Part 7 out of 12
Meurt, then plodded on to Gopher Prairie to stay with their
nephew. They appeared unannounced, before the baby was
born, took their welcome for granted, and immediately began
to complain of the fact that their room faced north.
Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie assumed that it was their
privilege as relatives to laugh at Carol, and their duty as
Christians to let her know how absurd her "notions" were.
They objected to the food, to Oscarina's lack of friendliness,
to the wind, the rain, and the immodesty of Carol's maternity
gowns. They were strong and enduring; for an hour at a
time they could go on heaving questions about her father's
income, about her theology, and about the reason why she had
not put on her rubbers when she had gone across the street.
For fussy discussion they had a rich, full genius, and their
example developed in Kennicott a tendency to the same form
of affectionate flaying.
If Carol was so indiscreet as to murmur that she had a
small headache, instantly the two Smails and Kennicott were
at it. Every five minutes, every time she sat down or rose or
spoke to Oscarina, they twanged, "Is your head better now?
Where does it hurt? Don't you keep hartshorn in the house?
Didn't you walk too far today? Have you tried hartshorn?
Don't you keep some in the house so it will be handy? Does
it feel better now? How does it feel? Do your eyes hurt,
too? What time do you usually get to bed? As late as THAT?
Well! How does it feel now?"
In her presence Uncle Whittier snorted at Kennicott, "Carol
get these headaches often? Huh? Be better for her if she
didn't go gadding around to all these bridge-whist parties, and
took some care of herself once in a while!"
They kept it up, commenting, questioning, commenting,
questioning, till her determination broke and she bleated, "For
heaven's SAKE, don't dis-CUSS it! My head 's all RIGHT!"
She listened to the Smails and Kennicott trying to determine
by dialectics whether the copy of the Dauntless, which
Aunt Bessie wanted to send to her sister in Alberta, ought to
have two or four cents postage on it. Carol would have taken
it to the drug store and weighed it, but then she was a
dreamer, while they were practical people (as they frequently
admitted). So they sought to evolve the postal rate from their
inner consciousnesses, which, combined with entire frankness
in thinking aloud, was their method of settling all problems.
The Smails did not "believe in all this nonsense" about
privacy and reticence. When Carol left a letter from her
sister on the table, she was astounded to hear from Uncle
Whittier, "I see your sister says her husband is doing fine.
You ought to go see her oftener. I asked Will and he says
you don't go see her very often. My! You ought to go see
If Carol was writing a letter to a classmate, or planning the
week's menus, she could be certain that Aunt Bessie would
pop in and titter, "Now don't let me disturb you, I just
wanted to see where you were, don't stop, I'm not going to stay
only a second. I just wondered if you could possibly have
thought that I didn't eat the onions this noon because I didn't
think they were properly cooked, but that wasn't the reason
at all, it wasn't because I didn't think they were well cooked,
I'm sure that everything in your house is always very dainty
and nice, though I do think that Oscarina is careless about
some things, she doesn't appreciate the big wages you pay her,
and she is so cranky, all these Swedes are so cranky, I don't
really see why you have a Swede, but---- But that wasn't
it, I didn't eat them not because I didn't think they weren't
cooked proper, it was just--I find that onions don't agree with
me, it's very strange, ever since I had an attack of biliousness
one time, I have found that onions, either fried onions or
raw ones, and Whittier does love raw onions with vinegar
and sugar on them----"
It was pure affection.
Carol was discovering that the one thing that can be more
disconcerting than intelligent hatred is demanding love.
She supposed that she was being gracefully dull and
standardized in the Smails' presence, but they scented the heretic,
and with forward-stooping delight they sat and tried to drag
out her ludicrous concepts for their amusement. They were
like the Sunday-afternoon mob starting at monkeys in the
Zoo, poking fingers arid making faces and giggling at the
resentment of the more dignified race.
With a loose-lipped, superior, village smile Uncle Whittier
hinted, "What's this I hear about your thinking Gopher
Prairie ought to be all tore down and rebuilt, Carrie? I don't
know where folks get these new-fangled ideas. Lots of farmers
in Dakota getting 'em these days. About co-operation. Think
they can run stores better 'n storekeepers! Huh!"
"Whit and I didn't need no co-operation as long as we was
farming!" triumphed Aunt Bessie. "Carrie, tell your old
auntie now: don't you ever go to church on Sunday? You do
go sometimes? But you ought to go every Sunday! When you're
as old as I am, you'll learn that no matter how smart folks
think they are, God knows a whole lot more than they do, and then
you'll realize and be glad to go and listen to your pastor!"
In the manner of one who has just beheld a two-headed calf
they repeated that they had "never HEARD such funny ideas!"
They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person,
living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood
relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not
always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not
bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there
are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men
have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic
system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony
were not known in the Garden of Eden; that mushrooms are
as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word "dude" is no
longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel
who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence
and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket
straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy
flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently
more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have
long hair; and that Jews are not always pedlers or pants-
"Where does she get all them the'ries?" marveled Uncle
Whittier Smail; while Aunt Bessie inquired, "Do you suppose
there's many folks got notions like hers? My! If there are,"
and her tone settled the fact that there were not, "I just don't
know what the world's coming to!"
Patiently--more or less--Carol awaited the exquisite day
when they would announce departure. After three weeks Uncle
Whittier remarked, "We kinda like Gopher Prairie. Guess
maybe we'll stay here. We'd been wondering what we'd do,
now we've sold the creamery and my farms. So I had a talk
with Ole Jenson about his grocery, and I guess I'll buy him out
and storekeep for a while."
Carol rebelled. Kennicott soothed her: "Oh, we won't see
much of them. They'll have their own house."
She resolved to be so chilly that they would stay away. But
she had no talent for conscious insolence. They found a house,
but Carol was never safe from their appearance with a hearty,
"Thought we'd drop in this evening and keep you from being
lonely. Why, you ain't had them curtains washed yet!"
Invariably, whenever she was touched by the realization that
it was they who were lonely, they wrecked her pitying affection
They immediately became friendly with all of their own
race, with the Luke Dawsons, the Deacon Piersons, and Mrs.
Bogart; and brought them along in the evening. Aunt Bessie
was a bridge over whom the older women, bearing gifts of
counsel and the ignorance of experience, poured into Carol's
island of reserve. Aunt Bessie urged the good Widow Bogart,
"Drop in and see Carrie real often. Young folks today don't
understand housekeeping like we do."
Mrs. Bogart showed herself perfectly willing to be an
Carol was thinking up protective insults when Kennicott's
mother came down to stay with Brother Whittier for two
months. Carol was fond of Mrs. Kennicott. She could not
carry out her insults.
She felt trapped.
She had been kidnaped by the town. She was Aunt Bessie's
niece, and she was to be a mother. She was expected, she
almost expected herself, to sit forever talking of babies, cooks,
embroidery stitches, the price of potatoes, and the tastes of
husbands in the matter of spinach.
She found a refuge in the Jolly Seventeen. She suddenly
understood that they could be depended upon to laugh with
her at Mrs. Bogart, and she now saw Juanita Haydock's gossip
not as vulgarity but as gaiety and remarkable analysis.
Her life had changed, even before Hugh appeared. She
looked forward to the next bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, and
the security of whispering with her dear friends Maud Dyer
and Juanita and Mrs. McGanum.
She was part of the town. Its philosophy and its feuds
She was no longer irritated by the cooing of the matrons,
nor by their opinion that diet didn't matter so long as the
Little Ones had plenty of lace and moist kisses, but she
concluded that in the care of babies as in politics, intelligence
was superior to quotations about pansies. She liked best to
talk about Hugh to Kennicott, Vida, and the Bjornstams. She
was happily domestic when Kennicott sat by her on the floor,
to watch baby make faces. She was delighted when Miles,
speaking as one man to another, admonished Hugh, "I wouldn't
stand them skirts if I was you. Come on. Join the union
and strike. Make 'em give you pants."
As a parent, Kennicott was moved to establish the first
child-welfare week held in Gopher Prairie. Carol helped him
weigh babies and examine their throats, and she wrote out
the diets for mute German and Scandinavian mothers.
The aristocracy of Gopher Prairie, even the wives of the
rival doctors, took part, and for several days there was
community spirit and much uplift. But this reign of love was
overthrown when the prize for Best Baby was awarded not to
decent parents but to Bea and Miles Bjornstam! The good
matrons glared at Olaf Bjornstam, with his blue eyes, his
honey-colored hair, and magnificent back, and they remarked,
"Well, Mrs. Kennicott, maybe that Swede brat is as healthy as
your husband says he is, but let me tell you I hate to think
of the future that awaits any boy with a hired girl for a
mother and an awful irreligious socialist for a pa!"
She raged, but so violent was the current of their
respectability, so persistent was Aunt Bessie in running to her with
their blabber, that she was embarrassed when she took Hugh
to play with Olaf. She hated herself for it, but she hoped
that no one saw her go into the Bjornstam shanty. She hated
herself and the town's indifferent cruelty when she saw Bea's
radiant devotion to both babies alike; when she saw Miles
staring at them wistfully.
He had saved money, had quit Elder's planing-mill and
started a dairy on a vacant lot near his shack. He was
proud of his three cows and sixty chickens, and got up nights
to nurse them.
"I'll be a big farmer before you can bat an eye! I tell
you that young fellow Olaf is going to go East to college along
with the Haydock kids. Uh---- Lots of folks dropping in to
chin with Bea and me now. Say! Ma Bogart come in one
day! She was---- I liked the old lady fine. And the mill
foreman comes in right along. Oh, we got lots of friends.
Though the town seemed to Carol to change no more than the
surrounding fields, there was a constant shifting, these three
years. The citizen of the prairie drifts always westward. It
may be because he is the heir of ancient migrations--and it
may be because he finds within his own spirit so little
adventure that he is driven to seek it by changing his horizon.
The towns remain unvaried, yet the individual faces alter
like classes in college. The Gopher Prairie jeweler sells out,
for no discernible reason, and moves on to Alberta or the
state of Washington, to open a shop precisely like his former
one, in a town precisely like the one he has left. There is,
except among professional men and the wealthy, small
permanence either of residence or occupation. A man becomes
farmer, grocer, town policeman, garageman, restaurant-owner,
postmaster, insurance-agent, and farmer all over again, and the
community more or less patiently suffers from his lack of
knowledge in each of his experiments.
Ole Jenson the grocer and Dahl the butcher moved on to
South Dakota and Idaho. Luke and Mrs. Dawson picked up
ten thousand acres of prairie soil, in the magic portable form
of a small check book, and went to Pasadena, to a bungalow
and sunshine and cafeterias. Chet Dashaway sold his furniture
and undertaking business and wandered to Los Angeles, where,
the Dauntless reported, "Our good friend Chester has accepted
a fine position with a real-estate firm, and his wife has in the
charming social circles of the Queen City of the Southwestland
that same popularity which she enjoyed in our own society
Rita Simons was married to Terry Gould, and rivaled Juanita
Haydock as the gayest of the Young Married Set. But Juanita
also acquired merit. Harry's father died, Harry became senior
partner in the Bon Ton Store, and Juanita was more acidulous
and shrewd and cackling than ever. She bought an evening
frock, and exposed her collar-bone to the wonder of the Jolly
Seventeen, and talked of moving to Minneapolis.
To defend her position against the new Mrs. Terry Gould
she sought to attach Carol to her faction by giggling that
"SOME folks might call Rita innocent, but I've got a hunch
that she isn't half as ignorant of things as brides are supposed
to be--and of course Terry isn't one-two-three as a doctor
alongside of your husband."
Carol herself would gladly have followed Mr. Ole Jenson,
and migrated even to another Main Street; flight from familiar
tedium to new tedium would have for a time the outer look
and promise of adventure. She hinted to Kennicott of the
probable medical advantages of Montana and Oregon. She
knew that he was satisfied with Gopher Prairie, but it gave
her vicarious hope to think of going, to ask for railroad folders
at the station, to trace the maps with a restless forefinger.
Yet to the casual eye she was not discontented, she was
not an abnormal and distressing traitor to the faith of Main
The settled citizen believes that the rebel is constantly in a
stew of complaining and, hearing of a Carol Kennicott, he
gasps, "What an awful person! She must be a Holy Terror
to live with! Glad MY folks are satisfied with things way
they are!" Actually, it was not so much as five minutes a
day that Carol devoted to lonely desires. It is probable that
the agitated citizen has within his circle at least one inarticulate
rebel with aspirations as wayward as Carol's.
The presence of the baby had made her take Gopher Prairie
and the brown house seriously, as natural places of residence.
She pleased Kennicott by being friendly with the complacent
maturity of Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Elder, and when she had
often enough been in conference upon the Elders' new Cadillac
car, or the job which the oldest Clark boy had taken in the
office of the flour-mill, these topics became important, things
to follow up day by day.
With nine-tenths of her emotion concentrated upon Hugh,
she did not criticize shops, streets, acquaintances. . .
this year or two. She hurried to Uncle Whittier's store for
a package of corn-flakes, she abstractedly listened to Uncle
Whittier's denunciation of Martin Mahoney for asserting that
the wind last Tuesday had been south and not southwest, she
came back along streets that held no surprises nor the startling
faces of strangers. Thinking of Hugh's teething all the
way, she did not reflect that this store, these drab blocks, made
up all her background. She did her work, and she triumphed
over winning from the Clarks at five hundred.
The most considerable event of the two years after the
birth of Hugh occurred when Vida Sherwin resigned from the
high school and was married. Carol was her attendant, and
as the wedding was at the Episcopal Church, all the women
wore new kid slippers and long white kid gloves, and looked
For years Carol had been little sister to Vida, and had never
in the least known to what degree Vida loved her and hated
her and in curious strained ways was bound to her.
GRAY steel that seems unmoving because it spins so fast in the
balanced fly-wheel, gray snow in an avenue of elms, gray dawn
with the sun behind it--this was the gray of Vida Sherwin's
life at thirty-six.
She was small and active and sallow; her yellow hair was
faded, and looked dry; her blue silk blouses and modest
lace collars and high black shoes and sailor hats were as literal
and uncharming as a schoolroom desk; but her eyes determined
her appearance, revealed her as a personage and a force,
indicated her faith in the goodness and purpose of everything.
They were blue, and they were never still; they expressed
amusement, pity, enthusiasm. If she had been seen in sleep,
with the wrinkles beside her eyes stilled and the creased lids
hiding the radiant irises, she would have lost her potency.
She was born in a hill-smothered Wisconsin village where
her father was a prosy minister; she labored through a
sanctimonious college; she taught for two years in an iron-range
town of blurry-faced Tatars and Montenegrins, and wastes of
ore, and when she came to Gopher Prairie, its trees and the
shining spaciousness of the wheat prairie made her certain
that she was in paradise.
She admitted to her fellow-teachers that the schoolbuilding
was slightly damp, but she insisted that the rooms were
"arranged so conveniently--and then that bust of President
McKinley at the head of the stairs, it's a lovely art-work, and
isn't it an inspiration to have the brave, honest, martyr
president to think about!" She taught French, English, and
history, and the Sophomore Latin class, which dealt in matters
of a metaphysical nature called Indirect Discourse and the
Ablative Absolute. Each year she was reconvinced that the
pupils were beginning to learn more quickly. She spent four
winters in building up the Debating Society, and when the
debate really was lively one Friday afternoon, and the speakers
of pieces did not forget their lines, she felt rewarded.
She lived an engrossed useful life, and seemed as cool and
simple as an apple. But secretly she was creeping among fears,
longing, and guilt. She knew what it was, but she dared not
name it. She hated even the sound of the word "sex." When
she dreamed of being a woman of the harem, with great white
warm limbs, she awoke to shudder, defenseless in the dusk of
her room. She prayed to Jesus, always to the Son of God,
offering him the terrible power of her adoration, addressing him
as the eternal lover, growing passionate, exalted, large, as she
contemplated his splendor. Thus she mounted to endurance
By day, rattling about in many activities, she was able to
ridicule her blazing nights of darkness. With spurious
cheerfulness she announced everywhere, "I guess I'm a born
spinster," and "No one will ever marry a plain schoolma'am like
me," and "You men, great big noisy bothersome creatures,
we women wouldn't have you round the place, dirtying up nice
clean rooms, if it wasn't that you have to be petted and
guided. We just ought to say `Scat!' to all of you!"
But when a man held her close at a dance, even when
"Professor" George Edwin Mott patted her hand paternally
as they considered the naughtinesses of Cy Bogart, she quivered,
and reflected how superior she was to have kept her
In the autumn of 1911, a year before Dr. Will Kennicott
was married, Vida was his partner at a five-hundred tournament.
She was thirty-four then; Kennicott about thirty-six.
To her he was a superb, boyish, diverting creature; all the
heroic qualities in a manly magnificent body. They had
been helping the hostess to serve the Waldorf salad and coffee
and gingerbread. They were in the kitchen, side by side on
a bench, while the others ponderously supped in the room
Kennicott was masculine and experimental. He stroked
Vida's hand, he put his arm carelessly about her shoulder.
"Don't!" she said sharply.
"You're a cunning thing," he offered, patting the back of
her shoulder in an exploratory manner.
While she strained away, she longed to move nearer to him.
He bent over, looked at her knowingly. She glanced down at
his left hand as it touched her knee. She sprang up, started
noisily and needlessly to wash the dishes. He helped her. He
was too lazy to adventure further--and too used to women in
his profession. She was grateful for the impersonality of his
talk. It enabled her to gain control. She knew that she had
skirted wild thoughts.
A month after, on a sleighing-party, under the buffalo robes
in the bob-sled, he whispered, "You pretend to be a grown-up
schoolteacher, but you're nothing but a kiddie." His arm
was about her. She resisted.
"Don't you like the poor lonely bachelor?" he yammered in
a fatuous way.
"No, I don't! You don't care for me in the least. You're
just practising on me."
"You're so mean! I'm terribly fond of you."
"I'm not of you. And I'm not going to let myself be fond
of you, either."
He persistently drew her toward him. She clutched his arm.
Then she threw off the robe, climbed out of the sled, raced after
it with Harry Haydock. At the dance which followed the
sleigh-ride Kennicott was devoted to the watery prettiness of
Maud Dyer, and Vida was noisily interested in getting up a
Virginia Reel. Without seeming to watch Kennicott, she knew
that he did not once look at her.
That was all of her first love-affair.
He gave no sign of remembering that he was "terribly fond."
She waited for him; she reveled in longing, and in a sense of
guilt because she longed. She told herself that she did not
want part of him; unless he gave her all his devotion she would
never let him touch her; and when she found that she was
probably lying, she burned with scorn. She fought it out in
prayer. She knelt in a pink flannel nightgown, her thin
hair down her back, her forehead as full of horror as a mask
of tragedy, while she identified her love for the Son of God
with her love for a mortal, and wondered if any other woman
had ever been so sacrilegious. She wanted to be a nun
and observe perpetual adoration. She bought a rosary, but
she had been so bitterly reared as a Protestant that she could
not bring herself to use it.
Yet none of her intimates in the school and in the boarding-
house knew of her abyss of passion. They said she was "so
When she heard that Kennicott was to marry a girl, pretty,
young, and imposingly from the Cities, Vida despaired. She
congratulated Kennicott; carelessly ascertained from him the
hour of marriage. At that hour, sitting in her room, Vida
pictured the wedding in St. Paul. Full of an ecstasy which
horrified her, she followed Kennicott and the girl who had stolen
her place, followed them to the train, through the evening,
She was relieved when she had worked out a belief that she
wasn't really shameful, that there was a mystical relation
between herself and Carol, so that she was vicariously yet
veritably with Kennicott, and had the right to be.
She saw Carol during the first five minutes in Gopher Prairie.
She stared at the passing motor, at Kennicott and the girl
beside him. In that fog world of transference of emotion Vida
had no normal jealousy but a conviction that, since through
Carol she had received Kennicott's love, then Carol was a part
of her, an astral self, a heightened and more beloved self.
She was glad of the girl's charm, of the smooth black hair,
the airy head and young shoulders. But she was suddenly
angry. Carol glanced at her for a quarter-second, but looked
past her, at an old roadside barn. If she had made the great
sacrifice, at least she expected gratitude and recognition, Vida
raged, while her conscious schoolroom mind fussily begged
her to control this insanity.
During her first call half of her wanted to welcome a fellow
reader of books; the other half itched to find out whether
Carol knew anything about Kennicott's former interest in
herself. She discovered that Carol was not aware that he had
ever touched another woman's hand. Carol was an amusing,
naive, curiously learned child. While Vida was most actively
describing the glories of the Thanatopsis, and complimenting
this librarian on her training as a worker, she was fancying
that this girl was the child born of herself and Kennicott; and
out of that symbolizing she had a comfort she had not known
When she came home, after supper with the Kennicotts and
Guy Pollock, she had a sudden and rather pleasant backsliding
from devotion. She bustled into her room, she slammed her
hat on the bed, and chattered, "I don't CARE! I'm a lot like
her--except a few years older. I'm light and quick, too, and
I can talk just as well as she can, and I'm sure---- Men are
such fools. I'd be ten times as sweet to make love to as that
dreamy baby. And I AM as good-looking!"
But as she sat on the bed and stared at her thin thighs,
defiance oozed away. She mourned:
"No. I'm not. Dear God, how we fool ourselves! I pretend
I'm `spiritual.' I pretend my legs are graceful. They
aren't. They're skinny. Old-maidish. I hate it! I hate that
impertinent young woman! A selfish cat, taking his love
for granted. . . . No, she's adorable. . . . I don't
think she ought to be so friendly with Guy Pollock."
For a year Vida loved Carol, longed to and did not pry into
the details of her relations with Kennicotts enjoyed her spirit
of play as expressed in childish tea-parties, and, with the
mystic bond between them forgotten, was healthily vexed by
Carol's assumption that she was a sociological messiah come
to save Gopher Prairie. This last facet of Vida's thought was
the one which, after a year, was most often turned to the
light. In a testy way she brooded, "These people that want
to change everything all of a sudden without doing any work,
make me tired! Here I have to go and work for four years,
picking out the pupils for debates, and drilling them, and
nagging at them to get them to look up references, and begging
them to choose their own subjects--four years, to get up a
couple of good debates! And she comes rushing in, and expects
in one year to change the whole town into a lollypop paradise
with everybody stopping everything else to grow tulips and
drink tea. And it's a comfy homey old town, too!"
She had such an outburst after each of Carol's campaigns--
for better Thanatopsis programs, for Shavian plays, for more
human schools--but she never betrayed herself, and always she
Vida was, and always would be, a reformer, a liberal. She
believed that details could excitingly be altered, but that
things-in-general were comely and kind and immutable. Carol
was, without understanding or accepting it, a revolutionist, a
radical, and therefore possessed of "constructive ideas," which
only the destroyer can have, since the reformer believes that
all the essential constructing has already been done. After
years of intimacy it was this unexpressed opposition more than
the fancied loss of Kennicott's love which held Vida irritably
But the birth of Hugh revived the transcendental emotion.
She was indignant that Carol should not be utterly fulfilled in
having borne Kennicott's child. She admitted that Carol
seemed to have affection and immaculate care for the baby,
but she began to identify herself now with Kennicott, and in
this phase to feel that she had endured quite too much from
She recalled certain other women who had come from
the Outside and had not appreciated Gopher Prairie. She
remembered the rector's wife who had been chilly to callers
and who was rumored throughout the town to have said,
"Re-ah-ly I cawn't endure this bucolic heartiness in the
responses." The woman was positively known to have worn
handkerchiefs in her bodice as padding--oh, the town had
simply roared at her. Of course the rector and she were
got rid of in a few months.
Then there was the mysterious woman with the dyed hair
and penciled eyebrows, who wore tight English dresses, like
basques, who smelled of stale musk, who flirted with the men
and got them to advance money for her expenses in a lawsuit,
who laughed at Vida's reading at a school-entertainment,
and went off owing a hotel-bill and the three hundred dollars
she had borrowed.
Vida insisted that she loved Carol, but with some satisfaction
she compared her to these traducers of the town.
Vida had enjoyed Raymie Wutherspoon's singing in the
Episcopal choir; she had thoroughly reviewed the weather with
him at Methodist sociables and in the Bon Ton. But she did
not really know him till she moved to Mrs. Gurrey's boarding-
house. It was five years after her affair with Kennicott. She
was thirty-nine, Raymie perhaps a year younger.
She said to him, and sincerely, "My! You can do anything,
with your brains and tact and that heavenly voice. You were
so good in `The Girl from Kankakee.' You made me feel
terribly stupid. If you'd gone on the stage, I believe you'd
be just as good as anybody in Minneapolis. But still, I'm not
sorry you stuck to business. It's such a constructive career."
"Do you really think so?" yearned Raymie, across the
It was the first time that either of them had found a
dependable intellectual companionship. They looked down on
Willis Woodford the bank-clerk, and his anxious babycentric
wife, the silent Lyman Casses, the slangy traveling man, and
the rest of Mrs. Gurrey's unenlightened guests. They sat
opposite, and they sat late. They were exhilarated to find that
they agreed in confession of faith:
"People like Sam Clark and Harry Haydock aren't earnest
about music and pictures and eloquent sermons and really
refined movies, but then, on the other hand, people like Carol
Kennicott put too much stress on all this art. Folks ought
to appreciate lovely things, but just the same, they got to be
practical and--they got to look at things in a practical way."
Smiling, passing each other the pressed-glass pickle-dish,
seeing Mrs. Gurrey's linty supper-cloth irradiated by the light
of intimacy, Vida and Raymie talked about Carol's rose-colored
turban, Carol's sweetness, Carol's new low shoes, Carol's erroneous
theory that there was no need of strict discipline in school,
Carol's amiability in the Bon Ton, Carol's flow of wild ideas,
which, honestly, just simply made you nervous trying to keep
track of them;
About the lovely display of gents' shirts in the Bon Ton
window as dressed by Raymie, about Raymie's offertory last
Sunday, the fact that there weren't any of these new solos as
nice as "Jerusalem the Golden," and the way Raymie stood
up to Juanita Haydock when she came into the store and
tried to run things and he as much as told her that she was
so anxious to have folks think she was smart and bright that
she said things she didn't mean, and anyway, Raymie was
running the shoe-department, and if Juanita, or Harry either,
didn't like the way he ran things, they could go get another
About Vida's new jabot which made her look thirty-two
(Vida's estimate) or twenty-two (Raymie's estimate), Vida's
plan to have the high-school Debating Society give a playlet,
and the difficulty of keeping the younger boys well behaved
on the playground when a big lubber like Cy Bogart acted
About the picture post-card which Mrs. Dawson had sent to
Mrs. Cass from Pasadena, showing roses growing right outdoors
in February, the change in time on No. 4, the reckless
way Dr. Gould always drove his auto, the reckless way almost
all these people drove their autos, the fallacy of supposing
that these socialists could carry on a government for as much
as six months if they ever did have a chance to try out their
theories, and the crazy way in which Carol jumped from
subject to subject.
Vida had once beheld Raymie as a thin man with spectacles,
mournful drawn-out face, and colorless stiff hair. Now she
noted that his jaw was square, that his long hands moved
quickly and were bleached in a refined manner, and that his
trusting eyes indicated that he had "led a clean life." She
began to call him "Ray," and to bounce in defense of his
unselfishness and thoughtfulness every time Juanita Haydock
or Rita Gould giggled about him at the Jolly Seventeen.
On a Sunday afternoon of late autumn they walked down
to Lake Minniemashie. Ray said that he would like to see
the ocean; it must be a grand sight; it must be much grander
than a lake, even a great big lake. Vida had seen it, she
stated modestly; she had seen it on a summer trip to Cape
"Have you been clear to Cape Cod? Massachusetts? I
knew you'd traveled, but I never realized you'd been that
Made taller and younger by his interest she poured out, "Oh
my yes. It was a wonderful trip. So many points of interest
through Massachusetts--historical. There's Lexington where
we turned back the redcoats, and Longfellow's home at
Cambridge, and Cape Cod--just everything--fishermen and whale-
ships and sand-dunes and everything."
She wished that she had a little cane to carry. He broke
off a willow branch.
"My, you're strong!" she said.
"No, not very. I wish there was a Y. M. C. A. here, so I
could take up regular exercise. I used to think I could do
pretty good acrobatics, if I had a chance."
"I'm sure you could. You're unusually lithe, for a large man."
"Oh no, not so very. But I wish we had a Y. M. It would
be dandy to have lectures and everything, and I'd like to take
a class in improving the memory--I believe a fellow ought
to go on educating himself and improving his mind even if he is
in business, don't you, Vida--I guess I'm kind of fresh to call
"I've been calling you `Ray' for weeks!"
He wondered why she sounded tart.
He helped her down the bank to the edge of the lake but
dropped her hand abruptly, and as they sat on a willow log
and he brushed her sleeve, he delicately moved over and
murmured, "Oh, excuse me--accident."
She stared at the mud-browned chilly water, the floating
"You look so thoughtful," he said.
She threw out her hands. "I am! Will you kindly tell
me what's the use of--anything! Oh, don't mind me. I'm
a moody old hen. Tell me about your plan for getting a
partnership in the Bon Ton. I do think you're right: Harry
Haydock and that mean old Simons ought to give you one."
He hymned the old unhappy wars in which he had been
Achilles and the mellifluous Nestor, yet gone his righteous ways
unheeded by the cruel kings. . . . "Why, if I've told
'em once, I've told 'em a dozen times to get in a side-line of
light-weight pants for gents' summer wear, and of course here
they go and let a cheap kike like Rifkin beat them to it
and grab the trade right off 'em, and then Harry said--
you know how Harry is, maybe he don't mean to be grouchy,
but he's such a sore-head----"
He gave her a hand to rise. "If you don't MIND. I think
a fellow is awful if a lady goes on a walk with him and she
can't trust him and he tries to flirt with her and all."
"I'm sure you're highly trustworthy!" she snapped, and
she sprang up without his aid. Then, smiling excessively,
"Uh--don't you think Carol sometimes fails to appreciate Dr.
Ray habitually asked her about his window-trimming, the
display of the new shoes, the best music for the entertainment
at the Eastern Star, and (though he was recognized as a
professional authority on what the town called "gents'
furnishings") about his own clothes. She persuaded him not to wear
the small bow ties which made him look like an elongated
Sunday School scholar. Once she burst out:
"Ray, I could shake you! Do you know you're too
apologetic? You always appreciate other people too much. You
fuss over Carol Kennicott when she has some crazy theory that
we all ought to turn anarchists or live on figs and nuts or
something. And you listen when Harry Haydock tries to show
off and talk about turnovers and credits and things you know
lots better than he does. Look folks in the eye! Glare at
'em! Talk deep! You're the smartest man in town, if you
only knew it. You ARE!"
He could not believe it. He kept coming back to her for
confirmation. He practised glaring and talking deep, but he
circuitously hinted to Vida that when he had tried to look
Harry Haydock in the eye, Harry had inquired, "What's the
matter with you, Raymie? Got a pain?" But afterward
Harry had asked about Kantbeatum socks in a manner which,
Ray felt, was somehow different from his former condescension.
They were sitting on the squat yellow satin settee in the
boarding-house parlor. As Ray reannounced that he simply
wouldn't stand it many more years if Harry didn't give him a
partnership, his gesticulating hand touched Vida's shoulders.
"Oh, excuse me!" he pleaded.
"It's all right. Well, I think I must be running up to my
room. Headache," she said briefly.
Ray and she had stopped in at Dyer's for a hot chocolate
on their way home from the movies, that March evening. Vida
speculated, "Do you know that I may not be here next year?"
"What do you mean?"
With her fragile narrow nails she smoothed the glass slab
which formed the top of the round table at which they sat.
She peeped through the glass at the perfume-boxes of black and
gold and citron in the hollow table. She looked about at
shelves of red rubber water-bottles, pale yellow sponges, wash-
rags with blue borders, hair-brushes of polished cherry backs.
She shook her head like a nervous medium coming out of a
trance, stared at him unhappily, demanded:
"Why should I stay here? And I must make up my mind.
Now. Time to renew our teaching-contracts for next year.
I think I'll go teach in some other town. Everybody here is
tired of me. I might as well go. Before folks come out and
SAY they're tired of me. I have to decide tonight. I might as
well---- Oh, no matter. Come. Let's skip. It's late."
She sprang up, ignoring his wail of "Vida! Wait! Sit
down! Gosh! I'm flabbergasted! Gee! Vida!" She
marched out. While he was paying his check she got ahead.
He ran after her, blubbering, "Vida! Wait!" In the shade
of the lilacs in front of the Gougerling house he came up with
her, stayed her flight by a hand on her shoulder.
"Oh, don't! Don't! What does it matter?" she begged.
She was sobbing, her soft wrinkly lids soaked with tears.
"Who cares for my affection or help? I might as well drift
on, forgotten. O Ray, please don't hold me. Let me go.
I'll just decide not to renew my contract here, and--and
His hand was steady on her shoulder. She dropped her
head, rubbed the back of his hand with her cheek.
They were married in June.
They took the Ole Jenson house. "It's small," said Vida,
"but it's got the dearest vegetable garden, and I love having
time to get near to Nature for once."
Though she became Vida Wutherspoon technically, and
though she certainly had no ideals about the independence of
keeping her name, she continued to be known as Vida Sherwin.
She had resigned from the school, but she kept up one class
in English. She bustled about on every committee of the
Thanatopsis; she was always popping into the rest-room to
make Mrs. Nodelquist sweep the floor; she was appointed to
the library-board to succeed Carol; she taught the Senior
Girls' Class in the Episcopal Sunday School, and tried to revive
the King's Daughters. She exploded into self-confidence and
happiness; her draining thoughts were by marriage turned
into energy. She became daily and visibly more plump, and
though she chattered as eagerly, she was less obviously admiring
of marital bliss, less sentimental about babies, sharper in
demanding that the entire town share her reforms--the purchase
of a park, the compulsory cleaning of back-yards.
She penned Harry Haydock at his desk in the Bon Ton;
she interrupted his joking; she told him that it was Ray who
had built up the shoe-department and men's department; she
demanded that he be made a partner. Before Harry could
answer she threatened that Ray and she would start a rival
shop. "I'll clerk behind the counter myself, and a Certain
Party is all ready to put up the money."
She rather wondered who the Certain Party was.
Ray was made a one-sixth partner.
He became a glorified floor-walker, greeting the men with
new poise, no longer coyly subservient to pretty women.
When he was not affectionately coercing people into buying
things they did not need, he stood at the back of the store,
glowing, abstracted, feeling masculine as he recalled the
tempestuous surprises of love revealed by Vida.
The only remnant of Vida's identification of herself with
Carol was a jealousy when she saw Kennicott and Ray together,
and reflected that some people might suppose that
Kennicott was his superior. She was sure that Carol thought
so, and she wanted to shriek, "You needn't try to gloat! I
wouldn't have your pokey old husband. He hasn't one single
bit of Ray's spiritual nobility."
THE greatest mystery about a human being is not his reaction
to sex or praise, but the manner in which he contrives to put
in twenty-four hours a day. It is this which puzzles the long-
shoreman about the clerk, the Londoner about the bushman.
It was this which puzzled Carol in regard to the married Vida.
Carol herself had the baby, a larger house to care for, all the
telephone calls for Kennicott when he was away; and she
read everything, while Vida was satisfied with newspaper headlines.
But after detached brown years in boarding-houses, Vida
was hungry for housework, for the most pottering detail of it.
She had no maid, nor wanted one. She cooked, baked, swept,
washed supper-cloths, with the triumph of a chemist in a new
laboratory. To her the hearth was veritably the altar. When
she went shopping she hugged the cans of soup, and she
bought a mop or a side of bacon as though she were preparing
for a reception. She knelt beside a bean sprout and crooned,
"I raised this with my own hands--I brought this new life
into the world."
"I love her for being so happy," Carol brooded. "I ought
to be that way. I worship the baby, but the housework----
Oh, I suppose I'm fortunate; so much better off than farm-
women on a new clearing, or people in a slum."
It has not yet been recorded that any human being has
gained a very large or permanent contentment from meditation
upon the fact that he is better off than others.
In Carol's own twenty-four hours a day she got up, dressed
the baby, had breakfast, talked to Oscarina about the day's
shopping, put the baby on the porch to play, went. to the
butcher's to choose between steak and pork chops, bathed the
baby, nailed up a shelf, had dinner, put the baby to bed for a
nap, paid the iceman, read for an hour, took the baby
out for a walk, called on Vida, had supper, put the baby to
bed, darned socks, listened to Kennicott's yawning comment
on what a fool Dr. McGanum was to try to use that cheap
X-ray outfit of his on an epithelioma, repaired a frock, drowsily
heard Kennicott stoke the furnace, tried to read a page of
Thorstein Veblen--and the day was gone.
Except when Hugh was vigorously naughty, or whiney, or
laughing, or saying "I like my chair" with thrilling
maturity, she was always enfeebled by loneliness. She no longer
felt superior about that misfortune. She would gladly have
been converted to Vida's satisfaction in Gopher Prairie and
mopping the floor.
Carol drove through an astonishing number of books from
the public library and from city shops. Kennicott was at
first uncomfortable over her disconcerting habit of buying
them. A book was a book, and if you had several thousand
of them right here in the library, free, why the dickens should
you spend your good money? After worrying about it for
two or three years, he decided that this was one of the Funny
Ideas which she had caught as a librarian and from which
she would never entirely recover.
The authors whom she read were most of them frightfully
annoyed by the Vida Sherwins. They were young American
sociologists, young English realists, Russian horrorists; Anatole
France, Rolland, Nexo, Wells, Shaw, Key, Edgar Lee Masters,
Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Henry Mencken, and
all the other subversive philosophers and artists whom women
were consulting everywhere, in batik-curtained studios in
New York, in Kansas farmhouses, San Francisco drawing-
rooms, Alabama schools for negroes. From them she got
the same confused desire which the million other women
felt; the same determination to be class-conscious without
discovering the class of which she was to be conscious.
Certainly her reading precipitated her observations of Main
Street, of Gopher Prairie and of the several adjacent Gopher
Prairies which she had seen on drives with Kennicott. In
her fluid thought certain convictions appeared, jaggedly, a
fragment of an impression at a time, while she was going to
sleep, or manicuring her nails, or waiting for Kennicott.
These convictions she presented to Vida Sherwin--Vida
Wutherspoon--beside a radiator, over a bowl of not very good
walnuts and pecans from Uncle Whittier's grocery, on an
evening when both Kennicott and Raymie had gone out of
town with the other officers of the Ancient and Affiliated Order
of Spartans, to inaugurate a new chapter at Wakamin. Vida
had come to the house for the night. She helped in putting
Hugh to bed, sputtering the while about his soft skin. Then
they talked till midnight.
What Carol said that evening, what she was passionately
thinking, was also emerging in the minds of women in ten
thousand Gopher Prairies. Her formulations were not pat
solutions but visions of a tragic futility. She did not utter
them so compactly that they can be given in her words; they
were roughened with "Well, you see" and "if you get what
I mean" and "I don't know that I'm making myself clear."
But they were definite enough, and indignant enough.
In reading popular stories and seeing plays, asserted Carol,
she had found only two traditions of the American small town.
The first tradition, repeated in scores of magazines every month,
is that the American village remains the one sure abode of
friendship, honesty, and clean sweet marriageable girls. Therefore
all men who succeed in painting in Paris or in finance in
New York at last become weary of smart women, return
to their native towns, assert that cities are vicious, marry
their childhood sweethearts and, presumably, joyously abide
in those towns until death.
The other tradition is that the significant features of all
villages are whiskers, iron dogs upon lawns, gold bricks,
checkers, jars of gilded cat-tails, and shrewd comic old men
who are known as "hicks" and who ejaculate "Waal I swan."
This altogether admirable tradition rules the vaudeville stage,
facetious illustrators, and syndicated newspaper humor, but
out of actual life it passed forty years ago. Carol's small
town thinks not in hoss-swapping but in cheap motor cars,
telephones, ready-made clothes, silos, alfalfa, kodaks, phonographs,
leather-upholstered Morris chairs, bridge-prizes, oil-
stocks, motion-pictures, land-deals, unread sets of Mark
Twain, and a chaste version of national politics.
With such a small-town life a Kennicott or a Champ Perry
is content, but there are also hundreds of thousands, par-
ticularly women and young men, who are not at all content.
The more intelligent young people (and the fortunate widows!)
flee to the cities with agility and, despite the fictional
tradition, resolutely stay there, seldom returning even for
holidays. The most protesting patriots of the towns leave them
in old age, if they can afford it, and go to live in California
or in the cities.
The reason, Carol insisted, is not a whiskered rusticity. It
is nothing so amusing!
It is an unimaginatively standardized background, a
sluggishness of speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit
by the desire to appear respectable. It is contentment. . .
the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful of the
living for their restless walking. It is negation canonized
as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness.
It is slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness
A savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting
afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking-chairs prickly with
inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying
mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and
viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world.
She had inquired as to the effect of this dominating
dullness upon foreigners. She remembered the feeble exotic
quality to be found in the first-generation Scandinavians; she
recalled the Norwegian Fair at the Lutheran Church, to
which Bea had taken her. There, in the bondestue, the replica
of a Norse farm kitchen, pale women in scarlet jackets
embroidered with gold thread and colored beads, in black skirts
with a line of blue, green-striped aprons, and ridged caps very
pretty to set off a fresh face, had served rommegrod og lefse--
sweet cakes and sour milk pudding spiced with cinnamon.
For the first time in Gopher Prairie Carol had found novelty.
She had reveled in the mild foreignness of it.
But she saw these Scandinavian women zealously exchanging
their spiced puddings and red jackets for fried pork chops
and congealed white blouses, trading the ancient Christmas
hymns of the fjords for "She's My Jazzland Cutie," being
Americanized into uniformity, and in less than a generation
losing in the grayness whatever pleasant new customs they
might have added to the life of the town. Their sons finished
the process. In ready-made clothes and ready-made high-
school phrases they sank into propriety, and the sound American
customs had absorbed without one trace of pollution
another alien invasion.
And along with these foreigners, she felt herself being ironed
into glossy mediocrity, and she rebelled, in fear.
The respectability of the Gopher Prairies, said Carol, is
reinforced by vows of poverty and chastity in the matter of
knowledge. Except for half a dozen in each town the citizens
are proud of that achievement of ignorance which it is so easy
to come by. To be "intellectual" or "artistic" or, in their
own word, to be "highbrow," is to be priggish and of dubious
Large experiments in politics and in co-operative distribution,
ventures requiring knowledge, courage, and imagination, do
originate in the West and Middlewest, but they are not of
the towns, they are of the farmers. If these heresies are
supported by the townsmen it is only by occasional teachers
doctors, lawyers, the labor unions, and workmen like Miles
Bjornstam, who are punished by being mocked as "cranks,"
as "half-baked parlor socialists." The editor and the rector
preach at them. The cloud of serene ignorance submerges
them in unhappiness and futility.
Here Vida observed, "Yes--well---- Do you know, I've
always thought that Ray would have made a wonderful rector.
He has what I call an essentially religious soul. My! He'd
have read the service beautifully! I suppose it's too late now,
but as I tell him, he can also serve the world by selling shoes
and---- I wonder if we oughtn't to have family-prayers?"
Doubtless all small towns, in all countries, in all ages,
Carol admitted, have a tendency to be not only dull but
mean, bitter, infested with curiosity. In France or Tibet quite
as much as in Wyoming or Indiana these timidities are
inherent in isolation.
But a village in a country which is taking pains to become
altogether standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed
Victorian England as the chief mediocrity of the world, is no
longer merely provincial, no longer downy and restful in its
leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking to dominate
the earth, to drain the hills and sea of color, to set Dante at
boosting Gopher Prairie, and to dress the high gods in
Klassy Kollege Klothes. Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations,
as a traveling salesman in a brown derby conquers the
wisdom of China and tacks advertisements of cigarettes over
arches for centuries dedicate to the sayings of Confucius.
Such a society functions admirably in the large production
of cheap automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors. But
it is not satisfied until the entire world also admits that the
end and joyous purpose of living is to ride in flivvers, to make
advertising-pictures of dollar watches, and in the twilight to
sit talking not of love and courage but of the convenience
of safety razors.
And such a society, such a nation, is determined by the
Gopher Prairies. The greatest manufacturer is but a busier
Sam Clark, and all the rotund senators and presidents are
village lawyers and bankers grown nine feet tall.
Though a Gopher Prairie regards itself as a part of the Great
World, compares itself to Rome and Vienna, it will not acquire
the scientific spirit, the international mind, which would make
it great. It picks at information which will visibly procure
money or social distinction. Its conception of a community
ideal is not the grand manner, the noble aspiration, the fine
aristocratic pride, but cheap labor for the kitchen and rapid
increase in the price of land. It plays at cards on greasy oil-
cloth in a shanty, and does not know that prophets are walking
and talking on the terrace.
If all the provincials were as kindly as Champ Perry and
Sam Clark there would be no reason for desiring the town
to seek great traditions. It is the Harry Haydocks, the Dave
Dyers, the Jackson Elders, small busy men crushingly powerful
in their common purpose, viewing themselves as men of the
world but keeping themselves men of the cash-register and
the comic film, who make the town a sterile oligarchy.
She had sought to be definite in analyzing the surface
ugliness of the Gopher Prairies. She asserted that it is a matter
of universal similarity; of flimsiness of construction, so that
the towns resemble frontier camps; of neglect of natural
advantages, so that the hills are covered with brush, the lakes
shut off by railroads, and the creeks lined with dumping-
grounds; of depressing sobriety of color; rectangularity of
buildings; and excessive breadth and straightness of the gashed
streets, so that there is no escape from gales and from sight
of the grim sweep of land, nor any windings to coax the
loiterer along, while the breadth which would be majestic in
an avenue of palaces makes the low shabby shops creeping
down the typical Main Street the more mean by comparison.
The universal similarity--that is the physical expression of
the philosophy of dull safety. Nine-tenths of the American
towns are so alike that it is the completest boredom to wander
from one to another. Always, west of Pittsburg, and often,
east of it, there is the same lumber yard, the same railroad
station, the same Ford garage, the same creamery, the same
box-like houses and two-story shops. The new, more conscious
houses are alike in their very attempts at diversity: the same
bungalows, the same square houses of stucco or tapestry brick.
The shops show the same standardized, nationally advertised
wares; the newspapers of sections three thousand miles apart
have the same "syndicated features"; the boy in Arkansas
displays just such a flamboyant ready-made suit as is found
on just such a boy in Delaware, both of them iterate the same
slang phrases from the same sporting-pages, and if one of them
is in college and the other is a barber, no one may surmise which
If Kennicott were snatched from Gopher Prairie and
instantly conveyed to a town leagues away, he would not realize
it. He would go down apparently the same Main Street
(almost certainly it would be called Main Street); in the
same drug store he would see the same young man serving
the same ice-cream soda to the same young woman with the
same magazines and phonograph records under her arm. Not
till he had climbed to his office and found another sign on
the door, another Dr. Kennicott inside, would he understand
that something curious had presumably happened.
Finally, behind all her comments, Carol saw the fact that the
prairie towns no more exist to serve the farmers who are
their reason of existence than do the great capitals; they
exist to fatten on the farmers, to provide for the townsmen
large motors and social preferment; and, unlike the capitals,
they do not give to the district in return for usury a stately
and permanent center, but only this ragged camp. It is a
"parasitic Greek civilization"--minus the civilization.
"There we are then," said Carol. "The remedy? Is
there any? Criticism, perhaps, for the beginning of the
beginning. Oh, there's nothing that attacks the Tribal God
Mediocrity that doesn't help a little. . .and probably
there's nothing that helps very much. Perhaps some day the
farmers will build and own their market-towns. (Think of
the club they could have!) But I'm afraid I haven't any
`reform program.' Not any more! The trouble is spiritual,
and no League or Party can enact a preference for gardens
rather than dumping-grounds. . . . There's my confession. WELL?"
"In other words, all you want is perfection?"
"Yes! Why not?"
"How you hate this place! How can you expect to do
anything with it if you haven't any sympathy?"
"But I have! And affection. Or else I wouldn't fume
so. I've learned that Gopher Prairie isn't just an eruption
on the prairie, as I thought first, but as large as New York.
In New York I wouldn't know more than forty or fifty people,
and I know that many here. Go on! Say what you're
"Well, my dear, if I DID take all your notions seriously,
it would be pretty discouraging. Imagine how a person
would feel, after working hard for years and helping to build
up a nice town, to have you airily flit in and simply say
`Rotten!' Think that's fair?"
"Why not? It must be just as discouraging for the Gopher
Prairieite to see Venice and make comparisons."
"It would not! I imagine gondolas are kind of nice to
ride in, but we've got better bath-rooms! But---- My dear,
you're not the only person in this town who has done some
thinking for herself, although (pardon my rudeness) I'm
afraid you think so. I'll admit we lack some things. Maybe
our theater isn't as good as shows in Paris. All right! I don't
want to see any foreign culture suddenly forced on us--whether
it's street-planning or table-manners or crazy communistic
Vida sketched what she termed "practical things that will
make a happier and prettier town, but that do belong to our
life, that actually are being done." Of the Thanatopsis Club
she spoke; of the rest-room, the fight against mosquitos, the
campaign for more gardens and shade-trees and sewers--
matters not fantastic and nebulous and distant, but immediate
Carol's answer was fantastic and nebulous enough:
"Yes. . . . Yes. . . . I know. They're good.
But if I could put through all those reforms at once, I'd still
want startling, exotic things. Life is comfortable and clean
enough here already. And so secure. What it needs is to be
less secure, more eager. The civic improvements which I'd
like the Thanatopsis to advocate are Strindberg plays, and
classic dancers--exquisite legs beneath tulle--and (I can see
him so clearly!) a thick, black-bearded, cynical Frenchman
who would sit about and drink and sing opera and tell bawdy
stories and laugh at our proprieties and quote Rabelais and
not be ashamed to kiss my hand!"
"Huh! Not sure about the rest of it but I guess that's
what you and all the other discontented young women really
want: some stranger kissing your hand!" At Carol's gasp,
the old squirrel-like Vida darted out and cried, "Oh, my dear,
don't take that too seriously. I just meant----"
"I know. You just meant it. Go on. Be good for my
soul. Isn't it funny: here we all are--me trying to be good
for Gopher Prairie's soul, and Gopher Prairie trying to be
good for my soul. What are my other sins?"
"Oh, there's plenty of them. Possibly some day we shall
have your fat cynical Frenchman (horrible, sneering, tobacco-
stained object, ruining his brains and his digestion with vile
liquor!) but, thank heaven, for a while we'll manage to keep
busy with our lawns and pavements! You see, these things
really are coming! The Thanatopsis is getting somewhere.
And you----" Her tone italicized the words--"to my great
disappointment, are doing less, not more, than the people
you laugh at! Sam Clark, on the school-board, is working
for better school ventilation. Ella Stowbody (whose elocuting
you always think is so absurd) has persuaded the railroad
to share the expense of a parked space at the station, to
do away with that vacant lot.
"You sneer so easily. I'm sorry, but I do think there's
something essentially cheap in your attitude. Especially about
"If you must know, you're not a sound reformer at all.
You're an impossibilist. And you give up too easily. You
gave up on the new city hall, the anti-fly campaign, club papers,
the library-board, the dramatic association--just because we
didn't graduate into Ibsen the very first thing. You want
perfection all at once. Do you know what the finest thing you've
done is--aside from bringing Hugh into the world? It was
the help you gave Dr. Will during baby-welfare week. You
didn't demand that each baby be a philosopher and artist
before you weighed him, as you do with the rest of us.
"And now I'm afraid perhaps I'll hurt you. We're going
to have a new schoolbuilding in this town--in just a few
years--and we'll have it without one bit of help or interest
"Professor Mott and I and some others have been dinging
away at the moneyed men for years. We didn't call on
you because you would never stand the pound-pound-pounding
year after year without one bit of encouragement. And we've
won! I've got the promise of everybody who counts that
just as soon as war-conditions permit, they'll vote the bonds
for the schoolhouse. And we'll have a wonderful building--
lovely brown brick, with big windows, and agricultural and
manual-training departments. When we get it, that'll be my
answer to all your theories!"
"I'm glad. And I'm ashamed I haven't had any part in
getting it. But---- Please don't think I'm unsympathetic
if I ask one question: Will the teachers in the hygienic new
building go on informing the children that Persia is a yellow
spot on the map, and `Caesar' the title of a book of
Vida was indignant; Carol was apologetic; they talked for
another hour, the eternal Mary and Martha--an immoralist
Mary and a reformist Martha. It was Vida who conquered.
The fact that she had been left out of the campaign for the
new schoolbuilding disconcerted Carol. She laid her dreams
of perfection aside. When Vida asked her to take charge of
a group of Camp Fire Girls, she obeyed, and had definite
pleasure out of the Indian dances and ritual and costumes. She
went more regularly to the Thanatopsis. With Vida as lieutenant
and unofficial commander she campaigned for a village
nurse to attend poor families, raised the fund herself, saw to
it that the nurse was young and strong and amiable and
Yet all the while she beheld the burly cynical Frenchman
and the diaphanous dancers as clearly as the child sees its
air-born playmates; she relished the Camp Fire Girls not
because, in Vida's words, "this Scout training will help so
much to make them Good Wives," but because she hoped
that the Sioux dances would bring subversive color into their
She helped Ella Stowbody to set out plants in the tiny
triangular park at the railroad station; she squatted in the
dirt, with a small curved trowel and the most decorous of
gardening gauntlets; she talked to Ella about the public-
spiritedness of fuchsias and cannas; and she felt that she was
scrubbing a temple deserted by the gods and empty even of
incense and the sound of chanting. Passengers looking from
trains saw her as a village woman of fading prettiness,
incorruptible virtue, and no abnormalities; the baggageman
heard her say, "Oh yes, I do think it will be a good example
for the children"; and all the while she saw herself running
garlanded through the streets of Babylon.
Planting led her to botanizing. She never got much farther
than recognizing the tiger lily and the wild rose, but she
rediscovered Hugh. "What does the buttercup say, mummy?"
he cried, his hand full of straggly grasses, his cheek gilded with
pollen. She knelt to embrace him; she affirmed that he made
life more than full; she was altogether reconciled. . .for an hour.
But she awoke at night to hovering death. She crept away
from the hump of bedding that was Kennicott; tiptoed into
the bathroom and, by the mirror in the door of the medicine-
cabinet, examined her pallid face.
Wasn't she growing visibly older in ratio as Vida grew
plumper and younger? Wasn't her nose sharper? Wasn't
her neck granulated? She stared and choked. She was only
thirty. But the five years since her marriage--had they not
gone by as hastily and stupidly as though she had been under
ether; would time not slink past till death? She pounded her
fist on the cool enameled rim of the bathtub and raged mutely
against the indifferent gods:
"I don't care! I won't endure it! They lie so--Vida
and Will and Aunt Bessie--they tell me I ought to be satisfied
with Hugh and a good home and planting seven nasturtiums
in a station garden! I am I! When I die the world will be
annihilated, as far as I'm concerned. I am I! I'm not
content to leave the sea and the ivory towers to others. I
want them for me! Damn Vida! Damn all of them! Do
they think they can make me believe that a display of potatoes
at Howland & Gould's is enough beauty and strangeness?"
WHEN America entered the Great European War, Vida sent
Raymie off to an officers' training-camp--less than a year after
her wedding. Raymie was diligent and rather strong. He
came out a first lieutenant of infantry, and was one of the
earliest sent abroad.
Carol grew definitely afraid of Vida as Vida transferred
the passion which had been released in marriage to the cause
of the war; as she lost all tolerance. When Carol was touched
by the desire for heroism in Raymie and tried tactfully to
express it, Vida made her feel like an impertinent child.
By enlistment and draft, the sons of Lyman Cass, Nat
Hicks, Sam Clark joined the army. But most of the soldiers
were the sons of German and Swedish farmers unknown to
Carol. Dr. Terry Gould and Dr. McGanum became captains
in the medical corps, and were stationed at camps in Iowa and
Georgia. They were the only officers, besides Raymie, from
the Gopher Prairie district. Kennicott wanted to go with
them, but the several doctors of the town forgot medical
rivalry and, meeting in council, decided that he would do
better to wait and keep the town well till he should be needed.
Kennicott was forty-two now; the only youngish doctor left
in a radius of eighteen miles. Old Dr. Westlake, who loved
comfort like a cat, protestingly rolled out at night for country
calls, and hunted through his collar-box for his G. A. R. button.
Carol did not quite know what she thought about Kennicott's
going. Certainly she was no Spartan wife. She knew that
he wanted to go; she knew that this longing was always in
him, behind his unchanged trudging and remarks about the
weather. She felt for him an admiring affection--and she
was sorry that she had nothing more than affection.
Cy Bogart was the spectacular warrior of the town. Cy
was no longer the weedy boy who had sat in the loft speculating
about Carol's egotism and the mysteries of generation.
He was nineteen now, tall, broad, busy, the "town sport,"
famous for his ability to drink beer, to shake dice, to tell
undesirable stories, and, from his post in front of Dyer's drug
store, to embarrass the girls by "jollying" them as they passed.
His face was at once peach-bloomed and pimply.
Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn't
get the Widow Bogart's permission to enlist, he'd run away
and enlist without it. He shouted that he "hated every dirty
Hun; by gosh, if he could just poke a bayonet into one big
fat Heinie and learn him some decency and democracy, he'd
die happy." Cy got much reputation by whipping a farmboy
named Adolph Pochbauer for being a "damn hyphenated
German." . . . This was the younger Pochbauer, who was
killed in the Argonne, while he was trying to bring the body
of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At this time Cy Bogart
was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to go to
Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring
a basic change in psychology, to purify and uplift everything
from marital relations to national politics, and she tried to
exult in it. Only she did not find it. She saw the women who
made bandages for the Red Cross giving up bridge, and
laughing at having to do without sugar, but over the surgical-
dressings they did not speak of God and the souls of men,
but of Miles Bjornstam's impudence, of Terry Gould's scandalous
carryings-on with a farmer's daughter four years ago,
of cooking cabbage, and of altering blouses. Their references
to the war touched atrocities only. She herself was
punctual, and efficient at making dressings, but she could not,
like Mrs. Lyman Cass and Mrs. Bogart, fill the dressings
with hate for enemies.
When she protested to Vida, "The young do the work while
these old ones sit around and interrupt us and gag with hate
because they're too feeble to do anything but hate," then
Vida turned on her:
"If you can't be reverent, at least don't be so pert and
opinionated, now when men and women are dying. Some of
us--we have given up so much, and we're glad to. At least
we expect that you others sha'n't try to be witty at our
There was weeping.
Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated;
she did persuade herself that there were no autocracies save
that of Prussia; she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops
embarking in New York; and she was uncomfortable when she
met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he croaked:
"How's tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new
cows. Well, have you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they'll
bring democracy--the democracy of death. Yes, sure, in every
war since the Garden of Eden the workmen have gone out to
fight each other for perfectly good reasons--handed to them
by their bosses. Now me, I'm wise. I'm so wise that I know
I don't know anything about the war."
It was not a thought of the war that remained with her
after Miles's declamation but a perception that she and Vida
and all of the good-intentioners who wanted to "do something
for the common people" were insignificant, because the
"common people" were able to do things for themselves,
and highly likely to, as soon as they learned the fact. The
conception of millions of workmen like Miles taking control
frightened her, and she scuttled rapidly away from the thought
of a time when she might no longer retain the position of
Lady Bountiful to the Bjornstams and Beas and Oscarinas
whom she loved--and patronized.
It was in June, two months after America's entrance into
the war, that the momentous event happened--the visit of
the great Percy Bresnahan, the millionaire president of the
Velvet Motor Car Company of Boston, the one native son
who was always to be mentioned to strangers.
For two weeks there were rumors. Sam Clark cried to
Kennicott, "Say, I hear Perce Bresnahan is coming! By
golly it'll be great to see the old scout, eh?" Finally the
Dauntless printed, on the front page with a No. 1 head, a letter
from Bresnahan to Jackson Elder:
Well, Jack, I find I can make it. I'm to go to Washington as a
dollar a year man for the government, in the aviation motor section,
and tell them how much I don't know about carburetors. But before
I start in being a hero I want to shoot out and catch me a big black
bass and cuss out you and Sam Clark and Harry Haydock and Will
Kennicott and the rest of you pirates. I'll land in G. P. on June 7,
on No. 7 from Mpls. Shake a day-day. Tell Bert Tybee to save
me a glass of beer.
All members of the social, financial, scientific, literary, and
sporting sets were at No. 7 to meet Bresnahan; Mrs. Lyman
Cass was beside Del Snafflin the barber, and Juanita Haydock
almost cordial to Miss Villets the librarian. Carol saw Bresnahan
laughing down at them from the train vestibule--big,
immaculate, overjawed, with the eye of an executive. In the
voice of the professional Good Fellow he bellowed, "Howdy,
folks!" As she was introduced to him (not he to her) Bresnahan
looked into her eyes, and his hand-shake was warm, unhurried.
He declined the offers of motors; he walked off, his arm
about the shoulder of Nat Hicks the sporting tailor, with the
elegant Harry Haydock carrying one of his enormous pale
leather bags, Del Snafflin the other, Jack Elder bearing an
overcoat, and Julius Flickerbaugh the fishing-tackle. Carol
noted that though Bresnahan wore spats and a stick, no small
boy jeered. She decided, "I must have Will get a double-
breasted blue coat and a wing collar and a dotted bow-tie
That evening, when Kennicott was trimming the grass along
the walk with sheep-shears, Bresnahan rolled up, alone. He
was now in corduroy trousers, khaki shirt open at the throat,
a white boating hat, and marvelous canvas-and-leather shoes
"On the job there, old Will! Say, my Lord, this is living, to
come back and get into a regular man-sized pair of pants.
They can talk all they want to about the city, but my idea
of a good time is to loaf around and see you boys and catch
a gamey bass!"
He hustled up the walk and blared at Carol, "Where's that
little fellow? I hear you've got one fine big he-boy that you're
holding out on me!"
"He's gone to bed," rather briefly.
"I know. And rules are rules, these days. Kids get routed
through the shop like a motor. But look here, sister; I'm
one great hand at busting rules. Come on now, let Uncle
Perce have a look at him. Please now, sister?"
He put his arm about her waist; it was a large, strong,
sophisticated arm, and very agreeable; he grinned at her with
a devastating knowingness, while Kennicott glowed inanely.
She flushed; she was alarmed by the ease with which the
big-city man invaded her guarded personality. She was glad,
in retreat, to scamper ahead of the two men up-stairs to the
hall-room in which Hugh slept. All the way Kennicott
muttered, "Well, well, say, gee whittakers but it's good to have
you back, certainly is good to see you!"
Hugh lay on his stomach, making an earnest business of
sleeping. He burrowed his eyes in the dwarf blue pillow to
escape the electric light, then sat up abruptly, small and frail
in his woolly nightdrawers, his floss of brown hair wild, the
pillow clutched to his breast. He wailed. He stared at the
stranger, in a manner of patient dismissal. He explained
confidentially to Carol, "Daddy wouldn't let it be morning
yet. What does the pillow say?"
Bresnahan dropped his arm caressingly on Carol's shoulder;
he pronounced, "My Lord, you're a lucky girl to have a fine
young husk like that. I figure Will knew what he was doing
when he persuaded you to take a chance on an old bum like
him! They tell me you come from St. Paul. We're going to
get you to come to Boston some day." He leaned over the
bed. "Young man, you're the slickest sight I've seen this
side of Boston. With your permission, may we present you
with a slight token of our regard and appreciation of your
He held out a red rubber Pierrot. Hugh remarked, "Gimme
it," hid it under the bedclothes, and stared at Bresnahan
as though he had never seen the man before.
For once Carol permitted herself the spiritual luxury of
not asking "Why, Hugh dear, what do you say when some
one gives you a present?" The great man was apparently
waiting. They stood in inane suspense till Bresnahan led
them out, rumbling, "How about planning a fishing-trip,
He remained for half an hour. Always he told Carol what
a charming person she was; always he looked at her knowingly.
"Yes. He probably would make a woman fall in love with
him. But it wouldn't last a week. I'd get tired of his
confounded buoyancy. His hypocrisy. He's a spiritual bully.
He makes me rude to him in self-defense. Oh yes, he is glad
to be here. He does like us. He's so good an actor that he
convinces his own self. . . . I'd HATE him in Boston.
He'd have all the obvious big-city things. Limousines.
Discreet evening-clothes. Order a clever dinner at a smart
restaurant. Drawing-room decorated by the best firm--but the
pictures giving him away. I'd rather talk to Guy Pollock in
his dusty office. . . . How I lie! His arm coaxed my
shoulder and his eyes dared me not to admire him. I'd be
afraid of him. I hate him! . . . Oh, the inconceivable
egotistic imagination of women! All this stew of analysss.
about a man, a good, decent, friendly, efficient man, because he
was kind to me, as Will's wife!"
The Kennicotts, the Elders, the Clarks, and Bresnahan went
fishing at Red Squaw Lake. They drove forty miles to the lake
in Elder's new Cadillac. There was much laughter and bustle
at the start, much storing of lunch-baskets and jointed poles,
much inquiry as to whether it would really bother Carol to
sit with her feet up on a roll of shawls. When they were
ready to go Mrs. Clark lamented, "Oh, Sam, I forgot my
magazine," and Bresnahan bullied, "Come on now, if you
women think you're going to be literary, you can't go with
us tough guys!" Every one laughed a great deal, and as
they drove on Mrs. Clark explained that though probably she
would not have read it, still, she might have wanted to, while
the other girls had a nap in the afternoon, and she was right
in the middle of a serial--it was an awfully exciting story--
it seems that this girl was a Turkish dancer (only she was
really the daughter of an American lady and a Russian prince)
and men kept running after her, just disgustingly, but she
remained pure, and there was a scene----
While the men floated on the lake, casting for black bass,
the women prepared lunch and yawned. Carol was a little
resentful of the manner in which the men assumed that they
did not care to fish. "I don't want to go with them, but
I would like the privilege of refusing."
The lunch was long and pleasant. It was a background
for the talk of the great man come home, hints of cities and
large imperative affairs and famous people, jocosely modest
admissions that, yes, their friend Perce was doing about as
well as most of these "Boston swells that think so much of
themselves because they come from rich old families and went
to college and everything. Believe me, it's us new business men
that are running Beantown today, and not a lot of fussy old
bucks snoozing in their clubs!"
Carol realized that he was not one of the sons of Gopher
Prairie who, if they do not actually starve in the East, are
invariably spoken of as "highly successful"; and she found
behind his too incessant flattery a genuine affection for his
mates. It was in the matter of the war that he most favored
and thrilled them. Dropping his voice while they bent nearer
(there was no one within two miles to overhear), he disclosed
the fact that in both Boston and Washington he'd been getting
a lot of inside stuff on the war--right straight from
headquarters--he was in touch with some men--couldn't name
them but they were darn high up in both the War and State
Departments--and he would say--only for Pete's sake they
mustn't breathe one word of this; it was strictly on the Q.T.
and not generally known outside of Washington--but just
between ourselves--and they could take this for gospel--Spain
had finally decided to join the Entente allies in the Grand
Scrap. Yes, sir, there'd be two million fully equipped Spanish
soldiers fighting with us in France in one month now. Some
surprise for Germany, all right!
"How about the prospects for revolution in Germany?"
reverently asked Kennicott.
The authority grunted, "Nothing to it. The one thing you
can bet on is that no matter what happens to the German
people, win or lose, they'll stick by the Kaiser till hell freezes
over. I got that absolutely straight, from a fellow who's on
the inside of the inside in Washington. No, sir! I don't
pretend to know much about international affairs but one thing
you can put down as settled is that Germany will be a Hohenzollern
empire for the next forty years. At that, I don't know
as it's so bad. The Kaiser and the Junkers keep a firm hand
on a lot of these red agitators who'd be worse than a king if
they could get control."
"I'm terribly interested in this uprising that overthrew
the Czar in Russia," suggested Carol. She had finally been
conquered by the man's wizard knowledge of affairs.
Kennicott apologized for her: "Carrie's nuts about this
Russian revolution. Is there much to it, Perce?"
"There is not!" Bresnahan said flatly. "I can speak by
the book there. Carol, honey, I'm surprised to find you talking
like a New York Russian Jew, or one of these long-hairs! I
can tell you, only you don't need to let every one in on it,
this is confidential, I got it from a man who's close to the
State Department, but as a matter of fact the Czar will be back
in power before the end of the year. You read a lot about
his retiring and about his being killed, but I know he's got a
big army back of him, and he'll show these damn agitators,
lazy beggars hunting for a soft berth bossing the poor goats
that fall for 'em, he'll show 'em where they get off!"
Carol was sorry to hear that the Czar was coming back,
but she said nothing. The others had looked vacant at the
mention of a country so far away as Russia. Now they edged
in and asked Bresnahan what he thought about the Packard
car, investments in Texas oil-wells, the comparative merits of
young men born in Minnesota and in Massachusetts, the question
of prohibition, the future cost of motor tires, and wasn't
it true that American aviators put it all over these Frenchmen?
They were glad to find that he agreed with them on every
As she heard Bresnahan announce, "We're perfectly willing
to talk to any committee the men may choose, but we're not
going to stand for some outside agitator butting in and telling
us how we're going to run our plant!" Carol remembered
that Jackson Elder (now meekly receiving New Ideas) had
said the same thing in the same words.
While Sam Clark was digging up from his memory a long
and immensely detailed story of the crushing things he had
said to a Pullman porter, named George, Bresnahan hugged
his knees and rocked and watched Carol. She wondered if he
did not understand the laboriousness of the smile with which
she listened to Kennicott's account of the "good one he had
on Carrie," that marital, coyly improper, ten-times-told tale
of how she had forgotten to attend to Hugh because she was
"all het up pounding the box"--which may be translated as
"eagerly playing the piano." She was certain that Bresnahan
saw through her when she pretended not to hear Kennicott's
invitation to join a game of cribbage. She feared the comments
he might make; she was irritated by her fear.
She was equally irritated, when the motor returned through
Gopher Prairie, to find that she was proud of sharing in
Bresnahan's kudos as people waved, and Juanita Haydock
leaned from a window. She said to herself, "As though I
cared whether I'm seen with this fat phonograph!" and
simultaneously, "Everybody has noticed how much Will and
I are playing with Mr. Bresnahan."
The town was full of his stories, his friendliness, his memory
for names, his clothes, his trout-flies, his generosity. He had
given a hundred dollars to Father Klubok the priest, and a
hundred to the Reverend Mr. Zitterel the Baptist minister,
for Americanization work.
At the Bon Ton, Carol heard Nat Hicks the tailor exulting:
"Old Perce certainly pulled a good one on this fellow
Bjornstam that always is shooting off his mouth. He's
supposed to of settled down since he got married, but Lord,
those fellows that think they know it all, they never change.
Well, the Red Swede got the grand razz handed to him, all
right. He had the nerve to breeze up to Perce, at Dave Dyer's,
and he said, he said to Perce, `I've always wanted to look
at a man that was so useful that folks would pay him a million
dollars for existing,' and Perce gave him the once-over and
come right back, `Have, eh?' he says. `Well,' he says, `I've
been looking for a man so useful sweeping floors that I could
pay him four dollars a day. Want the job, my friend?' Ha,
ha, ha! Say, you know how lippy Bjornstam is? Well for
once he didn't have a thing to say. He tried to get fresh,
and tell what a rotten town this is, and Perce come right
back at him, `If you don't like this country, you better get
out of it and go back to Germany, where you belong!' Say,
maybe us fellows didn't give Bjornstam the horse-laugh though!
Oh, Perce is the white-haired boy in this burg, all rightee!"
Bresnahan had borrowed Jackson Elder's motor; he stopped
at the Kennicotts'; he bawled at Carol, rocking with Hugh
en the porch, "Better come for a ride."
She wanted to snub him. "Thanks so much, but I'm being
"Bring him along! Bring him along!" Bresnahan was
out of the seat, stalking up the sidewalk, and the rest of her
protests and dignities were feeble.
She did not bring Hugh along.
Bresnahan was silent for a mile, in words, But he looked
at her as though he meant her to know that he understood
everything she thought.
She observed how deep was his chest.
"Lovely fields over there," he said.
"You really like them? There's no profit in them."
He chuckled. "Sister, you can't get away with it. I'm
onto you. You consider me a big bluff. Well, maybe I am.
But so are you, my dear--and pretty enough so that I'd
try to make love to you, if I weren't afraid you'd slap me."
"Mr. Bresnahan, do you talk that way to your' wife's
friends? And do you call them `sister'?"
"As a matter of fact, I do! And I make 'em like it.
Score two!" But his chuckle was not so rotund, and he was
very attentive to the ammeter.
In a moment he was cautiously attacking: "That's a wonderful
boy, Will Kennicott. Great work these country practitioners
are doing. The other day, in Washington, I was
talking to a big scientific shark, a professor in Johns Hopkins
medical school, and he was saying that no one has ever
sufficiently appreciated the general practitioner and the
sympathy and help he gives folks. These crack specialists, the
young scientific fellows, they're so cocksure and so wrapped
up in their laboratories that they miss the human element.
Except in the case of a few freak diseases that no respectable
human being would waste his time having, it's the old doc
that keeps a community well, mind and body. And strikes me
that Will is one of the steadiest and clearest-headed counter
practitioners I've ever met. Eh?"
"I'm sure he is. He's a servant of reality."
"Come again? Um. Yes. All of that, whatever that is. . . .
Say, child, you don't care a whole lot for Gopher Prairie,
if I'm not mistaken."
"There's where you're missing a big chance. There's nothing
to these cities. Believe me, I KNOW! This is a good town,
as they go. You're lucky to be here. I wish I could shy on!"
"Very well, why don't you?"
"Huh? Why--Lord--can't get away fr----"
"You don't have to stay. I do! So I want to change it.
Do you know that men like you, prominent men, do quite a
reasonable amount of harm by insisting that your native towns
and native states are perfect? It's you who encourage the
denizens not to change. They quote you, and go on believing
that they live in paradise, and----" She clenched her fist.
"The incredible dullness of it!"
"Suppose you were right. Even so, don't you think you
waste a lot of thundering on one poor scared little town?
Kind of mean!"
"I tell you it's dull. DULL!"
"The folks don't find it dull. These couples like the
Haydocks have a high old time; dances and cards----"
"They don't. They're bored. Almost every one here is.
Vacuousness and bad manners and spiteful gossip--that's what
"Those things--course they're here. So are they in Boston!
And every place else! Why, the faults you find in this town
are simply human nature, and never will be changed."
"Perhaps. But in a Boston all the good Carols (I'll admit
I have no faults) can find one another and play. But here--
I'm alone, in a stale pool--except as it's stirred by the great
"My Lord, to hear you tell it, a fellow 'd think that all
the denizens, as you impolitely call 'em, are so confoundedly
unhappy that it's a wonder they don't all up and commit
suicide. But they seem to struggle along somehow!"
"They don't know what they miss. And anybody can
endure anything. Look at men in mines and in prisons."
He drew up on the south shore of Lake Minniemashie.
He glanced across the reeds reflected on the water, the quiver
of wavelets like crumpled tinfoil, the distant shores patched
with dark woods, silvery oats and deep yellow wheat. He
patted her hand. "Sis---- Carol, you're a darling girl, but
you're difficult. Know what I think?"
"Humph. Maybe you do, but---- My humble (not too
humble!) opinion is that you like to be different. You like
to think you're peculiar. Why, if you knew how many tens
of thousands of women, especially in New York, say just what
you do, you'd lose all the fun of thinking you're a lone genius
and you'd be on the band-wagon whooping it up for Gopher
Prairie and a good decent family life. There's always about
a million young women just out of college who want to teach
their grandmothers how to suck eggs."
"How proud you are of that homely rustic metaphor! You
use it at `banquets' and directors' meetings, and boast of
your climb from a humble homestead."
"Huh! You may have my number. I'm not telling. But
look here: You're so prejudiced against Gopher Prairie that
you overshoot the mark; you antagonize those who might be
inclined to agree with you in some particulars but---- Great
guns, the town can't be all wrong!"