Monday, October 29, 2007



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?
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 flourmills
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
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
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.
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 popeyed
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.
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,
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.
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
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
"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
"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,
"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."
"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
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.
A year Carol spent in Chicago. Her study of librarycataloguing,
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
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.
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.
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
"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 boxelders,
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
(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 casehardened."
"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
"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
"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."
"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!"
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
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,
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
"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.
"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 lumberyard
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, gloriouseyed.
"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."
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 seatarms,
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 newsbutcher
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 mudturtle'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 watercooler
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.
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 cattlepen
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 townpeople
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
"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 likes
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 creamyskinned
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
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
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 wheatshocks
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
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!"
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
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
Now the train was passing the elevator, the grim storagetanks
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
"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
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, toothbrush
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 Mirmiemashie 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.
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 cottonwoods.
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.
"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 waterpitcher
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
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
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-ahalf
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
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 toothbrushes
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
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
Billy's Lunch. Thick handleless cups on the wet oilclothcovered
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 onestory
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,
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 onestory
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,
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 electriclight
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
"If they can't build shrines, out here on the prairie, surely
there's nothing to prevent their buying safety-razors!" she
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."
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 lampstand!
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 automobuls 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 elegantdressed
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.
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
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!"
"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 secondhand
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 heartbreaker.
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
"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
During the winter Carol was to hear Dave Dyer's hencatching
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
"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
"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, halfbaked
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.
"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-tedoodles
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 halfbaked
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,
"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 fortythree----
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 goodbys.
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
She was silent, raw with the shameful thought that the
attentive circle might have been criticizing her, laughing at
"Don't, please don't worry!" he pleaded.
"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.
"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 barbedwire
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
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 corncrib,
a granary, the galvanized-iron skeleton tower of a windmill.
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
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,
"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
"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
They ate their sandwiches by a prairie slew: long grass
reaching up out of clear water, mossy bogs, red-winged blackbirds,
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 sunsoaked
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.
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
"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
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!"
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 m 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.
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 watercock
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
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.
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
"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
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?"
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."
"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.
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 businesslike
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 budgetplan
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
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
"No, it won't! I've got to get some underclothes for the
"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?"
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 farmwife
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.
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
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
"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
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
"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
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 blackjacks.
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 elasticsided
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
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 outstretched
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
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.
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.
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.
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 dogskin
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 bedquilts
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, steeltipped
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 graygreen
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, ironwood,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Mrs. Dave Dyer, a sallow woman with a thin prettiness
devoted to experiments in religious cults, illnesses, and scandalbearing,
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
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
"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 re-inforced 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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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?"
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
"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
"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
"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
"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 housewarming
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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.
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
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 flourbarrel
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 selfconscious.
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.
No group angered her quite so much as these staring young
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 lovescene
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
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.
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 hairychested
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.
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 overscrubbed
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 nonexistent
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
"Of course Will is going to like poetry."
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
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
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 pipereeking
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 duckhunting
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 ashstippled
coffee-pot on the shelf behind the pot-bellied cannonball
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.")
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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
"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."
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
"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 playwright
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 Middlewest----"
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.
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
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.
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 readingrooms,
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.
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
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 afternooncoffees
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
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
"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?"
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 farmwomen
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 amplebosomed
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 storybook
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
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 "handpainted"
pictures, "buckeye" pictures, of birch-trees, newsboys,
puppies, and church-steeples on Christmas Eve; with a
plaque depicting the Exposition Building in Minneapolis, burntwood
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 McGilllcuddy 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
"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.
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 mailorder
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.
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
Yet that same evening she had an idea which solved the
rebuilding of Gopher Prairie.
Within ten minutes she was jerking the old-fashioned bellpull
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
"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
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 over
alls. 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.
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 oystercolored
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 homebuilding.
"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 antifly
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?
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 moccasinflower
beside a lichen-covered log. At the end of the road
she saw the open acres--dipping rolling fields bright with
"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
"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
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 broadshouldered
man was squatted on his heels, holding a fryingpan
over a camp-fire. He looked toward her. He was Miles
"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
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.
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
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 sandbasins
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
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.
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 turniplike
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 timberwolves
treed the children; and the settlers found dens of rattlesnakes,
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
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.
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.
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
"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 redbrick
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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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.
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.
"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
"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
"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 I 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
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 doggone
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 backbiting,
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
"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 tinhorn
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
"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
"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
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 footboard.
She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the footstone
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
"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!"
"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----"
"(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?"
"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
"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
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
"----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
"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?"
"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!"
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 spatwarum,
"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
"Any fever?"
"Vell ja, I t'ink she got fever."
"Which side is the pain on?"
"Das Schmertz--die Weh--which side is it on? Here?"
"So. Right here it is."
"Any rigidity there?"
"Is it rigid--stiff--I mean, does the belly feel hard to the
"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
Then Kennicott was grumbling, "Seven-fifteen! Aren't you
ever going to get up for breakfast?" and he was not a heroscientist
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.
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
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."
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!"
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
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.
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
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.
She could--at times--agree with Kennicott that the shavingand-
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, consultingroom,
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."
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
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.
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
"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
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
She knew. She had always happened to be there. Once,
she whispered, she was going by when an indiscreet windowshade
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
"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.
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
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, brushscraggly
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.
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 matchholder.
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. Goodby.
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 paleyellow
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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?"
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
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
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 highchurch
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 sportingcatalogues,
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, lunchboxes,
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, halfconvinced
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
"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
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 hoseconnections
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.
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 weddingscene
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
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
"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
"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."
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.
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
"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 underpaid
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
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."
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 stovelengths
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
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 stovewood
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 miningcamp,
breaking a log-jam, being impertinent to a "twofisted"
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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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.
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.
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, ard
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
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
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 lodginghouses
on lower Hennepin Avenue were smoky, hideous, illtempered.
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
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
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 coatcheck
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
"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!"
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 sewingboxes
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
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
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.
They were in a long whitewashed hall with a clumsy drawcurtain
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 largereyed,
and her voice was a morning bell. In her, Carol lived,
and on her lifting voice was transported from this sleepy smalltown
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 steelbossed
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 cowpuncher
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.
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
Vida was an advocate of culture-buying and efficiencysystems.
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
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
"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 freethinkers
and boozers and everything, but in the end his mother's
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
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
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, ballotboxes,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 monkeyshines,
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!"
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
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."
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 stockcompany
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 stagehands
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.
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
. . .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
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!"
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
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
Then, for three years which passed like one curt paragraph,
she ceased to find anything interesting save the Bjornstams
and her baby.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Tsingtao.
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
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.
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 daycoach;
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, chucka-
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.
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 shirtsleeves,
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 excongressman,
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 bestknown
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
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.
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 towhead
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.
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
"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?"
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 arid 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 pantsmakers.
"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.
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!"
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 boardinghouse
knew of her abyss of passion. They said she was "so
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 Kennicotts 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
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.
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 boardinghouse.
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
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
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
"Have you been clear to Cape Cod? Massachusetts? I
knew you'd traveled, but I never realized you'd been that
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 whaleships
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?"
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.
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, washrags
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.
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."
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 longshoreman
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 farmwomen
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.
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 drawingrooms,
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.
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, oilstocks,
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.
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 highschool
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
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.
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?"
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 oilcloth
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.
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 dumpinggrounds;
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
"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
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, tobaccostained
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
"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?"
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
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
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 publicspiritedness
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 medicinecabinet,
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?"
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
Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring
a basic change in psychology, to purify and uplift everything

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