr.
Blausser and the Dauntless said, then her work was over, and she could
go.



CHAPTER XXXVI

KENNICOTT was not so inhumanly patient that he could continue to forgive
Carol's heresies, to woo her as he had on the venture to California. She
tried to be inconspicuous, but she was betrayed by her failure to glow
over the boosting. Kennicott believed in it; demanded that she say
patriotic things about the White Way and the new factory. He snorted,
"By golly, I've done all I could, and now I expect you to play the game.
Here you been complaining for years about us being so poky, and now when
Blausser comes along and does stir up excitement and beautify the town
like you've always wanted somebody to, why, you say he's a roughneck,
and you won't jump on the band-wagon."

Once, when Kennicott announced at noon-dinner, "What do you know
about this! They say there's a chance we may get another
factory--cream-separator works!" he added, "You might try to look
interested, even if you ain't!" The baby was frightened by the Jovian
roar; ran wailing to hide his face in Carol's lap; and Kennicott had to
make himself humble and court both mother and child. The dim injustice
of not being understood even by his son left him irritable. He felt
injured.

An event which did not directly touch them brought down his wrath.

In the early autumn, news came from Wakamin that the sheriff had
forbidden an organizer for the National Nonpartisan League to speak
anywhere in the county. The organizer had defied the sheriff, and
announced that in a few days he would address a farmers' political
meeting. That night, the news ran, a mob of a hundred business men
led by the sheriff--the tame village street and the smug village faces
ruddled by the light of bobbing lanterns, the mob flowing between the
squatty rows of shops--had taken the organizer from his hotel, ridden
him on a fence-rail, put him on a freight train, and warned him not to
return.

The story was threshed out in Dave Dyer's drug store, with Sam Clark,
Kennicott, and Carol present.

"That's the way to treat those fellows--only they ought to have lynched
him!" declared Sam, and Kennicott and Dave Dyer joined in a proud "You
bet!"

Carol walked out hastily, Kennicott observing her.

Through supper-time she knew that he was bubbling and would soon boil
over. When the baby was abed, and they sat composedly in canvas chairs
on the porch, he experimented; "I had a hunch you thought Sam was kind
of hard on that fellow they kicked out of Wakamin."

"Wasn't Sam rather needlessly heroic?"

"All these organizers, yes, and a whole lot of the German and
Squarehead farmers themselves, they're seditious as the devil--disloyal,
non-patriotic, pro-German pacifists, that's what they are!"

"Did this organizer say anything pro-German?"

"Not on your life! They didn't give him a chance!" His laugh was stagey.

"So the whole thing was illegal--and led by the sheriff! Precisely how
do you expect these aliens to obey your law if the officer of the law
teaches them to break it? Is it a new kind of logic?"

"Maybe it wasn't exactly regular, but what's the odds? They knew this
fellow would try to stir up trouble. Whenever it comes right down to a
question of defending Americanism and our constitutional rights, it's
justifiable to set aside ordinary procedure."

"What editorial did he get that from?" she wondered, as she protested,
"See here, my beloved, why can't you Tories declare war honestly? You
don't oppose this organizer because you think he's seditious but
because you're afraid that the farmers he is organizing will deprive you
townsmen of the money you make out of mortgages and wheat and shops.
Of course, since we're at war with Germany, anything that any one of us
doesn't like is 'pro-German,' whether it's business competition or
bad music. If we were fighting England, you'd call the radicals
'pro-English.' When this war is over, I suppose you'll be calling them
'red anarchists.' What an eternal art it is--such a glittery delightful
art--finding hard names for our opponents! How we do sanctify our
efforts to keep them from getting the holy dollars we want for
ourselves! The churches have always done it, and the political
orators--and I suppose I do it when I call Mrs. Bogart a 'Puritan' and
Mr. Stowbody a 'capitalist.' But you business men are going to beat all
the rest of us at it, with your simple-hearted, energetic, pompous----"

She got so far only because Kennicott was slow in shaking off respect
for her. Now he bayed:

"That'll be about all from you! I've stood for your sneering at this
town, and saying how ugly and dull it is. I've stood for your refusing
to appreciate good fellows like Sam. I've even stood for your ridiculing
our Watch Gopher Prairie Grow campaign. But one thing I'm not going
to stand: I'm not going to stand my own wife being seditious. You can
camouflage all you want to, but you know darn well that these radicals,
as you call 'em, are opposed to the war, and let me tell you right here
and now, and you and all these long-haired men and short-haired women
can beef all you want to, but we're going to take these fellows, and if
they ain't patriotic, we're going to make them be patriotic. And--Lord
knows I never thought I'd have to say this to my own wife--but if you go
defending these fellows, then the same thing applies to you! Next thing,
I suppose you'll be yapping about free speech. Free speech! There's too
much free speech and free gas and free beer and free love and all the
rest of your damned mouthy freedom, and if I had my way I'd make you
folks live up to the established rules of decency even if I had to take
you----"

"Will!" She was not timorous now. "Am I pro-German if I fail to throb to
Honest Jim Blausser, too? Let's have my whole duty as a wife!"

He was grumbling, "The whole thing's right in line with the criticism
you've always been making. Might have known you'd oppose any decent
constructive work for the town or for----"

"You're right. All I've done has been in line. I don't belong to Gopher
Prairie. That isn't meant as a condemnation of Gopher Prairie, and it
may be a condemnation of me. All right! I don't care! I don't belong
here, and I'm going. I'm not asking permission any more. I'm simply
going."

He grunted. "Do you mind telling me, if it isn't too much trouble, how
long you're going for?"

"I don't know. Perhaps for a year. Perhaps for a lifetime."

"I see. Well, of course, I'll be tickled to death to sell out my
practise and go anywhere you say. Would you like to have me go with you
to Paris and study art, maybe, and wear velveteen pants and a woman's
bonnet, and live on spaghetti?"

"No, I think we can save you that trouble. You don't quite understand.
I am going--I really am--and alone! I've got to find out what my work
is----"

"Work? Work? Sure! That's the whole trouble with you! You haven't got
enough work to do. If you had five kids and no hired girl, and had to
help with the chores and separate the cream, like these farmers' wives,
then you wouldn't be so discontented."

"I know. That's what most men--and women--like you WOULD say. That's how
they would explain all I am and all I want. And I shouldn't argue with
them. These business men, from their crushing labors of sitting in an
office seven hours a day, would calmly recommend that I have a dozen
children. As it happens, I've done that sort of thing. There've been a
good many times when we hadn't a maid, and I did all the housework, and
cared for Hugh, and went to Red Cross, and did it all very efficiently.
I'm a good cook and a good sweeper, and you don't dare say I'm not!"

"N-no, you're----"

"But was I more happy when I was drudging? I was not. I was just
bedraggled and unhappy. It's work--but not my work. I could run
an office or a library, or nurse and teach children. But solitary
dish-washing isn't enough to satisfy me--or many other women. We're
going to chuck it. We're going to wash 'em by machinery, and come out
and play with you men in the offices and clubs and politics you've
cleverly kept for yourselves! Oh, we're hopeless, we dissatisfied women!
Then why do you want to have us about the place, to fret you? So it's
for your sake that I'm going!"

"Of course a little thing like Hugh makes no difference!"

"Yes, all the difference. That's why I'm going to take him with me."

"Suppose I refuse?"

"You won't!"

Forlornly, "Uh----Carrie, what the devil is it you want, anyway?"

"Oh, conversation! No, it's much more than that. I think it's a
greatness of life--a refusal to be content with even the healthiest
mud."

"Don't you know that nobody ever solved a problem by running away from
it?"

"Perhaps. Only I choose to make my own definition of 'running away' I
don't call----Do you realize how big a world there is beyond this Gopher
Prairie where you'd keep me all my life? It may be that some day I'll
come back, but not till I can bring something more than I have now. And
even if I am cowardly and run away--all right, call it cowardly, call me
anything you want to! I've been ruled too long by fear of being called
things. I'm going away to be quiet and think. I'm--I'm going! I have a
right to my own life."

"So have I to mine!"

"Well?"

"I have a right to my life--and you're it, you're my life! You've made
yourself so. I'm damned if I'll agree to all your freak notions, but I
will say I've got to depend on you. Never thought of that complication,
did you, in this 'off to Bohemia, and express yourself, and free love,
and live your own life' stuff!"

"You have a right to me if you can keep me. Can you?"

He moved uneasily.


II


For a month they discussed it. They hurt each other very much, and
sometimes they were close to weeping, and invariably he used banal
phrases about her duties and she used phrases quite as banal about
freedom, and through it all, her discovery that she really could get
away from Main Street was as sweet as the discovery of love. Kennicott
never consented definitely. At most he agreed to a public theory that
she was "going to take a short trip and see what the East was like in
wartime."

She set out for Washington in October--just before the war ended.

She had determined on Washington because it was less intimidating than
the obvious New York, because she hoped to find streets in which Hugh
could play, and because in the stress of war-work, with its demand for
thousands of temporary clerks, she could be initiated into the world of
offices.

Hugh was to go with her, despite the wails and rather extensive comments
of Aunt Bessie.

She wondered if she might not encounter Erik in the East but it was a
chance thought, soon forgotten.


III


The last thing she saw on the station platform was Kennicott, faithfully
waving his hand, his face so full of uncomprehending loneliness that he
could not smile but only twitch up his lips. She waved to him as long
as she could, and when he was lost she wanted to leap from the vestibule
and run back to him. She thought of a hundred tendernesses she had
neglected.

She had her freedom, and it was empty. The moment was not the highest
of her life, but the lowest and most desolate, which was altogether
excellent, for instead of slipping downward she began to climb.

She sighed, "I couldn't do this if it weren't for Will's kindness, his
giving me money." But a second after: "I wonder how many women would
always stay home if they had the money?"

Hugh complained, "Notice me, mummy!" He was beside her on the red plush
seat of the day-coach; a boy of three and a half. "I'm tired of playing
train. Let's play something else. Let's go see Auntie Bogart."

"Oh, NO! Do you really like Mrs. Bogart?"

"Yes. She gives me cookies and she tells me about the Dear Lord. You
never tell me about the Dear Lord. Why don't you tell me about the
Dear Lord? Auntie Bogart says I'm going to be a preacher. Can I be a
preacher? Can I preach about the Dear Lord?"

"Oh, please wait till my generation has stopped rebelling before yours
starts in!"

"What's a generation?"

"It's a ray in the illumination of the spirit."

"That's foolish." He was a serious and literal person, and rather
humorless. She kissed his frown, and marveled:

"I am running away from my husband, after liking a Swedish ne'er-do-well
and expressing immoral opinions, just as in a romantic story. And my own
son reproves me because I haven't given him religious instruction. But
the story doesn't go right. I'm neither groaning nor being dramatically
saved. I keep on running away, and I enjoy it. I'm mad with joy over it.
Gopher Prairie is lost back there in the dust and stubble, and I look
forward----"

She continued it to Hugh: "Darling, do you know what mother and you are
going to find beyond the blue horizon rim?"

"What?" flatly.

"We're going to find elephants with golden howdahs from which peep young
maharanees with necklaces of rubies, and a dawn sea colored like the
breast of a dove, and a white and green house filled with books and
silver tea-sets."

"And cookies?"

"Cookies? Oh, most decidedly cookies. We've had enough of bread and
porridge. We'd get sick on too many cookies, but ever so much sicker on
no cookies at all."

"That's foolish."

"It is, O male Kennicott!"

"Huh!" said Kennicott II, and went to sleep on her shoulder.


IV

The theory of the Dauntless regarding Carol's absence:

Mrs. Will Kennicott and son Hugh left on No. 24 on Saturday last for
a stay of some months in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Washington.
Mrs. Kennicott confided to _Ye Scribe_ that she will be connected with one
of the multifarious war activities now centering in the Nation's
Capital for a brief period before returning. Her countless friends who
appreciate her splendid labors with the local Red Cross realize how
valuable she will be to any war board with which she chooses to become
connected. Gopher Prairie thus adds another shining star to its service
flag and without wishing to knock any neighboring communities, we would
like to know any town of anywheres near our size in the state that has
such a sterling war record. Another reason why you'd better Watch Gopher
Prairie Grow.

* * *

Mr. and Mrs. David Dyer, Mrs. Dyer's sister, Mrs. Jennie Dayborn of
Jackrabbit, and Dr. Will Kennicott drove to Minniemashie on Tuesday for
a delightful picnic.



CHAPTER XXXVII

I

SHE found employment in the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. Though the
armistice with Germany was signed a few weeks after her coming to
Washington, the work of the bureau continued. She filed correspondence
all day; then she dictated answers to letters of inquiry. It was an
endurance of monotonous details, yet she asserted that she had found
"real work."

Disillusions she did have. She discovered that in the afternoon, office
routine stretches to the grave. She discovered that an office is as full
of cliques and scandals as a Gopher Prairie She discovered that most
of the women in the government bureaus lived unhealthfully, dining
on snatches in their crammed apartments. But she also discovered that
business women may have friendships and enmities as frankly as men and
may revel in a bliss which no housewife attains--a free Sunday. It did
not appear that the Great World needed her inspiration, but she felt
that her letters, her contact with the anxieties of men and women all
over the country, were a part of vast affairs, not confined to Main
Street and a kitchen but linked with Paris, Bangkok, Madrid.

She perceived that she could do office work without losing any of the
putative feminine virtue of domesticity; that cooking and cleaning, when
divested of the fussing of an Aunt Bessie, take but a tenth of the time
which, in a Gopher Prairie, it is but decent to devote to them.

Not to have to apologize for her thoughts to the Jolly Seventeen, not to
have to report to Kennicott at the end of the day all that she had done
or might do, was a relief which made up for the office weariness. She
felt that she was no longer one-half of a marriage but the whole of a
human being.


II


Washington gave her all the graciousness in which she had had faith:
white columns seen across leafy parks, spacious avenues, twisty alleys.
Daily she passed a dark square house with a hint of magnolias and a
courtyard behind it, and a tall curtained second-story window through
which a woman was always peering. The woman was mystery, romance, a
story which told itself differently every day; now she was a murderess,
now the neglected wife of an ambassador. It was mystery which Carol had
most lacked in Gopher Prairie, where every house was open to view, where
every person was but too easy to meet, where there were no secret gates
opening upon moors over which one might walk by moss-deadened paths to
strange high adventures in an ancient garden.

As she flitted up Sixteenth Street after a Kreisler recital, given late
in the afternoon for the government clerks, as the lamps kindled in
spheres of soft fire, as the breeze flowed into the street, fresh
as prairie winds and kindlier, as she glanced up the elm alley of
Massachusetts Avenue, as she was rested by the integrity of the Scottish
Rite Temple, she loved the city as she loved no one save Hugh. She
encountered negro shanties turned into studios, with orange curtains and
pots of mignonette; marble houses on New Hampshire Avenue, with
butlers and limousines; and men who looked like fictional explorers and
aviators. Her days were swift, and she knew that in her folly of running
away she had found the courage to be wise.

She had a dispiriting first month of hunting lodgings in the crowded
city. She had to roost in a hall-room in a moldy mansion conducted by an
indignant decayed gentlewoman, and leave Hugh to the care of a doubtful
nurse. But later she made a home.


III


Her first acquaintances were the members of the Tincomb Methodist
Church, a vast red-brick tabernacle. Vida Sherwin had given her a letter
to an earnest woman with eye-glasses, plaid silk waist, and a belief in
Bible Classes, who introduced her to the Pastor and the Nicer Members
of Tincomb. Carol recognized in Washington as she had in California a
transplanted and guarded Main Street. Two-thirds of the church-members
had come from Gopher Prairies. The church was their society and
their standard; they went to Sunday service, Sunday School, Christian
Endeavor, missionary lectures, church suppers, precisely as they had at
home; they agreed that ambassadors and flippant newspapermen and infidel
scientists of the bureaus were equally wicked and to be avoided; and
by cleaving to Tincomb Church they kept their ideals from all
contamination.

They welcomed Carol, asked about her husband, gave her advice regarding
colic in babies, passed her the gingerbread and scalloped potatoes at
church suppers, and in general made her very unhappy and lonely, so
that she wondered if she might not enlist in the militant suffrage
organization and be allowed to go to jail.

Always she was to perceive in Washington (as doubtless she would have
perceived in New York or London) a thick streak of Main Street. The
cautious dullness of a Gopher Prairie appeared in boarding-houses where
ladylike bureau-clerks gossiped to polite young army officers about
the movies; a thousand Sam Clarks and a few Widow Bogarts were to be
identified in the Sunday motor procession, in theater parties, and
at the dinners of State Societies, to which the emigres from Texas or
Michigan surged that they might confirm themselves in the faith that
their several Gopher Prairies were notoriously "a whole lot peppier and
chummier than this stuck-up East."

But she found a Washington which did not cleave to Main Street.

Guy Pollock wrote to a cousin, a temporary army captain, a confiding and
buoyant lad who took Carol to tea-dances, and laughed, as she had always
wanted some one to laugh, about nothing in particular. The captain
introduced her to the secretary of a congressman, a cynical young widow
with many acquaintances in the navy. Through her Carol met commanders
and majors, newspapermen, chemists and geographers and fiscal experts
from the bureaus, and a teacher who was a familiar of the militant
suffrage headquarters. The teacher took her to headquarters. Carol never
became a prominent suffragist. Indeed her only recognized position was
as an able addresser of envelopes. But she was casually adopted by
this family of friendly women who, when they were not being mobbed or
arrested, took dancing lessons or went picnicking up the Chesapeake
Canal or talked about the politics of the American Federation of Labor.

With the congressman's secretary and the teacher Carol leased a small
flat. Here she found home, her own place and her own people. She had,
though it absorbed most of her salary, an excellent nurse for Hugh. She
herself put him to bed and played with him on holidays. There were
walks with him, there were motionless evenings of reading, but chiefly
Washington was associated with people, scores of them, sitting about the
flat, talking, talking, talking, not always wisely but always excitedly.
It was not at all the "artist's studio" of which, because of its
persistence in fiction, she had dreamed. Most of them were in offices
all day, and thought more in card-catalogues or statistics than in mass
and color. But they played, very simply, and they saw no reason why
anything which exists cannot also be acknowledged.

She was sometimes shocked quite as she had shocked Gopher Prairie by
these girls with their cigarettes and elfish knowledge. When they were
most eager about soviets or canoeing, she listened, longed to have
some special learning which would distinguish her, and sighed that her
adventure had come so late. Kennicott and Main Street had drained
her self-reliance; the presence of Hugh made her feel temporary. Some
day--oh, she'd have to take him back to open fields and the right to
climb about hay-lofts.

But the fact that she could never be eminent among these scoffing
enthusiasts did not keep her from being proud of them, from defending
them in imaginary conversations with Kennicott, who grunted (she could
hear his voice), "They're simply a bunch of wild impractical theorists
sittin' round chewing the rag," and "I haven't got the time to chase
after a lot of these fool fads; I'm too busy putting aside a stake for
our old age."

Most of the men who came to the flat, whether they were army officers or
radicals who hated the army, had the easy gentleness, the acceptance
of women without embarrassed banter, for which she had longed in Gopher
Prairie. Yet they seemed to be as efficient as the Sam Clarks. She
concluded that it was because they were of secure reputation, not hemmed
in by the fire of provincial jealousies. Kennicott had asserted that the
villager's lack of courtesy is due to his poverty. "We're no millionaire
dudes," he boasted. Yet these army and navy men, these bureau experts,
and organizers of multitudinous leagues, were cheerful on three or four
thousand a year, while Kennicott had, outside of his land speculations,
six thousand or more, and Sam had eight.

Nor could she upon inquiry learn that many of this reckless race died in
the poorhouse. That institution is reserved for men like Kennicott who,
after devoting fifty years to "putting aside a stake," incontinently
invest the stake in spurious oil-stocks.


IV


She was encouraged to believe that she had not been abnormal in viewing
Gopher Prairie as unduly tedious and slatternly. She found the same
faith not only in girls escaped from domesticity but also in demure
old ladies who, tragically deprived of esteemed husbands and huge old
houses, yet managed to make a very comfortable thing of it by living in
small flats and having time to read.

But she also learned that by comparison Gopher Prairie was a model of
daring color, clever planning, and frenzied intellectuality. From her
teacher-housemate she had a sardonic description of a Middlewestern
railroad-division town, of the same size as Gopher Prairie but devoid
of lawns and trees, a town where the tracks sprawled along the
cinder-scabbed Main Street, and the railroad shops, dripping soot from
eaves and doorway, rolled out smoke in greasy coils.

Other towns she came to know by anecdote: a prairie village where the
wind blew all day long, and the mud was two feet thick in spring, and in
summer the flying sand scarred new-painted houses and dust covered
the few flowers set out in pots. New England mill-towns with the hands
living in rows of cottages like blocks of lava. A rich farming-center
in New Jersey, off the railroad, furiously pious, ruled by old men,
unbelievably ignorant old men, sitting about the grocery talking of
James G. Blaine. A Southern town, full of the magnolias and white
columns which Carol had accepted as proof of romance, but hating the
negroes, obsequious to the Old Families. A Western mining-settlement
like a tumor. A booming semi-city with parks and clever architects,
visited by famous pianists and unctuous lecturers, but irritable from a
struggle between union labor and the manufacturers' association, so
that in even the gayest of the new houses there was a ceaseless and
intimidating heresy-hunt.


V


The chart which plots Carol's progress is not easy to read. The lines
are broken and uncertain of direction; often instead of rising they sink
in wavering scrawls; and the colors are watery blue and pink and the dim
gray of rubbed pencil marks. A few lines are traceable.

Unhappy women are given to protecting their sensitiveness by cynical
gossip, by whining, by high-church and new-thought religions, or by
a fog of vagueness. Carol had hidden in none of these refuges from
reality, but she, who was tender and merry, had been made timorous by
Gopher Prairie. Even her flight had been but the temporary courage of
panic. The thing she gained in Washington was not information about
office-systems and labor unions but renewed courage, that amiable
contempt called poise. Her glimpse of tasks involving millions of people
and a score of nations reduced Main Street from bloated importance to
its actual pettiness. She could never again be quite so awed by the
power with which she herself had endowed the Vidas and Blaussers and
Bogarts.

From her work and from her association with women who had organized
suffrage associations in hostile cities, or had defended political
prisoners, she caught something of an impersonal attitude; saw that she
had been as touchily personal as Maud Dyer.

And why, she began to ask, did she rage at individuals? Not individuals
but institutions are the enemies, and they most afflict the disciples
who the most generously serve them. They insinuate their tyranny under
a hundred guises and pompous names, such as Polite Society, the Family,
the Church, Sound Business, the Party, the Country, the Superior White
Race; and the only defense against them, Carol beheld, is unembittered
laughter.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

SHE had lived in Washington for a year. She was tired of the office.
It was tolerable, far more tolerable than housework, but it was not
adventurous.

She was having tea and cinnamon toast, alone at a small round table on
the balcony of Rauscher's Confiserie. Four debutantes clattered in. She
had felt young and dissipated, had thought rather well of her black and
leaf-green suit, but as she watched them, thin of ankle, soft under the
chin, seventeen or eighteen at most, smoking cigarettes with the correct
ennui and talking of "bedroom farces" and their desire to "run up to New
York and see something racy," she became old and rustic and plain, and
desirous of retreating from these hard brilliant children to a life
easier and more sympathetic. When they flickered out and one child gave
orders to a chauffeur, Carol was not a defiant philosopher but a faded
government clerk from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.

She started dejectedly up Connecticut Avenue. She stopped, her heart
stopped. Coming toward her were Harry and Juanita Haydock. She ran to
them, she kissed Juanita, while Harry confided, "Hadn't expected to come
to Washington--had to go to New York for some buying--didn't have your
address along--just got in this morning--wondered how in the world we
could get hold of you."

She was definitely sorry to hear that they were to leave at nine that
evening, and she clung to them as long as she could. She took them to
St. Mark's for dinner. Stooped, her elbows on the table, she heard
with excitement that "Cy Bogart had the 'flu, but of course he was too
gol-darn mean to die of it."

"Will wrote me that Mr. Blausser has gone away. How did he get on?"

"Fine! Fine! Great loss to the town. There was a real public-spirited
fellow, all right!"

She discovered that she now had no opinions whatever about Mr. Blausser,
and she said sympathetically, "Will you keep up the town-boosting
campaign?"

Harry fumbled, "Well, we've dropped it just temporarily, but--sure you
bet! Say, did the doc write you about the luck B. J. Gougerling had
hunting ducks down in Texas?"

When the news had been told and their enthusiasm had slackened she
looked about and was proud to be able to point out a senator, to explain
the cleverness of the canopied garden. She fancied that a man with
dinner-coat and waxed mustache glanced superciliously at Harry's highly
form-fitting bright-brown suit and Juanita's tan silk frock, which was
doubtful at the seams. She glared back, defending her own, daring the
world not to appreciate them.

Then, waving to them, she lost them down the long train shed. She stood
reading the list of stations: Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Chicago. Beyond
Chicago----? She saw the lakes and stubble fields, heard the rhythm
of insects and the creak of a buggy, was greeted by Sam Clark's "Well,
well, how's the little lady?"

Nobody in Washington cared enough for her to fret about her sins as Sam
did.

But that night they had at the flat a man just back from Finland.


II


She was on the Powhatan roof with the captain. At a table, somewhat
vociferously buying improbable "soft drinks" for two fluffy girls, was a
man with a large familiar back.

"Oh! I think I know him," she murmured.

"Who? There? Oh, Bresnahan, Percy Bresnahan."

"Yes. You've met him? What sort of a man is he?"

"He's a good-hearted idiot. I rather like him, and I believe that as a
salesman of motors he's a wonder. But he's a nuisance in the aeronautic
section. Tries so hard to be useful but he doesn't know anything--he
doesn't know anything. Rather pathetic: rich man poking around and
trying to be useful. Do you want to speak to him?"

"No--no--I don't think so."


III


She was at a motion-picture show. The film was a highly advertised
and abysmal thing smacking of simpering hair-dressers, cheap perfume,
red-plush suites on the back streets of tenderloins, and complacent fat
women chewing gum. It pretended to deal with the life of studios. The
leading man did a portrait which was a masterpiece. He also saw visions
in pipe-smoke, and was very brave and poor and pure. He had ringlets,
and his masterpiece was strangely like an enlarged photograph.

Carol prepared to leave.

On the screen, in the role of a composer, appeared an actor called Eric
Valour.

She was startled, incredulous, then wretched. Looking straight out at
her, wearing a beret and a velvet jacket, was Erik Valborg.

He had a pale part, which he played neither well nor badly. She
speculated, "I could have made so much of him----" She did not finish
her speculation.

She went home and read Kennicott's letters. They had seemed stiff and
undetailed, but now there strode from them a personality, a personality
unlike that of the languishing young man in the velvet jacket playing a
dummy piano in a canvas room.


IV


Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months after her
arrival in Washington. When he announced that he was coming she was not
at all sure that she wished to see him. She was glad that he had made
the decision himself.

She had leave from the office for two days.

She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured, carrying his
heavy suit-case, and she was diffident--he was such a bulky person to
handle. They kissed each other questioningly, and said at the same time,
"You're looking fine; how's the baby?" and "You're looking awfully well,
dear; how is everything?"

He grumbled, "I don't want to butt in on any plans you've made or your
friends or anything, but if you've got time for it, I'd like to chase
around Washington, and take in some restaurants and shows and stuff, and
forget work for a while."

She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft gray suit, a
soft easy hat, a flippant tie.

"Like the new outfit? Got 'em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope they're the kind
you like."

They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was flustered, but
he gave no sign of kissing her again.

As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he had had his new
tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There was a recent cut on
his chin. He must have shaved on the train just before coming into
Washington.

It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many people she
recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she told him (he asked
and she obligingly guessed) how many feet it was to the top of the dome,
as she pointed out Senator LaFollette and the vice-president, and
at lunch-time showed herself an habitue by leading him through the
catacombs to the senate restaurant.

She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar way in which
his hair was parted on the left side agitated her. She looked down
at his hands, and the fact that his nails were as ill-treated as ever
touched her more than his pleading shoe-shine.

"You'd like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon, wouldn't you?"
she said.

It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that it seemed to
be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing to do.

He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news: they were
excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding, Vida "made him tired
the way she always looked at the Maje," poor Chet Dashaway had been
killed in a motor accident out on the Coast. He did not coax her to like
him. At Mount Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington's
dental tools.

She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have heard of
Harvey's apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took him there. At dinner
his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment of everything, turned into
nervousness in his desire to know a number of interesting matters, such
as whether they still were married. But he did not ask questions, and
he said nothing about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed,
"Oh say, been trying out the old camera. Don't you think these are
pretty good?"

He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and the country
about. Without defense, she was thrown into it. She remembered that he
had lured her with photographs in courtship days; she made a note of
his sameness, his satisfaction with the tactics which had proved good
before; but she forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing
the sun-speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie,
wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where Hugh had
played, Main Street where she knew every window and every face.

She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and he talked of
lenses and time-exposures.

Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at the flat, but
an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent, inescapable. She
could not endure it. She stammered:

"I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn't quite sure
where you'd stay. I'm dreadfully sorry we haven't room to put you up at
the flat. We ought to have seen about a room for you before. Don't you
think you better call up the Willard or the Washington now?"

He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked, without speech she
answered, whether she was also going to the Willard or the Washington.
But she tried to look as though she did not know that they were debating
anything of the sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about
it. But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he may have
been with her blandness he said readily:

"Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then how about
grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn't it the limit the way these taxi shuffers
skin around a corner? Got more nerve driving than I have!) and going
up to your flat for a while? Like to meet your friends--must be fine
women--and I might take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how
he breathes. Don't think he has adenoids, but I better make sure, eh?"
He patted her shoulder.

At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who had been to
jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly. He laughed at the
girl's story of the humors of a hunger-strike; he told the secretary
what to do when her eyes were tired from typing; and the teacher asked
him--not as the husband of a friend but as a physician--whether there
was "anything to this inoculation for colds."

His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their habitual
slang.

Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst of the
company.

"He's terribly nice," said her housemates, and waited for confidences.
They got none, nor did her own heart. She could find nothing definite to
agonize about. She felt that she was no longer analyzing and controlling
forces, but swept on by them.

He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes. That was her
only occasion for spite. Back home he never thought of washing dishes!

She took him to the obvious "sights"--the Treasury, the Monument, the
Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building, the Lincoln Memorial, with
the Potomac beyond it and the Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee
Mansion. For all his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy
which piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to them
now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette Square, looking
past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil facade of the White
House, he sighed, "I wish I'd had a shot at places like this. When I was
in the U., I had to earn part of my way, and when I wasn't doing that
or studying, I guess I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for
bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I'd been caught early and
sent to concerts and all that----Would I have been what you call
intelligent?"

"Oh, my dear, don't be humble! You are intelligent! For instance, you're
the most thorough doctor----"

He was edging about something he wished to say. He pounced on it:

"You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all, didn't
you!"

"Yes, of course."

"Wouldn't be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town, would it!"

"No, it wouldn't. Just as I was terribly glad to see the Haydocks.
But please understand me! That doesn't mean that I withdraw all my
criticisms. The fact that I might like a glimpse of old friends hasn't
any particular relation to the question of whether Gopher Prairie
oughtn't to have festivals and lamb chops."

Hastily, "No, no! Sure not. I und'stand."

"But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to live with
anybody as perfect as I was."

He grinned. She liked his grin.


V


He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes, the
building to which his income tax would eventually go, a Rolls-Royce,
Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room, a New York theatrical manager
down for the try-out of a play, the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks
of Italian officers, the barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches
at noon, the barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District
of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.

She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green cottages and
Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and white shutters against
rosy brick, were more homelike than a painty wooden box. He volunteered,
"I see how you mean. They make me think of these pictures of an
old-fashioned Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you'll have
Sam and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d' I tell you about
this fierce green Jack Elder's had his machine painted?"


VI


They were at dinner.

He hinted, "Before you showed me those places today, I'd already made up
my mind that when I built the new house we used to talk about, I'd fix
it the way you wanted it. I'm pretty practical about foundations and
radiation and stuff like that, but I guess I don't know a whole lot
about architecture."

"My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don't either!"

"Well--anyway--you let me plan the garage and the plumbing, and you do
the rest, if you ever--I mean--if you ever want to."

Doubtfully, "That's sweet of you."

"Look here, Carrie; you think I'm going to ask you to love me. I'm not.
And I'm not going to ask you to come back to Gopher Prairie!"

She gaped.

"It's been a whale of a fight. But I guess I've got myself to see that
you won't ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to come back to it. I needn't
say I'm crazy to have you. But I won't ask you. I just want you to know
how I wait for you. Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one
I'm kind of scared to open it, I'm hoping so much that you're coming
back. Evenings----You know I didn't open the cottage down at the lake at
all, this past summer. Simply couldn't stand all the others laughing and
swimming, and you not there. I used to sit on the porch, in town, and
I--I couldn't get over the feeling that you'd simply run up to the drug
store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I'd catch
myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the
house was so empty and still that I didn't like to go in. And sometimes
I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn't wake up till after
midnight, and the house----Oh, the devil! Please get me, Carrie. I just
want you to know how welcome you'll be if you ever do come. But I'm not
asking you to."

"You're----It's awfully----"

"'Nother thing. I'm going to be frank. I haven't always been absolutely,
uh, absolutely, proper. I've always loved you more than anything else in
the world, you and the kid. But sometimes when you were chilly to me I'd
get lonely and sore, and pike out and----Never intended----"

She rescued him with a pitying, "It's all right. Let's forget it."

"But before we were married you said if your husband ever did anything
wrong, you'd want him to tell you."

"Did I? I can't remember. And I can't seem to think. Oh, my dear, I
do know how generously you're trying to make me happy. The only thing
is----I can't think. I don't know what I think."

"Then listen! Don't think! Here's what I want you to do! Get a two-weeks
leave from your office. Weather's beginning to get chilly here. Let's
run down to Charleston and Savannah and maybe Florida.

"A second honeymoon?" indecisively.

"No. Don't even call it that. Call it a second wooing. I won't ask
anything. I just want the chance to chase around with you. I guess I
never appreciated how lucky I was to have a girl with imagination and
lively feet to play with. So----Could you maybe run away and see the
South with me? If you wanted to, you could just--you could just pretend
you were my sister and----I'll get an extra nurse for Hugh! I'll get the
best dog-gone nurse in Washington!"


VII


It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the Charleston Battery
and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness melted.

When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the moon glitter, she
cried, "Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie with you? Decide for me. I'm
tired of deciding and undeciding."

"No. You've got to do your own deciding. As a matter of fact, in spite
of this honeymoon, I don't think I want you to come home. Not yet."

She could only stare.

"I want you to be satisfied when you get there. I'll do everything I can
to keep you happy, but I'll make lots of breaks, so I want you to take
time and think it over."

She was relieved. She still had a chance to seize splendid indefinite
freedoms. She might go--oh, she'd see Europe, somehow, before she was
recaptured. But she also had a firmer respect for Kennicott. She had
fancied that her life might make a story. She knew that there was
nothing heroic or obviously dramatic in it, no magic of rare hours,
nor valiant challenge, but it seemed to her that she was of some
significance because she was commonplaceness, the ordinary life of the
age, made articulate and protesting. It had not occurred to her that
there was also a story of Will Kennicott, into which she entered only so
much as he entered into hers; that he had bewilderments and concealments
as intricate as her own, and soft treacherous desires for sympathy.

Thus she brooded, looking at the amazing sea, holding his hand.


VIII


She was in Washington; Kennicott was in Gopher Prairie, writing as dryly
as ever about water-pipes and goose-hunting and Mrs. Fageros's mastoid.

She was talking at dinner to a generalissima of suffrage. Should she
return?

The leader spoke wearily:

"My dear, I'm perfectly selfish. I can't quite visualize the needs of
your husband, and it seems to me that your baby will do quite as well in
the schools here as in your barracks at home."

"Then you think I'd better not go back?" Carol sounded disappointed.

"It's more difficult than that. When I say that I'm selfish I mean that
the only thing I consider about women is whether they're likely to prove
useful in building up real political power for women. And you? Shall I
be frank? Remember when I say 'you' I don't mean you alone. I'm thinking
of thousands of women who come to Washington and New York and
Chicago every year, dissatisfied at home and seeking a sign in the
heavens--women of all sorts, from timid mothers of fifty in cotton
gloves, to girls just out of Vassar who organize strikes in their own
fathers' factories! All of you are more or less useful to me, but only
a few of you can take my place, because I have one virtue (only one): I
have given up father and mother and children for the love of God.

"Here's the test for you: Do you come to 'conquer the East,' as people
say, or do you come to conquer yourself?

"It's so much more complicated than any of you know--so much more
complicated than I knew when I put on Ground Grippers and started out to
reform the world. The final complication in 'conquering Washington' or
'conquering New York' is that the conquerors must beyond all things not
conquer! It must have been so easy in the good old days when authors
dreamed only of selling a hundred thousand volumes, and sculptors
of being feted in big houses, and even the Uplifters like me had a
simple-hearted ambition to be elected to important offices and invited
to go round lecturing. But we meddlers have upset everything. Now the
one thing that is disgraceful to any of us is obvious success. The
Uplifter who is very popular with wealthy patrons can be pretty sure
that he has softened his philosophy to please them, and the author who
is making lots of money--poor things, I've heard 'em apologizing for it
to the shabby bitter-enders; I've seen 'em ashamed of the sleek luggage
they got from movie rights.

"Do you want to sacrifice yourself in such a topsy-turvy world, where
popularity makes you unpopular with the people you love, and the only
failure is cheap success, and the only individualist is the person who
gives up all his individualism to serve a jolly ungrateful proletariat
which thumbs its nose at him?"

Carol smiled ingratiatingly, to indicate that she was indeed one who
desired to sacrifice, but she sighed, "I don't know; I'm afraid I'm not
heroic. I certainly wasn't out home. Why didn't I do big effective----"

"Not a matter of heroism. Matter of endurance. Your Middlewest is
double-Puritan--prairie Puritan on top of New England Puritan; bluff
frontiersman on the surface, but in its heart it still has the ideal of
Plymouth Rock in a sleet-storm. There's one attack you can make on it,
perhaps the only kind that accomplishes much anywhere: you can keep on
looking at one thing after another in your home and church and bank, and
ask why it is, and who first laid down the law that it had to be that
way. If enough of us do this impolitely enough, then we'll become
civilized in merely twenty thousand years or so, instead of having
to wait the two hundred thousand years that my cynical anthropologist
friends allow. . . . Easy, pleasant, lucrative home-work for wives:
asking people to define their jobs. That's the most dangerous doctrine I
know!"

Carol was mediating, "I will go back! I will go on asking questions.
I've always done it, and always failed at it, and it's all I can do. I'm
going to ask Ezra Stowbody why he's opposed to the nationalization of
railroads, and ask Dave Dyer why a druggist always is pleased when he's
called 'doctor,' and maybe ask Mrs. Bogart why she wears a widow's veil
that looks like a dead crow."

The woman leader straightened. "And you have one thing. You have a baby
to hug. That's my temptation. I dream of babies--of a baby--and I sneak
around parks to see them playing. (The children in Dupont Circle are
like a poppy-garden.) And the antis call me 'unsexed'!"

Carol was thinking, in panic, "Oughtn't Hugh to have country air? I
won't let him become a yokel. I can guide him away from street-corner
loafing. . . . I think I can."

On her way home: "Now that I've made a precedent, joined the union and
gone out on one strike and learned personal solidarity, I won't be
so afraid. Will won't always be resisting my running away. Some day I
really will go to Europe with him . . . or without him.

"I've lived with people who are not afraid to go to jail. I could invite
a Miles Bjornstam to dinner without being afraid of the Haydocks . . . I
think I could.

"I'll take back the sound of Yvette Guilbert's songs and Elman's violin.
They'll be only the lovelier against the thrumming of crickets in the
stubble on an autumn day.

"I can laugh now and be serene . . . I think I can."

Though she should return, she said, she would not be utterly defeated.
She was glad of her rebellion. The prairie was no longer empty land in
the sun-glare; it was the living tawny beast which she had fought and
made beautiful by fighting; and in the village streets were shadows of
her desires and the sound of her marching and the seeds of mystery and
greatness.


IX


Her active hatred of Gopher Prairie had run out. She saw it now as a
toiling new settlement. With sympathy she remembered Kennicott's defense
of its citizens as "a lot of pretty good folks, working hard and trying
to bring up their families the best they can." She recalled tenderly the
young awkwardness of Main Street and the makeshifts of the little brown
cottages; she pitied their shabbiness and isolation; had compassion for
their assertion of culture, even as expressed in Thanatopsis papers, for
their pretense of greatness, even as trumpeted in "boosting." She saw
Main Street in the dusty prairie sunset, a line of frontier shanties
with solemn lonely people waiting for her, solemn and lonely as an old
man who has outlived his friends. She remembered that Kennicott and Sam
Clark had listened to her songs, and she wanted to run to them and sing.

"At last," she rejoiced, "I've come to a fairer attitude toward the
town. I can love it, now."

She was, perhaps, rather proud of herself for having acquired so much
tolerance.

She awoke at three in the morning, after a dream of being tortured by
Ella Stowbody and the Widow Bogart.

"I've been making the town a myth. This is how people keep up the
tradition of the perfect home-town, the happy boyhood, the brilliant
college friends. We forget so. I've been forgetting that Main Street
doesn't think it's in the least lonely and pitiful. It thinks it's God's
Own Country. It isn't waiting for me. It doesn't care."

But the next evening she again saw Gopher Prairie as her home, waiting
for her in the sunset, rimmed round with splendor.

She did not return for five months more; five months crammed with greedy
accumulation of sounds and colors to take back for the long still days.

She had spent nearly two years in Washington.

When she departed for Gopher Prairie, in June, her second baby was
stirring within her.



CHAPTER XXXIX

SHE wondered all the way home what her sensations would be. She wondered
about it so much that she had every sensation she had imagined. She was
excited by each familiar porch, each hearty "Well, well!" and flattered
to be, for a day, the most important news of the community. She bustled
about, making calls. Juanita Haydock bubbled over their Washington
encounter, and took Carol to her social bosom. This ancient opponent
seemed likely to be her most intimate friend, for Vida Sherwin, though
she was cordial, stood back and watched for imported heresies.

In the evening Carol went to the mill. The mystical Om-Om-Om of the
dynamos in the electric-light plant behind the mill was louder in the
darkness. Outside sat the night watchman, Champ Perry. He held up his
stringy hands and squeaked, "We've all missed you terrible."

Who in Washington would miss her?

Who in Washington could be depended upon like Guy Pollock? When she saw
him on the street, smiling as always, he seemed an eternal thing, a part
of her own self.

After a week she decided that she was neither glad nor sorry to be back.
She entered each day with the matter-of-fact attitude with which she
had gone to her office in Washington. It was her task; there would be
mechanical details and meaningless talk; what of it?

The only problem which she had approached with emotion proved
insignificant. She had, on the train, worked herself up to such devotion
that she was willing to give up her own room, to try to share all of her
life with Kennicott.

He mumbled, ten minutes after she had entered the house, "Say, I've kept
your room for you like it was. I've kind of come round to your way of
thinking. Don't see why folks need to get on each other's nerves just
because they're friendly. Darned if I haven't got so I like a little
privacy and mulling things over by myself."


II


She had left a city which sat up nights to talk of universal transition;
of European revolution, guild socialism, free verse. She had fancied
that all the world was changing.

She found that it was not.

In Gopher Prairie the only ardent new topics were prohibition, the place
in Minneapolis where you could get whisky at thirteen dollars a quart,
recipes for home-made beer, the "high cost of living," the presidential
election, Clark's new car, and not very novel foibles of Cy Bogart.
Their problems were exactly what they had been two years ago, what they
had been twenty years ago, and what they would be for twenty years to
come. With the world a possible volcano, the husbandmen were plowing at
the base of the mountain. A volcano does occasionally drop a river
of lava on even the best of agriculturists, to their astonishment and
considerable injury, but their cousins inherit the farms and a year or
two later go back to the plowing.

She was unable to rhapsodize much over the seven new bungalows and the
two garages which Kennicott had made to seem so important. Her intensest
thought about them was, "Oh yes, they're all right I suppose." The
change which she did heed was the erection of the schoolbuilding, with
its cheerful brick walls, broad windows, gymnasium, classrooms for
agriculture and cooking. It indicated Vida's triumph, and it stirred her
to activity--any activity. She went to Vida with a jaunty, "I think I
shall work for you. And I'll begin at the bottom."

She did. She relieved the attendant at the rest-room for an hour a
day. Her only innovation was painting the pine table a black and orange
rather shocking to the Thanatopsis. She talked to the farmwives and
soothed their babies and was happy.

Thinking of them she did not think of the ugliness of Main Street as she
hurried along it to the chatter of the Jolly Seventeen.

She wore her eye-glasses on the street now. She was beginning to ask
Kennicott and Juanita if she didn't look young, much younger than
thirty-three. The eye-glasses pinched her nose. She considered
spectacles. They would make her seem older, and hopelessly settled.
No! She would not wear spectacles yet. But she tried on a pair at
Kennicott's office. They really were much more comfortable.


III


Dr. Westlake, Sam Clark, Nat Hicks, and Del Snafflin were talking in
Del's barber shop.

"Well, I see Kennicott's wife is taking a whirl at the rest-room, now,"
said Dr. Westlake. He emphasized the "now."

Del interrupted the shaving of Sam and, with his brush dripping lather,
he observed jocularly:

"What'll she be up to next? They say she used to claim this burg wasn't
swell enough for a city girl like her, and would we please tax ourselves
about thirty-seven point nine and fix it all up pretty, with tidies on
the hydrants and statoos on the lawns----"

Sam irritably blew the lather from his lips, with milky small bubbles,
and snorted, "Be a good thing for most of us roughnecks if we did have
a smart woman to tell us how to fix up the town. Just as much to her
kicking as there was to Jim Blausser's gassing about factories. And you
can bet Mrs. Kennicott is smart, even if she is skittish. Glad to see
her back."

Dr. Westlake hastened to play safe. "So was I! So was I! She's got a
nice way about her, and she knows a good deal about books, or fiction
anyway. Of course she's like all the rest of these women--not
solidly founded--not scholarly--doesn't know anything about political
economy--falls for every new idea that some windjamming crank puts out.
But she's a nice woman. She'll probably fix up the rest-room, and the
rest-room is a fine thing, brings a lot of business to town. And now
that Mrs. Kennicott's been away, maybe she's got over some of her fool
ideas. Maybe she realizes that folks simply laugh at her when she tries
to tell us how to run everything."

"Sure. She'll take a tumble to herself," said Nat Hicks, sucking in
his lips judicially. "As far as I'm concerned, I'll say she's as nice a
looking skirt as there is in town. But yow!" His tone electrified them.
"Guess she'll miss that Swede Valborg that used to work for me! They was
a pair! Talking poetry and moonshine! If they could of got away with it,
they'd of been so darn lovey-dovey----"

Sam Clark interrupted, "Rats, they never even thought about making love,
Just talking books and all that junk. I tell you, Carrie Kennicott's
a smart woman, and these smart educated women all get funny ideas, but
they get over 'em after they've had three or four kids. You'll see her
settled down one of these days, and teaching Sunday School and helping
at sociables and behaving herself, and not trying to butt into business
and politics. Sure!"

After only fifteen minutes of conference on her stockings, her son, her
separate bedroom, her music, her ancient interest in Guy Pollock, her
probable salary in Washington, and every remark which she was known to
have made since her return, the supreme council decided that they would
permit Carol Kennicott to live, and they passed on to a consideration of
Nat Hicks's New One about the traveling salesman and the old maid.


IV


For some reason which was totally mysterious to Carol, Maud Dyer seemed
to resent her return. At the Jolly Seventeen Maud giggled nervously,
"Well, I suppose you found war-work a good excuse to stay away and have
a swell time. Juanita! Don't you think we ought to make Carrie tell us
about the officers she met in Washington?"

They rustled and stared. Carol looked at them. Their curiosity seemed
natural and unimportant.

"Oh yes, yes indeed, have to do that some day," she yawned.

She no longer took Aunt Bessie Smail seriously enough to struggle for
independence. She saw that Aunt Bessie did not mean to intrude; that
she wanted to do things for all the Kennicotts. Thus Carol hit upon the
tragedy of old age, which is not that it is less vigorous than youth,
but that it is not needed by youth; that its love and prosy sageness,
so important a few years ago, so gladly offered now, are rejected
with laughter. She divined that when Aunt Bessie came in with a jar of
wild-grape jelly she was waiting in hope of being asked for the recipe.
After that she could be irritated but she could not be depressed by Aunt
Bessie's simoom of questioning.

She wasn't depressed even when she heard Mrs. Bogart observe, "Now we've
got prohibition it seems to me that the next problem of the country
ain't so much abolishing cigarettes as it is to make folks observe the
Sabbath and arrest these law-breakers that play baseball and go to the
movies and all on the Lord's Day."

Only one thing bruised Carol's vanity. Few people asked her about
Washington. They who had most admiringly begged Percy Bresnahan for his
opinions were least interested in her facts. She laughed at herself when
she saw that she had expected to be at once a heretic and a returned
hero; she was very reasonable and merry about it; and it hurt just as
much as ever.

Her baby, born in August, was a girl. Carol could not decide whether she
was to become a feminist leader or marry a scientist or both, but did
settle on Vassar and a tricolette suit with a small black hat for her
Freshman year.


VI


Hugh was loquacious at breakfast. He desired to give his impressions of
owls and F Street.

"Don't make so much noise. You talk too much," growled Kennicott.

Carol flared. "Don't speak to him that way! Why don't you listen to him?
He has some very interesting things to tell."

"What's the idea? Mean to say you expect me to spend all my time
listening to his chatter?"

"Why not?"

"For one thing, he's got to learn a little discipline. Time for him to
start getting educated."

"I've learned much more discipline, I've had much more education, from
him than he has from me."

"What's this? Some new-fangled idea of raising kids you got in
Washington?"

"Perhaps. Did you ever realize that children are people?"

"That's all right. I'm not going to have him monopolizing the
conversation."

"No, of course. We have our rights, too. But I'm going to bring him up
as a human being. He has just as many thoughts as we have, and I want
him to develop them, not take Gopher Prairie's version of them. That's
my biggest work now--keeping myself, keeping you, from 'educating' him."

"Well, let's not scrap about it. But I'm not going to have him spoiled."

Kennicott had forgotten it in ten minutes; and she forgot it--this time.


VII


The Kennicotts and the Sam Clarks had driven north to a duck-pass
between two lakes, on an autumn day of blue and copper.

Kennicott had given her a light twenty-gauge shotgun. She had a first
lesson in shooting, in keeping her eyes open, not wincing, understanding
that the bead at the end of the barrel really had something to do with
pointing the gun. She was radiant; she almost believed Sam when he
insisted that it was she who had shot the mallard at which they had
fired together.

She sat on the bank of the reedy lake and found rest in Mrs. Clark's
drawling comments on nothing. The brown dusk was still. Behind them were
dark marshes. The plowed acres smelled fresh. The lake was garnet and
silver. The voices of the men, waiting for the last flight, were clear
in the cool air.

"Mark left!" sang Kennicott, in a long-drawn call.

Three ducks were swooping down in a swift line. The guns banged, and
a duck fluttered. The men pushed their light boat out on the burnished
lake, disappeared beyond the reeds. Their cheerful voices and the slow
splash and clank of oars came back to Carol from the dimness. In the sky
a fiery plain sloped down to a serene harbor. It dissolved; the lake
was white marble; and Kennicott was crying, "Well, old lady, how about
hiking out for home? Supper taste pretty good, eh?"

"I'll sit back with Ethel," she said, at the car.

It was the first time she had called Mrs. Clark by her given name; the
first time she had willingly sat back, a woman of Main Street.

"I'm hungry. It's good to be hungry," she reflected, as they drove away.

She looked across the silent fields to the west. She was conscious of an
unbroken sweep of land to the Rockies, to Alaska, a dominion which
will rise to unexampled greatness when other empires have grown senile.
Before that time, she knew, a hundred generations of Carols will aspire
and go down in tragedy devoid of palls and solemn chanting, the humdrum
inevitable tragedy of struggle against inertia.

"Let's all go to the movies tomorrow night. Awfully exciting film," said
Ethel Clark.

"Well, I was going to read a new book but----All right, let's go," said
Carol.


VIII


"They're too much for me," Carol sighed to Kennicott. "I've been
thinking about getting up an annual Community Day, when the whole town
would forget feuds and go out and have sports and a picnic and a dance.
But Bert Tybee (why did you ever elect him mayor?)--he's kidnapped my
idea. He wants the Community Day, but he wants to have some politician
'give an address.' That's just the stilted sort of thing I've tried to
avoid. He asked Vida, and of course she agreed with him."

Kennicott considered the matter while he wound the clock and they
tramped up-stairs.

"Yes, it would jar you to have Bert butting in," he said amiably. "Are
you going to do much fussing over this Community stunt? Don't you ever
get tired of fretting and stewing and experimenting?"

"I haven't even started. Look!" She led him to the nursery door, pointed
at the fuzzy brown head of her daughter. "Do you see that object on the
pillow? Do you know what it is? It's a bomb to blow up smugness. If you
Tories were wise, you wouldn't arrest anarchists; you'd arrest all these
children while they're asleep in their cribs. Think what that baby will
see and meddle with before she dies in the year 2000! She may see an
industrial union of the whole world, she may see aeroplanes going to
Mars."

"Yump, probably be changes all right," yawned Kennicott.

She sat on the edge of his bed while he hunted through his bureau for a
collar which ought to be there and persistently wasn't.

"I'll go on, always. And I am happy. But this Community Day makes me see
how thoroughly I'm beaten."

"That darn collar certainly is gone for keeps," muttered Kennicott and,
louder, "Yes, I guess you----I didn't quite catch what you said, dear."

She patted his pillows, turned down his sheets, as she reflected:

"But I have won in this: I've never excused my failures by sneering at
my aspirations, by pretending to have gone beyond them. I do not admit
that Main Street is as beautiful as it should be! I do not admit that
Gopher Prairie is greater or more generous than Europe! I do not admit
that dish-washing is enough to satisfy all women! I may not have fought
the good fight, but I have kept the faith."

"Sure. You bet you have," said Kennicott. "Well, good night. Sort of
feels to me like it might snow tomorrow. Have to be thinking about
putting up the storm-windows pretty soon. Say, did you notice whether
the girl put that screwdriver back?"



THE END



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