Part 5 out of 12
"I AM, I am fond of Will, and---- Can't I ever find another
word than `fond'?
"He's home. He'll think I was out late.
"Why can't he ever remember to pull down the shades? Cy
Bogart and all the beastly boys peeping in. But the poor
dear, he's absent-minded about minute--minush--whatever the
word is. He has so much worry and work, while I do nothing
but jabber to Bea.
"I MUSTN'T forget the hominy----"
She was flying into the hall. Kennicott looked up from the
Journal of the American Medical Society.
"Hello! What time did you get back?" she cried.
"About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven!"
Good-natured yet not quite approving.
"Did it feel neglected?"
"Well, you didn't remember to close the lower draft in the
"Oh, I'm so sorry. But I don't often forget things like
that, do I?"
She dropped into his lap and (after he had jerked back his
head to save his eye-glasses, and removed the glasses, and
settled her in a position less cramping to his legs, and casually
cleared his throat) he kissed her amiably, and remarked:
"Nope, I must say you're fairly good about things like that.
I wasn't kicking. I just meant I wouldn't want the fire to go
out on us. Leave that draft open and the fire might burn up
and go out on us. And the nights are beginning to get pretty
cold again. Pretty cold on my drive. I put the side-curtains
up, it was so chilly. But the generator is working all right
"Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk."
"I went up to see the Perrys." By a definite act of will she
added the truth: "They weren't in. And I saw Guy Pollock.
Dropped into his office."
"Why, you haven't been sitting and chinning with him
till eleven o'clock?"
"Of course there were some other people there and----
Will! What do you think of Dr. Westlake?"
"I noticed him on the street today."
"Was he limping? If the poor fish would have his teeth
X-rayed, I'll bet nine and a half cents he'd find an abscess
there. `Rheumatism' he calls it. Rheumatism, hell! He's
behind the times. Wonder he doesn't bleed himself I Wellllllll
----" A profound and serious yawn. "I hate to break up the
party, but it's getting late, and a doctor never knows when
he'll get routed out before morning." (She remembered that
he had given this explanation, in these words, not less than
thirty times in the year.) "I guess we better be trotting up
to bed. I've wound the clock and looked at the furnace. Did
you lock the front door when you came in?"
They trailed up-stairs, after he had turned out the lights and
twice tested the front door to make sure it was fast.
While they talked they were preparing for bed. Carol still
sought to maintain privacy by undressing behind the screen
of the closet door. Kennicott was not so reticent. Tonight, as
every night, she was irritated by having to push the old plush
chair out of the way before she could open the closet door.
Every time she opened the door she shoved the chair. Ten
times an hour. But Kennicott liked to have the chair in the
room, and there was no place for it except in front of the
She pushed it, felt angry, hid her anger. Kennicott was
yawning, more portentously. The room smelled stale. She
shrugged and became chatty:
"You were speaking of Dr. Westlake. Tell me--you've
never summed him up: Is he really a good doctor?"
"Oh yes, he's a wise old coot."
("There! You see there is no medical rivalry. Not in my
house!" she said triumphantly to Guy Pollock.)
She hung her silk petticoat on a closet hook, and went on,
"Dr. Westlake is so gentle and scholarly----"
"Well, I don't know as I'd say he was such a whale of a
scholar. I've always had a suspicion he did a good deal of
four-flushing about that. He likes to have people think he
keeps up his French and Greek and Lord knows what all; and
he's always got an old Dago book lying around the sitting-room,
but I've got a hunch he reads detective stories 'bout like the
rest of us. And I don't know where he'd ever learn so dog-
gone many languages anyway! He kind of lets people assume
he went to Harvard or Berlin or Oxford or somewhere, but I
looked him up in the medical register, and he graduated from
a hick college in Pennsylvania, 'way back in 1861!"
"But this is the important thing: Is he an honest doctor?"
"How do you mean `honest'? Depends on what you mean."
"Suppose you were sick. Would you call him in? Would
you let me call him in?"
"Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn't!
No, SIR! I wouldn't have the old fake in the house. Makes
me tired, his everlasting palavering and soft-soaping. He's
all right for an ordinary bellyache or holding some fool woman's
hand, but I wouldn't call him in for an honest-to-God illness,
not much I wouldn't, NO--sir! You know I don't do much back-
biting, but same time---- I'll tell you, Carrrie: I've never
got over being sore at Westlake for the way he treated Mrs.
Jonderquist. Nothing the matter with her, what she really
needed was a rest, but Westlake kept calling on her and calling
on her for weeks, almost every day, and he sent her a good
big fat bill, too, you can bet! I never did forgive him for that.
Nice decent hard-working people like the Jonderquists!"
In her batiste nightgown she was standing at the bureau
engaged in the invariable rites of wishing that she had a real
dressing-table with a triple mirror, of bending toward the
streaky glass and raising her chin to inspect a pin-head mole
on her throat, and finally of brushing her hair. In rhythm to
the strokes she went on:
"But, Will, there isn't any of what you might call financial
rivalry between you and the partners--Westlake and McGanum
He flipped into bed with a solemn back-somersault and a
ludicrous kick of his heels as he tucked his legs under the
blankets. He snorted, "Lord no! I never begrudge any man
a nickel he can get away from me--fairly."
"But is Westlake fair? Isn't he sly?"
"Sly is the word. He's a fox, that boy!"
She saw Guy Pollock's grin in the mirror. She flushed.
Kennicott, with his arms behind his head, was yawning:
"Yump. He's smooth, too smooth. But I bet I make prett'
near as much as Westlake and McGanum both together, though
I've never wanted to grab more than my just share. If anybody
wants to go to the partners instead of to me, that's his
business. Though I must say it makes me tired when Westlake
gets hold of the Dawsons. Here Luke Dawson had been
coming to me for every toeache and headache and a lot of
little things that just wasted my time, and then when his
grandchild was here last summer and had summer-complaint, I
suppose, or something like that, probably--you know, the time
you and I drove up to Lac-qui-Meurt--why, Westlake got hold
of Ma Dawson, and scared her to death, and made her think
the kid had appendicitis, and, by golly, if he and McGanum
didn't operate, and holler their heads off about the terrible
adhesions they found, and what a regular Charley and Will
Mayo they were for classy surgery. They let on that if they'd
waited two hours more the kid would have developed peritonitis,
and God knows what all; and then they collected a nice fat
hundred and fifty dollars. And probably they'd have charged
three hundred, if they hadn't been afraid of me! I'm no hog,
but I certainly do hate to give old Luke ten dollars' worth of
advice for a dollar and a half, and then see a hundred and
fifty go glimmering. And if I can't do a better 'pendectomy
than either Westlake or McGanum, I'll eat my hat!"
As she crept into bed she was dazzled by Guy's blazing
grin. She experimented:
"But Westlake is cleverer than his son-in-law, don't you
"Yes, Westlake may be old-fashioned and all that, but
he's got a certain amount of intuition, while McGanum goes
into everything bull-headed, and butts his way through like
a damn yahoo, and tries to argue his patients into having
whatever he diagnoses them as having! About the best thing
Mac can do is to stick to baby-snatching. He's just about
on a par with this bone-pounding chiropractor female, Mrs.
"Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. McGanum, though--they're nice.
They've been awfully cordial to me."
"Well, no reason why they shouldn't be, is there? Oh,
they're nice enough--though you can bet your bottom dollar
they're both plugging for their husbands all the time, trying
to get the business. And I don't know as I call it so damn
cordial in Mrs. McGanum when I holler at her on the street
and she nods back like she had a sore neck. Still, she's all
right. It's Ma Westlake that makes the mischief, pussyfooting
around all the time. But I wouldn't trust any Westlake out
of the whole lot, and while Mrs. McGanum SEEMS square
enough, you don't never want to forget that she's Westlake's
daughter. You bet!"
"What about Dr. Gould? Don't you think he's worse than
either Westlake or McGanum? He's so cheap--drinking, and
playing pool, and always smoking cigars in such a cocky way----"
"That's all right now! Terry Gould is a good deal of a tin-
horn sport, but he knows a lot about medicine, and don't you
forget it for one second!"
She stared down Guy's grin, and asked more cheerfully, "Is
he honest, too?"
"Ooooooooooo! Gosh I'm sleepy!" He burrowed beneath
the bedclothes in a luxurious stretch, and came up like a diver,
shaking his head, as he complained, "How's that? Who?
Terry Gould honest? Don't start me laughing--I'm too nice
and sleepy! I didn't say he was honest. I said he had savvy
enough to find the index in `Gray's Anatomy,' which is more
than McGanum can do! But I didn't say anything about his
being honest. He isn't. Terry is crooked as a dog's hind leg.
He's done me more than one dirty trick. He told Mrs.
Glorbach, seventeen miles out, that I wasn't up-to-date in
obstetrics. Fat lot of good it did him! She came right in
and told me! And Terry's lazy. He'd let a pneumonia patient
choke rather than interrupt a poker game."
"Oh no. I can't believe----"
"Well now, I'm telling you!"
"Does he play much poker? Dr. Dillon told me that Dr.
Gould wanted him to play----"
"Dillon told you what? Where'd you meet Dillon? He's
just come to town."
"He and his wife were at Mr. Pollock's tonight."
"Say, uh, what'd you think of them? Didn't Dillon strike
you as pretty light-waisted?"
"Why no. He seemed intelligent. I'm sure he's much more
wide-awake than our dentist."
"Well now, the old man is a good dentist. He knows his
business. And Dillon---- I wouldn't cuddle up to the Dillons
too close, if I were you. All right for Pollock, and that's none
of our business, but we---- I think I'd just give the Dillons
the glad hand and pass 'em up."
"But why? He isn't a rival."
"That's--all--right!" Kennicott was aggressively awake
now. "He'll work right in with Westlake and McGanum.
Matter of fact, I suspect they were largely responsible for his
locating here. They'll be sending him patients, and he'll send
all that he can get hold of to them. I don't trust anybody
that's too much hand-in-glove with Westlake. You give Dillon
a shot at some fellow that's just bought a farm here and drifts
into town to get his teeth looked at, and after Dillon gets
through with him, you'll see him edging around to Westlake
and McGanum, every time!"
Carol reached for her blouse, which hung on a chair by
the bed. She draped it about her shoulders, and sat up studying
Kennicott, her chin in her hands. In the gray light from
the small electric bulb down the hall she could see that he was
"Will, this is--I must get this straight. Some one said to
me the other day that in towns like this, even more than in
cities, all the doctors hate each other, because of the
"Who said that?"
"It doesn't matter."
"I'll bet a hat it was your Vida Sherwin. She's a brainy
woman, but she'd be a damn sight brainier if she kept her
mouth shut and didn't let so much of her brains ooze out
"Will! O Will! That's horrible! Aside from the
vulgarity----Some ways, Vida is my best friend. Even if
she HAD said it. Which, as a matter of fact, she didn't."
He reared up his thick shoulders, in absurd pink and green
flannelette pajamas. He sat straight, and irritatingly snapped
his fingers, and growled:
"Well, if she didn't say it, let's forget her. Doesn't make
any difference who said it, anyway. The point is that you
believe it. God! To think you don't understand me any
better than that! Money!"
("This is the first real quarrel we've ever had," she was
He thrust out his long arm and snatched his wrinkly vest
from a chair. He took out a cigar, a match. He tossed the
vest on the floor. He lighted the cigar and puffed savagely.
He broke up the match and snapped the fragments at the foot-
She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the foot-
stone of the grave of love.
The room was drab-colored and ill-ventilated-Kennicott
did not "believe in opening the windows so darn wide that you
heat all outdoors." The stale air seemed never to change. In
the light from the hall they were two lumps of bedclothes
with shoulders and tousled heads attached.
She begged, "I didn't mean to wake you up, dear. And
please don't smoke. You've been smoking so much. Please
go back to sleep. I'm sorry."
"Being sorry 's all right, but I'm going to tell you one or
two things. This falling for anybody's say-so about medical
jealousy and competition is simply part and parcel of your
usual willingness to think the worst you possibly can of us
poor dubs in Gopher Prairie. Trouble with women like you
is, you always want to ARGUE. Can't take things the way they
are. Got to argue. Well, I'm not going to argue about this
in any way, shape, manner, or form. Trouble with you is,
you don't make any effort to appreciate us. You're so damned
superior, and think the city is such a hell of a lot finer place,
and you want us to do what YOU want, all the time----"
"That's not true! It's I who make the effort. It's they--
it's you--who stand back and criticize. I have to come over
to the town's opinion; I have to devote myself to their
interests. They can't even SEE my interests, to say nothing of
adopting them. I get ever so excited about their old Lake
Minniemashie and the cottages, but they simply guffaw (in
that lovely friendly way you advertise so much) if I speak
of wanting to see Taormina also."
"Sure, Tormina, whatever that is--some nice expensive
millionaire colony, I suppose. Sure; that's the idea; champagne
taste and beer income; and make sure that we never will have
more than a beer income, too!"
"Are you by any chance implying that I am not economical?"
"Well, I hadn't intended to, but since you bring it up
yourself, I don't mind saying the grocery bills are about twice
what they ought to be."
"Yes, they probably are. I'm not economical. I can't be.
Thanks to you!"
"Where d' you get that `thanks to you'?"
"Please don't be quite so colloquial--or shall I say VULGAR?"
"I'll be as damn colloquial as I want to. How do you get
that `thanks to you'? Here about a year ago you jump me
for not remembering to give you money. Well, I'm reasonable.
I didn't blame you, and I SAID I was to blame. But have
I ever forgotten it since--practically?"
"No. You haven't--practically! But that isn't it. I
ought to have an allowance. I will, too! I must have an
agreement for a regular stated amount, every month."
"Fine idea! Of course a doctor gets a regular stated
amount! Sure! A thousand one month--and lucky if he
makes a hundred the next."
"Very well then, a percentage. Or something else. No
matter how much you vary, you can make a rough average
"But what's the idea? What are you trying to get at?
Mean to say I'm unreasonable? Think I'm so unreliable and
tightwad that you've got to tie me down with a contract?
By God, that hurts! I thought I'd been pretty generous and
decent, and I took a lot of pleasure--thinks I, `she'll be tickled
when I hand her over this twenty'--or fifty, or whatever it
was; and now seems you been wanting to make it a kind of
alimony. Me, like a poor fool, thinking I was liberal all the
while, and you----"
"Please stop pitying yourself! You're having a beautiful
time feeling injured. I admit all you say. Certainly. You've
given me money both freely and amiably. Quite as if I were
"I mean it! What was a magnificent spectacle of generosity
to you was humiliation to me. You GAVE me money--gave it
to your mistress, if she was complaisant, and then you----"
"(Don't interrupt me!)--then you felt you'd discharged
all obligation. Well, hereafter I'll refuse your money, as a gift.
Either I'm your partner, in charge of the household department
of our business, with a regular budget for it, or else I'm
nothing. If I'm to be a mistress, I shall choose my lovers. Oh,
I hate it--I hate it--this smirking and hoping for money--and
then not even spending it on jewels as a mistress has a right
to, but spending it on double-boilers and socks for you!
Yes indeed! You're generous! You give me a dollar, right
out--the only proviso is that I must spend it on a tie for you!
And you give it when and as you wish. How can I be anything
"Oh well, of course, looking at it that way----"
"I can't shop around, can't buy in large quantities, have
to stick to stores where I have a charge account, good deal
of the time, can't plan because I don't know how much money
I can depend on. That's what I pay for your charming
sentimentalities about giving so generously. You make me----"
"Wait! Wait! You know you're exaggerating. You never
thought about that mistress stuff till just this minute! Matter
of fact, you never have `smirked and hoped for money.' But
all the same, you may be right. You ought to run the household
as a business. I'll figure out a definite plan tomorrow,
and hereafter you'll be on a regular amount or percentage, with
your own checking account."
"Oh, that IS decent of you!" She turned toward him,
trying to be affectionate. But his eyes were pink and unlovely
in the flare of the match with which he lighted his dead and
malodorous cigar. His head drooped, and a ridge of flesh
scattered with pale small bristles bulged out under his chin.
She sat in abeyance till he croaked:
"No. 'Tisn't especially decent. It's just fair. And God
knows I want to be fair. But I expect others to be fair, too.
And you're so high and mighty about people. Take Sam
Clark; best soul that ever lived, honest and loyal and a damn
("Yes, and a good shot at ducks, don't forget that!")
("Well, and he is a good shot, too!) Sam drops around in
the evening to sit and visit, and by golly just because he
takes a dry smoke and rolls his cigar around in his mouth, and
maybe spits a few times, you look at him as if he was a hog.
Oh, you didn't know I was onto you, and I certainly hope
Sam hasn't noticed it, but I never miss it."
"I have felt that way. Spitting--ugh! But I'm sorry you
caught my thoughts. I tried to be nice; I tried to hide them."
"Maybe I catch a whole lot more than you think I do!"
"Yes, perhaps you do."
"And d' you know why Sam doesn't light his cigar when
"He's so darn afraid you'll be offended if he smokes. You
scare him. Every time he speaks of the weather you jump
him because he ain't talking about poetry or Gertie--Goethe?
--or some other highbrow junk. You've got him so leery he
scarcely dares to come here."
"Oh, I AM sorry. (Though I'm sure it's you who are exaggerating now.")
"Well now, I don't know as I am! And I can tell you one thing:
if you keep on you'll manage to drive away every friend I've got."
"That would be horrible of me. You KNOW I don't mean
to Will, what is it about me that frightens Sam--if I
do frighten him."
"Oh, you do, all right! 'Stead of putting his legs up on
another chair, and unbuttoning his vest, and telling a good
story or maybe kidding me about something, he sits on the
edge of his chair and tries to make conversation about politics,
and he doesn't even cuss, and Sam's never real comfortable
unless he can cuss a little!"
"In other words, he isn't comfortable unless he can behave
like a peasant in a mud hut!"
"Now that'll be about enough of that! You want to know
how you scare him? First you deliberately fire some question
at him that you know darn well he can't answer--any fool
could see you were experimenting with him--and then you
shock him by talking of mistresses or something, like you were
doing just now----"
"Of course the pure Samuel never speaks of such erring
ladies in his private conversations!"
"Not when there's ladies around! You can bet your life
"So the impurity lies in failing to pretend that----"
"Now we won't go into all that--eugenics or whatever damn
fad you choose to call it. As I say, first you shock him, and
then you become so darn flighty that nobody can follow you.
Either you want to dance, or you bang the piano, or else you
get moody as the devil and don't want to talk or anything
else. If you must be temperamental, why can't you be that
way by yourself?"
"My dear man, there's nothing I'd like better than to be
by myself occasionally! To have a room of my own! I
suppose you expect me to sit here and dream delicately and
satisfy my `temperamentality' while you wander in from the
bathroom with lather all over your face, and shout, `Seen my
brown pants?' "
"Huh!" He did not sound impressed. He made no
answer. He turned out of bed, his feet making one solid thud
on the floor. He marched from the room, a grotesque figure
in baggy union-pajamas. She heard him drawing a drink of
water at the bathroom tap. She was furious at the
contemptuousness of his exit. She snuggled down in bed, and
looked away from him as he returned. He ignored her. As
he flumped into bed he yawned, and casually stated:
"Well, you'll have plenty of privacy when we build a new
"Oh, I'll build it all right, don't you fret! But of course
I don't expect any credit for it."
Now it was she who grunted "Huh!" and ignored him,
and felt independent and masterful as she shot up out of bed,
turned her back on him, fished a lone and petrified chocolate
out of her glove-box in the top right-hand drawer of the
bureau, gnawed at it, found that it had cocoanut filling, said
"Damn!" wished that she had not said it, so that she might
be superior to his colloquialism, and hurled the chocolate into
the wastebasket, where it made an evil and mocking clatter
among the debris of torn linen collars and toothpaste box.
Then, in great dignity and self-dramatization, she returned to
All this time he had been talking on, embroidering his
assertion that he "didn't expect any credit." She was reflecting
that he was a rustic, that she hated him, that she had been
insane to marry him, that she had married him only because
she was tired of work, that she must get her long gloves
cleaned, that she would never do anything more for him, and
that she mustn't forget his hominy for breakfast. She was
roused to attention by his storming:
"I'm a fool to think about a new house. By the time I
get it built you'll probably have succeeded in your plan to get
me completely in Dutch with every friend and every patient
She sat up with a bounce. She said coldly, "Thank you
very much for revealing your real opinion of me. If that's the
way you feel, if I'm such a hindrance to you, I can't stay
under this roof another minute. And I am perfectly well able
to earn my own living. I will go at once, and you may get a
divorce at your pleasure! What you want is a nice sweet cow
of a woman who will enjoy having your dear friends talk about
the weather and spit on the floor!"
"Tut! Don't be a fool!"
"You will very soon find out whether I'm a fool or not!
I mean it! Do you think I'd stay here one second after I
found out that I was injuring you? At least I have enough
sense of justice not to do that."
"Please stop flying off at tangents, Carrie. This----"
"Tangents? TANGENTS! Let me tell you----"
"----isn't a theater-play; it's a serious effort to have us
get together on fundamentals. We've both been cranky, and
said a lot of things we didn't mean. I wish we were a couple o'
bloomin' poets and just talked about roses and moonshine, but
we're human. All right. Let's cut out jabbing at each other.
Let's admit we both do fool things. See here: You KNOW you
feel superior to folks. You're not as bad as I say, but you're
not as good as you say--not by a long shot! What's the reason
you're so superior? Why can't you take folks as they are?"
Her preparations for stalking out of the Doll's House were
not yet visible. She mused:
"I think perhaps it's my childhood." She halted. When
she went on her voice had an artificial sound, her words the
bookish quality of emotional meditation. "My father was the
tenderest man in the world, but he did feel superior to ordinary
people. Well, he was! And the Minnesota Valley---- I used
to sit there on the cliffs above Mankato for hours at a time,
my chin in my hand, looking way down the valley, wanting to
write poems. The shiny tilted roofs below me, and the river,
and beyond it the level fields in the mist, and the rim of
palisades across---- It held my thoughts in. I LIVED, in the
valley. But the prairie--all my thoughts go flying off into the
big space. Do you think it might be that?"
"Um, well, maybe, but---- Carrie, you always talk so
much about getting all you can out of life, and not letting
the years slip by, and here you deliberately go and deprive
yourself of a lot of real good home pleasure by not enjoying
people unless they wear frock coats and trot out----"
("Morning clothes. Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean t' interrupt
"----to a lot of tea-parties. Take Jack Elder. You think
Jack hasn't got any ideas about anything but manufacturing
and the tariff on lumber. But do you know that Jack is
nutty about music? He'll put a grand-opera record on the
phonograph and sit and listen to it and close his eyes---- Or
you take Lym Cass. Ever realize what a well-informed man
"But IS he? Gopher Prairie calls anybody `well-informed'
who's been through the State Capitol and heard about Gladstone."
"Now I'm telling you! Lym reads a lot--solid stuff--
history. Or take Mart Mahoney, the garageman. He's got a lot
of Perry prints of famous pictures in his office. Or old Bingham
Playfair, that died here 'bout a year ago--lived seven miles
out. He was a captain in the Civil War, and knew General
Sherman, and they say he was a miner in Nevada right alongside
of Mark Twain. You'll find these characters in all these
small towns, and a pile of savvy in every single one of them,
if you just dig for it."
"I know. And I do love them. Especially people like
Champ Perry. But I can't be so very enthusiastic over the
smug cits like Jack Elder."
"Then I'm a smug cit, too, whatever that is."
"No, you're a scientist. Oh, I will try and get the music
out of Mr. Elder. Only, why can't he let it COME out, instead
of being ashamed of it, and always talking about hunting dogs?
But I will try. Is it all right now?"
"Sure. But there's one other thing. You might give me
some attention, too!"
"That's unjust! You have everything I am!"
"No, I haven't. You think you respect me--you always
hand out some spiel about my being so `useful.' But you
never think of me as having ambitions, just as much as you
"Perhaps not. I think of you as being perfectly satisfied."
"Well, I'm not, not by a long shot! I don't want to be
a plug general practitioner all my life, like Westlake, and die
in harness because I can't get out of it, and have 'em say,
`He was a good fellow, but he couldn't save a cent.' Not that
I care a whoop what they say, after I've kicked in and can't
hear 'em, but I want to put enough money away so you and
I can be independent some day, and not have to work unless
I feel like it, and I want to have a good house--by golly, I'll
have as good a house as anybody in THIS town!--and if we
want to travel and see your Tormina or whatever it is, why
we can do it, with enough money in our jeans so we won't
have to take anything off anybody, or fret about our old age.
You never worry about what might happen if we got sick and
didn't have a good fat wad salted away, do you!"
"I don't suppose I do."
"Well then, I have to do it for you. And if you think for
one moment I want to be stuck in this burg all my life, and
not have a chance to travel and see the different points of
interest and all that, then you simply don't get me. I want
to have a squint at the world, much's you do. Only, I'm practical
about it. First place, I'm going to make the money--
I'm investing in good safe farmlands. Do you understand
"Will you try and see if you can't think of me as something
more than just a dollar-chasing roughneck?"
"Oh, my dear, I haven't been just! I AM difficile. And
I won't call on the Dillons! And if Dr. Dillon is working
for Westlake and McGanum, I hate him!"
THAT December she was in love with her husband.
She romanticized herself not as a great reformer but as the
wife of a country physician. The realities of the doctor's household
were colored by her pride.
Late at night, a step on the wooden porch, heard through
her confusion of sleep; the storm-door opened; fumbling over
the inner door-panels; the buzz of the electric bell. Kennicott
muttering "Gol darn it," but patiently creeping out of bed,
remembering to draw the covers up to keep her warm, feeling
for slippers and bathrobe, clumping down-stairs.
From below, half-heard in her drowsiness, a colloquy in the
pidgin-German of the farmers who have forgotten the Old
Country language without learning the new:
"Hello, Barney, wass willst du?"
"Morgen, doctor. Die Frau ist ja awful sick. All night she
been having an awful pain in de belly."
"How long she been this way? Wie lang, eh?"
"I dunno, maybe two days."
"Why didn't you come for me yesterday, instead of waking
me up out of a sound sleep? Here it is two o'clock! So spat-
"Nun aber, I know it, but she got soch a lot vorse last
evening. I t'ought maybe all de time it go avay, but it got a lot
"Vell ja, I t'ink she got fever."
"Which side is the pain on?"
"Das Schmertz--die Weh--which side is it on? Here?"
"So. Right here it is."
"Any rigidity there?"
"Is it rigid--stiff--I mean, does the belly feel hard to the
"I dunno. She ain't said yet."
"What she been eating?"
"Vell, I t'ink about vot ve alwis eat, maybe corn beef and
cabbage and sausage, und so weiter. Doc, sie weint immer, all
the time she holler like hell. I vish you come."
"Well, all right, but you call me earlier, next time. Look
here, Barney, you better install a 'phone--telephone haben.
Some of you Dutchmen will be dying one of these days before
you can fetch the doctor."
The door closing. Barney's wagon--the wheels silent in the
snow, but the wagon-body rattling. Kennicott clicking the
receiver-hook to rouse the night telephone-operator, giving a
number, waiting, cursing mildly, waiting again, and at last
growling, "Hello, Gus, this is the doctor. Say, uh, send me
up a team. Guess snow's too thick for a machine. Going
eight miles south. All right. Huh? The hell I will! Don't
you go back to sleep. Huh? Well, that's all right now, you
didn't wait so very darn long. All right, Gus; shoot her
His step on the stairs; his quiet moving about the frigid
room while he dressed; his abstracted and meaningless cough.
She was supposed to be asleep; she was too exquisitely drowsy
to break the charm by speaking. On a slip of paper laid on
the bureau--she could hear the pencil grinding against the
marble slab--he wrote his destination. He went out, hungry,
chilly, unprotesting; and she, before she fell asleep again, loved
him for his sturdiness, and saw the drama of his riding by
night to the frightened household on the distant farm; pictured
children standing at a window, waiting for him. He suddenly
had in her eyes the heroism of a wireless operator on a ship
in a collision; of an explorer, fever-clawed, deserted by his
bearers, but going on--jungle--going----
At six, when the light faltered in as through ground glass
and bleakly identified the chairs as gray rectangles, she heard
his step on the porch; heard him at the furnace: the rattle
of shaking the grate, the slow grinding removal of ashes, the
shovel thrust into the coal-bin, the abrupt clatter of the coal
as it flew into the fire-box, the fussy regulation of drafts-the
daily sounds of a Gopher Prairie life, now first appealing to
her as something brave and enduring, many-colored and free.
She visioned the fire-box: flames turned to lemon and metallic
gold as the coal-dust sifted over them; thin twisty flutters of
purple, ghost flames which gave no light, slipping up between
the dark banked coals.
It was luxurious in bed, and the house would be warm for
her when she rose, she reflected. What a worthless cat she
was! What were her aspirations beside his capability?
She awoke again as he dropped into bed.
"Seems just a few minutes ago that you started out!"
"I've been away four hours. I've operated a woman for
appendicitis, in a Dutch kitchen. Came awful close to losing
her, too, but I pulled her through all right. Close squeak.
Barney says he shot ten rabbits last Sunday."
He was instantly asleep--one hour of rest before he had to
be up and ready for the farmers who came in early. She
marveled that in what was to her but a night-blurred moment,
he should have been in a distant place, have taken charge of a
strange house, have slashed a woman, saved a life.
What wonder he detested the lazy Westlake and McGanum!
How could the easy Guy Pollock understand this skill and
Then Kennicott was grumbling, "Seven-fifteen! Aren't you
ever going to get up for breakfast?" and he was not a hero-
scientist but a rather irritable and commonplace man who
needed a shave. They had coffee, griddle-cakes, and sausages,
and talked about Mrs. McGanum's atrocious alligator-hide
belt. Night witchery and morning disillusion were alike
forgotten in the march of realities and days.
Familiar to the doctor's wife was the man with an injured
leg, driven in from the country on a Sunday afternoon and
brought to the house. He sat in a rocker in the back of a
lumber-wagon, his face pale from the anguish of the jolting.
His leg was thrust out before him, resting on a starch-box and
covered with a leather-bound horse-blanket. His drab
courageous wife drove the wagon, and she helped Kennicott
support him as he hobbled up the steps, into the house.
"Fellow cut his leg with an ax--pretty bad gash--Halvor
Nelson, nine miles out," Kennicott observed.
Carol fluttered at the back of the room, childishly excited
when she was sent to fetch towels and a basin of water.
Kennicott lifted the farmer into a chair and chuckled, "There
we are, Halvor! We'll have you out fixing fences and drinking
aquavit in a month." The farmwife sat on the couch, expressionless,
bulky in a man's dogskin coat and unplumbed layers
of jackets. The flowery silk handkerchief which she had worn
over her head now hung about her seamed neck. Her white
wool gloves lay in her lap.
Kennicott drew from the injured leg the thick red "German
sock," the innumerous other socks of gray and white wool, then
the spiral bandage. The leg was of an unwholesome dead
white, with the black hairs feeble and thin and flattened, and
the scar a puckered line of crimson. Surely, Carol shuddered,
this was not human flesh, the rosy shining tissue of the amorous
Kennicott examined the scar, smiled at Halvor and his wife,
chanted, "Fine, b' gosh! Couldn't be better!"
The Nelsons looked deprecating. The farmer nodded a cue
to his wife and she mourned:
"Vell, how much ve going to owe you, doctor?"
"I guess it'll be---- Let's see: one drive out and two calls.
I guess it'll be about eleven dollars in all, Lena."
"I dunno ve can pay you yoost a little w'ile, doctor."
Kennicott lumbered over to her, patted her shoulder, roared,
"Why, Lord love you, sister, I won't worry if I never get it!
You pay me next fall, when you get your crop. . . .
Carrie! Suppose you or Bea could shake up a cup of coffee
and some cold lamb for the Nelsons? They got a long cold
He had been gone since morning; her eyes ached with reading;
Vida Sherwin could not come to tea. She wandered
through the house, empty as the bleary street without. The
problem of "Will the doctor be home in time for supper, or
shall I sit down without him?" was important in the household.
Six was the rigid, the canonical supper-hour, but at
half-past six he had not come. Much speculation with Bea:
Had the obstetrical case taken longer than he had expected?
Had he been called somewhere else? Was the snow much
heavier out in the country, so that he should have taken a
buggy, or even a cutter, instead of the car? Here in town it
had melted a lot, but still----
A honking, a shout, the motor engine raced before it was
She hurried to the window. The car was a monster at rest
after furious adventures. The headlights blazed on the clots
of ice in the road so that the tiniest lumps gave mountainous
shadows, and the taillight cast a circle of ruby on the snow
behind. Kennicott was opening the door, crying, "Here we
are, old girl! Got stuck couple times, but we made it, by golly,
we made it, and here we be! Come on! Food! Eatin's!"
She rushed to him, patted his fur coat, the long hairs smooth
but chilly to her fingers. She joyously summoned Bea, "All
right! He's here! We'll sit right down!"
There were, to inform the doctor's wife of his successes no
clapping audiences nor book-reviews nor honorary degrees.
But there was a letter written by a German farmer recently
moved from Minnesota to Saskatchewan:
Dear sor, as you haf bin treading mee for a fue Weaks dis
Somer and seen wat is rong wit mee so in Regarding to dat i wont
to tank you. the Doctor heir say wat shot bee rong wit mee and
day give mee som Madsin but it diten halp mee like wat you dit.
Now day glaim dat i Woten Neet aney Madsin ad all wat you
Well i haven ben tacking aney ting for about one & 1/2 Mont but
i dont get better so i like to heir Wat you tink about it i feel like
dis Disconfebil feeling around the Stomac after eating and dat
Pain around Heard and down the arm and about 3 to 3 1/2 Hour
after Eating i feel weeak like and dissy and a dull Hadig. Now
you gust lett mee know Wat you tink about mee, i do Wat you say.
She encountered Guy Pollock at the drug store. He looked
at her as though he had a right to; he spoke softly. "I
haven't see you, the last few days."
"No. I've been out in the country with Will several times.
He's so---- Do you know that people like you and me can
never understand people like him? We're a pair of hypercritical
loafers, you and I, while he quietly goes and does
She nodded and smiled and was very busy about purchasing
boric acid. He stared after her, and slipped away.
When she found that he was gone she was slightly disconcerted.
She could--at times--agree with Kennicott that the shaving-
and-corsets familiarity of married life was not dreary vulgarity
but a wholesome frankness; that artificial reticences might
merely be irritating. She was not much disturbed when for
hours he sat about the living-room in his honest socks. But
she would not listen to his theory that "all this romance stuff
is simply moonshine--elegant when you're courting, but no
use busting yourself keeping it up all your life."
She thought of surprises, games, to vary the days. She
knitted an astounding purple scarf, which she hid under his
supper plate. (When he discovered it he looked embarrassed,
and gasped, "Is today an anniversary or something? Gosh,
I'd forgotten it!")
Once she filled a thermos bottle with hot coffee a corn-flakes
box with cookies just baked by Bea, and bustled to his office
at three in the afternoon. She hid her bundles in the hall and
The office was shabby. Kennicott had inherited it from a
medical predecessor, and changed it only by adding a white
enameled operating-table, a sterilizer, a Roentgen-ray
apparatus, and a small portable typewriter. It was a suite of
two rooms: a waiting-room with straight chairs, shaky pine
table, and those coverless and unknown magazines which are
found only in the offices of dentists and doctors. The room
beyond, looking on Main Street, was business-office, consulting-
room, operating-room, and, in an alcove, bacteriological and
chemical laboratory. The wooden floors of both rooms were
bare; the furniture was brown and scaly.
Waiting for the doctor were two women, as still as though
they were paralyzed, and a man in a railroad brakeman's
uniform, holding his bandaged right hand with his tanned left.
They stared at Carol. She sat modestly in a stiff chair, feeling
frivolous and out of place.
Kennicott appeared at the inner door, ushering out
a bleached man with a trickle of wan beard, and consoling him,
"All right, Dad. Be careful about the sugar, and mind the
diet I gave you. Gut the prescription filled, and come in and
see me next week. Say, uh, better, uh, better not drink too
much beer. All right, Dad."
His voice was artificially hearty. He looked absently at
Carol. He was a medical machine now, not a domestic machine.
"What is it, Carrie?" he droned.
"No hurry. Just wanted to say hello."
Self-pity because he did not divine that this was a surprise
party rendered her sad and interesting to herself, and she had
the pleasure of the martyrs in saying bravely to him, "It's
nothing special. If you're busy long I'll trot home."
While she waited she ceased to pity and began to mock
herself. For the first time she observed the waiting-room. Oh
yes, the doctor's family had to have obi panels and a wide
couch and an electric percolator, but any hole was good enough
for sick tired common people who were nothing but the one
means and excuse for the doctor's existing! No. She couldn't
blame Kennicott. He was satisfied by the shabby chairs. He
put up with them as his patients did. It was her neglected
province--she who had been going about talking of rebuilding
the whole town!
When the patients were gone she brought in her bundles.
"What's those?" wondered Kennicott.
"Turn your back! Look out of the window!"
He obeyed--not very much bored. When she cried "Now!"
a feast of cookies and small hard candies and hot coffee was
spread on the roll-top desk in the inner room.
His broad face lightened. "That's a new one on me! Never
was more surprised in my life! And, by golly, I believe I am
hungry. Say, this is fine."
When the first exhilaration of the surprise had declined
she demanded, "Will! I'm going to refurnish your waiting-room!"
"What's the matter with it? It's all right."
"It is not! It's hideous. We can afford to give your
patients a better place. And it would be good business." She
felt tremendously politic.
"Rats! I don't worry about the business. You look here
now: As I told you---- Just because I like to tuck a few
dollars away, I'll be switched if I'll stand for your thinking
I'm nothing but a dollar-chasing----"
"Stop it! Quick! I'm not hurting your feelings! I'm not
criticizing! I'm the adoring least one of thy harem. I just
Two days later, with pictures, wicker chairs, a rug, she had
made the waiting-room habitable; and Kennicott admitted,
"Does look a lot better. Never thought much about it. Guess
I need being bullied."
She was convinced that she was gloriously content in her
career as doctor's-wife.
She tried to free herself from the speculation and disillusionment
which had been twitching at her; sought to dismiss all the
opinionation of an insurgent era. She wanted to shine upon
the veal-faced bristly-bearded Lyman Cass as much as upon
Miles Bjornstam or Guy Pollock. She gave a reception for the
Thanatopsis Club. But her real acquiring of merit was in calling
upon that Mrs. Bogart whose gossipy good opinion was so
valuable to a doctor.
Though the Bogart house was next door she had entered
it but three times. Now she put on her new moleskin cap,
which made her face small and innocent, she rubbed off the
traces of a lip-stick--and fled across the alley before her
admirable resolution should sneak away.
The age of houses, like the age of men, has small relation
to their years. The dull-green cottage of the good Widow
Bogart was twenty years old, but it had the antiquity of Cheops,
and the smell of mummy-dust. Its neatness rebuked the
street. The two stones by the path were painted yellow; the
outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice
that it was not concealed at all; the last iron dog remaining
in Gopher Prairie stood among whitewashed conch-shells upon
the lawn. The hallway was dismayingly scrubbed; the kitchen
was an exercise in mathematics, with problems worked out in
The parlor was kept for visitors. Carol suggested, "Let's
sit in the kitchen. Please don't trouble to light the parlor
"No trouble at all! My gracious, and you coming so seldom
and all, and the kitchen is a perfect sight, I try to keep it
clean, but Cy will track mud all over it, I've spoken to
him about it a hundred times if I've spoken once, no, you
sit right there, dearie, and I'll make a fire, no trouble at all,
practically no trouble at all."
Mrs. Bogart groaned, rubbed her joints, and repeatedly
dusted her hands while she made the fire, and when Carol tried
to help she lamented, "Oh, it doesn't matter; guess I ain't
good for much but toil and workin' anyway; seems as though
that's what a lot of folks think."
The parlor was distinguished by an expanse of rag carpet
from which, as they entered, Mrs. Bogart hastily picked one
sad dead fly. In the center of the carpet was a rug depicting
a red Newfoundland dog, reclining in a green and yellow daisy
field and labeled "Our Friend." The parlor organ, tall and
thin, was adorned with a mirror partly circular, partly square,
and partly diamond-shaped, and with brackets holding a pot
of geraniums, a mouth-organ, and a copy of "The Oldtime
Hymnal." On the center table was a Sears-Roebuck mail-order
catalogue, a silver frame with photographs of the Baptist
Church and of an elderly clergyman, and an aluminum tray
containing a rattlesnake's rattle and a broken spectacle-lens.
Mrs. Bogart spoke of the eloquence of the Reverend Mr.
Zitterel, the coldness of cold days, the price of poplar wood,
Dave Dyer's new hair-cut, and Cy Bogart's essential piety.
"As I said to his Sunday School teacher, Cy may be a little
wild, but that's because he's got so much better brains than a
lot of these boys, and this farmer that claims he caught Cy
stealing 'beggies, is a liar, and I ought to have the law on
Mrs. Bogart went thoroughly into the rumor that the girl
waiter at Billy's Lunch was not all she might be--or, rather,
was quite all she might be.
"My lands, what can you expect when everybody knows
what her mother was? And if these traveling salesmen would
let her alone she would be all right, though I certainly don't
believe she ought to be allowed to think she can pull the wool
over our eyes. The sooner she's sent to the school for incorrigible
girls down at Sauk Centre, the better for all and----
Won't you just have a cup of coffee, Carol dearie, I'm sure
you won't mind old Aunty Bogart calling you by your first
name when you think how long I've known Will, and I was
such a friend of his dear lovely mother when she lived here
and--was that fur cap expensive? But---- Don't you think
it's awful, the way folks talk in this town?"
Mrs. Bogart hitched her chair nearer. Her large face, with
its disturbing collection of moles and lone black hairs, wrinkled
cunningly. She showed her decayed teeth in a reproving smile,
and in the confidential voice of one who scents stale bedroom
scandal she breathed:
"I just don't see how folks can talk and act like they do.
You don't know the things that go on under cover. This
town--why it's only the religious training I've given Cy that's
kept him so innocent of--things. Just the other day----
I never pay no attention to stories, but I heard it mighty good
and straight that Harry Haydock is carrying on with a girl
that clerks in a store down in Minneapolis, and poor Juanita
not knowing anything about it--though maybe it's the judgment
of God, because before she married Harry she acted up
with more than one boy---- Well, I don't like to say it, and
maybe I ain't up-to-date, like Cy says, but I always believed
a lady shouldn't even give names to all sorts of dreadful things,
but just the same I know there was at least one case where
Juanita and a boy--well, they were just dreadful. And--
and---- Then there's that Ole Jenson the grocer, that thinks
he's so plaguey smart, and I know he made up to a farmer's
wife and---- And this awful man Bjornstam that does chores,
and Nat Hicks and----"
There was, it seemed, no person in town who was not living a
life of shame except Mrs. Bogart, and naturally she resented
She knew. She had always happened to be there. Once,
she whispered, she was going by when an indiscreet window-
shade had been left up a couple of inches. Once she had
noticed a man and woman holding hands, and right at a
"Another thing---- Heaven knows I never want to start
trouble, but I can't help what I see from my back steps,
and I notice your hired girl Bea carrying on with the grocery
boys and all----"
"Mrs. Bogart! I'd trust Bea as I would myself!"
"Oh, dearie, you don't understand me! I'm sure she's a
good girl. I mean she's green, and I hope that none of these
horrid young men that there are around town will get her into
trouble! It's their parents' fault, letting them run wild and
hear evil things. If I had my way there wouldn't be none of
them, not boys nor girls neither, allowed to know anything
about--about things till they was married. It's terrible the
bald way that some folks talk. It just shows and gives away
what awful thoughts they got inside them, and there's nothing
can cure them except coming right to God and kneeling down
like I do at prayer-meeting every Wednesday evening, and
saying, `O God, I would be a miserable sinner except for thy
"I'd make every last one of these brats go to Sunday School
and learn to think about nice things 'stead of about cigarettes
and goings-on--and these dances they have at the lodges are
the worst thing that ever happened to this town, lot of young
men squeezing girls and finding out---- Oh, it's dreadful.
I've told the mayor he ought to put a stop to them and----
There was one boy in this town, I don't want to be suspicious
or uncharitable but----"
It was half an hour before Carol escaped.
She stopped on her own porch and thought viciously:
"If that woman is on the side of the angels, then I have
no choice; I must be on the side of the devil. But--isn't she
like me? She too wants to `reform the town'! She too
criticizes everybody! She too thinks the men are vulgar and
limited! AM I LIKE HER? This is ghastly!"
That evening she did not merely consent to play cribbage
with Kennicott; she urged him to play; and she worked up
a hectic interest in land-deals and Sam Clark.
In courtship days Kennicott had shown her a photograph of
Nels Erdstrom's baby and log cabin, but she had never seen
the Erdstroms. They had become merely "patients of the
doctor." Kennicott telephoned her on a mid-December afternoon,
"Want to throw your coat on and drive out to Erdstrom's
with me? Fairly warm. Nels got the jaundice."
"Oh yes!" She hastened to put on woolen stockings, high
boots, sweater, muffler, cap, mittens.
The snow was too thick and the ruts frozen too hard for
the motor. They drove out in a clumsy high carriage. Tucked
over them was a blue woolen cover, prickly to her wrists, and
outside of it a buffalo robe, humble and moth-eaten now, used
ever since the bison herds had streaked the prairie a few miles
to the west.
The scattered houses between which they passed in town
were small and desolate in contrast to the expanse of huge
snowy yards and wide street. They crossed the railroad tracks,
and instantly were in the farm country. The big piebald
horses snorted clouds of steam, and started to trot. The
carriage squeaked in rhythm. Kennicott drove with clucks
of "There boy, take it easy!" He was thinking. He paid no
attention to Carol. Yet it was he who commented, "Pretty
nice, over there," as they approached an oak-grove where
shifty winter sunlight quivered in the hollow between two
They drove from the natural prairie to a cleared district
which twenty years ago had been forest. The country seemed
to stretch unchanging to the North Pole: low hill, brush-
scraggly bottom, reedy creek, muskrat mound, fields with
frozen brown clods thrust up through the snow.
Her ears and nose were pinched; her breath frosted her
collar; her fingers ached.
"Getting colder," she said.
That was all their conversation for three miles. Yet she
They reached Nels Erdstrom's at four, and with a throb
she recognized the courageous venture which had lured her
to Gopher Prairie: the cleared fields, furrows among stumps,
a log cabin chinked with mud and roofed with dry hay. But
Nels had prospered. He used the log cabin as a barn; and
a new house reared up, a proud, unwise, Gopher Prairie house,
the more naked and ungraceful in its glossy white paint and
pink trimmings. Every tree had been cut down. The house
was so unsheltered, so battered by the wind, so bleakly thrust
out into the harsh clearing, that Carol shivered. But they
were welcomed warmly enough in the kitchen, with its crisp
new plaster, its black and nickel range, its cream separator
in a corner.
Mrs. Erdstrom begged her to sit in the parlor, where there
was a phonograph and an oak and leather davenport, the
prairie farmer's proofs of social progress, but she dropped down
by the kitchen stove and insisted, "Please don't mind me."
When Mrs. Erdstrom had followed the doctor out of the room
Carol glanced in a friendly way at the grained pine cupboard,
the framed Lutheran Konfirmations Attest, the traces of fried
eggs and sausages on the dining table against the wall, and a
jewel among calendars, presenting not only a lithographic
young woman with cherry lips, and a Swedish advertisement
of Axel Egge's grocery, but also a thermometer and a match-
She saw that a boy of four or five was staring at her from
the hall, a boy in gingham shirt and faded corduroy trousers,
but large-eyed, firm-mouthed, wide-browed. He vanished, then
peeped in again, biting his knuckles, turning his shoulder toward
her in shyness.
Didn't she remember--what was it?--Kennicott sitting beside
her at Fort Snelling, urging, "See how scared that baby
is. Needs some woman like you."
Magic had fluttered about her then--magic of sunset and
cool air and the curiosity of lovers. She held out her hands as
much to that sanctity as to the boy.
He edged into the room, doubtfully sucking his thumb.
"Hello," she said. "What's your name?"
"Hee, hee, hee!"
"You're quite right. I agree with you. Silly people like
me always ask children their names."
"Hee, hee, hee!"
"Come here and I'll tell you the story of--well, I don't
know what it will be about, but it will have a slim heroine
and a Prince Charming."
He stood stoically while she spun nonsense. His giggling
ceased. She was winning him. Then the telephone bell--two
long rings, one short.
Mrs. Erdstrom galloped into the room, shrieked into the
transmitter, "Vell? Yes, yes, dis is Erdstrom's place! Heh?
Oh, you vant de doctor?"
Kennicott appeared, growled into the telephone:
"Well, what do you want? Oh, hello Dave; what do you
want? Which Morgenroth's? Adolph's? All right.
Amputation? Yuh, I see. Say, Dave, get Gus to harness up and
take my surgical kit down there--and have him take some
chloroform. I'll go straight down from here. May not get
home tonight. You can get me at Adolph's. Huh? No, Carrie
can give the anesthetic, I guess. G'-by. Huh? No; tell me
about that tomorrow--too damn many people always listening
in on this farmers' line."
He turned to Carol. "Adolph Morgenroth, farmer ten miles
southwest of town, got his arm crushed-fixing his cow-shed
and a post caved in on him--smashed him up pretty bad--
may have to amputate, Dave Dyer says. Afraid we'll have
to go right from here. Darn sorry to drag you clear down
there with me----"
"Please do. Don't mind me a bit."
"Think you could give the anesthetic? Usually have my
driver do it."
"If you'll tell me how."
"All right. Say, did you hear me putting one over on these
goats that are always rubbering in on party-wires? I hope
they heard me! Well. . . . Now, Bessie, don't you worry
about Nels. He's getting along all right. Tomorrow you or
one of the neighbors drive in and get this prescription filled
at Dyer's. Give him a teaspoonful every four hours. Good-
by. Hel-lo! Here's the little fellow! My Lord, Bessie, it
ain't possible this is the fellow that used to be so sickly? Why,
say, he's a great big strapping Svenska now--going to be bigger
'n his daddy!"
Kennicott's bluffness made the child squirm with a delight
which Carol could not evoke. It was a humble wife who
followed the busy doctor out to the carriage, and her ambition
was not to play Rachmaninoff better, nor to build town halls,
but to chuckle at babies.
The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver,
with oak twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo
on the horizon changed from a red tank to a tower of violet
misted over with gray. The purple road vanished, and without
lights, in the darkness of a world destroyed, they swayed on--
It was a bumpy cold way to the Morgenroth farm, and
she was asleep when they arrived.
Here was no glaring new house with a proud phonograph,
but a low whitewashed kitchen smelling of cream and cabbage.
Adolph Morgenroth was lying on a couch in the rarely used
dining-room. His heavy work-scarred wife was shaking her
hands in anxiety.
Carol felt that Kennicott would do something magnificent
and startling. But he was casual. He greeted the man, "Well,
well, Adolph, have to fix you up, eh?" Quietly, to the wife,
"Hat die drug store my schwartze bag hier geschickt? So--
schon. Wie viel Uhr ist 's? Sieben? Nun, lassen uns ein
wenig supper zuerst haben. Got any of that good beer left--
giebt 's noch Bier?"
He had supped in four minutes. His coat off, his sleeves
rolled up, he was scrubbing his hands in a tin basin in the
sink, using the bar of yellow kitchen soap.
Carol had not dared to look into the farther room while
she labored over the supper of beer, rye bread, moist cornbeef
and cabbage, set on the kitchen table. The man in there
was groaning. In her one glance she had seen that his blue
flannel shirt was open at a corded tobacco-brown neck, the
hollows of which were sprinkled with thin black and gray hairs.
He was covered with a sheet, like a corpse, and outside the
sheet was his right arm, wrapped in towels stained with blood.
But Kennicott strode into the other room gaily, and she
followed him. With surprising delicacy in his large fingers
he unwrapped the towels and revealed an arm which, below
the elbow, was a mass of blood and raw flesh. The man bellowed.
The room grew thick about her; she was very seasick;
she fled to a chair in the kitchen. Through the haze of nausea
she heard Kennicott grumbling, "Afraid it will have to come
off, Adolph. What did you do? Fall on a reaper blade?
We'll fix it right up. Carrie! CAROL!"
She couldn't--she couldn't get up. Then she was up, her
knees like water, her stomach revolving a thousand times a
second, her eyes filmed, her ears full of roaring. She couldn't
reach the dining-room. She was going to faint. Then she
was in the dining-room, leaning against the wall, trying to
smile, flushing hot and cold along her chest and sides, while
Kennicott mumbled, "Say, help Mrs. Morgenroth and me
carry him in on the kitchen table. No, first go out and shove
those two tables together, and put a blanket on them and a
It was salvation to push the heavy tables, to scrub them,
to be exact in placing the sheet. Her head cleared; she was
able to look calmly in at her husband and the farmwife while
they undressed the wailing man, got him into a clean nightgown,
and washed his arm. Kennicott came to lay out his instruments.
She realized that, with no hospital facilities, yet with
no worry about it, her husband--HER HUSBAND--was going to
perform a surgical operation, that miraculous boldness of which
one read in stories about famous surgeons.
She helped them to move Adolph into the kitchen. The
man was in such a funk that he would not use his legs. He
was heavy, and smelled of sweat and the stable. But she put
her arm about his waist, her sleek head by his chest; she
tugged at him; she clicked her tongue in imitation of Kennicott's
When Adolph was on the table Kennicott laid a hemispheric
steel and cotton frame on his face; suggested to Carol, "Now
you sit here at his head and keep the ether dripping--about
this fast, see? I'll watch his breathing. Look who's here!
Real anesthetist! Ochsner hasn't got a better one! Class,
eh? . . . Now, now, Adolph, take it easy. This won't hurt
you a bit. Put you all nice and asleep and it won't hurt a
bit. Schweig' mal! Bald schlaft man grat wie ein Kind. So!
So! Bald geht's besser!"
As she let the ether drip, nervously trying to keep the
rhythm that Kennicott had indicated, Carol stared at her husband
with the abandon of hero-worship.
He shook his head. "Bad light--bad light. Here, Mrs.
Morgenroth, you stand right here and hold this lamp. Hier,
und dieses--dieses lamp halten--so!"
By that streaky glimmer he worked, swiftly, at ease. The
room was still. Carol tried to look at him, yet not look at the
seeping blood, the crimson slash, the vicious scalpel. The
ether fumes were sweet, choking. Her head seemed to be
floating away from her body. Her arm was feeble.
It was not the blood but the grating of the surgical saw on
the living bone that broke her, and she knew that she had
been fighting off nausea, that she was beaten. She was lost
in dizziness. She heard Kennicott's voice
"Sick? Trot outdoors couple minutes. Adolph will stay
She was fumbling at a door-knob which whirled in insulting
circles; she was on the stoop, gasping, forcing air into her
chest, her head clearing. As she returned she caught the scene
as a whole: the cavernous kitchen, two milk-cans a leaden
patch by the wall, hams dangling from a beam, bats of light
at the stove door, and in the center, illuminated by a small
glass lamp held by a frightened stout woman, Dr. Kennicott
bending over a body which was humped under a sheet--the
surgeon, his bare arms daubed with blood, his hands, in pale-
yellow rubber gloves, loosening the tourniquet, his face without
emotion save when he threw up his head and clucked at the
farmwife, "Hold that light steady just a second more--noch
blos esn wenig."
"He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life
and death and birth and the soil. I read the French and
German of sentimental lovers and Christmas garlands. And
I thought that it was I who had the culture!" she worshiped
as she returned to her place.
After a time he snapped, "That's enough. Don't give him
any more ether." He was concentrated on tying an artery.
His gruffness seemed heroic to her.
As he shaped the flap of flesh she murmured, "Oh, you ARE
He was surprised. "Why, this is a cinch. Now if it had
been like last week---- Get me some more water. Now last
week I had a case with an ooze in the peritoneal cavity, and
by golly if it wasn't a stomach ulcer that I hadn't suspected
and---- There. Say, I certainly am sleepy. Let's turn in
here. Too late to drive home. And tastes to me like a storm
They slept on a feather bed with their fur coats over them;
in the morning they broke ice in the pitcher--the vast flowered
and gilt pitcher.
Kennicott's storm had not come. When they set out it was
hazy and growing warmer. After a mile she saw that he was
studying a dark cloud in the north. He urged the horses to
the run. But she forgot his unusual haste in wonder at the
tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of old stubble,
and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity.
Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a
farmhouse were agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of
bare wood where the bark had peeled away were white as the
flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were of a harsh flatness.
The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of slate-edged
blackness dominated the sky.
"Guess we're about in for a blizzard," speculated Kennicott
"We can make Ben McGonegal's, anyway."
"Blizzard? Really? Why---- But still we used to think
they were fun when I was a girl. Daddy had to stay home
from court, and we'd stand at the window and watch the
"Not much fun on the prairie. Get lost. Freeze to death.
Take no chances." He chirruped at the horses. They were
flying now, the carriage rocking on the hard ruts.
The whole air suddenly crystallized into large damp flakes.
The horses and the buffalo robe were covered with snow; her
face was wet; the thin butt of the whip held a white ridge.
The air became colder. The snowflakes were harder; they
shot in level lines, clawing at her face.
She could not see a hundred feet ahead.
Kennicott was stern. He bent forward, the reins firm in his
coonskin gauntlets. She was certain that he would get through.
He always got through things.
Save for his presence, the world and all normal living
disappeared. They were lost in the boiling snow. He leaned close
to bawl, "Letting the horses have their heads. They'll get us
With a terrifying bump they were off the road, slanting with
two wheels in the ditch, but instantly they were jerked back
as the horses fled on. She gasped. She tried to, and did not,
feel brave as she pulled the woolen robe up about her chin.
They were passing something like a dark wall on the right.
"I know that barn!" he yelped. He pulled at the reins.
Peeping from the covers she saw his teeth pinch his lower lip,
saw him scowl as he slackened and sawed and jerked sharply
again at the racing horses.
"Farmhouse there. Put robe around you and come on," he
It was like diving into icy water to climb out of the carriage,
but on the ground she smiled at him, her face little and childish
and pink above the buffalo robe over her shoulders. In a
swirl of flakes which scratched at their eyes like a maniac
darkness, he unbuckled the harness. He turned and plodded
back, a ponderous furry figure, holding the horses' bridles,
Carol's hand dragging at his sleeve.
They came to the cloudy bulk of a barn whose outer wall was
directly upon the road. Feeling along it, he found a gate, led
them into a yard, into the barn. The interior was warm. It
stunned them with its languid quiet.
He carefully drove the horses into stalls.
Her toes were coals of pain. "Let's run for the house," she
"Can't. Not yet. Might never find it. Might get lost ten
feet away from it. Sit over in this stall, near the horses.
We'll rush for the house when the blizzard lifts."
"I'm so stiff! I can't walk!"
He carried her into the stall, stripped off her overshoes and
boots, stopping to blow on his purple fingers as he fumbled
at her laces. He rubbed her feet, and covered her with the
buffalo robe and horse-blankets from the pile on the feed-box.
She was drowsy, hemmed in by the storm. She sighed:
"You're so strong and yet so skilful and not afraid of
blood or storm or----"
"Used to it. Only thing that's bothered me was the chance
the ether fumes might explode, last night."
"I don't understand."
"Why, Dave, the darn fool, sent me ether, instead of chloroform
like I told him, and you know ether fumes are mighty
inflammable, especially with that lamp right by the table. But
I had to operate, of course--wound chuck-full of barnyard
filth that way."
"You knew all the time that---- Both you and I might
have been blown up? You knew it while you were operating?"
"Sure. Didn't you? Why, what's the matter?"
KENNICOTT was heavily pleased by her Christmas presents,
and he gave her a diamond bar-pin. But she could not persuade
herself that he was much interested in the rites of the morning,
in the tree she had decorated, the three stockings she had
hung, the ribbons and gilt seals and hidden messages. He
"Nice way to fix things, all right. What do you say we
go down to Jack Elder's and have a game of five hundred this
She remembered her father's Christmas fantasies: the sacred
old rag doll at the top of the tree, the score of cheap presents,
the punch and carols, the roast chestnuts by the fire, and the
gravity with which the judge opened the children's scrawly
notes and took cognizance of demands for sled-rides, for opinions
upon the existence of Santa Claus. She remembered him
reading out a long indictment of himself for being a sentimentalist,
against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota.
She remembered his thin legs twinkling before their sled----
She muttered unsteadily, "Must run up and put on my shoes
--slippers so cold." In the not very romantic solitude of the
locked bathroom she sat on the slippery edge of the tub and
Kennicott had five hobbies: medicine, land-investment, Carol,
motoring, and hunting. It is not certain in what order he
preferred them. Solid though his enthusiasms were in the matter
of medicine--his admiration of this city surgeon, his
condemnation of that for tricky ways of persuading country
practitioners to bring in surgical patients, his indignation about
fee-splitting, his pride in a new X-ray apparatus--none of
these beatified him as did motoring.
He nursed his two-year-old Buick even in winter, when it
was stored in the stable-garage behind the house. He filled
the grease-cups, varnished a fender, removed from beneath the
back seat the debris of gloves, copper washers, crumpled maps,
dust, and greasy rags. Winter noons he wandered out and
stared owlishly at the car. He became excited over a fabulous
"trip we might take next summer." He galloped to the station,
brought home railway maps, and traced motor-routes from
Gopher Prairie to Winnipeg or Des Moines or Grand Marais,
thinking aloud and expecting her to be effusive about such
academic questions as "Now I wonder if we could stop at
Baraboo and break the jump from La Crosse to Chicago?"
To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned, a high-
church cult, with electric sparks for candles, and piston-rings
possessing the sanctity of altar-vessels. His liturgy was
composed of intoned and metrical road-comments: "They say
there's a pretty good hike from Duluth to International Falls."
Hunting was equally a devotion, full of metaphysical
concepts veiled from Carol. All winter he read sporting-
catalogues, and thought about remarkable past shots: " 'Member
that time when I got two ducks on a long chance, just at
sunset?" At least once a month he drew his favorite repeating
shotgun, his "pump gun," from its wrapper of greased
canton flannel; he oiled the trigger, and spent silent ecstatic
moments aiming at the ceiling. Sunday mornings Carol heard
him trudging up to the attic and there, an hour later, she
found him turning over boots, wooden duck-decoys, lunch-
boxes, or reflectively squinting at old shells, rubbing their
brass caps with his sleeve and shaking his head as he thought
about their uselessness.
He kept the loading-tools he had used as a boy: a capper
for shot-gun shells, a mold for lead bullets. When once, in a
housewifely frenzy for getting rid of things, she raged, "Why
don't you give these away?" he solemnly defended them,
"Well, you can't tell; they might come in handy some day."
She flushed. She wondered if he was thinking of the child
they would have when, as he put it, they were "sure they
could afford one."
Mysteriously aching, nebulously sad, she slipped away, half-
convinced but only half-convinced that it was horrible and
unnatural, this postponement of release of mother-affection, this
sacrifice to her opinionation and to his cautious desire for
"But it would be worse if he were like Sam Clark--
insisted on having children," she considered; then,
"If Will were the Prince, wouldn't I DEMAND his child?"
Kennicott's land-deals were both financial advancement and
favorite game. Driving through the country, he noticed which
farms had good crops; he heard the news about the restless
farmer who was "thinking about selling out here and pulling
his freight for Alberta." He asked the veterinarian about the
value of different breeds of stock; he inquired of Lyman Cass
whether or not Einar Gyseldson really had had a yield of forty
bushels of wheat to the acre. He was always consulting Julius
Flickerbaugh, who handled more real estate than law, and more law
than justice. He studied township maps, and read notices of auctions.
Thus he was able to buy a quarter-section of land for one
hundred and fifty dollars an acre, and to sell it in a year or
two, after installing a cement floor in the barn and running
water in the house, for one hundred and eighty or even two
He spoke of these details to Sam Clark. . .rather often.
In all his games, cars and guns and land, he expected Carol
to take an interest. But he did not give her the facts which
might have created interest. He talked only of the obvious and
tedious aspects; never of his aspirations in finance, nor of the
mechanical principles of motors.
This month of romance she was eager to understand his
hobbies. She shivered in the garage while he spent half an hour
in deciding whether to put alcohol or patent non-freezing liquid
into the radiator, or to drain out the water entirely. "Or no,
then I wouldn't want to take her out if it turned warm--
still, of course, I could fill the radiator again--wouldn't take
so awful long--just take a few pails of water--still, if it turned
cold on me again before I drained it---- Course there's some
people that put in kerosene, but they say it rots the hose-
connections and---- Where did I put that lug-wrench?"
It was at this point that she gave up being a motorist and
retired to the house.
In their new intimacy he was more communicative about his
practise; he informed her, with the invariable warning not to
tell, that Mrs. Sunderquist had another baby coming, that the
"hired girl at Howland's was in trouble." But when she asked
technical questions he did not know how to answer; when she
inquired, "Exactly what is the method of taking out the
tonsils?" he yawned, "Tonsilectomy? Why you just---- If
there's pus, you operate. Just take 'em out. Seen the
newspaper? What the devil did Bea do with it?"
She did not try again.
They had gone to the "movies." The movies were almost
as vital to Kennicott and the other solid citizens of Gopher
Prairie as land-speculation and guns and automobiles.
The feature film portrayed a brave young Yankee who
conquered a South American republic. He turned the natives from
their barbarous habits of singing and laughing to the vigorous
sanity, the Pep and Punch and Go, of the North; he taught
them to work in factories, to wear Klassy Kollege Klothes, and
to shout, "Oh, you baby doll, watch me gather in the mazuma."
He changed nature itself. A mountain which had borne nothing
but lilies and cedars and loafing clouds was by his Hustle
so inspirited that it broke out in long wooden sheds, and piles
of iron ore to be converted into steamers to carry iron ore
to be converted into steamers to carry iron ore.
The intellectual tension induced by the master film was
relieved by a livelier, more lyric and less philosophical drama:
Mack Schnarken and the Bathing Suit Babes in a comedy of
manners entitled "Right on the Coco." Mr. Schnarken was at
various high moments a cook, a life-guard, a burlesque actor,
and a sculptor. There was a hotel hallway up which policemen
charged, only to be stunned by plaster busts hurled upon them
from the innumerous doors. If the plot lacked lucidity, the
dual motif of legs and pie was clear and sure. Bathing and
modeling were equally sound occasions for legs; the wedding-
scene was but an approach to the thunderous climax when Mr.
Schnarken slipped a piece of custard pie into the clergyman's
The audience in the Rosebud Movie Palace squealed and
wiped their eyes; they scrambled under the seats for overshoes,
mittens, and mufflers, while the screen announced that
next week Mr. Schnarken might be seen in a new, riproaring,
extra-special superfeature of the Clean Comedy Corporation
entitled, "Under Mollie's Bed."
"I'm glad," said Carol to Kennicott as they stooped before
the northwest gale which was torturing the barren street, "that
this is a moral country. We don't allow any of these beastly
"Yump. Vice Society and Postal Department won't stand
for them. The American people don't like filth."
"Yes. It's fine. I'm glad we have such dainty romances as
`Right on the Coco' instead."
"Say what in heck do you think you're trying to do? Kid
He was silent. She awaited his anger. She meditated upon
his gutter patois, the Boeotian dialect characteristic of Gopher
Prairie. He laughed puzzlingly. When they came into the
glow of the house he laughed again. He condescended:
"I've got to hand it to you. You're consistent, all right.
I'd of thought that after getting this look-in at a lot of good
decent farmers, you'd get over this high-art stuff, but you
hang right on."
"Well----" To herself: "He takes advantage of my trying
to be good."
"Tell you, Carrie: There's just three classes of people:
folks that haven't got any ideas at all; and cranks that kick
about everything; and Regular Guys, the fellows with stick-
tuitiveness, that boost and get the world's work done."
"Then I'm probably a crank." She smiled negligently.
"No. I won't admit it. You do like to talk, but at a
show-down you'd prefer Sam Clark to any damn long-haired
"Oh well!" mockingly. "My, we're just going to change
everything, aren't we! Going to tell fellows that have been
making movies for ten years how to direct 'em; and tell
architects how to build towns; and make the magazines publish
nothing but a lot of highbrow stories about old maids, and
about wives that don't know what they want. Oh, we're
a terror! . . . Come on now, Carrie; come out of it;
wake up! You've got a fine nerve, kicking about a movie
because it shows a few legs! Why, you're always touting these
Greek dancers, or whatever they are, that don't even wear a
"But, dear, the trouble with that film--it wasn't that it
got in so many legs, but that it giggled coyly and promised
to show more of them, and then didn't keep the promise. It
was Peeping Tom's idea of humor."
"I don't get you. Look here now----"
She lay awake, while he rumbled with sleep
"I must go on. My `crank ideas;' he calls them. I thought
that adoring him, watching him operate, would be enough. It
isn't. Not after the first thrill.
"I don't want to hurt him. But I must go on.
"It isn't enough, to stand by while he fills an automobile
radiator and chucks me bits of information.
"If I stood by and admired him long enough, I would be
content. I would become a `nice little woman.' The Village
Virus. Already---- I'm not reading anything. I haven't
touched the piano for a week. I'm letting the days drown in
worship of `a good deal, ten plunks more per acre.' I won't!
I won't succumb!
"How? I've failed at everything: the Thanatopsis,
parties, pioneers, city hall, Guy and Vida. But---- It doesn't
MATTER! I'm not trying to `reform the town' now. I'm not
trying to organize Browning Clubs, and sit in clean white
kids yearning up at lecturers with ribbony eyeglasses. I am
trying to save my soul.
"Will Kennicott, asleep there, trusting me, thinking he holds
me. And I'm leaving him. All of me left him when he laughed
at me. It wasn't enough for him that I admired him; I must
change myself and grow like him. He takes advantage. No
more. It's finished. I will go on."
Her violin lay on top of the upright piano. She picked it
up. Since she had last touched it the dried strings had snapped,
and upon it lay a gold and crimson cigar-band.
She longed to see Guy Pollock, for the confirming of the
brethren in the faith. But Kennicott's dominance was heavy
upon her. She could not determine whether she was checked
by fear or him, or by inertia--by dislike of the emotional labor
of the "scenes" which would be involved in asserting
independence. She was like the revolutionist at fifty: not afraid
of death, but bored by the probability of bad steaks and bad
breaths and sitting up all night on windy barricades.
The second evening after the movies she impulsively
summoned Vida Sherwin and Guy to the house for pop-corn and
cider. In the living-room Vida and Kennicott debated "the
value of manual training in grades below the eighth," while
Carol sat beside Guy at the dining table, buttering pop-corn.
She was quickened by the speculation in his eyes. She
"Guy, do you want to help me?"
"My dear! How?"
"I don't know!"
"I think I want you to help me find out what has made the
darkness of the women. Gray darkness and shadowy trees.
We're all in it, ten million women, young married women with
good prosperous husbands, and business women in linen collars,
and grandmothers that gad out to teas, and wives of under-
paid miners, and farmwives who really like to make butter and
go to church. What is it we want--and need? Will Kennicott
there would say that we need lots of children and hard work.
But it isn't that. There's the same discontent in women with
eight children and one more coming--always one more coming!
And you find it in stenographers and wives who scrub, just
as much as in girl college-graduates who wonder how they can
escape their kind parents. What do we want?"
"Essentially, I think, you are like myself, Carol; you want
to go back to an age of tranquillity and charming manners.
You want to enthrone good taste again."
"Just good taste? Fastidious people? Oh--no! I believe
all of us want the same things--we're all together,
the industrial workers and the women and the farmers and the
negro race and the Asiatic colonies, and even a few of the