Part 11 out of 12
shanty town. . . . "To think," she marveled, "of coming
two thousand miles, past mountains and cities, to get off here,
and to plan to stay here! What conceivable reason for
choosing this particular place?"
She noted a figure in a rusty coat and a cloth cap.
Kennicott chuckled, "Look who's coming! It's Sam Clark!
Gosh, all rigged out for the weather."
The two men shook hands a dozen times and, in the
Western fashion, bumbled, "Well, well, well, well, you old
hell-hound, you old devil, how are you, anyway? You old
horse-thief, maybe it ain't good to see you again!" While Sam
nodded at her over Kennicott's shoulder, she was embarrassed.
"Perhaps I should never have gone away. I'm out of
practise in lying. I wish they would get it over! Just a
block more and--my baby!"
They were home. She brushed past the welcoming Aunt
Bessie and knelt by Hugh. As he stammered, "O mummy,
mummy, don't go away! Stay with me, mummy!" she cried,
"No, I'll never leave you again!"
He volunteered, "That's daddy."
"By golly, he knows us just as if we'd never been away!"
said Kennicott. "You don't find any of these California kids
as bright as he is, at his age!"
When the trunk came they piled about Hugh the bewhiskered
little wooden men fitting one inside another, the miniature junk,
and the Oriental drum, from San Francisco Chinatown; the
blocks carved by the old Frenchman in San Diego; the lariat
from San Antonio.
"Will you forgive mummy for going away? Will you?"
Absorbed in Hugh, asking a hundred questions about him--
had he had any colds? did he still dawdle over his oatmeal?
what about unfortunate morning incidents? she viewed Aunt
Bessie only as a source of information, and was able to ignore
her hint, pointed by a coyly shaken finger, "Now that you've
had such a fine long trip and spent so much money and all,
I hope you're going to settle down and be satisfied and
"Does he like carrots yet?" replied Carol.
She was cheerful as the snow began to conceal the slatternly
yards. She assured herself that the streets of New York and
Chicago were as ugly as Gopher Prairie in such weather; she
dismissed the thought, "But they do have charming interiors
for refuge." She sang as she energetically looked over Hugh's clothes.
The afternoon grew old and dark. Aunt Bessie went home.
Carol took the baby into her own room. The maid came in
complaining, "I can't get no extra milk to make chipped beef
for supper." Hugh was sleepy, and he had been spoiled by
Aunt Bessie. Even to a returned mother, his whining and
his trick of seven times snatching her silver brush were
fatiguing. As a background, behind the noises of Hugh
and the kitchen, the house reeked with a colorless stillness.
From the window she heard Kennicott greeting the Widow
Bogart as he had always done, always, every snowy evening:
"Guess this 'll keep up all night." She waited. There they
were, the furnace sounds, unalterable, eternal: removing ashes,
Yes. She was back home! Nothing had changed. She
had never been away. California? Had she seen it? Had she
for one minute left this scraping sound of the small shovel in
the ash-pit of the furnace? But Kennicott preposterously
supposed that she had. Never had she been quite so far from
going away as now when he believed she had just come back.
She felt oozing through the walls the spirit of small houses and
righteous people. At that instant she knew that in running
away she had merely hidden her doubts behind the officious
stir of travel.
"Dear God, don't let me begin agonizing again!" she sobbed.
Hugh wept with her.
"Wait for mummy a second!" She hastened down to the
cellar, to Kennicott.
He was standing before the furnace. However inadequate
the rest of the house, he had seen to it that the fundamental
cellar should be large and clean, the square pillars whitewashed,
and the bins for coal and potatoes and trunks convenient. A
glow from the drafts fell on the smooth gray cement floor at
his feet. He was whistling tenderly, staring at the furnace
with eyes which saw the black-domed monster as a symbol
of home and of the beloved routine to which he had returned--
his gipsying decently accomplished, his duty of viewing
"sights" and "curios" performed with thoroughness.
Unconscious of her, he stooped and peered in at the blue flames
among the coals. He closed the door briskly, and made a
whirling gesture with his right hand, out of pure bliss.
He saw her. "Why, hello, old lady! Pretty darn good to
be back, eh?"
"Yes," she lied, while she quaked, "Not now. I can't face
the job of explaining now. He's been so good. He trusts
me. And I'm going to break his heart!"
She smiled at him. She tidied his sacred cellar by throwing
an empty bluing bottle into the trash bin. She mourned, "It's
only the baby that holds me. If Hugh died----" She fled
upstairs in panic and made sure that nothing had happened to
Hugh in these four minutes.
She saw a pencil-mark on a window-sill. She had made it
on a September day when she had been planning a picnic for
Fern Mullins and Erik. Fern and she had been hysterical with
nonsense, had invented mad parties for all the coming winter.
She glanced across the alley at the room which Fern had
occupied. A rag of a gray curtain masked the still window.
She tried to think of some one to whom she wanted to
telephone. There was no one.
The Sam Clarks called that evening and encouraged her to
describe the missions. A dozen times they told her how glad
they were to have her back.
"It is good to be wanted," she thought. "It will drug me.
But---- Oh, is all life, always, an unresolved But?"
SHE tried to be content, which was a contradiction in terms.
She fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater
for Hugh. She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was
silent when Vida raved that though America hated war as much
as ever, we must invade Germany and wipe out every man,
because it was now proven that there was no soldier in the
German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off
Carol was volunteer nurse when Mrs. Champ Perry suddenly
died of pneumonia.
In her funeral procession were the eleven people left out
of the Grand Army and the Territorial Pioneers, old men and
women, very old and weak, who a few decades ago had been
boys and girls of the frontier, riding broncos through the rank
windy grass of this prairie. They hobbled behind a band made
up of business men and high-school boys, who straggled along
without uniforms or ranks or leader, trying to play Chopin's
Funeral March--a shabby group of neighbors with grave eyes,
stumbling through the slush under a solemnity of faltering
Champ was broken. His rheumatism was worse. The rooms
over the store were silent. He could not do his work as buyer
at the elevator. Farmers coming in with sled-loads of wheat
complained that Champ could not read the scale, that he
seemed always to be watching some one back in the darkness
of the bins. He was seen slipping through alleys, talking
to himself, trying to avoid observation, creeping at last to the
cemetery. Once Carol followed him and found the coarse,
tobacco-stained, unimaginative old man lying on the snow of
the grave, his thick arms spread out across the raw mound
as if to protect her from the cold, her whom he had carefully
covered up every night for sixty years, who was alone there
now, uncared for.
The elevator company, Ezra Stowbody president, let him go.
The company, Ezra explained to Carol, had no funds for
She tried to have him appointed to the postmastership, which,
since all the work was done by assistants, was the one sinecure
in town, the one reward for political purity. But it proved
that Mr. Bert Tybee, the former bartender, desired the postmastership.
At her solicitation Lyman Cass gave Champ a warm berth
as night watchman. Small boys played a good many tricks
on Champ when he fell asleep at the mill.
She had vicarious happiness in the return of Major Raymond
Wutherspoon. He was well, but still weak from having been
gassed; he had been discharged and he came home as the
first of the war veterans. It was rumored that he surprised
Vida by coming unannounced, that Vida fainted when she saw
him, and for a night and day would not share him with the
town. When Carol saw them Vida was hazy about everything
except Raymie, and never went so far from him that she
could not slip her hand under his. Without understanding
why Carol was troubled by this intensity. And Raymie--
surely this was not Raymie, but a sterner brother of his, this
man with the tight blouse, the shoulder emblems, the trim legs
in boots. His face seemed different, his lips more tight. He
was not Raymie; he was Major Wutherspoon; and Kennicott
and Carol were grateful when he divulged that Paris wasn't half
as pretty as Minneapolis, that all of the American soldiers had
been distinguished by their morality when on leave. Kennicott
was respectful as he inquired whether the Germans had good
aeroplanes, and what a salient was, and a cootie, and Going
In a week Major Wutherspoon was made full manager of the
Bon Ton. Harry Haydock was going to devote himself to the
half-dozen branch stores which he was establishing at crossroads
hamlets. Harry would be the town's rich man in the
coming generation, and Major Wutherspoon would rise with
him, and Vida was jubilant, though she was regretful at having
to give up most of her Red Cross work. Ray still needed
nursing, she explained.
When Carol saw him with his uniform off, in a pepper-and
salt suit and a new gray felt hat, she was disappointed. He
was not Major Wutherspoon; he was Raymie
For a month small boys followed him down the street, and
everybody called him Major, but that was presently shortened
to Maje, and the small boys did not look up from their marbles
as he went by.
The town was booming, as a result of the war price of wheat.
The wheat money did not remain in the pockets of the
farmers; the towns existed to take care of all that. Iowa
farmers were selling their land at four hundred dollars an acre
and coming into Minnesota. But whoever bought or sold
or mortgaged, the townsmen invited themselves to the feast--
millers, real-estate men, lawyers, merchants, and Dr. Will
Kennicott. They bought land at a hundred and fifty, sold it
next day at a hundred and seventy, and bought again. In
three months Kennicott made seven thousand dollars, which
was rather more than four times as much as society paid him
for healing the sick.
In early summer began a "campaign of boosting." The
Commercial Club decided that Gopher Prairie was not only a
wheat-center but also the perfect site for factories, summer
cottages, and state institutions. In charge of the campaign was
Mr. James Blausser, who had recently come to town to
speculate in land. Mr. Blausser was known as a Hustler. He
liked to be called Honest Jim. He was a bulky, gauche, noisy,
humorous man, with narrow eyes, a rustic complexion, large
red hands, and brilliant clothes. He was attentive to all
women. He was the first man in town who had not been
sensitive enough to feel Carol's aloofness. He put his arm
about her shoulder while he condescended to Kennicott, "Nice
lil wifey, I'll say, doc," and when she answered, not warmly,
"Thank you very much for the imprimatur," he blew on her
neck, and did not know that he had been insulted.
He was a layer-on of hands. He never came to the house
without trying to paw her. He touched her arm, let his fist
brush her side. She hated the man, and she was afraid of
him. She wondered if he had heard of Erik, and was taking
advantage. She spoke ill of him at home and in public places,
but Kennicott and the other powers insisted, "Maybe he is
kind of a roughneck, but you got to hand it to him; he's got
more git-up-and-git than any fellow that ever hit this burg.
And he's pretty cute, too. Hear what he said to old Ezra?
Chucked him in the ribs and said, `Say, boy, what do you
want to go to Denver for? Wait 'll I get time and I'll move
the mountains here. Any mountain will be tickled to death
to locate here once we get the White Way in!' "
The town welcomed Mr. Blausser as fully as Carol snubbed
him. He was the guest of honor at the Commercial Club
Banquet at the Minniemashie House, an occasion for menus
printed in gold (but injudiciously proof-read), for free cigars,
soft damp slabs of Lake Superior whitefish served as fillet of
sole, drenched cigar-ashes gradually filling the saucers of coffee
cups, and oratorical references to Pep, Punch, Go, Vigor,
Enterprise, Red Blood, He-Men, Fair Women, God's Country, James
J. Hill, the Blue Sky, the Green Fields, the Bountiful Harvest,
Increasing Population, Fair Return on Investments, Alien
Agitators Who Threaten the Security of Our Institutions, the
Hearthstone the Foundation of the State, Senator Knute
Nelson, One Hundred Per Cent. Americanism, and Pointing
Harry Haydock, as chairman, introduced Honest Jim
Blausser. "And I am proud to say, my fellow citizens, that
in his brief stay here Mr. Blausser has become my warm
personal friend as well as my fellow booster, and I advise you
all to very carefully attend to the hints of a man who knows
how to achieve."
Mr. Blausser reared up like an elephant with a camel's neck
--red faced, red eyed, heavy fisted, slightly belching--a born
leader, divinely intended to be a congressman but deflected to
the more lucrative honors of real-estate. He smiled on his
warm personal friends and fellow boosters, and boomed:
"I certainly was astonished in the streets of our lovely little
city, the other day. I met the meanest kind of critter that
God ever made--meaner than the horned toad or the Texas
lallapaluza! (Laughter.) And do you know what the animile
was? He was a knocker! (Laughter and applause.)
"I want to tell you good people, and it's just as sure as
God made little apples, the thing that distinguishes our American
commonwealth from the pikers and tin-horns in other
countries is our Punch. You take a genuwine, honest-to-God
homo Americanibus and there ain't anything he's afraid to
tackle. Snap and speed are his middle name! He'll put her
across if he has to ride from hell to breakfast, and believe me,
I'm mighty good and sorry for the boob that's so unlucky as to
get in his way, because that poor slob is going to wonder where
he was at when Old Mr. Cyclone hit town! (Laughter.)
"Now, frien's, there's some folks so yellow and small and
so few in the pod that they go to work and claim that those--
of us that have the big vision are off our trolleys. They say
we can't make Gopher Prairie, God bless her! just as big as
Minneapolis or St. Paul or Duluth. But lemme tell you right
here and now that there ain't a town under the blue canopy
of heaven that's got a better chance to take a running jump
and go scooting right up into the two-hundred-thousand class
than little old G. P.! And if there's anybody that's got such
cold kismets that he's afraid to tag after Jim Blausser on the
Big Going Up, then we don't want him here! Way I figger it,
you folks are just patriotic enough so that you ain't going to
stand for any guy sneering and knocking his own town, no
matter how much of a smart Aleck he is--and just on the side
I want to add that this Farmers' Nonpartisan League and the
whole bunch of socialists are right in the same category, or,
as the fellow says, in the same scategory, meaning This Way
Out, Exit, Beat It While the Going's Good, This Means You,
for all knockers of prosperity and the rights of property!
"Fellow citizens, there's a lot of folks, even right here in this
fair state, fairest and richest of all the glorious union, that
stand up on their hind legs and claim that the East and Europe
put it all over the golden Northwestland. Now let me nail
that lie right here and now. `Ah-ha,' says they, `so Jim
Blausser is claiming that Gopher Prairie is as good a place
to live in as London and Rome and--and all the rest of the Big
Burgs, is he? How does the poor fish know?' says they. Well
I'll tell you how I know! I've seen 'em! I've done Europe
from soup to nuts! They can't spring that stuff on Jim
Blausser and get away with it! And let me tell you that the
only live thing in Europe is our boys that are fighting there
now! London--I spent three days, sixteen straight hours a
day, giving London the once-over, and let me tell you that it's
nothing but a bunch of fog and out-of-date buildings that no
live American burg would stand for one minute. You may
not believe it, but there ain't one first-class skyscraper in the
whole works. And the same thing goes for that crowd of crabs
and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob
from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag and bulling
and trying to get your goat, you tell him that no two-fisted
enterprising Westerner would have New York for a gift!
"Now the point of this is: I'm not only insisting that Gopher
Prairie is going to be Minnesota's pride, the brightest ray in the
glory of the North Star State, but also and furthermore that
it is right now, and still more shall be, as good a place to live
in, and love in, and bring up the Little Ones in, and it's got
as much refinement and culture, as any burg on the whole
bloomin' expanse of God's Green Footstool, and that goes, get
me, that goes!"
Half an hour later Chairman Haydock moved a vote of
thanks to Mr. Blausser.
The boosters' campaign was on.
The town sought that efficient and modern variety of fame
which is known as "publicity." The band was reorganized,
and provided by the Commercial Club with uniforms of purple
and gold. The amateur baseball-team hired a semi-professional
pitcher from Des Moines, and made a schedule of games with
every town for fifty miles about. The citizens accompanied
it as "rooters," in a special car, with banners lettered "Watch
Gopher Prairie Grow," and with the band playing "Smile,
Smile, Smile." Whether the team won or lost the Dauntless
loyally shrieked, "Boost, Boys, and Boost Together--Put
Gopher Prairie on the Map--Brilliant Record of Our Matchless
Then, glory of glories, the town put in a White Way. White
Ways were in fashion in the Middlewest. They were composed
of ornamented posts with clusters of high-powered electric
lights along two or three blocks on Main Street. The Dauntless
confessed: "White Way Is Installed--Town Lit Up Like
Broadway--Speech by Hon. James Blausser--Come On You
Twin Cities--Our Hat Is In the Ring."
The Commercial Club issued a booklet prepared by a great
and expensive literary person from a Minneapolis advertising
agency, a red-headed young man who smoked cigarettes in a
long amber holder. Carol read the booklet with a certain
wonder. She learned that Plover and Minniemashie Lakes
were world-famed for their beauteous wooded shores and gamey
pike and bass not to be equalled elsewhere in the entire
country; that the residences of Gopher Prairie were models of
dignity, comfort, and culture, with lawns and gardens known
far and wide; that the Gopher Prairie schools and public
library, in its neat and commodious building, were celebrated
throughout the state; that the Gopher Prairie mills made the
best flour in the country; that the surrounding farm lands were
renowned, where'er men ate bread and butter, for their
incomparable No. 1 Hard Wheat and Holstein-Friesian cattle;
and that the stores in Gopher Prairie compared favorably with
Minneapolis and Chicago in their abundance of luxuries and
necessities and the ever-courteous attention of the skilled
clerks. She learned, in brief, that this was the one Logical
Location for factories and wholesale houses.
"THERE'S where I want to go; to that model town Gopher
Prairie," said Carol.
Kennicott was triumphant when the Commercial Club did
capture one small shy factory which planned to make wooden
automobile-wheels, but when Carol saw the promoter she could
not feel that his coming much mattered--and a year after,
when he failed, she could not be very sorrowful.
Retired farmers were moving into town. The price of lots
had increased a third. But Carol could discover no more
pictures nor interesting food nor gracious voices nor amusing
conversation nor questing minds. She could, she asserted,
endure a shabby but modest town; the town shabby and
egomaniac she could not endure. She could nurse Champ
Perry, and warm to the neighborliness of Sam Clark, but she
could not sit applauding Honest Jim Blausser. Kennicott had
begged her, in courtship days, to convert the town to beauty.
If it was now as beautiful as Mr. Blausser and the Dauntless
said, then her work was over, and she could go.
KENNICOTT was not so inhumanly patient that he could continue
to forgive Carol's heresies, to woo her as he had on the
venture to California. She tried to be inconspicuous, but she
was betrayed by her failure to glow over the boosting.
Kennicott believed in it; demanded that she say patriotic
things about the White Way and the new factory. He snorted,
"By golly, I've done all I could, and now I expect you to
play the game. Here you been complaining for years about
us being so poky, and now when Blausser comes along and does
stir up excitement and beautify the town like you've always
wanted somebody to, why, you say he's a roughneck, and you
won't jump on the band-wagon."
Once, when Kennicott announced at noon-dinner, "What do
you know about this! They say there's a chance we may
get another factory--cream-separator works!" he added, "You
might try to look interested, even if you ain't!" The baby
was frightened by the Jovian roar; ran wailing to hide his
face in Carol's lap; and Kennicott had to make himself humble
and court both mother and child. The dim injustice of not
being understood even by his son left him irritable. He felt
An event which did not directly touch them brought down
In the early autumn, news came from Wakamin that the
sheriff had forbidden an organizer for the National
Nonpartisan League to speak anywhere in the county. The
organizer had defied the sheriff, and announced that in a few
days he would address a farmers' political meeting. That
night, the news ran, a mob of a hundred business men led by
the sheriff--the tame village street and the smug village faces
ruddled by the light of bobbing lanterns, the mob flowing
between the squatty rows of shops--had taken the organizer
from his hotel, ridden him on a fence-rail, put him on a
freight train, and warned him not to return.
The story was threshed out in Dave Dyer's drug store, with
Sam Clark, Kennicott, and Carol present.
"That's the way to treat those fellows--only they ought
to have lynched him!" declared Sam, and Kennicott and Dave
Dyer joined in a proud "You bet!"
Carol walked out hastily, Kennicott observing her.
Through supper-time she knew that he was bubbling and
would soon boil over. When the baby was abed, and they sat
composedly in canvas chairs on the porch, he experimented;
"I had a hunch you thought Sam was kind of hard on that
fellow they kicked out of Wakamin."
"Wasn't Sam rather needlessly heroic?"
"All these organizers, yes, and a whole lot of the German
and Squarehead farmers themselves, they're seditious as the
devil--disloyal, non-patriotic, pro-German pacifists, that's
what they are!"
"Did this organizer say anything pro-German?"
"Not on your life! They didn't give him a chance!" His
laugh was stagey.
"So the whole thing was illegal--and led by the sheriff!
Precisely how do you expect these aliens to obey your law if
the officer of the law teaches them to break it? Is it a new
kind of logic?"
"Maybe it wasn't exactly regular, but what's the odds?
They knew this fellow would try to stir up trouble. Whenever
it comes right down to a question of defending Americanism
and our constitutional rights, it's justifiable to set aside
"What editorial did he get that from?" she wondered, as
she protested, "See here, my beloved, why can't you Tories
declare war honestly? You don't oppose this organizer because
you think he's seditious but because you're afraid that
the farmers he is organizing will deprive you townsmen of the
money you make out of mortgages and wheat and shops.
Of course, since we're at war with Germany, anything that any
one of us doesn't like is `pro-German,' whether it's business
competition or bad music. If we were fighting England,
you'd call the radicals `pro-English.' When this war is over,
I suppose you'll be calling them `red anarchists.' What an
eternal art it is--such a glittery delightful art--finding hard
names for our opponents! How we do sanctify our efforts to
keep them from getting the holy dollars we want for ourselves!
The churches have always done it, and the political orators--
and I suppose I do it when I call Mrs. Bogart a `Puritan' and
Mr. Stowbody a `capitalist.' But you business men are going
to beat all the rest of us at it, with your simple-hearted,
She got so far only because Kennicott was slow in shaking
off respect for her. Now he bayed:
"That'll be about all from you! I've stood for your sneering
at this town, and saying how ugly and dull it is. I've stood
for your refusing to appreciate good fellows like Sam. I've
even stood for your ridiculing our Watch Gopher Prairie Grow
campaign. But one thing I'm not going to stand: I'm not
going to stand my own wife being seditious. You can camouflage
all you want to, but you know darn well that these
radicals, as you call 'em, are opposed to the war, and let me
tell you right here and now, and you and all these long-haired
men and short-haired women can beef all you want to, but
we're going to take these fellows, and if they ain't patriotic,
we're going to make them be patriotic. And--Lord knows
I never thought I'd have to say this to my own wife--but if
you go defending these fellows, then the same thing applies to
you! Next thing, I suppose you'll be yapping about free
speech. Free speech! There's too much free speech and free
gas and free beer and free love and all the rest of your damned
mouthy freedom, and if I had my way I'd make you folks live
up to the established rules of decency even if I had to take
"Will!" She was not timorous now. "Am I pro-German
if I fail to throb to Honest Jim Blausser, too? Let's have my
whole duty as a wife!"
He was grumbling, "The whole thing's right in line with
the criticism you've always been making. Might have known
you'd oppose any decent constructive work for the town or
"You're right. All I've done has been in line. I don't
belong to Gopher Prairie. That isn't meant as a
condemnation of Gopher Prairie, and it may be a condemnation
of me. All right! I don't care! I don't belong here, and
I'm going. I'm not asking permission any more. I'm simply
He grunted. "Do you mind telling me, if it isn't too much
trouble, how long you're going for?"
"I don't know. Perhaps for a year. Perhaps for a lifetime."
"I see. Well, of course, I'll be tickled to death to sell out
my practise and go anywhere you say. Would you like to have
me go with you to Paris and study art, maybe, and wear
velveteen pants and a woman's bonnet, and live on spaghetti?"
"No, I think we can save you that trouble. You don't
quite understand. I am going--I really am--and alone! I've
got to find out what my work is----"
"Work? Work? Sure! That's the whole trouble with
you! You haven't got enough work to do. If you had five
kids and no hired girl, and had to help with the chores and
separate the cream, like these farmers' wives, then you wouldn't
be so discontented."
"I know. That's what most men--and women--like you
WOULD say. That's how they would explain all I am and all
I want. And I shouldn't argue with them. These business
men, from their crushing labors of sitting in an office seven
hours a day, would calmly recommend that I have a dozen
children. As it happens, I've done that sort of thing. There've
been a good many times when we hadn't a maid, and I did
all the housework, and cared for Hugh, and went to Red Cross,
and did it all very efficiently. I'm a good cook and a good
sweeper, and you don't dare say I'm not!"
"But was I more happy when I was drudging? I was not.
I was just bedraggled and unhappy. It's work--but not my
work. I could run an office or a library, or nurse and teach
children. But solitary dish-washing isn't enough to satisfy me
--or many other women. We're going to chuck it. We're
going to wash 'em by machinery, and come out and play with
you men in the offices and clubs and politics you've cleverly
kept for yourselves! Oh, we're hopeless, we dissatisfied
women! Then why do you want to have us about the place,
to fret you? So it's for your sake that I'm going!"
"Of course a little thing like Hugh makes no difference!"
"Yes, all the difference. That's why I'm going to take him
"Suppose I refuse?"
Forlornly, "Uh---- Carrie, what the devil is it you want,
"Oh, conversation! No, it's much more than that. I think
it's a greatness of life--a refusal to be content with even the
"Don't you know that nobody ever solved a problem by
running away from it?"
"Perhaps. Only I choose to make my own definition of
`running away' I don't call---- Do you realize how big a
world there is beyond this Gopher Prairie where you'd keep
me all my life? It may be that some day I'll come back, but
not till I can bring something more than I have now. And
even if I am cowardly and run away--all right, call it cowardly,
call me anything you want to! I've been ruled too long by
fear of being called things. I'm going away to be quiet and
think. I'm--I'm going! I have a right to my own life."
"So have I to mine!"
"I have a right to my life--and you're it, you're my life!
You've made yourself so. I'm damned if I'll agree to all your
freak notions, but I will say I've got to depend on you. Never
thought of that complication, did you, in this `off to Bohemia,
and express yourself, and free love, and live your own life'
"You have a right to me if you can keep me. Can you?"
He moved uneasily.
For a month they discussed it. They hurt each other very
much, and sometimes they were close to weeping, and invariably
he used banal phrases about her duties and she used phrases
quite as banal about freedom, and through it all, her discovery
that she really could get away from Main Street was as sweet
as the discovery of love. Kennicott never consented definitely.
At most he agreed to a public theory that she was "going to
take a short trip and see what the East was like in wartime."
She set out for Washington in October--just before the
She had determined on Washington because it was less
intimidating than the obvious New York, because she hoped to
find streets in which Hugh could play, and because in the stress
of war-work, with its demand for thousands of temporary
clerks, she could be initiated into the world of offices.
Hugh was to go with her, despite the wails and rather
extensive comments of Aunt Bessie.
She wondered if she might not encounter Erik in the East
but it was a chance thought, soon forgotten.
The last thing she saw on the station platform was Kennicott,
faithfully waving his hand, his face so full of uncomprehending
loneliness that he could not smile but only twitch up
his lips. She waved to him as long as she could, and when
he was lost she wanted to leap from the vestibule and run
back to him. She thought of a hundred tendernesses she had
She had her freedom, and it was empty. The moment was
not the highest of her life, but the lowest and most desolate,
which was altogether excellent, for instead of slipping downward
she began to climb.
She sighed, "I couldn't do this if it weren't for Will's
kindness, his giving me money." But a second after: "I wonder
how many women would always stay home if they had the
Hugh complained, "Notice me, mummy!" He was beside
her on the red plush seat of the day-coach; a boy of three
and a half. "I'm tired of playing train. Let's play something
else. Let's go see Auntie Bogart."
"Oh, NO! Do you really like Mrs. Bogart?"
"Yes. She gives me cookies and she tells me about the
Dear Lord. You never tell me about the Dear Lord. Why
don't you tell me about the Dear Lord? Auntie Bogart says
I'm going to be a preacher. Can I be a preacher? Can
I preach about the Dear Lord?"
"Oh, please wait till my generation has stopped rebelling
before yours starts in!"
"What's a generation?"
"It's a ray in the illumination of the spirit."
"That's foolish." He was a serious and literal person, and
rather humorless. She kissed his frown, and marveled:
"I am running away from my husband, after liking a
Swedish ne'er-do-well and expressing immoral opinions, just
as in a romantic story. And my own son reproves me because
I haven't given him religious instruction. But the story
doesn't go right. I'm neither groaning nor being dramatically
saved. I keep on running away, and I enjoy it. I'm mad
with joy over it. Gopher Prairie is lost back there in the
dust and stubble, and I look forward----"
She continued it to Hugh: "Darling, do you know what
mother and you are going to find beyond the blue horizon
"We're going to find elephants with golden howdahs from
which peep young maharanees with necklaces of rubies, and a
dawn sea colored like the breast of a dove, and a white and
green house filled with books and silver tea-sets."
"Cookies? Oh, most decidedly cookies. We've had enough
of bread and porridge. We'd get sick on too many cookies,
but ever so much sicker on no cookies at all."
"It is, O male Kennicott!"
"Huh!" said Kennicott II, and went to sleep on her shoulder.
The theory of the Dauntless regarding Carol's absence:
Mrs. Will Kennicott and son Hugh left on No. 24 on Saturday
last for a stay of some months in Minneapolis Chicago New
York, and Washington. Mrs. Kennicott confided to Ye Scribe
that she will be connected with one of the multifarious war activities
now centering in the Nation's Capital for a brief period before
returning. Her countless friends who appreciate her splendid labors
with the local Red Cross realize how valuable she will be to any
war board with which she chooses to become connected. Gopher
Prairie thus adds another shining star to its service flag and
without wishing to knock any neighboring communities, we would
like to know any town of anywheres near our size in the state
that has such a sterling war record. Another reason why you'd
better Watch Gopher Prairie Grow.
* * *
Mr. and Mrs. David Dyer, Mrs. Dyer's sister, Mrs. Jennie Dayborn
of Jackrabbit, and Dr. Will Kennicott drove to Minniemashie
on Tuesday for a delightful picnic.
SHE found employment in the Bureau of War Risk Insurance.
Though the armistice with Germany was signed a few weeks
after her coming to Washington, the work of the bureau continued.
She filed correspondence all day; then she dictated
answers to letters of inquiry. It was an endurance of
monotonous details, yet she asserted that she had found "real work."
Disillusions she did have. She discovered that in the
afternoon, office routine stretches to the grave. She discovered that
an office is as full of cliques and scandals as a Gopher Prairie
She discovered that most of the women in the government
bureaus lived unhealthfully, dining on snatches in their
crammed apartments. But she also discovered that business
women may have friendships and enmities as frankly as men
and may revel in a bliss which no housewife attains--a free
Sunday. It did not appear that the Great World needed her
inspiration, but she felt that her letters, her contact with
the anxieties of men and women all over the country, were
a part of vast affairs, not confined to Main Street and a kitchen
but linked with Paris, Bangkok, Madrid.
She perceived that she could do office work without losing
any of the putative feminine virtue of domesticity; that cooking
and cleaning, when divested of the fussing of an Aunt
Bessie, take but a tenth of the time which, in a Gopher
Prairie, it is but decent to devote to them.
Not to have to apologize for her thoughts to the Jolly
Seventeen, not to have to report to Kennicott at the end of the
day all that she had done or might do, was a relief which made
up for the office weariness. She felt that she was no longer
one-half of a marriage but the whole of a human being.
Washington gave her all the graciousness in which she had
had faith: white columns seen across leafy parks, spacious
avenues, twisty alleys. Daily she passed a dark square house
with a hint of magnolias and a courtyard behind it, and a tall
curtained second-story window through which a woman was
always peering. The woman was mystery, romance, a story
which told itself differently every day; now she was a
murderess, now the neglected wife of an ambassador. It was
mystery which Carol had most lacked in Gopher Prairie, where
every house was open to view, where every person was but
too easy to meet, where there were no secret gates opening
upon moors over which one might walk by moss-deadened
paths to strange high adventures in an ancient garden.
As she flitted up Sixteenth Street after a Kreisler recital,
given late in the afternoon for the government clerks, as the
lamps kindled in spheres of soft fire, as the breeze flowed into
the street, fresh as prairie winds and kindlier, as she glanced
up the elm alley of Massachusetts Avenue, as she was rested
by the integrity of the Scottish Rite Temple, she loved the
city as she loved no one save Hugh. She encountered negro
shanties turned into studios, with orange curtains and pots of
mignonette; marble houses on New Hampshire Avenue, with
butlers and limousines; and men who looked like fictional
explorers and aviators. Her days were swift, and she knew that
in her folly of running away she had found the courage to
She had a dispiriting first month of hunting lodgings in the
crowded city. She had to roost in a hall-room in a moldy
mansion conducted by an indignant decayed gentlewoman,
and leave Hugh to the care of a doubtful nurse. But later
she made a home.
Her first acquaintances were the members of the Tincomb
Methodist Church, a vast red-brick tabernacle. Vida Sherwin
had given her a letter to an earnest woman with eye-glasses,
plaid silk waist, and a belief in Bible Classes, who introduced
her to the Pastor and the Nicer Members of Tincomb. Carol
recognized in Washington as she had in California a transplanted
and guarded Main Street. Two-thirds of the church-
members had come from Gopher Prairies. The church was
their society and their standard; they went to Sunday service,
Sunday School, Christian Endeavor, missionary lectures, church
suppers, precisely as they had at home; they agreed that
ambassadors and flippant newspapermen and infidel scientists of
the bureaus were equally wicked and to be avoided; and by
cleaving to Tincomb Church they kept their ideals from all
They welcomed Carol, asked about her husband, gave her
advice regarding colic in babies, passed her the gingerbread
and scalloped potatoes at church suppers, and in general made
her very unhappy and lonely, so that she wondered if she
might not enlist in the militant suffrage organization and be
allowed to go to jail.
Always she was to perceive in Washington (as doubtless she
would have perceived in New York or London) a thick streak
of Main Street. The cautious dullness of a Gopher Prairie
appeared in boarding-houses where ladylike bureau-clerks
gossiped to polite young army officers about the movies; a
thousand Sam Clarks and a few Widow Bogarts were to be
identified in the Sunday motor procession, in theater parties, and
at the dinners of State Societies, to which the emigres from
Texas or Michigan surged that they might confirm themselves
in the faith that their several Gopher Prairies were notoriously
"a whole lot peppier and chummier than this stuck-up East."
But she found a Washington which did not cleave to Main
Guy Pollock wrote to a cousin, a temporary army captain, a
confiding and buoyant lad who took Carol to tea-dances, and
laughed, as she had always wanted some one to laugh, about
nothing in particular. The captain introduced her to the
secretary of a congressman, a cynical young widow with many
acquaintances in the navy. Through her Carol met commanders
and majors, newspapermen, chemists and geographers and fiscal
experts from the bureaus, and a teacher who was a familiar
of the militant suffrage headquarters. The teacher took her
to headquarters. Carol never became a prominent suffragist.
Indeed her only recognized position was as an able addresser
of envelopes. But she was casually adopted by this family
of friendly women who, when they were not being mobbed or
arrested, took dancing lessons or went picnicking up the
Chesapeake Canal or talked about the politics of the American
Federation of Labor.
With the congressman's secretary and the teacher Carol
leased a small flat. Here she found home, her own place and
her own people. She had, though it absorbed most of her
salary, an excellent nurse for Hugh. She herself put him to
bed and played with him on holidays. There were walks with
him, there were motionless evenings of reading, but chiefly
Washington was associated with people, scores of them, sitting
about the flat, talking, talking, talking, not always wisely but
always excitedly. It was not at all the "artist's studio" of
which, because of its persistence in fiction, she had dreamed.
Most of them were in offices all day, and thought more in
card-catalogues or statistics than in mass and color. But they
played, very simply, and they saw no reason why anything
which exists cannot also be acknowledged.
She was sometimes shocked quite as she had shocked Gopher
Prairie by these girls with their cigarettes and elfish knowledge.
When they were most eager about soviets or canoeing, she
listened, longed to have some special learning which would
distinguish her, and sighed that her adventure had come so
late. Kennicott and Main Street had drained her self-reliance;
the presence of Hugh made her feel temporary. Some day--
oh, she'd have to take him back to open fields and the right
to climb about hay-lofts.
But the fact that she could never be eminent among these
scoffing enthusiasts did not keep her from being proud of
them, from defending them in imaginary conversations with
Kennicott, who grunted (she could hear his voice), "They're
simply a bunch of wild impractical theorists sittin' round
chewing the rag," and "I haven't got the time to chase after
a lot of these fool fads; I'm too busy putting aside a stake for
our old age."
Most of the men who came to the flat, whether they were
army officers or radicals who hated the army, had the easy
gentleness, the acceptance of women without embarrassed
banter, for which she had longed in Gopher Prairie. Yet they
seemed to be as efficient as the Sam Clarks. She concluded
that it was because they were of secure reputation, not hemmed
in by the fire of provincial jealousies. Kennicott had asserted
that the villager's lack of courtesy is due to his poverty.
"We're no millionaire dudes," he boasted. Yet these army
and navy men, these bureau experts, and organizers of
multitudinous leagues, were cheerful on three or four thousand a
year, while Kennicott had, outside of his land speculations,
six thousand or more, and Sam had eight.
Nor could she upon inquiry learn that many of this reckless
race died in the poorhouse. That institution is reserved for
men like Kennicott who, after devoting fifty years to "putting
aside a stake," incontinently invest the stake in spurious oil-
She was encouraged to believe that she had not been
abnormal in viewing Gopher Prairie as unduly tedious and
slatternly. She found the same faith not only in girls escaped
from domesticity but also in demure old ladies who, tragically
deprived of esteemed husbands and huge old houses, yet
managed to make a very comfortable thing of it by living in
small flats and having time to read.
But she also learned that by comparison Gopher Prairie
was a model of daring color, clever planning, and frenzied
intellectuality. From her teacher-housemate she had a sardonic
description of a Middlewestern railroad-division town, of the
same size as Gopher Prairie but devoid of lawns and trees, a
town where the tracks sprawled along the cinder-scabbed
Main Street, and the railroad shops, dripping soot from eaves
and doorway, rolled out smoke in greasy coils.
Other towns she came to know by anecdote: a prairie village
where the wind blew all day long, and the mud was two feet
thick in spring, and in summer the flying sand scarred new-
painted houses and dust covered the few flowers set out in
pots. New England mill-towns with the hands living in rows
of cottages like blocks of lava. A rich farming-center in New
Jersey, off the railroad, furiously pious, ruled by old men,
unbelievably ignorant old men, sitting about the grocery talking
of James G. Blaine. A Southern town, full of the magnolias
and white columns which Carol had accepted as proof of
romance, but hating the negroes, obsequious to the Old
Families. A Western mining-settlement like a tumor. A booming
semi-city with parks and clever architects, visited by
famous pianists and unctuous lecturers, but irritable from a
struggle between union labor and the manufacturers' association,
so that in even the gayest of the new houses there was a
ceaseless and intimidating heresy-hunt.
The chart which plots Carol's progress is not easy to read.
The lines are broken and uncertain of direction; often instead
of rising they sink in wavering scrawls; and the colors are
watery blue and pink and the dim gray of rubbed pencil
marks. A few lines are traceable.
Unhappy women are given to protecting their sensitiveness
by cynical gossip, by whining, by high-church and new-thought
religions, or by a fog of vagueness. Carol had hidden in none
of these refuges from reality, but she, who was tender and
merry, had been made timorous by Gopher Prairie. Even her
flight had been but the temporary courage of panic. The
thing she gained in Washington was not information about
office-systems and labor unions but renewed courage, that
amiable contempt called poise. Her glimpse of tasks involving
millions of people and a score of nations reduced Main Street
from bloated importance to its actual pettiness. She could
never again be quite so awed by the power with which she
herself had endowed the Vidas and Blaussers and Bogarts.
From her work and from her association with women who
had organized suffrage associations in hostile cities, or had
defended political prisoners, she caught something of an
impersonal attitude; saw that she had been as touchily personal
as Maud Dyer.
And why, she began to ask, did she rage at individuals? Not
individuals but institutions are the enemies, and they most
afflict the disciples who the most generously serve them. They
insinuate their tyranny under a hundred guises and pompous
names, such as Polite Society, the Family, the Church, Sound
Business, the Party, the Country, the Superior White Race;
and the only defense against them, Carol beheld, is
SHE had lived in Washington for a year. She was tired of the
office. It was tolerable, far more tolerable than housework, but
it was not adventurous.
She was having tea and cinnamon toast, alone at a small
round table on the balcony of Rauscher's Confiserie. Four
debutantes clattered in. She had felt young and dissipated,
had thought rather well of her black and leaf-green suit, but
as she watched them, thin of ankle, soft under the chin,
seventeen or eighteen at most, smoking cigarettes with the correct
ennui and talking of "bedroom farces" and their desire to
"run up to New York and see something racy," she became
old and rustic and plain, and desirous of retreating from these
hard brilliant children to a life easier and more sympathetic.
When they flickered out and one child gave orders to a chauffeur,
Carol was not a defiant philosopher but a faded government
clerk from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota
She started dejectedly up Connecticut Avenue. She stopped,
her heart stopped. Coming toward her were Harry and Juanita
Haydock. She ran to them, she kissed Juanita, while Harry
confided, "Hadn't expected to come to Washington--had to
go to New York for some buying--didn't have your address
along--just got in this morning--wondered how in the world
we could get hold of you."
She was definitely sorry to hear that they were to leave at
nine that evening, and she clung to them as long as she could.
She took them to St. Mark's for dinner. Stooped, her elbows
on the table, she heard with excitement that "Cy Bogart had
the 'flu, but of course he was too gol-darn mean to die of it."
"Will wrote me that Mr. Blausser has gone away. How did
he get on?"
"Fine! Fine! Great loss to the town. There was a real
public-spirited fellow, all right!"
She discovered that she now had no opinions whatever about
Mr. Blausser, and she said sympathetically, "Will you keep
up the town-boosting campaign?"
Harry fumbled, "Well, we've dropped it just temporarily,
but--sure you bet! Say, did the doc write you about the
luck B. J. Gougerling had hunting ducks down in Texas?"
When the news had been told and their enthusiasm had
slackened she looked about and was proud to be able to point
out a senator, to explain the cleverness of the canopied garden.
She fancied that a man with dinner-coat and waxed mustache
glanced superciliously at Harry's highly form-fitting bright-
brown suit and Juanita's tan silk frock, which was doubtful at
the seams. She glared back, defending her own, daring the
world not to appreciate them.
Then, waving to them, she lost them down the long train
shed. She stood reading the list of stations: Harrisburg,
Pittsburg, Chicago. Beyond Chicago----? She saw the lakes
and stubble fields, heard the rhythm of insects and the creak
of a buggy, was greeted by Sam Clark's "Well, well, how's
the little lady?"
Nobody in Washington cared enough for her to fret about
her sins as Sam did.
But that night they had at the flat a man just back from
She was on the Powhatan roof with the captain. At a table,
somewhat vociferously buying improbable "soft drinks" for
two fluffy girls, was a man with a large familiar back.
"Oh! I think I know him," she murmured.
"Who? There? Oh, Bresnahan, Percy Bresnahan."
"Yes. You've met him? What sort of a man is he?"
"He's a good-hearted idiot. I rather like him, and I believe
that as a salesman of motors he's a wonder. But he's a
nuisance in the aeronautic section. Tries so hard to be useful
but he doesn't know anything--he doesn't know anything.
Rather pathetic: rich man poking around and trying to be
useful. Do you want to speak to him?"
"No--no--I don't think so."
She was at a motion-picture show. The film was a highly
advertised and abysmal thing smacking of simpering hair-
dressers, cheap perfume, red-plush suites on the back streets
of tenderloins, and complacent fat women chewing gum. It
pretended to deal with the life of studios. The leading man did
a portrait which was a masterpiece. He also saw visions in
pipe-smoke, and was very brave and poor and pure. He had
ringlets, and his masterpiece was strangely like an enlarged
Carol prepared to leave.
On the screen, in the role of a composer, appeared an actor
called Eric Valour.
She was startled, incredulous, then wretched. Looking
straight out at her, wearing a beret and a velvet jacket, was
He had a pale part, which he played neither well nor badly.
She speculated, "I could have made so much of him----"
She did not finish her speculation.
She went home and read Kennicott's letters. They had
seemed stiff and undetailed, but now there strode from them
a personality, a personality unlike that of the languishing
young man in the velvet jacket playing a dummy piano in a
Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months
after her arrival in Washington. When he announced that
he was coming she was not at all sure that she wished to
see him. She was glad that he had made the decision himself.
She had leave from the office for two days.
She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured,
carrying his heavy suit-case, and she was diffident--he was
such a bulky person to handle. They kissed each other
questioningly, and said at the same time, "You're looking fine;
how's the baby?" and "You're looking awfully well, dear;
how is everything?"
He grumbled, "I don't want to butt in on any plans you've
made or your friends or anything, but if you've got time for
it, I'd like to chase around Washington, and take in some
restaurants and shows and stuff, and forget work for a while."
She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft
gray suit, a soft easy hat, a flippant tie.
"Like the new outfit? Got 'em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope
they're the kind you like."
They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was
flustered, but he gave no sign of kissing her again.
As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he
had had his new tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There
was a recent cut on his chin. He must have shaved on the
train just before coming into Washington.
It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many
people she recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she
told him (he asked and she obligingly guessed) how many
feet it was to the top of the dome, as she pointed out Senator
LaFollette and the vice-president, and at lunch-time showed
herself an habitue by leading him through the catacombs to
the senate restaurant.
She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar
way in which his hair was parted on the left side agitated
her. She looked down at his hands, and the fact that his nails
were as ill-treated as ever touched her more than his pleading
"You'd like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon,
wouldn't you?" she said.
It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that
it seemed to be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing
He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news:
they were excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding,
Vida "made him tired the way she always looked at the Maje,"
poor Chet Dashaway had been killed in a motor accident out
on the Coast. He did not coax her to like him. At Mount
Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington's
She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have
heard of Harvey's apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took
him there. At dinner his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment
of everything, turned into nervousness in his desire to know
a number of interesting matters, such as whether they still were
married. But be did not ask questions, and be said nothing
about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed, "Oh
say, been trying out the old camera. Don't you think these
are pretty good?"
He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and
the country about. Without defense, she was thrown into it.
She remembered that he had lured her with photographs in
courtship days; she made a note of his sameness, his satisfaction
with the tactics which had proved good before; but she
forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing the sun-
speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie,
wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where
Hugh had played, Main Street where she knew every window
and every face.
She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and
he talked of lenses and time-exposures.
Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at
the flat, but an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent,
inescapable. She could not endure it. She stammered:
"I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn't
quite sure where you'd stay. I'm dreadfully sorry we haven't
room to put you up at the flat. We ought to have seen about
a room for you before. Don't you think you better call up
the Willard or the Washington now?"
He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked,
without speech she answered, whether she was also going to the
Willard or the Washington. But she tried to look as though
she did not know that they were debating anything of the
sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about it.
But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he
may have been with her blandness he said readily:
"Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then
how about grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn't it the limit the way
these taxi shuffers skin around a corner? Got more nerve
driving than I have!) and going up to your flat for a while?
Like to meet your friends--must be fine women--and I might
take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how he
breathes. Don't think he has adenoids, but I better make sure,
eh?" He patted her shoulder.
At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who
had been to jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly.
He laughed at the girl's story of the humors of a hunger-
strike; he told the secretary what to do when her eyes were
tired from typing; and the teacher asked him--not as the husband
of a friend but as a physician--whether there was "anything
to this inoculation for colds."
His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their
Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst
of the company.
"He's terribly nice," said her housemates, and waited for
confidences. They got none, nor did her own heart. She could
find nothing definite to agonize about. She felt that she was
no longer analyzing and controlling forces, but swept on by
He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes.
That was her only occasion for spite. Back home he never
thought of washing dishes!
She took him to the obvious "sights"--the Treasury, the
Monument, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building,
the Lincoln Memorial, with the Potomac beyond it and the
Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee Mansion. For all
his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy which
piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to
them now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette
Square, looking past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil
facade of the White House, he sighed, "I wish I'd had a shot
at places like this. When I was in the U., I had to earn part
of my way, and when I wasn't doing that or studying, I guess
I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for
bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I'd been caught
early and sent to concerts and all that---- Would I have
been what you call intelligent?"
"Oh, my dear, don't be humble! You are intelligent! For
instance, you're the most thorough doctor----"
He was edging about something he wished to say. He
pounced on it:
"You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all,
"Yes, of course."
"Wouldn't be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town,
"No, it wouldn't. Just as I was terribly glad to see the
Haydocks. But please understand me! That doesn't mean
that I withdraw all my criticisms. The fact that I might like
a glimpse of old friends hasn't any particular relation to the
question of whether Gopher Prairie oughtn't to have festivals
and lamb chops."
Hastily, "No, no! Sure not. I und'stand."
"But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to
live with anybody as perfect as I was."
He grinned. She liked his grin.
He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes,
the building to which his income tax would eventually go, a
Rolls-Royce, Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room,
a New York theatrical manager down for the try-out of a play,
the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks of Italian officers, the
barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches at noon, the
barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District
of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.
She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green
cottages and Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and
white shutters against rosy brick, were more homelike than a
painty wooden box. He volunteered, "I see how you mean.
They make me think of these pictures of an old-fashioned
Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you'll have Sam
and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d' I tell you
about this fierce green Jack Elder's had his machine painted?"
They were at dinner.
He hinted, "Before you showed me those places today,
I'd already made up my mind that when I built the new house
we used to talk about, I'd fix it the way you wanted it. I'm
pretty practical about foundations and radiation and stuff like
that, but I guess I don't know a whole lot about architecture."
"My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don't
"Well--anyway--you let me plan the garage and the plumbing,
and you do the rest, if you ever--I mean--if you ever
Doubtfully, "That's sweet of you."
"Look here, Carrie; you think I'm going to ask you to love
me. I'm not. And I'm not going to ask you to come back to
"It's been a whale of a fight. But I guess I've got myself
to see that you won't ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to
come back to it. I needn't say I'm crazy to have you. But
I won't ask you. I just want you to know how I wait for you.
Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one I'm kind of
scared to open it, I'm hoping so much that you're coming back.
Evenings---- You know I didn't open the cottage down at
the lake at all, this past summer. Simply couldn't stand all
the others laughing and swimming, and you not there. I used
to sit on the porch, in town, and I--I couldn't get over the
feeling that you'd simply run up to the drug store and would
be right back, and till after it got dark I'd catch myself
watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the
house was so empty and still that I didn't like to go in.
And sometimes I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn't
wake up till after midnight, and the house---- Oh, the devil!
Please get me, Carrie. I just want you to know how welcome
you'll be if you ever do come. But I'm not asking you to."
"You're---- It's awfully----"
"'Nother thing. I'm going to be frank. I haven't always
been absolutely, uh, absolutely, proper. I've always loved you
more than anything else in the world, you and the kid. But
sometimes when you were chilly to me I'd get lonely and
sore, and pike out and---- Never intended----"
She rescued him with a pitying, "It's all right. Let's forget
"But before we were married you said if your husband
ever did anything wrong, you'd want him to tell you."
"Did I? I can't remember. And I can't seem to think. Oh,
my dear, I do know how generously you're trying to make me
happy. The only thing is---- I can't think. I don't know
what I think."
"Then listen! Don't think! Here's what I want you to
do! Get a two-weeks leave from your office. Weather's
beginning to get chilly here. Let's run down to Charleston
and Savannah and maybe Florida.
"A second honeymoon?" indecisively.
"No. Don't even call it that. Call it a second wooing.
I won't ask anything. I just want the chance to chase around
with you. I guess I never appreciated how lucky I was to
have a girl with imagination and lively feet to play with.
So---- Could you maybe run away and see the South with
me? If you wanted to, you could just--you could just pretend
you were my sister and---- I'll get an extra nurse for Hugh!
I'll get the best dog-gone nurse in Washington!"
It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the
Charleston Battery and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness
When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the
moon glitter, she cried, "Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie
with you? Decide for me. I'm tired of deciding and undeciding."
"No. You've got to do your own deciding. As a matter of
fact, in spite of this honeymoon, I don't think I want you to
come home. Not yet."
She could only stare.
"I want you to be satisfied when you get there. I'll do
everything I can to keep you happy, but I'll make lots of
breaks, so I want you to take time and think it over."
She was relieved. She still had a chance to seize splendid
indefinite freedoms. She might go--oh, she'd see Europe, somehow,
before she was recaptured. But she also had a firmer
respect for Kennicott. She had fancied that her life might
make a story. She knew that there was nothing heroic or
obviously dramatic in it, no magic of rare hours, nor valiant
challenge, but it seemed to her that she was of some
significance because she was commonplaceness, the ordinary life
of the age, made articulate and protesting. It had not occurred
to her that there was also a story of Will Kennicott, into which
she entered only so much as he entered into hers; that he
had bewilderments and concealments as intricate as her own,
and soft treacherous desires for sympathy.
Thus she brooded, looking at the amazing sea, holding his
She was in Washington; Kennicott was in Gopher Prairie,
writing as dryly as ever about water-pipes and goose-hunting
and Mrs. Fageros's mastoid.
She was talking at dinner to a generalissima of suffrage.
Should she return?
The leader spoke wearily:
"My dear, I'm perfectly selfish. I can't quite visualize the
needs of your husband, and it seems to me that your baby
will do quite as well in the schools here as in your barracks at
"Then you think I'd better not go back?" Carol sounded
"It's more difficult than that. When I say that I'm selfish
I mean that the only thing I consider about women is whether
they're likely to prove useful in building up real political power
for women. And you? Shall I be frank? Remember when
I say `you' I don't mean you alone. I'm thinking of thousands
of women who come to Washington and New York and Chicago
every year, dissatisfied at home and seeking a sign in the
heavens--women of all sorts, from timid mothers of fifty in
cotton gloves, to girls just out of Vassar who organize strikes
in their own fathers' factories! All of you are more or less
useful to me, but only a few of you can take my place, because
I have one virtue (only one): I have given up father and
mother and children for the love of God.
"Here's the test for you: Do you come to `conquer the
East,' as people say, or do you come to conquer yourself?
"It's so much more complicated than any of you know--so
much more complicated than I knew when I put on Ground
Grippers and started out to reform the world. The final
complication in `conquering Washington' or `conquering New
York' is that the conquerors must beyond all things not
conquer! It must have been so easy in the good old days when
authors dreamed only of selling a hundred thousand volumes,
and sculptors of being feted in big houses, and even the
Uplifters like me had a simple-hearted ambition to be elected to
important offices and invited to go round lecturing. But we
meddlers have upset everything. Now the one thing that is
disgraceful to any of us is obvious success. The Uplifter who
is very popular with wealthy patrons can be pretty sure that
he has softened his philosophy to please them, and the author
who is making lots of money--poor things, I've heard 'em
apologizing for it to the shabby bitter-enders; I've seen 'em
ashamed of the sleek luggage they got from movie rights.
"Do you want to sacrifice yourself in such a topsy-turvy
world, where popularity makes you unpopular with the people
you love, and the only failure is cheap success, and the only
individualist is the person who gives up all his individualism
to serve a jolly ungrateful proletariat which thumbs its nose at
Carol smiled ingratiatingly, to indicate that she was indeed
one who desired to sacrifice, but she sighed, "I don't know;
I'm afraid I'm not heroic. I certainly wasn't out home. Why
didn't I do big effective----"
"Not a matter of heroism. Matter of endurance. Your
Middlewest is double-Puritan--prairie Puritan on top of New
England Puritan; bluff frontiersman on the surface, but in its
heart it still has the ideal of Plymouth Rock in a sleet-storm.
There's one attack you can make on it, perhaps the only kind
that accomplishes much anywhere: you can keep on looking
at one thing after another in your home and church and bank,
and ask why it is, and who first laid down the law that it had
to be that way. If enough of us do this impolitely enough,
then we'll become civilized in merely twenty thousand years
or so, instead of having to wait the two hundred thousand
years that my cynical anthropologist friends allow. . . .
Easy, pleasant, lucrative home-work for wives: asking people
to define their jobs. That's the most dangerous doctrine I
Carol was mediating, "I will go back! I will go on asking
questions. I've always done it, and always failed at it, and it's
all I can do. I'm going to ask Ezra Stowbody why he's
opposed to the nationalization of railroads, and ask Dave Dyer
why a druggist always is pleased when he's called `doctor,'
and maybe ask Mrs. Bogart why she wears a widow's veil that
looks like a dead crow."
The woman leader straightened. "And you have one thing.
You have a baby to hug. That's my temptation. I dream of
babies--of a baby--and I sneak around parks to see them
playing. (The children in Dupont Circle are like a poppy-
garden.) And the antis call me `unsexed'!"
Carol was thinking, in panic, "Oughtn't Hugh to have
country air? I won't let him become a yokel. I can guide
him away from street-corner loafing. . . . I think I can."
On her way home: "Now that I've made a precedent, joined
the union and gone out on one strike and learned personal
solidarity, I won't be so afraid. Will won't always be resisting
my running away. Some day I really will go to Europe with
him. . .or without him.
"I've lived with people who are not afraid to go to jail.
I could invite a Miles Bjornstam to dinner without being
afraid of the Haydocks. . .I think I could.
"I'll take back the sound of Yvette Guilbert's songs and
Elman's violin. They'll be only the lovelier against the thrumming
of crickets in the stubble on an autumn day.
"I can laugh now and be serene. . .I think I can."
Though she should return, she said, she would not be utterly
defeated. She was glad of her rebellion. The prairie was no
longer empty land in the sun-glare; it was the living tawny
beast which she had fought and made beautiful by fighting;
and in the village streets were shadows of her desires and the
sound of her marching and the seeds of mystery and greatness.
Her active hatred of Gopher Prairie had run out. She saw
it now as a toiling new settlement. With sympathy she
remembered Kennicott's defense of its citizens as "a lot of
pretty good folks, working hard and trying to bring up their
families the best they can." She recalled tenderly the young
awkwardness of Main Street and the makeshifts of the little
brown cottages; she pitied their shabbiness and isolation; had
compassion for their assertion of culture, even as expressed in
Thanatopsis papers, for their pretense of greatness, even as
trumpeted in "boosting." She saw Main Street in the dusty
prairie sunset, a line of frontier shanties with solemn lonely
people waiting for her, solemn and lonely as an old man who
has outlived his friends. She remembered that Kennicott and
Sam Clark had listened to her songs, and she wanted to run
to them and sing.
"At last," she rejoiced, "I've come to a fairer attitude
toward the town. I can love it, now."
She was, perhaps, rather proud of herself for having acquired
so much tolerance.
She awoke at three in the morning, after a dream of being
tortured by Ella Stowbody and the Widow Bogart.
"I've been making the town a myth. This is how people
keep up the tradition of the perfect home-town, the happy
boyhood, the brilliant college friends. We forget so. I've
been forgetting that Main Street doesn't think it's in the least
lonely and pitiful. It thinks it's God's Own Country. It isn't
waiting for me. It doesn't care."
But the next evening she again saw Gopher Prairie as her
home, waiting for her in the sunset, rimmed round with
She did not return for five months more; five months
crammed with greedy accumulation of sounds and colors to
take back for the long still days.
She had spent nearly two years in Washington.
When she departed for Gopher Prairie, in June, her second
baby was stirring within her.
SHE wondered all the way home what her sensations would be.
She wondered about it so much that she had every sensation
she had imagined. She was excited by each familiar porch,
each hearty "Well, well!" and flattered to be, for a day, the
most important news of the community. She bustled about,
making calls. Juanita Haydock bubbled over their Washington
encounter, and took Carol to her social bosom. This ancient
opponent seemed likely to be her most intimate friend, for
Vida Sherwin, though she was cordial, stood back and watched
for imported heresies.
In the evening Carol went to the mill. The mystical Om-
Om-Om of the dynamos in the electric-light plant behind the
mill was louder in the darkness. Outside sat the night watchman,
Champ Perry. He held up his stringy hands and
squeaked, "We've all missed you terrible."
Who in Washington would miss her?
Who in Washington could be depended upon like Guy
Pollock? When she saw him on the street, smiling as always,
he seemed an eternal thing, a part of her own self.
After a week she decided that she was neither glad nor
sorry to be back. She entered each day with the matter-of-fact
attitude with which she had gone to her office in Washington.
It was her task; there would be mechanical details and
meaningless talk; what of it?
The only problem which she had approached with emotion
proved insignificant. She had, on the train, worked herself
up to such devotion that she was willing to give up her own
room, to try to share all of her life with Kennicott.
He mumbled, ten minutes after she had entered the house,
"Say, I've kept your room for you like it was. I've kind of
come round to your way of thinking. Don't see why folks
need to get on each other's nerves just because they're friendly.
Darned if I haven't got so I like a little privacy and mulling
things over by myself."
She had left a city which sat up nights to talk of universal
transition; of European revolution, guild socialism, free verse.
She had fancied that all the world was changing.
She found that it was not.
In Gopher Prairie the only ardent new topics were prohibition,
the place in Minneapolis where you could get whisky at
thirteen dollars a quart, recipes for home-made beer, the "high
cost of living," the presidential election, Clark's new car, and
not very novel foibles of Cy Bogart. Their problems were
exactly what they had been two years ago, what they had been
twenty years ago, and what they would be for twenty years
to come. With the world a possible volcano, the husbandmen
were plowing at the base of the mountain. A volcano does
occasionally drop a river of lava on even the best of agriculturists,
to their astonishment and considerable injury, but their
cousins inherit the farms and a year or two later go back to
She was unable to rhapsodize much over the seven new
bungalows and the two garages which Kennicott had made to
seem so important. Her intensest thought about them was,
"Oh yes, they're all right I suppose." The change which she
did heed was the erection of the schoolbuilding, with its cheerful
brick walls, broad windows, gymnasium, classrooms for
agriculture and cooking. It indicated Vida's triumph, and it
stirred her to activity--any activity. She went to Vida with a
jaunty, "I think I shall work for you. And I'll begin at the
She did. She relieved the attendant at the rest-room for
an hour a day. Her only innovation was painting the pine
table a black and orange rather shocking to the Thanatopsis.
She talked to the farmwives and soothed their babies and was
Thinking of them she did not think of the ugliness of Main
Street as she hurried along it to the chatter of the Jolly
She wore her eye-glasses on the street now. She was
beginning to ask Kennicott and Juanita if she didn't look young,
much younger than thirty-three. The eye-glasses pinched her
nose. She considered spectacles. They would make her seem
older, and hopelessly settled. No! She would not wear spec-
tacles yet. But she tried on a pair at Kennicott's office. They
really were much more comfortable.
Dr. Westlake, Sam Clark, Nat Hicks, and Del Snafflin were
talking in Del's barber shop.
"Well, I see Kennicott's wife is taking a whirl at the rest-
room, now," said Dr. Westlake. He emphasized the "now."
Del interrupted the shaving of Sam and, with his brush
dripping lather, he observed jocularly:
"What'll she be up to next? They say she used to claim
this burg wasn't swell enough for a city girl like her, and
would we please tax ourselves about thirty-seven point nine and
fix it all up pretty, with tidies on the hydrants and statoos on
Sam irritably blew the lather from his lips, with milky
small bubbles, and snorted, "Be a good thing for most of us
roughnecks if we did have a smart woman to tell us how to
fix up the town. Just as much to her kicking as there was
to Jim Blausser's gassing about factories. And you can bet
Mrs. Kennicott is smart, even if she is skittish. Glad to see
Dr. Westlake hastened to play safe. "So was I! So was I!
She's got a nice way about her, and she knows a good deal
about books, or fiction anyway. Of course she's like all the
rest of these women--not solidly founded--not scholarly--
doesn't know anything about political economy--falls for every
new idea that some windjamming crank puts out. But she's
a nice woman. She'll probably fix up the rest-room, and the
rest-room is a fine thing, brings a lot of business to town. And
now that Mrs. Kennicott's been away, maybe she's got over
some of her fool ideas. Maybe she realizes that folks simply
laugh at her when she tries to tell us how to run everything."
"Sure. She'll take a tumble to herself," said Nat Hicks,
sucking in his lips judicially. "As far as I'm concerned, I'll
say she's as nice a looking skirt as there is in town. But yow!"
His tone electrified them. "Guess she'll miss that Swede
Valborg that used to work for me! They was a pair! Talking
poetry and moonshine! If they could of got away with it,
they'd of been so darn lovey-dovey----"
Sam Clark interrupted, "Rats, they never even thought
about making love, Just talking books and all that junk.
I tell you, Carrie Kennicott's a smart woman, and these smart
educated women all get funny ideas, but they get over 'em
after they've had three or four kids. You'll see her settled
down one of these days, and teaching Sunday School and
helping at sociables and behaving herself, and not trying to
butt into business and politics. Sure!"
After only fifteen minutes of conference on her stockings,
her son, her separate bedroom, her music, her ancient interest
in Guy Pollock, her probable salary in Washington, and every
remark which she was known to have made since her return,
the supreme council decided that they would permit Carol
Kennicott to live, and they passed on to a consideration of
Nat Hicks's New One about the traveling salesman and the
For some reason which was totally mysterious to Carol,
Maud Dyer seemed to resent her return. At the Jolly Seventeen
Maud giggled nervously, "Well, I suppose you found
war-work a good excuse to stay away and have a swell time.
Juanita! Don't you think we ought to make Carrie tell us
about the officers she met in Washington?"
They rustled and stared. Carol looked at them. Their
curiosity seemed natural and unimportant.
"Oh yes, yes indeed, have to do that some day," she yawned.
She no longer took Aunt Bessie Smail seriously enough to
struggle for independence. She saw that Aunt Bessie did not
mean to intrude; that she wanted to do things for all the
Kennicotts. Thus Carol hit upon the tragedy of old age, which
is not that it is less vigorous than youth, but that it is not
needed by youth; that its love and prosy sageness, so
important a few years ago, so gladly offered now, are rejected
with laughter. She divined that when Aunt Bessie came in
with a jar of wild-grape jelly she was waiting in hope of being
asked for the recipe. After that she could be irritated but she
could not be depressed by Aunt Bessie's simoom of questioning.
She wasn't depressed even when she heard Mrs. Bogart
observe, "Now we've got prohibition it seems to me that the
next problem of the country ain't so much abolishing
cigarettes as it is to make folks observe the Sabbath and arrest
these law-breakers that play baseball and go to the movies
and all on the Lord's Day."
Only one thing bruised Carol's vanity. Few people asked her
about Washington. They who had most admiringly begged
Percy Bresnahan for his opinions were least interested in her
facts. She laughed at herself when she saw that she had
expected to be at once a heretic and a returned hero; she was
very reasonable and merry about it; and it hurt just as much
Her baby, born in August, was a girl. Carol could not
decide whether she was to become a feminist leader or marry
a scientist or both, but did settle on Vassar and a tricolette
suit with a small black hat for her Freshman year.
Hugh was loquacious at breakfast. He desired to give his
impressions of owls and F Street.
"Don't make so much noise. You talk too much," growled
Carol flared. "Don't speak to him that way! Why don't
you listen to him? He has some very interesting things to
"What's the idea? Mean to say you expect me to spend
all my time listening to his chatter?"
"For one thing, he's got to learn a little discipline. Time
for him to start getting educated."
"I've learned much more discipline, I've had much more
education, from him than he has from me."
"What's this? Some new-fangled idea of raising kids you
got in Washington?"
"Perhaps. Did you ever realize that children are people?"
"That's all right. I'm not going to have him monopolizing
"No, of course. We have our rights, too. But I'm going
to bring him up as a human being. He has just as many
thoughts as we have, and I want him to develop them, not
take Gopher Prairie's version of them. That's my biggest
work now--keeping myself, keeping you, from `educating'
"Well, let's not scrap about it. But I'm not going to have
Kennicott had forgotten it in ten minutes; and she forgot
The Kennicotts and the Sam Clarks had driven north to a
duck-pass between two lakes, on an autumn day of blue and
Kennicott had given her a light twenty-gauge shotgun. She
had a first lesson in shooting, in keeping her eyes open, not
wincing, understanding that the bead at the end of the barrel
really had something to do with pointing the gun. She was
radiant; she almost believed Sam when he insisted that it was
she who had shot the mallard at which they had fired together.
She sat on the bank of the reedy lake and found rest in
Mrs. Clark's drawling comments on nothing. The brown dusk
was still. Behind them were dark marshes. The plowed acres
smelled fresh. The lake was garnet and silver. The voices of
the men, waiting for the last flight, were clear in the cool air.
"Mark left!" sang Kennicott, in a long-drawn call.
Three ducks were swooping down in a swift line. The guns
banged, and a duck fluttered. The men pushed their light
boat out on the burnished lake, disappeared beyond the reeds.
Their cheerful voices and the slow splash and clank of oars
came back to Carol from the dimness. In the sky a fiery plain
sloped down to a serene harbor. It dissolved; the lake was
white marble; and Kennicott was crying, "Well, old lady, how
about hiking out for home? Supper taste pretty good, eh?"
"I'll sit back with Ethel," she said, at the car.
It was the first time she had called Mrs. Clark by her given
name; the first time she had willingly sat back, a woman of
"I'm hungry. It's good to be hungry," she reflected, as
they drove away.
She looked across the silent fields to the west. She was
conscious of an unbroken sweep of land to the Rockies, to
Alaska, a dominion which will rise to unexampled greatness
when other empires have grown senile. Before that time, she