Part 10 out of 12
obstinate. And I can't even go off and earn my living again.
Out of the habit of it. He's driving me---- I'm afraid of
what he's driving me to. Afraid.
"That man in there, snoring in stale air, my husband?
Could any ceremony make him my husband?
"No. I don't want to hurt him. I want to love him. I
can't, when I'm thinking of Erik. Am I too honest--a funny
topsy-turvy honesty--the faithfulness of unfaith? I wish I
had a more compartmental mind, like men. I'm too monogamous--
toward Erik!--my child Erik, who needs me.
"Is an illicit affair like a gambling debt--demands stricter
honor than the legitimate debt of matrimony, because it's not
"That's nonsense! I don't care in the least for Erik!
Not for any man. I want to be let alone, in a woman world--
a world without Main Street, or politicians, or business men,
or men with that sudden beastly hungry look, that glistening
unfrank expression that wives know----
"If Erik were here, if he would just sit quiet and kind and
talk, I could be still, I could go to sleep.
"I am so tired. If I could sleep----"
THEIR night came unheralded.
Kennicott was on a country call. It was cool but Carol
huddled on the porch, rocking, meditating, rocking. The house
was lonely and repellent, and though she sighed, "I ought
to go in and read--so many things to read--ought to go in," she
remained. Suddenly Erik was coming, turning in, swinging
open the screen door, touching her hand.
"Saw your husband driving out of town. Couldn't stand
"Well---- You mustn't stay more than five minutes."
"Couldn't stand not seeing you. Every day, towards
evening, felt I had to see you--pictured you so clear. I've been
good though, staying away, haven't I!"
"And you must go on being good."
"Why must I?"
"We better not stay here on the porch. The Howlands
across the street are such window-peepers, and Mrs.
She did not look at him but she could divine his tremulousness
as he stumbled indoors. A moment ago the night had been
coldly empty; now it was incalculable, hot, treacherous. But
it is women who are the calm realists once they discard the
fetishes of the premarital hunt. Carol was serene as she
murmured, "Hungry? I have some little honey-colored cakes.
You may have two, and then you must skip home."
"Take me up and let me see Hugh asleep."
"I don't believe----"
"Just a glimpse!"
She doubtfully led the way to the hallroom-nursery. Their
heads close, Erik's curls pleasant as they touched her cheek,
they looked in at the baby. Hugh was pink with slumber.
He had burrowed into his pillow with such energy that it was
almost smothering him. Beside it was a celluloid rhinoceros;
tight in his hand a torn picture of Old King Cole.
"Shhh!" said Carol, quite automatically. She tiptoed in
to pat the pillow. As she returned to Erik she had a friendly
sense of his waiting for her. They smiled at each other. She
did not think of Kennicott, the baby's father. What she did
think was that some one rather like Erik, an older and surer
Erik, ought to be Hugh's father. The three of them would
play--incredible imaginative games.
"Carol! You've told me about your own room. Let me
peep in at it."
"But you mustn't stay, not a second. We must go
"Will you be good?"
"R-reasonably!" He was pale, large-eyed, serious.
"You've got to be more than reasonably good!" She felt
sensible and superior; she was energetic about pushing open
Kennicott had always seemed out of place there but Erik
surprisingly harmonized with the spirit of the room as he
stroked the books, glanced at the prints. He held out his
hands. He came toward her. She was weak, betrayed to a
warm softness. Her head was tilted back. Her eyes were
closed. Her thoughts were formless but many-colored. She
felt his kiss, diffident and reverent, on her eyelid.
Then she knew that it was impossible.
She shook herself. She sprang from him. "Please!" she
He looked at her unyielding.
"I am fond of you," she said. "Don't spoil everything.
Be my friend."
"How many thousands and millions of women must have
said that! And now you! And it doesn't spoil everything.
It glorifies everything."
"Dear, I do think there's a tiny streak of fairy in you--
whatever you do with it. Perhaps I'd have loved that once.
But I won't. It's too late. But I'll keep a fondness for you.
Impersonal--I will be impersonal! It needn't be just a thin
talky fondness. You do need me, don't you? Only you and
my son need me. I've wanted so to be wanted! Once I
wanted love to be given to me. Now I'll be content if I can
give. . . . Almost content!
"We women, we like to do things for men. Poor men!
We swoop on you when you're defenseless and fuss over you
and insist on reforming you. But it's so pitifully deep in us.
You'll be the one thing in which I haven't failed. Do something
definite! Even if it's just selling cottons. Sell beautiful
cottons--caravans from China----"
"Carol! Stop! You do love me!"
"I do not! It's just---- Can't you understand? Everything
crushes in on me so, all the gaping dull people, and I look
for a way out---- Please go. I can't stand any more.
He was gone. And she was not relieved by the quiet of the
house. She was empty and the house was empty and she
needed him. She wanted to go on talking, to get this threshed
out, to build a sane friendship. She wavered down to the
living-room, looked out of the bay-window. He was not to
be seen. But Mrs. Westlake was. She was walking past, and
in the light from the corner arc-lamp she quickly inspected
the porch, the windows. Carol dropped the curtain, stood with
movement and reflection paralyzed. Automatically, without
reasoning, she mumbled, "I will see him again soon and make
him understand we must be friends. But---- The house is
so empty. It echoes so."
Kennicott had seemed nervous and absent-minded through
that supper-hour, two evenings after. He prowled about the
living-room, then growled:
"What the dickens have you been saying to Ma Westlake?"
Carol's book rattled. "What do you mean?"
"I told you that Westlake and his wife were jealous of us,
and here you been chumming up to them and---- From what
Dave tells me, Ma Westlake has been going around town saying
you told her that you hate Aunt Bessie, and that you fixed
up your own room because I snore, and you said Bjornstam
was too good for Bea, and then, just recent, that you were
sore on the town because we don't all go down on our knees
and beg this Valborg fellow to come take supper with us. God
only knows what else she says you said."
"It's not true, any of it! I did like Mrs. Westlake, and
I've called on her, and apparently she's gone and twisted
everything I've said----"
"Sure. Of course she would. Didn't I tell you she would?
She's an old cat, like her pussyfooting, hand-holding husband.
Lord, if I was sick, I'd rather have a faith-healer than Westlake,
and she's another slice off the same bacon. What I can't
She waited, taut.
"----is whatever possessed you to let her pump you, bright
a girl as you are. I don't care what you told her--we all get
peeved sometimes and want to blow off steam, that's natural--
but if you wanted to keep it dark, why didn't you advertise
it in the Dauntless, or get a megaphone and stand on top of
the hotel and holler, or do anything besides spill it to her!"
"I know. You told me. But she was so motherly. And
I didn't have any woman---- Vida 's become so married and
"Well, next time you'll have better sense."
He patted her head, flumped down behind his newspaper,
said nothing more.
Enemies leered through the windows, stole on her from
the hall. She had no one save Erik. This kind good man
Kennicott--he was an elder brother. It was Erik, her fellow
outcast, to whom she wanted to run for sanctuary. Through
her storm she was, to the eye, sitting quietly with her fingers
between the pages of a baby-blue book on home-dressmaking.
But her dismay at Mrs. Westlake's treachery had risen to
active dread. What had the woman said of her and Erik?
What did she know? What had she seen? Who else would
join in the baying hunt? Who else had seen her with Erik?
What had she to fear from the Dyers, Cy Bogart, Juanita,
Aunt Bessie? What precisely had she answered to Mrs.
All next day she was too restless to stay home, yet as she
walked the streets on fictitious errands she was afraid of every
person she met. She waited for them to speak; waited with
foreboding. She repeated, "I mustn't ever see Erik again."
But the words did not register. She had no ecstatic indulgence
in the sense of guilt which is, to the women of Main Street,
the surest escape from blank tediousness.
At five, crumpled in a chair in the living-room, she started
at the sound of the bell. Some one opened the door. She
waited, uneasy. Vida Sherwin charged into the room. "Here's
the one person I can trust!" Carol rejoiced.
Vida was serious but affectionate. She bustled at Carol
with, "Oh, there you are, dearie, so glad t' find you in, sit
down, want to talk to you."
Carol sat, obedient.
Vida fussily tugged over a large chair and launched out:
"I've been hearing vague rumors you were interested in
this Erik Valborg. I knew you couldn't be guilty, and I'm
surer than ever of it now. Here we are, as blooming as a daisy."
"How does a respectable matron look when she feels guilty?"
Carol sounded resentful.
"Why---- Oh, it would show! Besides! I know that you,
of all people, are the one that can appreciate Dr. Will."
"What have you been hearing?"
"Nothing, really. I just heard Mrs. Bogart say she'd seen
you and Valborg walking together a lot." Vida's chirping
slackened. She looked at her nails. "But---- I suspect
you do like Valborg. Oh, I don't mean in any wrong way.
But you're young; you don't know what an innocent liking
might drift into. You always pretend to be so sophisticated
and all, but you're a baby. Just because you are so innocent,
you don't know what evil thoughts may lurk in that fellow's brain."
"You don't suppose Valborg could actually think about
making love to me?"
Her rather cheap sport ended abruptly as Vida cried, with
contorted face, "What do you know about the thoughts in
hearts? You just play at reforming the world. You don't
know what it means to suffer."
There are two insults which no human being will endure:
the assertion that he hasn't a sense of humor, and the doubly
impertinent assertion that he has never known trouble. Carol
said furiously, "You think I don't suffer? You think I've
always had an easy----"
"No, you don't. I'm going to tell you something I've
never told a living soul, not even Ray." The dam of repressed
imagination which Vida had builded for years, which now,
with Raymie off at the wars, she was building again, gave way.
"I was--I liked Will terribly well. One time at a party--oh,
before he met you, of course--but we held hands, and we were
so happy. But I didn't feel I was really suited to him. I let
him go. Please don't think I still love him! I see now that
Ray was predestined to be my mate. But because I liked him,
I know how sincere and pure and noble Will is, and his
thoughts never straying from the path of rectitude, and----
If I gave him up to you, at least you've got to appreciate him!
We danced together and laughed so, and I gave him up,
but---- This IS my affair! I'm NOT intruding! I see the
whole thing as he does, because of all I've told you. Maybe
it's shameless to bare my heart this way, but I do it for him--
for him and you!"
Carol understood that Vida believed herself to have recited
minutely and brazenly a story of intimate love; understood
that, in alarm, she was trying to cover her shame as she
struggled on, "Liked him in the most honorable way--simply
can't help it if I still see things through his eyes---- If I
gave him up, I certainly am not beyond my rights in demanding
that you take care to avoid even the appearance of evil
and----" She was weeping; an insignificant, flushed, ungracefully
Carol could not endure it. She ran to Vida, kissed her
forehead, comforted her with a murmur of dove-like sounds,
sought to reassure her with worn and hastily assembled gifts
of words: "Oh, I appreciate it so much," and "You are so
fine and splendid," and "Let me assure you there isn't a thing
to what you've heard," and "Oh, indeed, I do know how
sincere Will is, and as you say, so--so sincere."
Vida believed that she had explained many deep and devious
matters. She came out of her hysteria like a sparrow shaking
off rain-drops. She sat up, and took advantage of her victory:
"I don't want to rub it in, but you can see for yourself
now, this is all a result of your being so discontented and
not appreciating the dear good people here. And another
thing: People like you and me, who want to reform things,
have to be particularly careful about appearances. Think
how much better you can criticize conventional customs if you
yourself live up to them, scrupulously. Then people can't
say you're attacking them to excuse your own infractions."
To Carol was given a sudden great philosophical
understanding, an explanation of half the cautious reforms in his-
tory. "Yes. I've heard that plea. It's a good one. It sets
revolts aside to cool. It keeps strays in the flock. To word
it differently: `You must live up to the popular code if you
believe in it; but if you don't believe in it, then you MUST live
up to it!' "
"I don't think so at all," said Vida vaguely. She began to
look hurt, and Carol let her be oracular.
Vida had done her a service; had made all agonizing seem
so fatuous that she ceased writhing and saw that her whole
problem was simple as mutton: she was interested in Erik's
aspiration; interest gave her a hesitating fondness for him;
and the future would take care of the event. . . . But
at night, thinking in bed, she protested, "I'm not a falsely
accused innocent, though! If it were some one more resolute
than Erik, a fighter, an artist with bearded surly lips----
They're only in books. Is that the real tragedy, that I never
shall know tragedy, never find anything but blustery
complications that turn out to be a farce?
"No one big enough or pitiful enough to sacrifice for.
Tragedy in neat blouses; the eternal flame all nice and safe
in a kerosene stove. Neither heroic faith nor heroic guilt.
Peeping at love from behind lace curtains--on Main Street!"
Aunt Bessie crept in next day, tried to pump her, tried to
prime the pump by again hinting that Kennicott might have
his own affairs. Carol snapped, "Whatever I may do, I'll
have you to understand that Will is only too safe!" She
wished afterward that she had not been so lofty. How much
would Aunt Bessie make of "Whatever I may do?"
When Kennicott came home he poked at things, and hemmed,
and brought out, "Saw aunty, this afternoon. She said you
weren't very polite to her."
Carol laughed. He looked at her in a puzzled way and
fled to his newspaper.
She lay sleepless. She alternately considered ways of leaving
Kennicott, and remembered his virtues, pitied his bewilderment
in face of the subtle corroding sicknesses which he could not
dose nor cut out. Didn't he perhaps need her more than did
the book-solaced Erik? Suppose Will were to die, suddenly.
Suppose she never again saw him at breakfast, silent but
amiable, listening to her chatter. Suppose he never again
played elephant for Hugh. Suppose---- A country call, a
slippery road, his motor skidding, the edge of the road
crumbling, the car turning turtle, Will pinned beneath, suffering,
brought home maimed, looking at her with spaniel eyes--or
waiting for her, calling for her, while she was in Chicago,
knowing nothing of it. Suppose he were sued by some vicious
shrieking woman for malpractice. He tried to get witnesses;
Westlake spread lies; his friends doubted him; his self-
confidence was so broken that it was horrible to see the
indecision of the decisive man; he was convicted, handcuffed,
taken on a train----
She ran to his room. At her nervous push the door swung
sharply in, struck a chair. He awoke, gasped, then in a
steady voice: "What is it, dear? Anything wrong?" She
darted to him, fumbled for the familiar harsh bristly cheek.
How well she knew it, every seam, and hardness of bone, and
roll of fat! Yet when he sighed, "This is a nice visit," and
dropped his hand on her thin-covered shoulder, she said, too
cheerily, "I thought I heard you moaning. So silly of me.
Good night, dear."
She did not see Erik for a fortnight, save once at church
and once when she went to the tailor shop to talk over the
plans, contingencies, and strategy of Kennicott's annual
campaign for getting a new suit. Nat Hicks was there, and he
was not so deferential as he had been. With unnecessary
jauntiness he chuckled, "Some nice flannels, them samples,
heh?" Needlessly he touched her arm to call attention to the
fashion-plates, and humorously he glanced from her to Erik.
At home she wondered if the little beast might not be
suggesting himself as a rival to Erik, but that abysmal
bedragglement she would not consider.
She saw Juanita Haydock slowly walking past the house--
as Mrs. Westlake had once walked past.
She met Mrs. Westlake in Uncle Whittier's store, and before
that alert stare forgot her determination to be rude, and was
She was sure that all the men on the street, even Guy
Pollock and Sam Clark, leered at her in an interested hopeful
way, as though she were a notorious divorcee. She felt as
insecure as a shadowed criminal. She wished to see Erik, and
wished that she had never seen him. She fancied that Kennicott
was the only person in town who did not know all--
know incomparably more than there was to know--about herself
and Erik. She crouched in her chair as she imagined men
talking of her, thick-voiced, obscene, in barber shops and the
tobacco-stinking pool parlor.
Through early autumn Fern Mullins was the only person
who broke the suspense. The frivolous teacher had come to
accept Carol as of her own youth, and though school had
begun she rushed in daily to suggest dances, welsh-rabbit
Fern begged her to go as chaperon to a barn-dance in the
country, on a Saturday evening. Carol could not go. The
next day, the storm crashed.
CAROL was on the back porch, tightening a bolt on the baby's
go-cart, this Sunday afternoon. Through an open window of
the Bogart house she heard a screeching, heard Mrs. Bogart's
. . .did too, and there's no use your denying it
no you don't, you march yourself right straight out
of the house. . .never in my life heard of such. . .
never had nobody talk to me like. . .walk in the ways
of sin and nastiness. . .leave your clothes here, and
heaven knows that's more than you deserve. . .any of
your lip or I'll call the policeman."
The voice of the other interlocutor Carol did not catch,
nor, though Mrs. Bogart was proclaiming that he was her
confidant and present assistant, did she catch the voice of Mrs.
"Another row with Cy," Carol inferred.
She trundled the go-cart down the back steps and tentatively
wheeled it across the yard, proud of her repairs. She heard
steps on the sidewalk. She saw not Cy Bogart but Fern
Mullins, carrying a suit-case, hurrying up the street with her
head low. The widow, standing on the porch with buttery
arms akimbo, yammered after the fleeing girl:
"And don't you dare show your face on this block again.
You can send the drayman for your trunk. My house has
been contaminated long enough. Why the Lord should afflict
Fern was gone. The righteous widow glared, banged into
the house, came out poking at her bonnet, marched away.
By this time Carol was staring in a manner not visibly to be
distinguished from the window-peeping of the rest of Gopher
Prairie. She saw Mrs. Bogart enter the Howland house, then
the Casses'. Not till suppertime did she reach the Kennicotts.
The doctor answered her ring, and greeted her, "Well, well?
how's the good neighbor?"
The good neighbor charged into the living-room, waving the
most unctuous of black kid gloves and delightedly sputtering:
"You may well ask how I am! I really do wonder how I
could go through the awful scenes of this day--and the
impudence I took from that woman's tongue, that ought to be
"Whoa! Whoa! Hold up!" roared Kennicott. "Who's
the hussy, Sister Bogart? Sit down and take it cool and tell
us about it."
"I can't sit down, I must hurry home, but I couldn't devote
myself to my own selfish cares till I'd warned you, and heaven
knows I don't expect any thanks for trying to warn the town
against her, there's always so much evil in the world that folks
simply won't see or appreciate your trying to safeguard
them---- And forcing herself in here to get in with you and
Carrie, many 's the time I've seen her doing it, and, thank
heaven, she was found out in time before she could do any
more harm, it simply breaks my heart and prostrates me to
think what she may have done already, even if some of us
that understand and know about things----"
"Whoa-up! Who are you talking about?"
"She's talking about Fern Mullins," Carol put in, not
Kennicott was incredulous.
"I certainly am!" flourished Mrs. Bogart, "and good and
thankful you may be that I found her out in time, before she
could get YOU into something, Carol, because even if you are
my neighbor and Will's wife and a cultured lady, let me tell
you right now, Carol Kennicott, that you ain't always as
respectful to--you ain't as reverent--you don't stick by the
good old ways like they was laid down for us by God in the
Bible, and while of course there ain't a bit of harm in having
a good laugh, and I know there ain't any real wickedness in
you, yet just the same you don't fear God and hate the
transgressors of his commandments like you ought to, and you may
be thankful I found out this serpent I nourished in my bosom
--and oh yes! oh yes indeed! my lady must have two eggs
every morning for breakfast, and eggs sixty cents a dozen,
and wa'n't satisfied with one, like most folks--what did she
care how much they cost or if a person couldn't make hardly
nothing on her board and room, in fact I just took her in out
of charity and I might have known from the kind of stockings
and clothes that she sneaked into my house in her trunk----"
Before they got her story she had five more minutes of
obscene wallowing. The gutter comedy turned into high
tragedy, with Nemesis in black kid gloves. The actual story
was simple, depressing, and unimportant. As to details Mrs.
Bogart was indefinite, and angry that she should be questioned.
Fern Mullins and Cy had, the evening before, driven alone
to a barn-dance in the country. (Carol brought out the
admission that Fern had tried to get a chaperon.) At the dance
Cy had kissed Fern--she confessed that. Cy had obtained a
pint of whisky; he said that he didn't remember where he had
got it; Mrs. Bogart implied that Fern had given it to him; Fern
herself insisted that he had stolen it from a farmer's overcoat--
which, Mrs. Bogart raged, was obviously a lie. He had
become soggily drunk. Fern had driven him home; deposited
him, retching and wabbling, on the Bogart porch.
Never before had her boy been drunk, shrieked Mrs. Bogart.
When Kennicott grunted, she owned, "Well, maybe once or
twice I've smelled licker on his breath." She also, with an
air of being only too scrupulously exact, granted that sometimes
he did not come home till morning. But he couldn't
ever have been drunk, for he always had the best excuses:
the other boys had tempted him to go down the lake spearing
pickerel by torchlight, or he had been out in a "machine that
ran out of gas." Anyway, never before had her boy fallen
into the hands of a "designing woman."
"What do you suppose Miss Mullins could design to do with
him?" insisted Carol.
Mrs. Bogart was puzzled, gave it up, went on. This morning,
when she had faced both of them, Cy had manfully confessed
that all of the blame was on Fern, because the teacher--his
own teacher--had dared him to take a drink. Fern had tried
to deny it.
"Then," gabbled Mrs. Bogart, "then that woman had the
impudence to say to me, `What purpose could I have in wanting
the filthy pup to get drunk?' That's just what she called
him--pup. `I'll have no such nasty language in my house,'
I says, `and you pretending and pulling the wool over people's
eyes and making them think you're educated and fit to be a
teacher and look out for young people's morals--you're worse
'n any street-walker!' I says. I let her have it good. I
wa'n't going to flinch from my bounden duty and let her think
that decent folks had to stand for her vile talk. `Purpose?'
I says, `Purpose? I'll tell you what purpose you had! Ain't
I seen you making up to everything in pants that'd waste
time and pay attention to your impert'nence? Ain't I seen
you showing off your legs with them short skirts of yours,
trying to make out like you was so girlish and la-de-da,
running along the street?' "
Carol was very sick at this version of Fern's eager youth,
but she was sicker as Mrs. Bogart hinted that no one could
tell what had happened between Fern and Cy before the
drive home. Without exactly describing the scene, by her
power of lustful imagination the woman suggested dark country
places apart from the lanterns and rude fiddling and banging
dance-steps in the barn, then madness and harsh hateful
conquest. Carol was too sick to interrupt. It was Kennicott
who cried, "Oh, for God's sake quit it! You haven't any idea
what happened. You haven't given us a single proof yet that
Fern is anything but a rattle-brained youngster."
"I haven't, eh? Well, what do you say to this? I come
straight out and I says to her, `Did you or did you not taste the
whisky Cy had?' and she says, `I think I did take one sip--
Cy made me,' she said. She owned up to that much, so you
"Does that prove her a prostitute?" asked Carol.
"Carrie! Don't you never use a word like that again!"
wailed the outraged Puritan.
"Well, does it prove her to be a bad woman, that she took
a taste of whisky? I've done it myself!"
"That's different. Not that I approve your doing it. What
do the Scriptures tell us? `Strong drink is a mocker'! But
that's entirely different from a teacher drinking with one of her
"Yes, it does sound bad. Fern was silly, undoubtedly. But
as a matter of fact she's only a year or two older than Cy
and probably a good many years younger in experience of
"That's--not--true! She is plenty old enough to corrupt
"The job of corrupting Cy was done by your sinless town,
five years ago!"
Mrs. Bogart did not rage in return. Suddenly she was
hopeless. Her head drooped. She patted her black kid gloves,
picked at a thread of her faded brown skirt, and sighed, "He's
a good boy, and awful affectionate if you treat him right.
Some thinks he's terrible wild, but that's because he's young.
And he's so brave and truthful--why, he was one of the first
in town that wanted to enlist for the war, and I had to speak
real sharp to him to keep him from running away. I didn't
want him to get into no bad influences round these camps--
and then," Mrs. Bogart rose from her pitifulness, recovered her
pace, "then I go and bring into my own house a woman that's
worse, when all's said and done, than any bad woman he could
have met. You say this Mullins woman is too young and
inexperienced to corrupt Cy. Well then, she's too young and
inexperienced to teach him, too, one or t'other, you can't have
your cake and eat it! So it don't make no difference which
reason they fire her for, and that's practically almost what
I said to the school-board."
"Have you been telling this story to the members of the
"I certainly have! Every one of 'em! And their wives
I says to them, ` 'Tain't my affair to decide what you should
or should not do with your teachers,' I says, `and I ain't
presuming to dictate in any way, shape, manner, or form. I just
want to know,' I says, `whether you're going to go on record
as keeping here in our schools, among a lot of innocent boys
and girls, a woman that drinks, smokes, curses, uses bad
language, and does such dreadful things as I wouldn't lay tongue
to but you know what I mean,' I says, `and if so, I'll just
see to it that the town learns about it.' And that's what I told
Professor Mott, too, being superintendent--and he's a righteous
man, not going autoing on the Sabbath like the school-board
members. And the professor as much as admitted he was
suspicious of the Mullins woman himself."
Kennicott was less shocked and much less frightened than
Carol, and more articulate in his description of Mrs. Bogart,
when she had gone.
Maud Dyer telephoned to Carol and, after a rather
improbable question about cooking lima beans with bacon, de-
manded, "Have you heard the scandal about this Miss Mullins
and Cy Bogart?"
"I'm sure it's a lie."
"Oh, probably is." Maud's manner indicated that the
falsity of the story was an insignificant flaw in its general
Carol crept to her room, sat with hands curled tight
together as she listened to a plague of voices. She could hear the
town yelping with it, every soul of them, gleeful at new details,
panting to win importance by having details of their own to
add. How well they would make up for what they had been
afraid to do by imagining it in another! They who had not
been entirely afraid (but merely careful and sneaky), all the
barber-shop roues and millinery-parlor mondaines, how archly
they were giggling (this second--she could hear them at it);
with what self-commendation they were cackling their suavest
wit: "You can't tell ME she ain't a gay bird; I'm wise!"
And not one man in town to carry out their pioneer tradition
of superb and contemptuous cursing, not one to verify the
myth that their "rough chivalry" and "rugged virtues" were
more generous than the petty scandal-picking of older lands,
not one dramatic frontiersman to thunder, with fantastic and
fictional oaths, "What are you hinting at? What are you
snickering at? What facts have you? What are these unheard-
of sins you condemn so much--and like so well?"
No one to say it. Not Kennicott nor Guy Pollock nor
Erik? Possibly. He would sputter uneasy protest.
She suddenly wondered what subterranean connection her
interest in Erik had with this affair. Wasn't it because they
had been prevented by her caste from bounding on her own
trail that they were howling at Fern?
Before supper she found, by half a dozen telephone calls,
that Fern had fled to the Minniemashie House. She hastened
there, trying not to be self-conscious about the people who
looked at her on the street. The clerk said indifferently that
he "guessed" Miss Mullins was up in Room 37, and left Carol
to find the way. She hunted along the stale-smelling corridors
with their wallpaper of cerise daisies and poison-green rosettes,
streaked in white spots from spilled water, their frayed
red and yellow matting, and rows of pine doors painted a
sickly blue. She could not find the number. In the darkness
at the end of a corridor she had to feel the aluminum figures
on the door-panels. She was startled once by a man's voice:
"Yep? Whadyuh want?" and fled. When she reached the
right door she stood listening. She made out a long sobbing.
There was no answer till her third knock; then an alarmed
"Who is it? Go away!"
Her hatred of the town turned resolute as she pushed open
Yesterday she had seen Fern Mullins in boots and tweed
skirt and canary-yellow sweater, fleet and self-possessed. Now
she lay across the bed, in crumpled lavender cotton and shabby
pumps, very feminine, utterly cowed. She lifted her head in
stupid terror. Her hair was in tousled strings and her face
was sallow, creased. Her eyes were a blur from weeping.
"I didn't! I didn't!" was all she would say at first, and
she repeated it while Carol kissed her cheek, stroked her
hair, bathed her forehead. She rested then, while Carol looked
about the room--the welcome to strangers, the sanctuary of
hospitable Main Street, the lucrative property of Kennicott's
friend, Jackson Elder. It smelled of old linen and decaying
carpet and ancient tobacco smoke. The bed was rickety, with
a thin knotty mattress; the sand-colored walls were scratched
and gouged; in every corner, under everything, were fluffy
dust and cigar ashes; on the tilted wash-stand was a nicked
and squatty pitcher; the only chair was a grim straight object
of spotty varnish; but there was an altogether splendid gilt
and rose cuspidor.
She did not try to draw out Fern's story; Fern insisted on
She had gone to the party, not quite liking Cy but willing
to endure him for the sake of dancing, of escaping from Mrs.
Bogart's flow of moral comments, of relaxing after the first
strained weeks of teaching. Cy "promised to be good." He
was, on the way out. There were a few workmen from Gopher
Prairie at the dance, with many young farm-people. Half
a dozen squatters from a degenerate colony in a brush-hidden
hollow, planters of potatoes, suspected thieves, came in noisily
drunk. They all pounded the floor of the barn in old-fashioned
square dances, swinging their partners, skipping, laughing,
under the incantations of Del Snafflin the barber, who fiddled
and called the figures. Cy had two drinks from pocket-flasks.
Fern saw him fumbling among the overcoats piled on the feedbox
at the far end of the barn; soon after she heard a farmer
declaring that some one had stolen his bottle. She taxed Cy
with the theft; he chuckled, "Oh, it's just a joke; I'm going
to give it back." He demanded that she take a drink. Unless
she did, he wouldn't return the bottle.
"I just brushed my lips with it, and gave it back to him,"
moaned Fern. She sat up, glared at Carol. "Did you ever
take a drink?"
"I have. A few. I'd love to have one right now! This
contact with righteousness has about done me up!"
Fern could laugh then. "So would I! I don't suppose I've
had five drinks in my life, but if I meet just one more Bogart
and Son---- Well, I didn't really touch that bottle--horrible
raw whisky--though I'd have loved some wine. I felt so jolly.
The barn was almost like a stage scene--the high rafters, and
the dark stalls, and tin lanterns swinging, and a silage-cutter
up at the end like some mysterious kind of machine. And
I'd been having lots of fun dancing with the nicest young
farmer, so strong and nice, and awfully intelligent. But I got
uneasy when I saw how Cy was. So I doubt if I touched two
drops of the beastly stuff. Do you suppose God is punishing
me for even wanting wine?"
"My dear, Mrs. Bogart's god may be--Main Street's god.
But all the courageous intelligent people are fighting him. . .
though he slay us."
Fern danced again with the young farmer; she forgot Cy
while she was talking with a girl who had taken the University
agricultural course. Cy could not have returned the bottle;
he came staggering toward her--taking time to make himself
offensive to every girl on the way and to dance a jig. She
insisted on their returning. Cy went with her, chuckling and
jigging. He kissed her, outside the door. . . . "And
to think I used to think it was interesting to have men kiss
you at a dance!". . . She ignored the kiss, in the need
of getting him home before he started a fight. A farmer helped
her harness the buggy, while Cy snored in the seat. He awoke
before they set out; all the way home he alternately slept and
tried to make love to her.
"I'm almost as strong as he is. I managed to keep him
away while I drove--such a rickety buggy. I didn't feel like
a girl; I felt like a scrubwoman--no, I guess I was too scared
to have any feelings at all. It was terribly dark. I got home,
somehow. But it was hard, the time I had to get out, and it
was quite muddy, to read a sign-post--I lit matches that I
took from Cy's coat pocket, and he followed me--he fell off the
buggy step into the mud, and got up and tried to make love
to me, and---- I was scared. But I hit him. Quite hard.
And got in, and so he ran after the buggy, crying like a baby,
and I let him in again, and right away again he was trying----
But no matter. I got him home. Up on the porch. Mrs.
Bogart was waiting up. . . .
"You know, it was funny; all the time she was--oh, talking
to me--and Cy was being terribly sick--I just kept thinking,
`I've still got to drive the buggy down to the livery stable.
I wonder if the livery man will be awake?' But I got through
somehow. I took the buggy down to the stable, and got to
my room. I locked my door, but Mrs. Bogart kept saying
things, outside the door. Stood out there saying things about
me, dreadful things, and rattling the knob. And all the while
I could hear Cy in the back yard-being sick. I don't think
I'll ever marry any man. And then today----
"She drove me right out of the house. She wouldn't listen
to me, all morning. Just to Cy. I suppose he's over his
headache now. Even at breakfast he thought the whole thing
was a grand joke. I suppose right this minute he's going
around town boasting about his `conquest.' You understand--
oh, DON'T you understand? I DID keep him away! But I don't
see how I can face my school. They say country towns are
fine for bringing up boys in, but---- I can't believe this is
me, lying here and saying this. I don't BELIEVE what happened
"Oh. This was curious: When I took off my dress last
night--it was a darling dress, I loved it so, but of course the
mud had spoiled it. I cried over it and---- No matter. But
my white silk stockings were all torn, and the strange thing is,
I don't know whether I caught my legs in the briers when I got
out to look at the sign-post, or whether Cy scratched me when
I was fighting him off."
Sam Clark was president of the school-board. When Carol
told him Fern's story Sam looked sympathetic and neighborly,
and Mrs. Clark sat by cooing, "Oh, isn't that too bad." Carol
was interrupted only when Mrs. Clark begged, "Dear, don't
speak so bitter about `pious' people. There's lots of sincere
practising Christians that are real tolerant. Like the Champ
"Yes. I know. Unfortunately there are enough kindly
people in the churches to keep them going."
When Carol had finished, Mrs. Clark breathed, "Poor girl;
I don't doubt her story a bit," and Sam rumbled, "Yuh, sure.
Miss Mullins is young and reckless, but everybody in town,
except Ma Bogart, knows what Cy is. But Miss Mullins was
a fool to go with him."
"But not wicked enough to pay for it with disgrace?"
"N-no, but----" Sam avoided verdicts, clung to the
entrancing horrors of the story. "Ma Bogart cussed her out all
morning, did she? Jumped her neck, eh? Ma certainly is
"Yes, you know how she is; so vicious."
"Oh no, her best style ain't her viciousness. What she pulls
in our store is to come in smiling with Christian Fortitude and
keep a clerk busy for one hour while she picks out half a dozen
fourpenny nails. I remember one time----"
"Sam!" Carol was uneasy. "You'll fight for Fern, won't
you? When Mrs. Bogart came to see you did she make definite
"Well, yes, you might say she did."
"But the school-board won't act on them?"
"Guess we'll more or less have to."
"But you'll exonerate Fern?"
"I'll do what I can for the girl personally, but you know
what the board is. There's Reverend Zitterel; Sister Bogart
about half runs his church, so of course he'll take her say-so;
and Ezra Stowbody, as a banker he has to be all hell for
morality and purity. Might 's well admit it, Carrie; I'm afraid
there'll be a majority of the board against her. Not that any
of us would believe a word Cy said, not if he swore it on a
stack of Bibles, but Still, after all this gossip, Miss Mullins
wouldn't hardly be the party to chaperon our basket-ball team
when it went out of town to play other high schools, would
"Perhaps not, but couldn't some one else?"
"Why, that's one of the things she was hired for." Sam
"Do you realize that this isn't just a matter of a job, and
hiring and firing; that it's actually sending a splendid girl out
with a beastly stain on her, giving all the other Bogarts in the
world a chance at her? That's what will happen if you discharge her."
Sam moved uncomfortably, looked at his wife, scratched his
head, sighed, said nothing.
"Won't you fight for her on the board? If you lose, won't
you, and whoever agrees with you, make a minority report?"
"No reports made in a case like this. Our rule is to just
decide the thing and announce the final decision, whether it's
unanimous or not."
"Rules! Against a girl's future! Dear God! Rules of a
school-board! Sam! Won't you stand by Fern, and threaten
to resign from the board if they try to discharge her?"
Rather testy, tired of so many subtleties, he complained,
"Well, I'll do what I can, but I'll have to wait till the board
And "I'll do what I can," together with the secret admission
"Of course you and I know what Ma Bogart is," was all Carol
could get from Superintendent George Edwin Mott, Ezra Stowbody,
the Reverend Mr. Zitterel or any other member of the
Afterward she wondered whether Mr. Zitterel could have
been referring to herself when he observed, "There's too much
license in high places in this town, though, and the wages of
sin is death--or anyway, bein' fired." The holy leer with which
the priest said it remained in her mind.
She was at the hotel before eight next morning. Fern longed
to go to school, to face the tittering, but she was too shaky.
Carol read to her all day and, by reassuring her, convinced her
own self that the school-board would be just. She was less
sure of it that evening when, at the motion pictures, she heard
Mrs. Gougerling exclaim to Mrs. Howland, "She may be so
innocent and all, and I suppose she probably is, but still, if she
drank a whole bottle of whisky at that dance, the way everybody
says she did, she may have forgotten she was so innocent!
Hee, hee, hee!" Maud Dyer, leaning back from her seat, put
in, "That's what I've said all along. I don't want to roast
anybody, but have you noticed the way she looks at men?"
"When will they have me on the scaffold?" Carol speculated.
Nat Hicks stopped the Kennicotts on their way home. Carol
hated him for his manner of assuming that they two had a
mysterious understanding. Without quite winking he seemed
to wink at her as he gurgled, "What do you folks think about
this Mullins woman? I'm not strait-laced, but I tell you we
got to have decent women in our schools. D' you know what
I heard? They say whatever she may of done afterwards, this
Mullins dame took two quarts of whisky to the dance with
her, and got stewed before Cy did! Some tank, that wren!
Ha, ha. ha!"
"Rats, I don't believe it," Kennicott muttered.
He got Carol away before she was able to speak.
She saw Erik passing the house, late, alone, and she stared
after him, longing for the lively bitterness of the things he
would say about the town. Kennicott had nothing for her but
"Oh, course, ev'body likes a juicy story, but they don't intend
to be mean."
She went up to bed proving to herself that the members of
the school-board were superior men.
It was Tuesday afternoon before she learned that the board
had met at ten in the morning and voted to "accept Miss
Fern Mullins's resignation." Sam Clark telephoned the news
to her. "We're not making any charges. We're just letting
her resign. Would you like to drop over to the hotel and ask
her to write the resignation, now we've accepted it? Glad I
could get the board to put it that way. It's thanks to you."
"But can't you see that the town will take this as proof
of the charges?"
"We're--not--making--no--charges--whatever!" Sam was
obviously finding it hard to be patient.
Fern left town that evening.
Carol went with her to the train. The two girls elbowed
through a silent lip-licking crowd. Carol tried to stare them
down but in face of the impishness of the boys and the bovine
gaping of the men, she was embarrassed. Fern did not glance
at them. Carol felt her arm tremble, though she was tearless,
listless, plodding. She squeezed Carol's hand, said something
unintelligible, stumbled up into the vestibule.
Carol remembered that Miles Bjornstam had also taken a
train. What would be the scene at the station when she
herself took departure?
She walked up-town behind two strangers.
One of them was giggling, "See that good-looking wench
that got on here? The swell kid with the small black hat?
She's some charmer! I was here yesterday, before my jump to
Ojibway Falls, and I heard all about her. Seems she was a
teacher, but she certainly was a high-roller--O boy!--high,
wide, and fancy! Her and couple of other skirts bought a
whole case of whisky and went on a tear, and one night, darned
if this bunch of cradle-robbers didn't get hold of some young
kids, just small boys, and they all got lit up like a White Way,
and went out to a roughneck dance, and they say----"
The narrator turned, saw a woman near and, not being a
common person nor a coarse workman but a clever salesman
and a householder, lowered his voice for the rest of the tale.
During it the other man laughed hoarsely.
Carol turned off on a side-street.
She passed Cy Bogart. He was humorously narrating some
achievement to a group which included Nat Hicks, Del Snafflin,
Bert Tybee the bartender, and A. Tennyson O'Hearn the
shyster lawyer. They were men far older than Cy but they
accepted him as one of their own, and encouraged him to
It was a week before she received from Fern a letter of
which this was a part:
. . .& of course my family did not really believe the story but
as they were sure I must have done something wrong they just
lectured me generally, in fact jawed me till I have gone to live at
a boarding house. The teachers' agencies must know the story,
man at one almost slammed the door in my face when I went to
ask about a job, & at another the woman in charge was beastly.
Don't know what I will do. Don't seem to feel very well. May
marry a fellow that's in love with me but he's so stupid that he
makes me SCREAM.
Dear Mrs. Kennicott you were the only one that believed me.
I guess it's a joke on me, I was such a simp, I felt quite heroic
while I was driving the buggy back that night & keeping Cy away
from me. I guess I expected the people in Gopher Prairie to admire
me. I did use to be admired for my athletics at the U.--just five
FOR a month which was one suspended moment of doubt she
saw Erik only casually, at an Eastern Star dance, at the shop,
where, in the presence of Nat Hicks, they conferred with
immense particularity on the significance of having one or two
buttons on the cuff of Kennicott's New Suit. For the benefit
of beholders they were respectably vacuous.
Thus barred from him, depressed in the thought of Fern,
Carol was suddenly and for the first time convinced that she
She told herself a thousand inspiriting things which he would
say if he had the opportunity; for them she admired him,
loved him. But she was afraid to summon him. He understood,
he did not come. She forgot her every doubt of him,
and her discomfort in his background. Each day it seemed
impossible to get through the desolation of not seeing him.
Each morning, each afternoon, each evening was a compartment
divided from all other units of time, distinguished by a sudden
"Oh! I want to see Erik!" which was as devastating as
though she had never said it before.
There were wretched periods when she could not picture
him. Usually he stood out in her mind in some little moment--
glancing up from his preposterous pressing-iron, or running on
the beach with Dave Dyer. But sometimes he had vanished;
he was only an opinion. She worried then about his appearance:
Weren't his wrists too large and red? Wasn't his nose
a snub, like so many Scandinavians? Was he at all the graceful
thing she had fancied? When she encountered him on the
street she was as much reassuring herself as rejoicing in his
presence. More disturbing than being unable to visualize him
was the darting remembrance of some intimate aspect: his
face as they had walked to the boat together at the picnic;
the ruddy light on his temples, neck-cords, flat cheeks.
On a November evening when Kennicott was in the country
she answered the bell and was confused to find Erik at the
door, stooped, imploring, his hands in the pockets of his
topcoat. As though he had been rehearsing his speech he instantly
"Saw your husband driving away. I've got to see you. I
can't stand it. Come for a walk. I know! People might
see us. But they won't if we hike into the country. I'll wait
for you by the elevator. Take as long as you want to--oh,
"In a few minutes," she promised.
She murmured, "I'll just talk to him for a quarter of an
hour and come home." She put an her tweed coat and rubber
overshoes, considering how honest and hopeless are rubbers,
how clearly their chaperonage proved that she wasn't going
to a lovers' tryst.
She found him in the shadow of the grain-elevator, sulkily
kicking at a rail of the side-track. As she came toward him
she fancied that his whole body expanded. But he said nothing,
nor she; he patted her sleeve, she returned the pat, and they
crossed the railroad tracks, found a road, clumped toward
"Chilly night, but I like this melancholy gray," he said.
They passed a moaning clump of trees and splashed along
the wet road. He tucked her hand into the side-pocket of his
overcoat. She caught his thumb and, sighing, held it exactly
as Hugh held hers when they went walking. She thought
about Hugh. The current maid was in for the evening, but
was it safe to leave the baby with her? The thought was
distant and elusive.
Erik began to talk, slowly, revealingly. He made for her a
picture of his work in a large tailor shop in Minneapolis: the
steam and heat, and the drudgery; the men in darned vests
and crumpled trousers, men who "rushed growlers of beer"
and were cynical about women, who laughed at him and played
jokes on him. "But I didn't mind, because I could keep away
from them outside. I used to go to the Art Institute and the
Walker Gallery, and tramp clear around Lake Harriet, or hike
out to the Gates house and imagine it was a chateau in Italy
and I lived in it. I was a marquis and collected tapestries--
that was after I was wounded in Padua. The only really bad
time was when a tailor named Finkelfarb found a diary I was
trying to keep and he read it aloud in the shop--it was a
bad fight." He laughed. "I got fined five dollars. But that's
all gone now. Seems as though you stand between me and
the gas stoves--the long flames with mauve edges, licking up
around the irons and making that sneering sound all day--
Her fingers tightened about his thumb as she perceived the
hot low room, the pounding of pressing-irons, the reek of
scorched cloth, and Erik among giggling gnomes. His fingertip
crept through the opening of her glove and smoothed her
palm. She snatched her hand away, stripped off her glove,
tucked her hand back into his.
He was saying something about a "wonderful person." In
her tranquillity she let the words blow by and heeded only the
beating wings of his voice.
She was conscious that he was fumbling for impressive
"Say, uh--Carol, I've written a poem about you."
"That's nice. Let's hear it."
"Damn it, don't be so casual about it! Can't you take me
"My dear boy, if I took you seriously----! I don't want
us to be hurt more than--more than we will be. Tell me the
poem. I've never had a poem written about me!"
"It isn't really a poem. It's just some words that I love
because it seems to me they catch what you are. Of course
probably they won't seem so to anybody else, but----
Little and tender and merry and wise
With eyes that meet my eyes.
Do you get the idea the way I do?"
"Yes! I'm terribly grateful!" And she was grateful--
while she impersonally noted how bad a verse it was.
She was aware of the haggard beauty in the lowering night.
Monstrous tattered clouds sprawled round a forlorn moon;
puddles and rocks glistened with inner light. They were passing
a grove of scrub poplars, feeble by day but looming now
like a menacing wall. She stopped. They heard the branches
dripping, the wet leaves sullenly plumping on the soggy earth.
"Waiting--waiting--everything is waiting," she whispered.
She drew her hand from his, pressed her clenched fingers
against her lips. She was lost in the somberness. "I am
happy--so we must go home, before we have time to become
unhappy. But can't we sit on a log for a minute and just
"No. Too wet. But I wish we could build a fire, and you
could sit on my overcoat beside it. I'm a grand fire-builder!
My cousin Lars and me spent a week one time in a cabin
way up in the Big Woods, snowed in. The fireplace was filled
with a dome of ice when we got there, but we chopped it out,
and jammed the thing full of pine-boughs. Couldn't we build
a fire back here in the woods and sit by it for a while?"
She pondered, half-way between yielding and refusal. Her
head ached faintly. She was in abeyance. Everything, the
night, his silhouette, the cautious-treading future, was as
undistinguishable as though she were drifting bodiless in a Fourth
Dimension. While her mind groped, the lights of a motor car
swooped round a bend in the road, and they stood farther
apart. "What ought I to do?" she mused. "I think----
Oh, I won't be robbed! I AM good! If I'm so enslaved that
I can't sit by the fire with a man and talk, then I'd better
The lights of the thrumming car grew magically; were upon
them; abruptly stopped. From behind the dimness of the
windshield a voice, annoyed, sharp: "Hello there!"
She realized that it was Kennicott.
The irritation in his voice smoothed out. "Having a walk?"
They made schoolboyish sounds of assent.
"Pretty wet, isn't it? Better ride back. Jump up in front
His manner of swinging open the door was a command.
Carol was conscious that Erik was climbing in, that she was
apparently to sit in the back, and that she had been left to
open the rear door for herself. Instantly the wonder which
had flamed to the gusty skies was quenched, and she was
Mrs. W. P. Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, riding in a squeaking
old car, and likely to be lectured by her husband.
She feared what Kennicott would say to Erik. She bent
toward them. Kennicott was observing, "Going to have some
rain before the night 's over, all right."
"Yes," said Erik.
"Been funny season this year, anyway. Never saw it with
such a cold October and such a nice November. 'Member
we had a snow way back on October ninth! But it certainly
was nice up to the twenty-first, this month--as I remember it,
not a flake of snow in November so far, has there been? But
I shouldn't wonder if we'd be having some snow 'most any
"Yes, good chance of it," said Erik.
"Wish I'd had more time to go after the ducks this fall.
By golly, what do you think?" Kennicott sounded appealing.
"Fellow wrote me from Man Trap Lake that he shot seven
mallards and couple of canvas-back in one hour!"
"That must have been fine," said Erik.
Carol was ignored. But Kennicott was blustrously cheerful.
He shouted to a farmer, as he slowed up to pass the frightened
team, "There we are--schon gut!" She sat back, neglected,
frozen, unheroic heroine in a drama insanely undramatic. She
made a decision resolute and enduring. She would tell
Kennicott---- What would she tell him? She could not say that
she loved Erik. DID she love him? But she would have it
out. She was not sure whether it was pity for Kennicott's
blindness, or irritation at his assumption that he was enough
to fill any woman's life, which prompted her, but she knew
that she was out of the trap, that she could be frank; and she
was exhilarated with the adventure of it. . .while in
front he was entertaining Erik:
"Nothing like an hour on a duck-pass to make you relish
your victuals and---- Gosh, this machine hasn't got the
power of a fountain pen. Guess the cylinders are jam-cram-full
of carbon again. Don't know but what maybe I'll have to
put in another set of piston-rings."
He stopped on Main Street and clucked hospitably, "There,
that'll give you just a block to walk. G' night."
Carol was in suspense. Would Erik sneak away?
He stolidly moved to the back of the car, thrust in his hand,
muttered, "Good night--Carol. I'm glad we had our walk."
She pressed his hand. The car was flapping on. He was
hidden from her--by a corner drug store on Main Street!
Kennicott did not recognize her till he drew up before the
house. Then he condescended, "Better jump out here and
I'll take the boat around back. Say, see if the back door is
unlocked, will you?" She unlatched the door for him. She
realized that she still carried the damp glove she had stripped
off for Erik. She drew it on. She stood in the center of the
living-room, unmoving, in damp coat and muddy rubbers.
Kennicott was as opaque as ever. Her task wouldn't be anything
so lively as having to endure a scolding, but only an
exasperating effort to command his attention so that he would
understand the nebulous things she had to tell him, instead
of interrupting her by yawning, winding the clock, and going
up to bed. She heard him shoveling coal into the furnace. He
came through the kitchen energetically, but before he spoke
to her he did stop in the hall, did wind the clock.
He sauntered into the living-room and his glance passed
from her drenched hat to her smeared rubbers. She could
hear--she could hear, see, taste, smell, touch--his "Better
take your coat off, Carrie; looks kind of wet." Yes, there it
"Well, Carrie, you better----" He chucked his own coat
on a chair, stalked to her, went on with a rising tingling voice,
"----you better cut it out now. I'm not going to do the out-
raged husband stunt. I like you and I respect you, and I'd
probably look like a boob if I tried to be dramatic. But I think
it's about time for you and Valborg to call a halt before you get
in Dutch, like Fern Mullins did."
"Course. I know all about it. What d' you expect in a
town that's as filled with busybodies, that have plenty of time
to stick their noses into other folks' business, as this is? Not
that they've had the nerve to do much tattling to me, but
they've hinted around a lot, and anyway, I could see for myself
that you liked him. But of course I knew how cold you were,
I knew you wouldn't stand it even if Valborg did try to hold
your hand or kiss you, so I didn't worry. But same time, I
hope you don't suppose this husky young Swede farmer is as
innocent and Platonic and all that stuff as you are! Wait
now, don't get sore! I'm not knocking him. He isn't a bad
sort. And he's young and likes to gas about books. Course
you like him. That isn't the real rub. But haven't you just
seen what this town can do, once it goes and gets moral on
you, like it did with Fern? You probably think that two
young folks making love are alone if anybody ever is, but
there's nothing in this town that you don't do in company
with a whole lot of uninvited but awful interested guests.
Don't you realize that if Ma Westlake and a few others got
started they'd drive you up a tree, and you'd find yourself so
well advertised as being in love with this Valborg fellow that
you'd HAVE to be, just to spite 'em!"
"Let me sit down," was all Carol could say. She drooped
on the couch, wearily, without elasticity.
He yawned, "Gimme your coat and rubbers," and while
she stripped them off he twiddled his watch-chain, felt the
radiator, peered at the thermometer. He shook out her wraps
in the hall, hung them up with exactly his usual care. He
pushed a chair near to her and sat bolt up. He looked like
a physician about to give sound and undesired advice.
Before he could launch into his heavy discourse she
desperately got in, "Please! I want you to know that I was
going to tell you everything, tonight."
"Well, I don't suppose there's really much to tell."
"But there is. I'm fond of Erik. He appeals to something
in here." She touched her breast. "And I admire him. He
isn't just a `young Swede farmer.' He's an artist----"
"Wait now! He's had a chance all evening to tell you
what a whale of a fine fellow he is. Now it's my turn. I can't
talk artistic, but---- Carrie, do you understand my work?"
He leaned forward, thick capable hands on thick sturdy thighs,
mature and slow, yet beseeching. "No matter even if you are
cold, I like you better than anybody in the world. One time
I said that you were my soul. And that still goes. You're
all the things that I see in a sunset when I'm driving in from
the country, the things that I like but can't make poetry of.
Do you realize what my job is? I go round twenty-four hours
a day, in mud and blizzard, trying my damnedest to heal
everybody, rich or poor. You--that 're always spieling about
how scientists ought to rule the world, instead of a bunch
of spread-eagle politicians--can't you see that I'm all the
science there is here? And I can stand the cold and the bumpy
roads and the lonely rides at night. All I need is to have you
here at home to welcome me. I don't expect you to be
passionate--not any more I don't--but I do expect you to
appreciate my work. I bring babies into the world, and save
lives, and make cranky husbands quit being mean to their
wives. And then you go and moon over a Swede tailor because
he can talk about how to put ruchings on a skirt! Hell of a
thing for a man to fuss over!"
She flew out at him: "You make your side clear. Let me
give mine. I admit all you say--except about Erik. But is
it only you, and the baby, that want me to back you up, that
demand things from me? They're all on me, the whole town!
I can feel their hot breaths on my neck! Aunt Bessie and
that horrible slavering old Uncle Whittier and Juanita and
Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. Bogart and all of them. And you
welcome them, you encourage them to drag me down into their
cave! I won't stand it! Do you hear? Now, right now, I'm
done. And it's Erik who gives me the courage. You say he
just thinks about ruches (which do not usually go on skirts,
by the way!). I tell you he thinks about God, the God that
Mrs. Bogart covers up with greasy gingham wrappers! Erik
will be a great man some day, and if I could contribute one
tiny bit to his success----"
"Wait, wait, wait now! Hold up! You're assuming that
your Erik will make good. As a matter of fact, at my age he'll
be running a one-man tailor shop in some burg about the size
"He will not!"
"That's what he's headed for now all right, and he's twenty-
five or -six and---- What's he done to make you think he'll
ever be anything but a pants-presser?"
"He has sensitiveness and talent----"
"Wait now! What has he actually done in the art line?
Has he done one first-class picture or--sketch, d' you call it?
Or one poem, or played the piano, or anything except gas
about what he's going to do?"
She looked thoughtful.
"Then it's a hundred to one shot that he never will. Way
I understand it, even these fellows that do something pretty
good at home and get to go to art school, there ain't more
than one out of ten of 'em, maybe one out of a hundred, that
ever get above grinding out a bum living--about as artistic
as plumbing. And when it comes down to this tailor, why,
can't you see--you that take on so about psychology--can't
you see that it's just by contrast with folks like Doc McGanum
or Lym Cass that this fellow seems artistic? Suppose you'd
met up with him first in one of these reg'lar New York studios!
You wouldn't notice him any more 'n a rabbit!"
She huddled over folded hands like a temple virgin shivering
on her knees before the thin warmth of a brazier. She could
Kennicott rose quickly, sat on the couch, took both her
hands. "Suppose he fails--as he will! Suppose he goes back
to tailoring, and you're his wife. Is that going to be this
artistic life you've been thinking about? He's in some bum
shack, pressing pants all day, or stooped over sewing, and
having to be polite to any grouch that blows in and jams a
dirty stinking old suit in his face and says, `Here you, fix
this, and be blame quick about it.' He won't even have enough
savvy to get him a big shop. He'll pike along doing his own
work--unless you, his wife, go help him, go help him in the
shop, and stand over a table all day, pushing a big heavy iron.
Your complexion will look fine after about fifteen years of
baking that way, won't it! And you'll be humped over like
an old hag. And probably you'll live in one room back of
the shop. And then at night--oh, you'll have your artist--
sure! He'll come in stinking of gasoline, and cranky from
hard work, and hinting around that if it hadn't been for you,
he'd of gone East and been a great artist. Sure! And you'll
be entertaining his relatives---- Talk about Uncle Whit!
You'll be having some old Axel Axelberg coming in with manure
on his boots and sitting down to supper in his socks and yelling
at you, `Hurry up now, you vimmin make me sick!' Yes,
and you'll have a squalling brat every year, tugging at you
while you press clothes, and you won't love 'em like you do
Hugh up-stairs, all downy and asleep----"
"Please! Not any more!"
Her face was on his knee.
He bent to kiss her neck. "I don't want to be unfair. I
guess love is a great thing, all right. But think it would stand
much of that kind of stuff? Oh, honey, am I so bad? Can't
you like me at all? I've--I've been so fond of you!"
She snatched up his hand, she kissed it. Presently she
sobbed, "I won't ever see him again. I can't, now. The
hot living-room behind the tailor shop---- I don't love him
enough for that. And you are---- Even if I were sure of
him, sure he was the real thing, I don't think I could actually
leave you. This marriage, it weaves people together. It's
not easy to break, even when it ought to be broken."
"And do you want to break it?"
He lifted her, carried her up-stairs, laid her on her bed,
turned to the door.
"Come kiss me," she whimpered.
He kissed her lightly and slipped away. For an hour she
heard him moving about his room, lighting a cigar, drumming
with his knuckles on a chair. She felt that he was a bulwark
between her and the darkness that grew thicker as the delayed
storm came down in sleet.
He was cheery and more casual than ever at breakfast. All
day she tried to devise a way of giving Erik up. Telephone?
The village central would unquestionably "listen in." A
letter? It might be found. Go to see him? Impossible.
That evening Kennicott gave her, without comment, an
envelope. The letter was signed "E. V."
I know I can't do anything but make trouble for you, I think.
I am going to Minneapolis tonight and from there as soon as I can
either to New York or Chicago. I will do as big things as I can.
I I can't write I love you too much God keep you.
Until she heard the whistle which told her that the
Minneapolis train was leaving town, she kept herself from thinking,
from moving. Then it was all over. She had no plan nor
desire for anything.
When she caught Kennicott looking at her over his newspaper
she fled to his arms, thrusting the paper aside, and for
the first time in years they were lovers. But she knew that she
still had no plan in life, save always to go along the same
streets, past the same people, to the same shops.
A week after Erik's going the maid startled her by
announcing, "There's a Mr. Valborg down-stairs say he vant to
She was conscious of the maid's interested stare, angry at
this shattering of the calm in which she had hidden. She
crept down, peeped into the living-room. It was not Erik
Valborg who stood there; it was a small, gray-bearded, yellow-
faced man in mucky boots, canvas jacket, and red mittens.
He glowered at her with shrewd red eyes.
"You de doc's wife?"
"I'm Adolph Valborg, from up by Jefferson. I'm Erik's
"Oh!" He was a monkey-faced little man, and not gentle.
"What you done wit' my son?"
"I don't think I understand you."
"I t'ink you're going to understand before I get t'rough!
Where is he?"
"Why, really---- I presume that he's in Minneapolis."
"You presume!" He looked through her with a
contemptuousness such as she could not have imagined. Only an
insane contortion of spelling could portray his lyric whine, his
mangled consonants. He clamored, "Presume! Dot's a fine
word! I don't want no fine words and I don't want no more
lies! I want to know what you KNOW!"
"See here, Mr. Valborg, you may stop this bullying right
now. I'm not one of your farmwomen. I don't know where
your son is, and there's no reason why I should know." Her
defiance ran out in face of his immense flaxen stolidity. He
raised his fist, worked up his anger with the gesture, and
"You dirty city women wit' your fine ways and fine dresses!
A father come here trying to save his boy from wickedness,
and you call him a bully! By God, I don't have to take
nothin' off you nor your husband! I ain't one of your hired
men. For one time a woman like you is going to hear de trut'
about what you are, and no fine city words to it, needer."
"Really, Mr. Valborg----"
"What you done wit' him? Heh? I'll yoost tell you what
you done! He was a good boy, even if he was a damn fool.
I want him back on de farm. He don't make enough money
tailoring. And I can't get me no hired man! I want to take
him back on de farm. And you butt in and fool wit' him and
make love wit' him, and get him to run away!"
"You are lying! It's not true that---- It's not true, and
if it were, you would have no right to speak like this."
"Don't talk foolish. I know. Ain't I heard from a fellow
dot live right here in town how you been acting wit' de boy?
I know what you done! Walking wit' him in de country!
Hiding in de woods wit' him! Yes and I guess you talk about
religion in de woods! Sure! Women like you--you're worse
dan street-walkers! Rich women like you, wit' fine husbands
and no decent work to do--and me, look at my hands, look
how I work, look at those hands! But you, oh God no, you
mustn't work, you're too fine to do decent work. You got
to play wit' young fellows, younger as you are, laughing and
rolling around and acting like de animals! You let my son
alone, d' you hear?" He was shaking his fist in her face. She
could smell the manure and sweat. "It ain't no use talkin' to
women like you. Get no trut' out of you. But next time I
go by your husband!"
He was marching into the hall. Carol flung herself on him,
her clenching hand on his hayseed-dusty shoulder. "You
horrible old man, you've always tried to turn Erik into a slave,
to fatten your pocketbook! You've sneered at him, and
overworked him, and probably you've succeeded in preventing his
ever rising above your muck-heap! And now because you can't
drag him back, you come here to vent---- Go tell my husband,
go tell him, and don't blame me when he kills you, when
my husband kills you--he will kill you----"
The man grunted, looked at her impassively, said one word,
and walked out.
She heard the word very plainly.
She did not quite reach the couch. Her knees gave way,
she pitched forward. She heard her mind saying, "You
haven't fainted. This is ridiculous. You're simply dramatizing
yourself. Get up." But she could not move. When
Kennicott arrived she was lying on the couch. His step
quickened. "What's happened, Carrie? You haven't got a
bit of blood in your face."
She clutched his arm. "You've got to be sweet to me, and
kind! I'm going to California--mountains, sea. Please don't
argue about it, because I'm going."
Quietly, "All right. We'll go. You and I. Leave the kid
here with Aunt Bessie."
"Well yes, just as soon as we can get away. Now don't
talk any more. Just imagine you've already started." He
smoothed her hair, and not till after supper did he continue:
"I meant it about California. But I think we better wait
three weeks or so, till I get hold of some young fellow released
from the medical corps to take my practice. And if people
are gossiping, you don't want to give them a chance by running
away. Can you stand it and face 'em for three weeks or so?"
"Yes," she said emptily.
People covertly stared at her on the street. Aunt Bessie
tried to catechize her about Erik's disappearance, and it was
Kennicott who silenced the woman with a savage, "Say, are
you hinting that Carrie had anything to do with that fellow's
beating it? Then let me tell you, and you can go right out
and tell the whole bloomin' town, that Carrie and I took Val--
took Erik riding, and he asked me about getting a better job
in Minneapolis, and I advised him to go to it. . . .
Getting much sugar in at the store now?"
Guy Pollock crossed the street to be pleasant apropos of
California and new novels. Vida Sherwin dragged her to the
Jolly Seventeen. There, with every one rigidly listening, Maud
Dyer shot at Carol, "I hear Erik has left town."
Carol was amiable. "Yes, so I hear. In fact, he called
me up--told me he had been offered a lovely job in the city.
So sorry he's gone. He would have been valuable if we'd
tried to start the dramatic association again. Still, I wouldn't
be here for the association myself, because Will is all in from
work, and I'm thinking of taking him to California. Juanita--
you know the Coast so well--tell me: would you start in at
Los Angeles or San Francisco, and what are the best hotels?"
The Jolly Seventeen looked disappointed, but the Jolly
Seventeen liked to give advice, the Jolly Seventeen liked to
mention the expensive hotels at which they had stayed. (A
meal counted as a stay.) Before they could question her
again Carol escorted in with drum and fife the topic of Raymie
Wutherspoon. Vida had news from her husband. He had
been gassed in the trenches, had been in a hospital for two
weeks, had been promoted to major, was learning French.
She left Hugh with Aunt Bessie.
But for Kennicott she would have taken him. She hoped
that in some miraculous way yet unrevealed she might find
it possible to remain in California. She did not want to see
Gopher Prairie again.
The Smails were to occupy the Kennicott house, and quite
the hardest thing to endure in the month of waiting was the
series of conferences between Kennicott and Uncle Whittier
in regard to heating the garage and having the furnace flues
Did Carol, Kennicott inquired, wish to stop in Minneapolis
to buy new clothes?
"No! I want to get as far away as I can as soon as I can.
Let's wait till Los Angeles."
"Sure, sure! Just as you like. Cheer up! We're going
to have a large wide time, and everything 'll be different when
we come back."
Dusk on a snowy December afternoon. The sleeper which
would connect at Kansas City with the California train rolled
out of St. Paul with a chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick, chick-a-
chick as it crossed the other tracks. It bumped through the
factory belt, gained speed. Carol could see nothing but gray
fields, which had closed in on her all the way from Gopher
Prairie. Ahead was darkness.
"For an hour, in Minneapolis, I must have been near Erik.
He's still there, somewhere. He'll be gone when I come back.
I'll never know where he has gone."
As Kennicott switched on the seat-light she turned drearily
to the illustrations in a motion-picture magazine.
THEY journeyed for three and a half months. They saw the
Grand Canyon, the adobe walls of Sante Fe and, in a drive
from El Paso into Mexico, their first foreign land. They jogged
from San Diego and La Jolla to Los Angeles, Pasadena, Riverside,
through towns with bell-towered missions and orange-
groves; they viewed Monterey and San Francisco and a
forest of sequoias. They bathed in the surf and climbed
foothills and danced, they saw a polo game and the making of
motion-pictures, they sent one hundred and seventeen souvenir
post-cards to Gopher Prairie, and once, on a dune by a foggy
sea when she was walking alone, Carol found an artist, and he
looked up at her and said, "Too damned wet to paint; sit
down and talk," and so for ten minutes she lived in a romantic
Her only struggle was in coaxing Kennicott not to spend
all his time with the tourists from the ten thousand other
Gopher Prairies. In winter, California is full of people from
Iowa and Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma, who, having traveled
thousands of miles from their familiar villages, hasten to secure
an illusion of not having left them. They hunt for people from
their own states to stand between them and the shame of naked
mountains; they talk steadily, in Pullmans, on hotel porches,
at cafeterias and motion-picture shows, about the motors and
crops and county politics back home. Kennicott discussed
land-prices with them, he went into the merits of the several
sorts of motor cars with them, he was intimate with train
porters, and he insisted on seeing the Luke Dawsons at their
flimsy bungalow in Pasadena, where Luke sat and yearned to
go back and make some more money. But Kennicott gave
promise of learning to play. He shouted in the pool at the
Coronado, and he spoke of (though he did nothing more radical
than speak of) buying evening-clothes. Carol was touched
by his efforts to enjoy picture galleries, and the dogged way in
which he accumulated dates and dimensions when they followed
monkish guides through missions.
She felt strong. Whenever she was restless she dodged her
thoughts by the familiar vagabond fallacy of running away
from them, of moving on to a new place, and thus she persuaded
herself that she was tranquil. In March she willingly
agreed with Kennicott that it was time to go home. She was
longing for Hugh.
They left Monterey on April first, on a day of high blue
skies and poppies and a summer sea.
As the train struck in among the hills she resolved, "I'm
going to love the fine Will Kennicott quality that there is in
Gopher Prairie. The nobility of good sense. It will be sweet
to see Vida and Guy and the Clarks. And I'm going to see
my baby! All the words he'll be able to say now! It's a
new start. Everything will be different!"
Thus on April first, among dappled hills and the bronze of
scrub oaks, while Kennicott seesawed on his toes and chuckled,
"Wonder what Hugh'll say when he sees us?"
Three days later they reached Gopher Prairie in a sleet
No one knew that they were coming; no one met them;
and because of the icy roads, the only conveyance at the station
was the hotel 'bus, which they missed while Kennicott
was giving his trunk-check to the station agent--the only
person to welcome them. Carol waited for him in the station,
among huddled German women with shawls and umbrellas, and
ragged-bearded farmers in corduroy coats; peasants mute as
oxen, in a room thick with the steam of wet coats, the reek
of the red-hot stove, the stench of sawdust boxes which served
as cuspidors. The afternoon light was as reluctant as a winter
"This is a useful market-center, an interesting pioneer post,
but it is not a home for me," meditated the stranger Carol.
Kennicott suggested, "I'd 'phone for a flivver but it'd take
quite a while for it to get here. Let's walk."
They stepped uncomfortably from the safety of the plank
platform and, balancing on their toes, taking cautious strides,
ventured along the road. The sleety rain was turning to snow.
The air was stealthily cold. Beneath an inch of water was a
layer of ice, so that as they wavered with their suit-cases they
slid and almost fell. The wet snow drenched their gloves; the
water underfoot splashed their itching ankles. They scuffled
inch by inch for three blocks. In front of Harry Haydock's
"We better stop in here and 'phone for a machine."
She followed him like a wet kitten.
The Haydocks saw them laboring up the slippery concrete
walk, up the perilous front steps, and came to the door
"Well, well, well, back again, eh? Say, this is fine! Have
a fine trip? My, you look like a rose, Carol. How did you
like the coast, doc? Well, well, well! Where-all did you
But as Kennicott began to proclaim the list of places
achieved, Harry interrupted with an account of how much
he himself had seen, two years ago. When Kennicott boasted,
"We went through the mission at Santa Barbara," Harry
broke in, "Yeh, that's an interesting old mission. Say, I'll
never forget that hotel there, doc. It was swell. Why, the
rooms were made just like these old monasteries. Juanita
and I went from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo. You folks
go to San Luis Obispo?"
"Well you ought to gone to San Luis Obispo. And then
we went from there to a ranch, least they called it a ranch----"
Kennicott got in only one considerable narrative, which
"Say, I never knew--did you, Harry?--that in the Chicago
district the Kutz Kar sells as well as the Overland? I never
thought much of the Kutz. But I met a gentleman on the
train--it was when we were pulling out of Albuquerque, and
I was sitting on the back platform of the observation car,
and this man was next to me and he asked me for a light,
and we got to talking, and come to find out, he came from
Aurora, and when he found out I came from Minnesota he
asked me if I knew Dr. Clemworth of Red Wing, and of course,
while I've never met him, I've heard of Clemworth lots of
times, and seems he's this man's brother! Quite a coincidence!
Well, we got to talking, and we called the porter--that was a
pretty good porter on that car--and we had a couple bottles
of ginger ale, and I happened to mention the Kutz Kar, and
this man--seems he's driven a lot of different kinds of cars--
he's got a Franklin now--and he said that he'd tried the Kutz
and liked it first-rate. Well, when we got into a station--
I don't remember the name of it--Carrie, what the deuce
was the name of that first stop we made the other side of
Albuquerque?--well, anyway, I guess we must have stopped
there to take on water, and this man and I got out to stretch
our legs, and darned if there wasn't a Kutz drawn right up
at the depot platform, and he pointed out something I'd never
noticed, and I was glad to learn about it: seems that the gear
lever in the Kutz is an inch longer----"
Even this chronicle of voyages Harry interrupted, with
remarks on the advantages of the ball-gear-shift.
Kennicott gave up hope of adequate credit for being a
traveled man, and telephoned to a garage for a Ford taxicab,
while Juanita kissed Carol and made sure of being the first
to tell the latest, which included seven distinct and proven
scandals about Mrs. Swiftwaite, and one considerable doubt as
to the chastity of Cy Bogart.
They saw the Ford sedan making its way over the water-
lined ice, through the snow-storm, like a tug-boat in a fog.
The driver stopped at a corner. The car skidded, it turned
about with comic reluctance, crashed into a tree, and stood
tilted on a broken wheel.
The Kennicotts refused Harry Haydock's not too urgent
offer to take them home in his car "if I can manage to get
it out of the garage--terrible day--stayed home from the
store--but if you say so, I'll take a shot at it." Carol gurgled,
"No, I think we'd better walk; probably make better time, and
I'm just crazy to see my baby." With their suit-cases they
waddled on. Their coats were soaked through.
Carol had forgotten her facile hopes. She looked about
with impersonal eyes. But Kennicott, through rain-blurred
lashes, caught the glory that was Back Home.
She noted bare tree-trunks, black branches, the spongy
brown earth between patches of decayed snow on the lawns.
The vacant lots were full of tall dead weeds. Stripped of
summer leaves the houses were hopeless--temporary shelters.
Kennicott chuckled, "By golly, look down there! Jack Elder
must have painted his garage. And look! Martin Mahoney
has put up a new fence around his chicken yard. Say, that's
a good fence, eh? Chicken-tight and dog-tight. That's
certainly a dandy fence. Wonder how much it cost a yard?
Yes, sir, they been building right along, even in winter. Got
more enterprise than these Californians. Pretty good to be
She noted that all winter long the citizens had been throwing
garbage into their back yards, to be cleaned up in spring. The
recent thaw had disclosed heaps of ashes, dog-bones, torn
bedding, clotted paint-cans, all half covered by the icy pools
which filled the hollows of the yards. The refuse had stained
the water to vile colors of waste: thin red, sour yellow, streaky
Kennicott chuckled, "Look over there on Main Street!
They got the feed store all fixed up, and a new sign on it,
black and gold. That'll improve the appearance of the block
She noted that the few people whom they passed wore their
raggedest coats for the evil day. They were scarecrows in a