Part 8 out of 12
"No, it isn't. But it could be. Let me tell you a fable.
Imagine a cavewoman complaining to her mate. She doesn't
like one single thing; she hates the damp cave, the rats
running over her bare legs, the stiff skin garments, the eating
of half-raw meat, her husband's bushy face, the constant
battles, and the worship of the spirits who will hoodoo her
unless she gives the priests her best claw necklace. Her man
protests, `But it can't all be wrong!' and he thinks he has
reduced her to absurdity. Now you assume that a world
which produces a Percy Bresnahan and a Velvet Motor Company
must be civilized. It is? Aren't we only about half-way
along in barbarism? I suggest Mrs. Bogart as a test. And
we'll continue in barbarism just as long as people as nearly
intelligent as you continue to defend things as they are
because they are."
"You're a fair spieler, child. But, by golly, I'd like to see
you try to design a new manifold, or run a factory and keep
a lot of your fellow reds from Czech-slovenski-magyar-
godknowswheria on the job! You'd drop your theories so
darn quick! I'm not any defender of things as they are.
Sure. They're rotten. Only I'm sensible."
He preached his gospel: love of outdoors, Playing the Game,
loyalty to friends. She had the neophyte's shock of discovery
that, outside of tracts, conservatives do not tremble and find
no answer when an iconoclast turns on them, but retort with
agility and confusing statistics.
He was so much the man, the worker, the friend, that she
liked him when she most tried to stand out against him; he
was so much the successful executive that she did not want
him to despise her. His manner of sneering at what he called
"parlor socialists" (though the phrase was not overwhelmingly
new) had a power which made her wish to placate his
company of well-fed, speed-loving administrators. When he
demanded, "Would you like to associate with nothing but a
lot of turkey-necked, horn-spectacled nuts that have
adenoids and need a hair-cut, and that spend all their time kicking
about `conditions' and never do a lick of work?" she said,
"No, but just the same----" When he asserted, "Even if
your cavewoman was right in knocking the whole works, I
bet some red-blooded Regular Fellow, some real He-man,
found her a nice dry cave, and not any whining criticizing
radical," she wriggled her head feebly, between a nod and a
His large hands, sensual lips, easy voice supported his self-
confidence. He made her feel young and soft--as Kennicott
had once made her feel. She had nothing to say when he
bent his powerful head and experimented, "My dear, I'm
sorry I'm going away from this town. You'd be a darling
child to play with. You ARE pretty! Some day in Boston
I'll show you how we buy a lunch. Well, hang it, got to be
The only answer to his gospel of beef which she could find,
when she was home, was a wail of "But just the same----"
She did not see him again before he departed for Washington.
His eyes remained. His glances at her lips and hair and
shoulders had revealed to her that she was not a wife-and-
mother alone, but a girl; that there still were men in the
world, as there had been in college days.
That admiration led her to study Kennicott, to tear at the
shroud of intimacy, to perceive the strangeness of the most
ALL that midsummer month Carol was sensitive to Kennicott.
She recalled a hundred grotesqueries: her comic dismay at
his having chewed tobacco, the evening when she had tried
to read poetry to him; matters which had seemed to vanish
with no trace or sequence. Always she repeated that he had
been heroically patient in his desire to join the army. She
made much of her consoling affection for him in little things.
She liked the homeliness of his tinkering about the house; his
strength and handiness as he tightened the hinges of a shutter;
his boyishness when he ran to her to be comforted because he
had found rust in the barrel of his pump-gun. But at the
highest he was to her another Hugh, without the glamor of
Hugh's unknown future.
There was, late in June, a day of heat-lightning.
Because of the work imposed by the absence of the other
doctors the Kennicotts had not moved to the lake cottage
but remained in town, dusty and irritable. In the afternoon,
when she went to Oleson & McGuire's (formerly Dahl &
Oleson's), Carol was vexed by the assumption of the youthful
clerk, recently come from the farm, that he had to be
neighborly and rude. He was no more brusquely familiar than
a dozen other clerks of the town, but her nerves were heat-
When she asked for codfish, for supper, he grunted, "What
d'you want that darned old dry stuff for?"
"I like it!"
"Punk! Guess the doc can afford something better than
that. Try some of the new wienies we got in. Swell. The
Haydocks use 'em."
She exploded. "My dear young man, it is not your duty to
instruct me in housekeeping, and it doesn't particularly
concern me what the Haydocks condescend to approve!"
He was hurt. He hastily wrapped up the leprous fragment
of fish; he gaped as she trailed out. She lamented, "I
shouldn't have spoken so. He didn't mean anything. He
doesn't know when he is being rude."
Her repentance was not proof against Uncle Whittier when
she stopped in at his grocery for salt and a package of
safety matches. Uncle Whittier, in a shirt collarless and soaked
with sweat in a brown streak down his back, was whining
at a clerk, "Come on now, get a hustle on and lug that pound
cake up to Mis' Cass's. Some folks in this town think a
storekeeper ain't got nothing to do but chase out 'phone-
orders. . . . Hello, Carrie. That dress you got on looks
kind of low in the neck to me. May be decent and modest--
I suppose I'm old-fashioned--but I never thought much of
showing the whole town a woman's bust! Hee, hee, hee!
. . . . Afternoon, Mrs. Hicks. Sage? Just out of it.
Lemme sell you some other spices. Heh?" Uncle Whittier was
nasally indignant "CERTAINLY! Got PLENTY other spices jus'
good as sage for any purp'se whatever! What's the matter
with--well, with allspice?" When Mrs. Hicks had gone, he
raged, "Some folks don't know what they want!"
"Sweating sanctimonious bully--my husband's uncle!"
She crept into Dave Dyer's. Dave held up his arms with,
"Don't shoot! I surrender!" She smiled, but it occurred to
her that for nearly five years Dave had kept up this game of
pretending that she threatened his life.
As she went dragging through the prickly-hot street she
reflected that a citizen of Gopher Prairie does not have jests--
he has a jest. Every cold morning for five winters Lyman Cass
had remarked, "Fair to middlin' chilly--get worse before it
gets better." Fifty times had Ezra Stowbody informed the
public that Carol had once asked, "Shall I indorse this check
on the back?" Fifty times had Sam Clark called to her,
"Where'd you steal that hat?" Fifty times had the mention
of Barney Cahoon, the town drayman, like a nickel in a slot
produced from Kennicott the apocryphal story of Barney's
directing a minister, "Come down to the depot and get your
case of religious books--they're leaking!"
She came home by the unvarying route. She knew every
house-front, every street-crossing, every billboard, every tree,
every dog. She knew every blackened banana-skin and empty
cigarette-box in the gutters. She knew every greeting. When
Jim Howland stopped and gaped at her there was no possibility
that he was about to confide anything but his grudging, "Well,
All her future life, this same red-labeled bread-crate in
front of the bakery, this same thimble-shaped crack in the
sidewalk a quarter of a block beyond Stowbody's granite hitching-
She silently handed her purchases to the silent Oscarina.
She sat on the porch, rocking, fanning, twitchy with Hugh's
Kennicott came home, grumbled, "What the devil is the kid
"I guess you can stand it ten minutes if I can stand it all
He came to supper in his shirt sleeves, his vest partly open,
revealing discolored suspenders.
"Why don't you put on your nice Palm Beach suit, and take
off that hideous vest?" she complained.
"Too much trouble. Too hot to go up-stairs."
She realized that for perhaps a year she had not definitely
looked at her husband. She regarded his table-manners. He
violently chased fragments of fish about his plate with a knife
and licked the knife after gobbling them. She was slightly
sick. She asserted, "I'm ridiculous. What do these things
matter! Don't be so simple!" But she knew that to her they
did matter, these solecisms and mixed tenses of the table.
She realized that they found little to say; that, incredibly,
they were like the talked-out couples whom she had pitied at
Bresnahan would have spouted in a lively, exciting,
unreliable manner. . . .
She realized that Kennicott's clothes were seldom pressed.
His coat was wrinkled; his trousers would flap at the knees
when he arose. His shoes were unblacked, and they were of
an elderly shapelessness. He refused to wear soft hats;
cleaved to a hard derby, as a symbol of virility and
prosperity; and sometimes he forgot to take it off in the house.
She peeped at his cuffs. They were frayed in prickles of
starched linen. She had turned them once; she clipped them
every week; but when she had begged him to throw the
shirt away, last Sunday morning at the crisis of the weekly
bath, he had uneasily protested, "Oh, it'll wear quite a while
He was shaved (by himself or more socially by Del Snafflin)
only three times a week. This morning had not been one of
the three times.
Yet he was vain of his new turn-down collars and sleek ties;
he often spoke of the "sloppy dressing" of Dr. McGanum;
and he laughed at old men who wore detachable cuffs or
Carol did not care much for the creamed codfish that
She noted that his nails were jagged and ill-shaped from
his habit of cutting them with a pocket-knife and despising
a nail-file as effeminate and urban. That they were invariably
clean, that his were the scoured fingers of the surgeon, made
his stubborn untidiness the more jarring. They were wise
hands, kind hands, but they were not the hands of love.
She remembered him in the days of courtship. He had tried
to please her, then, had touched her by sheepishly wearing
a colored band on his straw hat. Was it possible that those
days of fumbling for each other were gone so completely?
He had read books, to impress her; had said (she recalled it
ironically) that she was to point out his every fault; had
insisted once, as they sat in the secret place beneath the walls
of Fort Snelling----
She shut the door on her thoughts. That was sacred ground.
But it WAS a shame that----
She nervously pushed away her cake and stewed apricots.
After supper, when they had been driven in from the porch
by mosquitos, when Kennicott had for the two-hundredth
time in five years commented, "We must have a new screen
on the porch--lets all the bugs in," they sat reading, and she
noted, and detested herself for noting, and noted again his
habitual awkwardness. He slumped down in one chair, his
legs up on another, and he explored the recesses of his left
ear with the end of his little finger--she could hear the
faint smack--he kept it up--he kept it up----
He blurted, "Oh. Forgot tell you. Some of the fellows coming
in to play poker this evening. Suppose we could have some
crackers and cheese and beer?"
"He might have mentioned it before. Oh well, it's his
The poker-party straggled in: Sam Clark, Jack Elder,
Dave Dyer, Jim Howland. To her they mechanically said,
" 'Devenin'," but to Kennicott, in a heroic male manner,
"Well, well, shall we start playing? Got a hunch I'm going
to lick somebody real bad." No one suggested that she join
them. She told herself that it was her own fault, because
she was not more friendly; but she remembered that they
never asked Mrs. Sam Clark to play.
Bresnahan would have asked her.
She sat in the living-room, glancing across the hall at the
men as they humped over the dining table.
They were in shirt sleeves; smoking, chewing, spitting
incessantly; lowering their voices for a moment so that she
did not hear what they said and afterward giggling hoarsely;
using over and over the canonical phrases: "Three to dole,"
"I raise you a finif," "Come on now, ante up; what do you
think this is, a pink tea?" The cigar-smoke was acrid and
pervasive. The firmness with which the men mouthed their
cigars made the lower part of their faces expressionless, heavy,
unappealing. They were like politicians cynically dividing
How could they understand her world?
Did that faint and delicate world exist? Was she a fool?
She doubted her world, doubted herself, and was sick in the
acid, smoke-stained air.
She slipped back into brooding upon the habituality of the
Kennicott was as fixed in routine as an isolated old man.
At first he had amorously deceived himself into liking her
experiments with food--the one medium in which she could
express imagination--but now he wanted only his round of
favorite dishes: steak, roast beef, boiled pig's-feet, oatmeal,
baked apples. Because at some more flexible period he had advanced
from oranges to grape-fruit he considered himself an epicure.
During their first autumn she had smiled over his affection
for his hunting-coat, but now that the leather had come
unstitched in dribbles of pale yellow thread, and tatters of
canvas, smeared with dirt of the fields and grease from gun-
cleaning, hung in a border of rags, she hated the thing.
Wasn't her whole life like that hunting-coat?
She knew every nick and brown spot on each piece of the
set of china purchased by Kennicott's mother in 1895--discreet
china with a pattern of washed-out forget-me-nots, rimmed
with blurred gold: the gravy-boat, in a saucer which did not
match, the solemn and evangelical covered vegetable-dishes,
the two platters.
Twenty times had Kennicott sighed over the fact that Bea
had broken the other platter--the medium-sized one.
Damp black iron sink, damp whitey-yellow drain-board with
shreds of discolored wood which from long scrubbing were
as soft as cotton thread, warped table, alarm clock, stove
bravely blackened by Oscarina but an abomination in its
loose doors and broken drafts and oven that never would keep
an even heat.
Carol had done her best by the kitchen: painted it white,
put up curtains, replaced a six-year-old calendar by a color
print. She had hoped for tiling, and a kerosene range for
summer cooking, but Kennicott always postponed these expenses.
She was better acquainted with the utensils in the kitchen
than with Vida Sherwin or Guy Pollock. The can-opener,
whose soft gray metal handle was twisted from some ancient
effort to pry open a window, was more pertinent to her than
all the cathedrals in Europe; and more significant than the
future of Asia was the never-settled weekly question as to
whether the small kitchen knife with the unpainted handle or
the second-best buckhorn carving-knife was better for cutting
up cold chicken for Sunday supper.
She was ignored by the males till midnight. Her husband
called, "Suppose we could have some eats, Carrie?" As she
passed through the dining-room the men smiled on her, belly-
smiles. None of them noticed her while she was serving the
crackers and cheese and sardines and beer. They were
determining the exact psychology of Dave Dyer in standing
pat, two hours before.
When they were gone she said to Kennicott, "Your friends
have the manners of a barroom. They expect me to wait on
them like a servant. They're not so much interested in me as
they would be in a waiter, because they don't have to tip me.
Unfortunately! Well, good night."
So rarely did she nag in this petty, hot-weather fashion
that he was astonished rather than angry. "Hey! Wait!
What's the idea? I must say I don't get you. The boys----
Barroom? Why, Perce Bresnahan was saying there isn't a
finer bunch of royal good fellows anywhere than just the
crowd that were here tonight!"
They stood in the lower hall. He was too shocked to go on
with his duties of locking the front door and winding his
watch and the clock.
"Bresnahan! I'm sick of him!" She meant nothing in
"Why, Carrie, he's one of the biggest men in the country!
Boston just eats out of his hand!"
"I wonder if it does? How do we know but that in Boston,
among well-bred people, he may be regarded as an absolute
lout? The way he calls women `Sister,' and the way----"
"Now look here! That'll do! Of course I know you don't
mean it--you're simply hot and tired, and trying to work
off your peeve on me. But just the same, I won't stand your
jumping on Perce. You---- It's just like your attitude
toward the war-so darn afraid that America will become
"But you are the pure patriot!"
"By God, I am!"
"Yes, I heard you talking to Sam Clark tonight about ways
of avoiding the income tax!"
He had recovered enough to lock the door; he clumped
up-stairs ahead of her, growling, "You don't know what you're
talking about. I'm perfectly willing to pay my full tax--fact,
I'm in favor of the income tax--even though I do think it's
a penalty on frugality and enterprise--fact, it's an unjust,
darn-fool tax. But just the same, I'll pay it. Only, I'm not
idiot enough to pay more than the government makes me pay,
and Sam and I were just figuring out whether all automobile
expenses oughn't to be exemptions. I'll take a lot off you,
Carrie, but I don't propose for one second to stand your saying
I'm not patriotic. You know mighty well and good that
I've tried to get away and join the army. And at the beginning
of the whole fracas I said--I've said right along--that we
ought to have entered the war the minute Germany invaded
Belgium. You don't get me at all. You can't appreciate
a man's work. You're abnormal. You've fussed so much
with these fool novels and books and all this highbrow
junk---- You like to argue!"
It ended, a quarter of an hour later, in his calling her a
"neurotic" before he turned away and pretended to sleep.
For the first time they had failed to make peace.
"There are two races of people, only two, and they live side
by side. His calls mine `neurotic'; mine calls his `stupid.'
We'll never understand each other, never; and it's madness
for us to debate--to lie together in a hot bed in a creepy
It clarified in her the longing for a place of her own.
"While it's so hot, I think I'll sleep in the spare room," she
said next day.
"Not a bad idea." He was cheerful and kindly.
The room was filled with a lumbering double bed and a
cheap pine bureau. She stored the bed in the attic; replaced
it by a cot which, with a denim cover, made a couch by
day; put in a dressing-table, a rocker transformed by a cretonne
cover; had Miles Bjornstam build book-shelves.
Kennicott slowly understood that she meant to keep up
her seclusion. In his queries, "Changing the whole room?"
"Putting your books in there?" she caught his dismay. But
it was so easy, once her door was closed, to shut out his worry.
That hurt her--the ease of forgetting him.
Aunt Bessie Smail sleuthed out this anarchy. She yammered,
"Why, Carrie, you ain't going to sleep all alone by yourself?
I don't believe in that. Married folks should have the
same room, of course! Don't go getting silly notions.
No telling what a thing like that might lead to. Suppose I
up and told your Uncle Whit that I wanted a room of my own!"
Carol spoke of recipes for corn-pudding.
But from Mrs. Dr. Westlake she drew encouragement. She
had made an afternoon call on Mrs. Westlake. She was for
the first time invited up-stairs, and found the suave old
woman sewing in a white and mahogany room with a small
"Oh, do you have your own royal apartments, and the
doctor his?" Carol hinted.
"Indeed I do! The doctor says it's bad enough to have to
stand my temper at meals. Do----" Mrs. Westlake looked
at her sharply. "Why, don't you do the same thing?"
"I've been thinking about it." Carol laughed in an
embarrassed way. "Then you wouldn't regard me as a complete
hussy if I wanted to be by myself now and then?"
"Why, child, every woman ought to get off by herself and
turn over her thoughts--about children, and God, and how
bad her complexion is, and the way men don't really understand
her, and how much work she finds to do in the house,
and how much patience it takes to endure some things in a
"Yes!" Carol said it in a gasp, her hands twisted
together. She wanted to confess not only her hatred for the
Aunt Bessies but her covert irritation toward those she best
loved: her alienation from Kennicott, her disappointment in
Guy Pollock, her uneasiness in the presence of Vida. She had
enough self-control to confine herself to, "Yes. Men! The dear
blundering souls, we do have to get off and laugh at them."
"Of course we do. Not that you have to laugh at Dr.
Kennicott so much, but MY man, heavens, now there's a
rare old bird! Reading story-books when he ought to be tending
to business! `Marcus Westlake,' I say to him, `you're a
romantic old fool.' And does he get angry? He does not!
He chuckles and says, `Yes, my beloved, folks do say that
married people grow to resemble each other!' Drat him!"
Mrs. Westlake laughed comfortably.
After such a disclosure what could Carol do but return
the courtesy by remarking that as for Kennicott, he wasn't
romantic enough--the darling. Before she left she had babbled
to Mrs. Westlake her dislike for Aunt Bessie, the fact that
Kennicott's income was now more than five thousand a year,
her view of the reason why Vida had married Raymie (which
included some thoroughly insincere praise of Raymie's "kind
heart"), her opinion of the library-board, just what Kennicott
had said about Mrs. Carthal's diabetes, and what Kennicott
thought of the several surgeons in the Cities.
She went home soothed by confession, inspirited by finding
a new friend.
The tragicomedy of the "domestic situation."
Oscarina went back home to help on the farm, and Carol had
a succession of maids, with gaps between. The lack of servants
was becoming one of the most cramping problems of the prairie
town. Increasingly the farmers' daughters rebelled against
village dullness, and against the unchanged attitude of the
Juanitas toward "hired girls." They went off to city kitchens,
or to city shops and factories, that they might be free and
even human after hours.
The Jolly Seventeen were delighted at Carol's desertion by
the loyal Oscarina. They reminded her that she had said, "I
don't have any trouble with maids; see how Oscarina stays on."
Between incumbencies of Finn maids from the North Woods,
Germans from the prairies, occasional Swedes and Norwegians
and Icelanders, Carol did her own work--and endured Aunt
Bessie's skittering in to tell her how to dampen a broom for
fluffy dust, how to sugar doughnuts, how to stuff a goose.
Carol was deft, and won shy praise from Kennicott, but as her
shoulder blades began to sting, she wondered how many
millions of women had lied to themselves during the death-
rimmed years through which they had pretended to enjoy the
puerile methods persisting in housework.
She doubted the convenience and, as a natural sequent, the
sanctity of the monogamous and separate home which she had
regarded as the basis of all decent life.
She considered her doubts vicious. She refused to remember
how many of the women of the Jolly Seventeen nagged their
husbands and were nagged by them.
She energetically did not whine to Kennicott. But her eyes
ached; she was not the girl in breeches and a flannel shirt who
had cooked over a camp-fire in the Colorado mountains five
years ago. Her ambition was to get to bed at nine; her
strongest emotion was resentment over rising at half-past six
to care for Hugh. The back of her neck ached as she got out
of bed. She was cynical about the joys of a simple laborious
life. She understood why workmen and workmen's wives are
not grateful to their kind employers.
At mid-morning, when she was momentarily free from the
ache in her neck and back, she was glad of the reality of
work. The hours were living and nimble. But she had no
desire to read the eloquent little newspaper essays in praise of
labor which are daily written by the white-browed journalistic
prophets. She felt independent and (though she hid it)
a bit surly.
In cleaning the house she pondered upon the maid's-room.
It was a slant-roofed, small-windowed hole above the kitchen,
oppressive in summer, frigid in winter. She saw that while
she had been considering herself an unusually good mistress,
she had been permitting her friends Bea and Oscarina to live
in a sty. She complained to Kennicott. "What's the matter
with it?" he growled, as they stood on the perilous stairs
dodging up from the kitchen. She commented upon the sloping
roof of unplastered boards stained in brown rings by the
rain, the uneven floor, the cot and its tumbled discouraged-
looking quilts, the broken rocker, the distorting mirror.
"Maybe it ain't any Hotel Radisson parlor, but still, it's
so much better than anything these hired girls are accustomed
to at home that they think it's fine. Seems foolish to spend
money when they wouldn't appreciate it."
But that night he drawled, with the casualness of a man who
wishes to be surprising and delightful, "Carrie, don't know
but what we might begin to think about building a new
house, one of these days. How'd you like that?"
"I'm getting to the point now where I feel we can afford
one--and a corker! I'll show this burg something like a real
house! We'll put one over on Sam and Harry! Make folks
sit up an' take notice!"
"Yes," she said.
He did not go on.
Daily he returned to the subject of the new house, but as
to time and mode he was indefinite. At first she believed.
She babbled of a low stone house with lattice windows and
tulip-beds, of colonial brick, of a white frame cottage with
green shutters and dormer windows. To her enthusiasms he
answered, "Well, ye-es, might be worth thinking about.
Remember where I put my pipe?" When she pressed him he
fidgeted, "I don't know; seems to me those kind of houses you
speak of have been overdone."
It proved that what he wanted was a house exactly like
Sam Clark's, which was exactly like every third new house in
every town in the country: a square, yellow stolidity with im-
maculate clapboards, a broad screened porch, tidy grass-plots,
and concrete walks; a house resembling the mind of a
merchant who votes the party ticket straight and goes to church
once a month and owns a good car.
He admitted, "Well, yes, maybe it isn't so darn artistic
but---- Matter of fact, though, I don't want a place just like
Sam's. Maybe I would cut off that fool tower he's got, and
I think probably it would look better painted a nice cream
color. That yellow on Sam's house is too kind of flashy.
Then there's another kind of house that's mighty nice and
substantial-looking, with shingles, in a nice brown stain,
instead of clapboards--seen some in Minneapolis. You're way
off your base when you say I only like one kind of house!"
Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie came in one evening when
Carol was sleepily advocating a rose-garden cottage.
"You've had a lot of experience with housekeeping, aunty,
and don't you think," Kennicott appealed, "that it would be
sensible to have a nice square house, and pay more attention
to getting a crackajack furnace than to all this architecture
Aunt Bessie worked her lips as though they were an elastic
band. "Why of course! I know how it is with young folks
like you, Carrie; you want towers and bay-windows and pianos
and heaven knows what all, but the thing to get is closets and
a good furnace and a handy place to hang out the washing, and
the rest don't matter."
Uncle Whittier dribbled a little, put his face near to Carol's,
and sputtered, "Course it don't! What d'you care what folks
think about the outside of your house? It's the inside you're
living in. None of my business, but I must say you young
folks that'd rather have cakes than potatoes get me riled."
She reached her room before she became savage. Below,
dreadfully near, she could hear the broom-swish of Aunt
Bessie's voice, and the mop-pounding of Uncle Whittier's
grumble. She had a reasonless dread that they would
intrude on her, then a fear that she would yield to Gopher
Prairie's conception of duty toward an Aunt Bessie and go
down-stairs to be "nice." She felt the demand for standardized
behavior coming in waves from all the citizens who sat
in their sitting-rooms watching her with respectable eyes,
waiting, demanding, unyielding. She snarled, "Oh, all right,
I'll go!" She powdered her nose, straightened her collar,
and coldly marched down-stairs. The three elders ignored
her. They had advanced from the new house to agreeable
general fussing. Aunt Bessie was saying, in a tone like the
munching of dry toast:
"I do think Mr. Stowbody ought to have had the rain-pipe
fixed at our store right away. I went to see him on Tuesday
morning before ten, no, it was couple minutes after ten, but
anyway, it was long before noon--I know because I went right
from the bank to the meat market to get some steak--my! I
think it's outrageous, the prices Oleson & McGuire charge for
their meat, and it isn't as if they gave you a good cut either
but just any old thing, and I had time to get it, and I
stopped in at Mrs. Bogart's to ask about her rheumatism----"
Carol was watching Uncle Whittier. She knew from his
taut expression that he was not listening to Aunt Bessie but
herding his own thoughts, and that he would interrupt her
bluntly. He did:
"Will, where c'n I get an extra pair of pants for this coat
and vest? D' want to pay too much."
"Well, guess Nat Hicks could make you up a pair. But
if I were you, I'd drop into Ike Rifkin's--his prices are lower
than the Bon Ton's."
"Humph. Got the new stove in your office yet?"
"No, been looking at some at Sam Clark's but----"
"Well, y' ought get 't in. Don't do to put off getting a
stove all summer, and then have it come cold on you in the
Carol smiled upon them ingratiatingly. "Do you dears
mind if I slip up to bed? I'm rather tired--cleaned the
She retreated. She was certain that they were discussing
her, and foully forgiving her. She lay awake till she heard the
distant creak of a bed which indicated that Kennicott had
retired. Then she felt safe.
It was Kennicott who brought up the matter of the Smails
at breakfast. With no visible connection he said, "Uncle
Whit is kind of clumsy, but just the same, he's a pretty wise
old coot. He's certainly making good with the store."
Carol smiled, and Kennicott was pleased that she had come
to her senses. "As Whit says, after all the first thing is to
have the inside of a house right, and darn the people on the
outside looking in!"
It seemed settled that the house was to be a sound example
of the Sam Clark school.
Kennicott made much of erecting it entirely for her and the
baby. He spoke of closets for her frocks, and "a comfy sewing-
room." But when he drew on a leaf from an old account-
book (he was a paper-saver and a string-picker) the plans for
the garage, he gave much more attention to a cement floor
and a work-bench and a gasoline-tank than he had to sewing-
She sat back and was afraid.
In the present rookery there were odd things--a step up
from the hall to the dining-room, a picturesqueness in the shed
and bedraggled lilac bush. But the new place would be smooth,
standardized, fixed. It was probable, now that Kennicott was
past forty, and settled, that this would be the last venture
he would ever make in building. So long as she stayed in this
ark, she would always have a possibility of change, but once
she was in the new house, there she would sit for all the rest
of her life--there she would die. Desperately she wanted to
put it off, against the chance of miracles. While Kennicott
was chattering about a patent swing-door for the garage she
saw the swing-doors of a prison.
She never voluntarily returned to the project. Aggrieved,
Kennicott stopped drawing plans, and in ten days the new
house was forgotten.
Every year since their marriage Carol had longed for a trip
through the East. Every year Kennicott had talked of
attending the American Medical Association convention, "and
then afterwards we could do the East up brown. I know New
York clean through--spent pretty near a week there--but I
would like to see New England and all these historic places
and have some sea-food." He talked of it from February to
May, and in May he invariably decided that coming confinement-
cases or land-deals would prevent his "getting away from
home-base for very long THIS year--and no sense going till we
can do it right."
The weariness of dish-washing had increased her desire to
go. She pictured herself looking at Emerson's manse, bathing
in a surf of jade and ivory, wearing a trottoir and a summer
fur, meeting an aristocratic Stranger. In the spring Kennicott
had pathetically volunteered, "S'pose you'd like to get in a
good long tour this summer, but with Gould and Mac away
and so many patients depending on me, don't see how I can
make it. By golly, I feel like a tightwad though, not taking
you." Through all this restless July after she had tasted
Bresnahan's disturbing flavor of travel and gaiety, she wanted to go,
but she said nothing. They spoke of and postponed a trip
to the Twin Cities. When she suggested, as though it were a
tremendous joke, "I think baby and I might up and leave you,
and run off to Cape Cod by ourselves!" his only reaction was
"Golly, don't know but what you may almost have to do
that, if we don't get in a trip next year."
Toward the end of July he proposed, "Say, the Beavers are
holding a convention in Joralemon, street fair and everything.
We might go down tomorrow. And I'd like to see Dr. Calibree
about some business. Put in the whole day. Might help
some to make up for our trip. Fine fellow, Dr. Calibree."
Joralemon was a prairie town of the size of Gopher Prairie.
Their motor was out of order, and there was no passenger-
train at an early hour. They went down by freight-train,
after the weighty and conversational business of leaving Hugh
with Aunt Bessie. Carol was exultant over this irregular
jaunting. It was the first unusual thing, except the glance of
Bresnahan, that had happened since the weaning of Hugh.
They rode in the caboose, the small red cupola-topped car
jerked along at the end of the train. It was a roving shanty,
the cabin of a land schooner, with black oilcloth seats along
the side, and for desk, a pine board to be let down on hinges.
Kennicott played seven-up with the conductor and two brakemen.
Carol liked the blue silk kerchiefs about the brakemen's
throats; she liked their welcome to her, and their air of
friendly independence. Since there were no sweating passengers
crammed in beside her, she reveled in the train's slowness. She
was part of these lakes and tawny wheat-fields. She liked the
smell of hot earth and clean grease; and the leisurely chug-a-
chug, chug-a-chug of the trucks was a song of contentment in
She pretended that she was going to the Rockies. When
they reached Joralemon she was radiant with holiday-making.
Her eagerness began to lessen the moment they stopped at
a red frame station exactly like the one they had just left
at Gopher Prairie, and Kennicott yawned, "Right on time.
Just in time for dinner at the Calibrees'. I 'phoned the doctor
from G. P. that we'd be here. `We'll catch the freight that
gets in before twelve,' I told him. He said he'd meet us at the
depot and take us right up to the house for dinner. Calibree
is a good man, and you'll find his wife is a mighty brainy
little woman, bright as a dollar. By golly, there he is."
Dr. Calibree was a squat, clean-shaven, conscientious-looking
man of forty. He was curiously like his own brown-painted
motor car, with eye-glasses for windshield. "Want you to
meet my wife, doctor--Carrie, make you 'quainted with Dr.
Calibree," said Kennicott. Calibree bowed quietly and shook
her hand, but before he had finished shaking it he was
concentrating upon Kennicott with, "Nice to see you, doctor.
Say, don't let me forget to ask you about what you did in that
exopthalmic goiter case--that Bohemian woman at Wahkeenyan."
The two men, on the front seat of the car, chanted goiters
and ignored her. She did not know it. She was trying to feed
her illusion of adventure by staring at unfamiliar houses. . .
drab cottages, artificial stone bungalows, square painty stolidities
with immaculate clapboards and broad screened porches
and tidy grass-plots.
Calibree handed her over to his wife, a thick woman who
called her "dearie," and asked if she was hot and, visibly
searching for conversation, produced, "Let's see, you and the
doctor have a Little One, haven't you?" At dinner Mrs. Calibree
served the corned beef and cabbage and looked steamy,
looked like the steamy leaves of cabbage. The men were
oblivious of their wives as they gave the social passwords of
Main Street, the orthodox opinions on weather, crops, and
motor cars, then flung away restraint and gyrated in the
debauch of shop-talk. Stroking his chin, drawling in the ecstasy
of being erudite, Kennicott inquired, "Say, doctor, what
success have you had with thyroid for treatment of pains in the
legs before child-birth?"
Carol did not resent their assumption that she was too
ignorant to be admitted to masculine mysteries. She was used to
it. But the cabbage and Mrs. Calibree's monotonous "I don't
know what we're coming to with all this difficulty getting hired
girls" were gumming her eyes with drowsiness. She sought
to clear them by appealing to Calibree, in a manner of exag-
gerated liveliness, "Doctor, have the medical societies in
Minnesota ever advocated legislation for help to nursing mothers?"
Calibree slowly revolved toward her. "Uh--I've never--
uh--never looked into it. I don't believe much in getting
mixed up in politics." He turned squarely from her and, peering
earnestly at Kennicott, resumed, "Doctor, what's been your
experience with unilateral pyelonephritis? Buckburn of Baltimore
advocates decapsulation and nephrotomy, but seems to
Not till after two did they rise. In the lee of the stonily
mature trio Carol proceeded to the street fair which added
mundane gaiety to the annual rites of the United and Fraternal
Order of Beavers. Beavers, human Beavers, were everywhere:
thirty-second degree Beavers in gray sack suits and decent
derbies, more flippant Beavers in crash summer coats and straw
hats, rustic Beavers in shirt sleeves and frayed suspenders;
but whatever his caste-symbols, every Beaver was distinguished
by an enormous shrimp-colored ribbon lettered in silver, "Sir
Knight and Brother, U. F. O. B., Annual State Convention."
On the motherly shirtwaist of each of their wives was a badge
"Sir Knight's Lady." The Duluth delegation had brought their
famous Beaver amateur band, in Zouave costumes of green
velvet jacket, blue trousers, and scarlet fez. The strange
thing was that beneath their scarlet pride the Zouaves' faces
remained those of American business-men, pink, smooth, eye-
glassed; and as they stood playing in a circle, at the corner
of Main Street and Second, as they tootled on fifes or with
swelling cheeks blew into cornets, their eyes remained as
owlish as though they were sitting at desks under the sign
"This Is My Busy Day."
Carol had supposed that the Beavers were average citizens
organized for the purposes of getting cheap life-insurance and
playing poker at the lodge-rooms every second Wednesday, but
she saw a large poster which proclaimed:
U. F. O. B.
The greatest influence for good citizenship in the
country. The jolliest aggregation of red-blooded,
open-handed, hustle-em-up good fellows in the world.
Joralemon welcomes you to her hospitable city.
Kennicott read the poster and to Calibree admired, "Strong
lodge, the Beavers. Never joined. Don't know but what I will,"
Calibree adumbrated, "They're a good bunch. Good strong
lodge. See that fellow there that's playing the snare drum?
He's the smartest wholesale grocer in Duluth, they say. Guess
it would be worth joining. Oh say, are you doing much
They went on to the street fair.
Lining one block of Main Street were the "attractions"--
two hot-dog stands, a lemonade and pop-corn stand, a merry-
go-round, and booths in which balls might be thrown at rag
dolls, if one wished to throw balls at rag dolls. The dignified
delegates were shy of the booths, but country boys with brickred
necks and pale-blue ties and bright-yellow shoes, who had
brought sweethearts into town in somewhat dusty and listed
Fords, were wolfing sandwiches, drinking strawberry pop out of
bottles, and riding the revolving crimson and gold horses. They
shrieked and giggled; peanut-roasters whistled; the merry-go-
round pounded out monotonous music; the barkers bawled,
"Here's your chance--here's your chance--come on here, boy--
come on here--give that girl a good time--give her a swell
time--here's your chance to win a genuwine gold watch for
five cents, half a dime, the twentieth part of a dollah!" The
prairie sun jabbed the unshaded street with shafts that were
like poisonous thorns the tinny cornices above the brick stores
were glaring; the dull breeze scattered dust on sweaty Beavers
who crawled along in tight scorching new shoes, up two blocks
and back, up two blocks and back, wondering what to do next,
working at having a good time.
Carol's head ached as she trailed behind the unsmiling Calibrees
along the block of booths. She chirruped at Kennicott, "Let's be wild!
Let's ride on the merry-go-round and grab a gold ring!"
Kennicott considered it, and mumbled to Calibree, "Think you folks
would like to stop and try a ride on the merry-go-round?"
Calibree considered it, and mumbled to his wife, "Think
you'd like to stop and try a ride on the merry-go-round?"
Mrs. Calibree smiled in a washed-out manner, and sighed,
"Oh no, I don't believe I care to much, but you folks go ahead
and try it."
Calibree stated to Kennicott, "No, I don't believe we care
to a whole lot, but you folks go ahead and try it."
Kennicott summarized the whole case against wildness:
"Let's try it some other time, Carrie."
She gave it up. She looked at the town. She saw that in
adventuring from Main Street, Gopher Prairie, to Main Street,
Joralemon, she had not stirred. There were the same two-
story brick groceries with lodge-signs above the awnings; the
same one-story wooden millinery shop; the same fire-brick
garages; the same prairie at the open end of the wide street;
the same people wondering whether the levity of eating a hot-
dog sandwich would break their taboos.
They reached Gopher Prairie at nine in the evening.
"You look kind of hot," said Kennicott.
"Joralemon is an enterprising town, don't you think so?"
She broke. "No! I think it's an ash-heap."
He worried over it for a week. While he ground his plate
with his knife as he energetically pursued fragments of bacon,
he peeped at her.
"CARRIE'S all right. She's finicky, but she'll get over it. But
I wish she'd hurry up about it! What she can't understand
is that a fellow practising medicine in a small town like this
has got to cut out the highbrow stuff, and not spend all his
time going to concerts and shining his shoes. (Not but what
he might be just as good at all these intellectual and art
things as some other folks, if he had the time for it!)" Dr.
Will Kennicott was brooding in his office, during a free moment
toward the end of the summer afternoon. He hunched down
in his tilted desk-chair, undid a button of his shirt, glanced
at the state news in the back of the Journal of the American
Medical Association, dropped the magazine, leaned back with
his right thumb hooked in the arm-hole of his vest and his
left thumb stroking the back of his hair.
"By golly, she's taking an awful big chance, though. You'd
expect her to learn by and by that I won't be a parlor lizard.
She says we try to `make her over.' Well, she's always trying
to make me over, from a perfectly good M. D. into a damn
poet with a socialist necktie! She'd have a fit if she knew
how many women would be willing to cuddle up to Friend Will
and comfort him, if he'd give 'em the chance! There's
still a few dames that think the old man isn't so darn
unattractive! I'm glad I've ducked all that woman-game since
I've been married but---- Be switched if sometimes I don't
feel tempted to shine up to some girl that has sense enough
to take life as it is; some frau that doesn't want to talk
Longfellow all the time, but just hold my hand and say, `You
look all in, honey. Take it easy, and don't try to talk.'
"Carrie thinks she's such a whale at analyzing folks. Giving
the town the once-over. Telling us where we get off. Why,
she'd simply turn up her toes and croak if she found out how
much she doesn't know about the high old times a wise guy
could have in this burg on the Q.T., if he wasn't faithful to
his wife. But I am. At that, no matter what faults she's
got, there's nobody here, no, nor in Minn'aplus either, that's
as nice-looking and square and bright as Carrie. She ought
to of been an artist or a writer or one of those things. But
once she took a shot at living here, she ought to stick by it.
Pretty---- Lord yes. But cold. She simply doesn't know
what passion is. She simply hasn't got an I--dea how hard
it is for a full-blooded man to go on pretending to be satisfied
with just being endured. It gets awful tiresome, having to
feel like a criminal just because I'm normal. She's getting
so she doesn't even care for my kissing her. Well----
"I guess I can weather it, same as I did earning my way
through school and getting started in practise. But I wonder
how long I can stand being an outsider in my own home?"
He sat up at the entrance of Mrs. Dave Dyer. She slumped
into a chair and gasped with the heat. He chuckled, "Well,
well, Maud, this is fine. Where's the subscription-list? What
cause do I get robbed for, this trip?"
"I haven't any subscription-list, Will. I want to see you
"And you a Christian Scientist? Have you given that up?
What next? New Thought or Spiritualism?"
"No, I have not given it up!"
"Strikes me it's kind of a knock on the sisterhood, your
coming to see a doctor!"
"No, it isn't. It's just that my faith isn't strong enough
yet. So there now! And besides, you ARE kind of consoling,
Will. I mean as a man, not just as a doctor. You're so strong
He sat on the edge of his desk, coatless, his vest swinging
open with the thick gold line of his watch-chain across the
gap, his hands in his trousers pockets, his big arms bent and
easy. As she purred he cocked an interested eye. Maud
Dyer was neurotic, religiocentric, faded; her emotions were
moist, and her figure was unsystematic--splendid thighs and
arms, with thick ankles, and a body that was bulgy in the
wrong places. But her milky skin was delicious, her eyes were
alive, her chestnut hair shone, and there was a tender slope
from her ears to the shadowy place below her jaw.
With unusual solicitude he uttered his stock phrase, "Well,
what seems to be the matter, Maud?"
"I've got such a backache all the time. I'm afraid the
organic trouble that you treated me for is coming back."
"Any definite signs of it?"
"N-no, but I think you'd better examine me."
"Nope. Don't believe it's necessary, Maud. To be honest,
between old friends, I think your troubles are mostly imaginary.
I can't really advise you to have an examination."
She flushed, looked out of the window. He was conscious
that his voice was not impersonal and even.
She turned quickly. "Will, you always say my troubles
are imaginary. Why can't you be scientific? I've been reading
an article about these new nerve-specialists, and they claim
that lots of `imaginary' ailments, yes, and lots of real pain,
too, are what they call psychoses, and they order a change in
a woman's way of living so she can get on a higher plane----"
"Wait! Wait! Whoa-up! Wait now! Don't mix up
your Christian Science and your psychology! They're two
entirely different fads! You'll be mixing in socialism next!
You're as bad as Carrie, with your `psychoses.' Why, Good
Lord, Maud, I could talk about neuroses and psychoses and
inhibitions and repressions and complexes just as well as any
damn specialist, if I got paid for it, if I was in the city and
had the nerve to charge the fees that those fellows do. If a
specialist stung you for a hundred-dollar consultation-fee and
told you to go to New York to duck Dave's nagging, you'd
do it, to save the hundred dollars! But you know me--I'm
your neighbor--you see me mowing the lawn--you figure I'm
just a plug general practitioner. If I said, `Go to New York,'
Dave and you would laugh your heads off and say, `Look at
the airs Will is putting on. What does he think he is?'
"As a matter of fact, you're right. You have a perfectly
well-developed case of repression of sex instinct, and it raises
the old Ned with your body. What you need is to get away
from Dave and travel, yes, and go to every dog-gone kind of
New Thought and Bahai and Swami and Hooptedoodle meeting
you can find. I know it, well 's you do. But how can
I advise it? Dave would be up here taking my hide off.
I'm willing to be family physician and priest and lawyer and
plumber and wet-nurse, but I draw the line at making Dave
loosen up on money. Too hard a job in weather like this!
So, savvy, my dear? Believe it will rain if this heat
"But, Will, he'd never give it to me on my say-so. He'd
never let me go away. You know how Dave is: so jolly and
liberal in society, and oh, just LOVES to match quarters, and such
a perfect sport if he loses! But at home he pinches a nickel
till the buffalo drips blood. I have to nag him for every
"Sure, I know, but it's your fight, honey. Keep after him.
He'd simply resent my butting in."
He crossed over and patted her shoulder. Outside the window,
beyond the fly-screen that was opaque with dust and
cottonwood lint, Main Street was hushed except for the
impatient throb of a standing motor car. She took his firm
hand, pressed his knuckles against her cheek.
"O Will, Dave is so mean and little and noisy--the shrimp!
You're so calm. When he's cutting up at parties I see you
standing back and watching him--the way a mastiff watches
He fought for professional dignity with, "Dave 's not a
Lingeringly she released his hand. "Will, drop round by
the house this evening and scold me. Make me be good and
sensible. And I'm so lonely."
"If I did, Dave would be there, and we'd have to play cards.
It's his evening off from the store."
"No. The clerk just got called to Corinth--mother sick.
Dave will be in the store till midnight. Oh, come on over.
There's some lovely beer on the ice, and we can sit and talk
and be all cool and lazy. That wouldn't be wrong of us, WOULD it!"
"No, no, course it wouldn't be wrong. But still, oughtn't
to----" He saw Carol, slim black and ivory, cool, scornful
"All right. But I'll be so lonely."
Her throat seemed young, above her loose blouse of muslin
"Tell you, Maud: I'll drop in just for a minute, if I happen
to be called down that way."
"If you'd like," demurely. "O Will, I just want comfort.
I know you're all married, and my, such a proud papa, and of
course now---- If I could just sit near you in the dusk, and
be quiet, and forget Dave! You WILL come?"
"Sure I will!"
"I'll expect you. I'll be lonely if you don't come! Good-by."
He cursed himself: "Darned fool, what 'd I promise to go
for? I'll have to keep my promise, or she'll feel hurt. She's
a good, decent, affectionate girl, and Dave's a cheap skate,
all right. She's got more life to her than Carol has. All my
fault, anyway. Why can't I be more cagey, like Calibree and
McGanum and the rest of the doctors? Oh, I am, but Maud's
such a demanding idiot. Deliberately bamboozling me into
going up there tonight. Matter of principle: ought not to
let her get away with it. I won't go. I'll call her up and
tell her I won't go. Me, with Carrie at home, finest little
woman in the world, and a messy-minded female like Maud
Dyer--no, SIR! Though there's no need of hurting her feelings.
I may just drop in for a second, to tell her I can't stay. All
my fault anyway; ought never to have started in and jollied
Maud along in the old days. If it's my fault, I've got no
right to punish Maud. I could just drop in for a second and
then pretend I had a country call and beat it. Damn nuisance,
though, having to fake up excuses. Lord, why can't the women
let you alone? Just because once or twice, seven hundred
million years ago, you were a poor fool, why can't they let
you forget it? Maud's own fault. I'll stay strictly away.
Take Carrie to the movies, and forget Maud. . . . But it
would be kind of hot at the movies tonight."
He fled from himself. He rammed on his hat, threw his
coat over his arm, banged the door, locked it, tramped
downstairs. "I won't go!" he said sturdily and, as he said it,
he would have given a good deal to know whether he was
He was refreshed, as always, by the familiar windows and
faces. It restored his soul to have Sam Clark trustingly
bellow, "Better come down to the lake this evening and have a
swim, doc. Ain't you going to open your cottage at all, this
summer? By golly, we miss you." He noted the progress
on the new garage. He had triumphed in the laying of every
course of bricks; in them he had seen the growth of the town.
His pride was ushered back to its throne by the respectfulness
of Oley Sundquist: "Evenin', doc! The woman is a lot
better. That was swell medicine you gave her." He was
calmed by the mechanicalness of the tasks at home: burning
the gray web of a tent-worm on the wild cherry tree, sealing
with gum a cut in the right front tire of the car, sprinkling
the road before the house. The hose was cool to his hands.
As the bright arrows fell with a faint puttering sound, a
crescent of blackness was formed in the gray dust.
Dave Dyer came along.
"Where going, Dave?"
"Down to the store. Just had supper."
"But Thursday 's your night off."
"Sure, but Pete went home. His mother 's supposed to
be sick. Gosh, these clerks you get nowadays--overpay 'em
and then they won't work!"
"That's tough, Dave. You'll have to work clear up till
"Yup. Better drop in and have a cigar, if you're downtown.
"Well, I may, at that. May have to go down and see Mrs.
Champ Perry. She's ailing. So long, Dave."
Kennicott had not yet entered the house. He was
conscious that Carol was near him, that she was important, that
he was afraid of her disapproval; but he was content to be
alone. When he had finished sprinkling he strolled into the
house, up to the baby's room, and cried to Hugh, "Story-
time for the old man, eh?"
Carol was in a low chair, framed and haloed by the window
behind her, an image in pale gold. The baby curled in her
lap, his head on her arm, listening with gravity while she
sang from Gene Field:
'Tis little Luddy-Dud in the morning--
'Tis little Luddy-Dud at night:
And all day long
'Tis the same dear song
Of that growing, crowing, knowing little sprite.
Kennicott was enchanted.
"Maud Dyer? I should say not!"
When the current maid bawled up-stairs, "Supper on de
table!" Kennicott was upon his back, flapping his hands in
the earnest effort to be a seal, thrilled by the strength with
which his son kicked him. He slipped his arm about Carol's
shoulder; he went down to supper rejoicing that he was cleansed
of perilous stuff. While Carol was putting the baby to bed
he sat on the front steps. Nat Hicks, tailor and roue, came
to sit beside him. Between waves of his hand as he drove
off mosquitos, Nat whispered, "Say, doc, you don't feel like
imagining you're a bacheldore again, and coming out for a Time
tonight, do you?"
"You know this new dressmaker, Mrs. Swiftwaite?--swell
dame with blondine hair? Well, she's a pretty good goer.
Me and Harry Haydock are going to take her and that fat
wren that works in the Bon Ton--nice kid, too--on an auto
ride tonight. Maybe we'll drive down to that farm Harry
bought. We're taking some beer, and some of the smoothest
rye you ever laid tongue to. I'm not predicting none, but
if we don't have a picnic, I'll miss my guess."
"Go to it. No skin off my ear, Nat. Think I want to
be fifth wheel in the coach?"
"No, but look here: The little Swiftwaite has a friend with
her from Winona, dandy looker and some gay bird, and Harry
and me thought maybe you'd like to sneak off for one evening."
"Rats now, doc, forget your everlasting dignity. You used
to be a pretty good sport yourself, when you were foot-free."
It may have been the fact that Mrs. Swiftwaite's friend
remained to Kennicott an ill-told rumor, it may have been
Carol's voice, wistful in the pallid evening as she sang to
Hugh, it may have been natural and commendable virtue, but
certainly he was positive:
"Nope. I'm married for keeps. Don't pretend to be any
saint. Like to get out and raise Cain and shoot a few drinks.
But a fellow owes a duty---- Straight now, won't you feel
like a sneak when you come back to the missus after your
"Me? My moral in life is, `What they don't know won't hurt
'em none.' The way to handle wives, like the fellow says,
is to catch 'em early, treat 'em rough, and tell 'em nothing!"
"Well, that's your business, I suppose. But I can't get
away with it. Besides that--way I figure it, this illicit love-
making is the one game that you always lose at. If you do
lose, you feel foolish; and if you win, as soon as you find out
how little it is that you've been scheming for, why then you
lose worse than ever. Nature stinging us, as usual. But at
that, I guess a lot of wives in this burg would be surprised if
they knew everything that goes on behind their backs, eh, Nattie?"
"WOULD they! Say, boy! If the good wives knew what
some of the boys get away with when they go down to the
Cities, why, they'd throw a fit! Sure you won't come, doc?
Think of getting all cooled off by a good long drive, and then the
lov-e-ly Swiftwaite's white hand mixing you a good stiff highball!"
"Nope. Nope. Sorry. Guess I won't," grumbled Kennicott.
He was glad that Nat showed signs of going. But he was
restless. He heard Carol on the stairs. "Come have a seat--
have the whole earth!" he shouted jovially.
She did not answer his joviality. She sat on the porch,
rocked silently, then sighed, "So many mosquitos out here.
You haven't had the screen fixed."
As though he was testing her he said quietly, "Head aching again?"
"Oh, not much, but---- This maid is SO slow to learn.
I have to show her everything. I had to clean most of the
silver myself. And Hugh was so bad all afternoon. He
whined so. Poor soul, he was hot, but he did wear me out."
"Uh---- You usually want to get out. Like to walk down
to the lake shore? (The girl can stay home.) Or go to
the movies? Come on, let's go to the movies! Or shall we
jump in the car and run out to Sam's, for a swim?"
"If you don't mind, dear, I'm afraid I'm rather tired."
"Why don't you sleep down-stairs tonight, on the couch?
Be cooler. I'm going to bring down my mattress. Come on!
Keep the old man company. Can't tell--I might get scared of
burglars. Lettin' little fellow like me stay all alone by
"It's sweet of you to think of it, but I like my own room
so much. But you go ahead and do it, dear. Why don't
you sleep on the couch, instead of putting your mattress on
the floor? Well I believe I'll run in and read for just
a second--want to look at the last Vogue--and then perhaps
I'll go by-by. Unless you want me, dear? Of course if
there's anything you really WANT me for?"
"No. No. . . . Matter of fact, I really ought to run
down and see Mrs. Champ Perry. She's ailing. So you skip
in and---- May drop in at the drug store. If I'm not home
when you get sleepy, don't wait up for me."
He kissed her, rambled off, nodded to Jim Howland, stopped
indifferently to speak to Mrs. Terry Gould. But his heart
was racing, his stomach was constricted. He walked more
slowly. He reached Dave Dyer's yard. He glanced in. On
the porch, sheltered by a wild-grape vine, was the figure of a
woman in white. He heard the swing-couch creak as she
sat up abruptly, peered, then leaned back and pretended
"Be nice to have some cool beer. Just drop in for a second,"
he insisted, as he opened the Dyer gate.
Mrs. Bogart was calling upon Carol, protected by Aunt
"Have you heard about this awful woman that's supposed
to have come here to do dressmaking--a Mrs. Swiftwaite--
awful peroxide blonde?" moaned Mrs. Bogart. "They say
there's some of the awfullest goings-on at her house--mere
boys and old gray-headed rips sneaking in there evenings
and drinking licker and every kind of goings-on. We women
can't never realize the carnal thoughts in the hearts of men.
I tell you, even though I been acquainted with Will Kennicott
almost since he was a mere boy, seems like, I wouldn't trust
even him! Who knows what designin' women might tempt
him! Especially a doctor, with women rushin' in to see him
at his office and all! You know I never hint around, but
haven't you felt that----"
Carol was furious. "I don't pretend that Will has no
faults. But one thing I do know: He's as simple-hearted
about what you call `goings-on' as a babe. And if he ever
were such a sad dog as to look at another woman, I certainly
hope he'd have spirit enough to do the tempting, and not be
coaxed into it, as in your depressing picture!"
"Why, what a wicked thing to say, Carrie!" from Aunt
"No, I mean it! Oh, of course, I don't mean it! But----
I know every thought in his head so well that he couldn't
hide anything even if he wanted to. Now this morning----
He was out late, last night; he had to go see Mrs. Perry,
who is ailing, and then fix a man's hand, and this morning
he was so quiet and thoughtful at breakfast and----" She
leaned forward, breathed dramatically to the two perched
harpies, "What do you suppose he was thinking of?"
"What?" trembled Mrs. Bogart.
"Whether the grass needs cutting, probably! There, there!
Don't mind my naughtiness. I have some fresh-made raisin
cookies for you."
CAROL'S liveliest interest was in her walks with the baby.
Hugh wanted to know what the box-elder tree said, and what
the Ford garage said, and what the big cloud said, and she
told him, with a feeling that she was not in the least making
up stories, but discovering the souls of things. They had an
especial fondness for the hitching-post in front of the mill.
It was a brown post, stout and agreeable; the smooth leg
of it held the sunlight, while its neck, grooved by hitching-
straps, tickled one's fingers. Carol had never been awake
to the earth except as a show of changing color and great
satisfying masses; she had lived in people and in ideas about
having ideas; but Hugh's questions made her attentive to the
comedies of sparrows, robins, blue jays, yellowhammers; she
regained her pleasure in the arching flight of swallows, and
added to it a solicitude about their nests and family squabbles.
She forgot her seasons of boredom. She said to Hugh,
"We're two fat disreputable old minstrels roaming round the
world," and he echoed her, "Roamin' round--roamin' round."
The high adventure, the secret place to which they both
fled joyously, was the house of Miles and Bea and Olaf Bjornstam.
Kennicott steadily disapproved of the Bjornstams. He
protested, "What do you want to talk to that crank for?" He
hinted that a former "Swede hired girl" was low company
for the son of Dr. Will Kennicott. She did not explain. She
did not quite understand it herself; did not know that in the
Bjornstams she found her friends, her club, her sympathy
and her ration of blessed cynicism. For a time the gossip of
Juanita Haydock and the Jolly Seventeen had been a refuge
from the droning of Aunt Bessie, but the relief had not
continued. The young matrons made her nervous. They talked
so loud, always so loud. They filled a room with clashing
cackle; their jests and gags they repeated nine times over.
Unconsciously, she had discarded the Jolly Seventeen, Guy
Pollock, Vida, and every one save Mrs. Dr. Westlake and the
friends whom she did not clearly know as friends--the Bjornstams.
To Hugh, the Red Swede was the most heroic and powerful
person in the world. With unrestrained adoration he trotted
after while Miles fed the cows, chased his one pig--an animal
of lax and migratory instincts--or dramatically slaughtered a
chicken. And to Hugh, Olaf was lord among mortal men, less
stalwart than the old monarch, King Miles, but more understanding
of the relations and values of things, of small sticks,
lone playing-cards, and irretrievably injured hoops.
Carol saw, though she did not admit, that Olaf was not
only more beautiful than her own dark child, but more gracious.
Olaf was a Norse chieftain: straight, sunny-haired, large-
limbed, resplendently amiable to his subjects. Hugh was a
vulgarian; a bustling business man. It was Hugh that bounced
and said "Let's play"; Olaf that opened luminous blue eyes
and agreed "All right," in condescending gentleness. If Hugh
batted him--and Hugh did bat him--Olaf was unafraid but
shocked. In magnificent solitude he marched toward the
house, while Hugh bewailed his sin and the overclouding of
The two friends played with an imperial chariot which
Miles had made out of a starch-box and four red spools;
together they stuck switches into a mouse-hole, with vast
satisfaction though entirely without known results.
Bea, the chubby and humming Bea, impartially gave cookies
and scoldings to both children, and if Carol refused a cup of
coffee and a wafer of buttered knackebrod, she was desolated.
Miles had done well with his dairy. He had six cows,
two hundred chickens, a cream separator, a Ford truck. In the
spring he had built a two-room addition to his shack. That
illustrious building was to Hugh a carnival. Uncle Miles did
the most spectacular, unexpected things: ran up the ladder;
stood on the ridge-pole, waving a hammer and singing something
about "To arms, my citizens"; nailed shingles faster
than Aunt Bessie could iron handkerchiefs; and lifted a two-
by-six with Hugh riding on one end and Olaf on the other.
Uncle Miles's most ecstatic trick was to make figures not on
paper but right on a new pine board, with the broadest softest
pencil in the world. There was a thing worth seeing!
The tools! In his office Father had tools fascinating in their
shininess and curious shapes, but they were sharp, they were
something called sterized, and they distinctly were not for
boys to touch. In fact it was a good dodge to volunteer "I
must not touch," when you looked at the tools on the glass
shelves in Father's office. But Uncle Miles, who was a person
altogether superior to Father, let you handle all his kit except
the saws. There was a hammer with a silver head; there was a
metal thing like a big L; there was a magic instrument, very
precious, made out of costly red wood and gold, with a tube
which contained a drop--no, it wasn't a drop, it was a nothing,
which lived in the water, but the nothing LOOKED like a drop,
and it ran in a frightened way up and down the tube, no
matter how cautiously you tilted the magic instrument. And
there were nails, very different and clever--big valiant spikes,
middle-sized ones which were not very interesting, and shingle-
nails much jollier than the fussed-up fairies in the yellow
While he had worked on the addition Miles had talked
frankly to Carol. He admitted now that so long as he stayed
in Gopher Prairie he would remain a pariah. Bea's Lutheran
friends were as much offended by his agnostic gibes as the
merchants by his radicalism. "And I can't seem to keep my
mouth shut. I think I'm being a baa-lamb, and not springing
any theories wilder than `c-a-t spells cat,' but when folks
have gone, I re'lize I've been stepping on their pet religious
corns. Oh, the mill foreman keeps dropping in, and that Danish
shoemaker, and one fellow from Elder's factory, and a few
Svenskas, but you know Bea: big good-hearted wench like
her wants a lot of folks around--likes to fuss over 'em--never
satisfied unless she tiring herself out making coffee for somebody.
"Once she kidnapped me and drug me to the Methodist
Church. I goes in, pious as Widow Bogart, and sits still
and never cracks a smile while the preacher is favoring us
with his misinformation on evolution. But afterwards, when
the old stalwarts were pumphandling everybody at the door
and calling 'em `Brother' and `Sister,' they let me sail right
by with nary a clinch. They figure I'm the town badman.
Always will be, I guess. It'll have to be Olaf who goes on.
`And sometimes---- Blamed if I don't feel like coming out and
saying, `I've been conservative. Nothing to it. Now I'm
going to start something in these rotten one-horse lumber-
camps west of town.' But Bea's got me hypnotized. Lord, Mrs.
Kennicott, do you re'lize what a jolly, square, faithful woman
she is? And I love Olaf---- Oh well, I won't go and get
sentimental on you.
"Course I've had thoughts of pulling up stakes and going
West. Maybe if they didn't know it beforehand, they wouldn't
find out I'd ever been guilty of trying to think for myself.
But--oh, I've worked hard, and built up this dairy business,
and I hate to start all over again, and move Bea and the kid
into another one-room shack. That's how they get us!
Encourage us to be thrifty and own our own houses, and then,
by golly, they've got us; they know we won't dare risk
everything by committing lez--what is it? lez majesty?--I
mean they know we won't be hinting around that if we had
a co-operative bank, we could get along without Stowbody.
Well---- As long as I can sit and play pinochle with Bea,
and tell whoppers to Olaf about his daddy's adventures in the
woods, and how he snared a wapaloosie and knew Paul Bunyan,
why, I don't mind being a bum. It's just for them that
I mind. Say! Say! Don't whisper a word to Bea, but when
I get this addition done, I'm going to buy her a phonograph!"
While she was busy with the activities her work-hungry
muscles found--washing, ironing, mending, baking, dusting,
preserving, plucking a chicken, painting the sink; tasks which,
because she was Miles's full partner, were exciting and creative
--Bea listened to the phonograph records with rapture like
that of cattle in a warm stable. The addition gave her a
kitchen with a bedroom above. The original one-room shack
was now a living-room, with the phonograph, a genuine leather-
upholstered golden-oak rocker, and a picture of Governor John
In late July Carol went to the Bjornstams' desirous of a
chance to express her opinion of Beavers and Calibrees and
Joralemons. She found Olaf abed, restless from a slight fever,
and Bea flushed and dizzy but trying to keep up her work.
She lured Miles aside and worried:
"They don't look at all well. What's the matter?"
"Their stomachs are out of whack. I wanted to call in
Doc Kennicott, but Bea thinks the doc doesn't like us--
she thinks maybe he's sore because you come down here. But
I'm getting worried."
"I'm going to call the doctor at once."
She yearned over Olaf. His lambent eyes were stupid, he
moaned, he rubbed his forehead.
"Have they been eating something that's been bad for
them?" she fluttered to Miles.
"Might be bum water. I'll tell you: We used to get our
water at Oscar Eklund's place, over across the street, but
Oscar kept dinging at me, and hinting I was a tightwad not
to dig a well of my own. One time he said, `Sure, you
socialists are great on divvying up other folks' money--and
water!' I knew if he kept it up there'd be a fuss, and I
ain't safe to have around, once a fuss starts; I'm likely to
forget myself and let loose with a punch in the snoot. I
offered to pay Oscar but he refused--he'd rather have the
chance to kid me. So I starts getting water down at Mrs.
Fageros's, in the hollow there, and I don't believe it's real
good. Figuring to dig my own well this fall."
One scarlet word was before Carol's eyes while she listened
She fled to Kennicott's office. He gravely heard her out;
nodded, said, "Be right over."
He examined Bea and Olaf. He shook his head. "Yes.
Looks to me like typhoid."
"Golly, I've seen typhoid in lumber-camps," groaned Miles,
all the strength dripping out of him. "Have they got it
"Oh, we'll take good care of them," said Kennicott, and
for the first time in their acquaintance he smiled on Miles
and clapped his shoulder.
"Won't you need a nurse?" demanded Carol.
"Why----" To Miles, Kennicott hinted, "Couldn't you
get Bea's cousin, Tina?"
"She's down at the old folks', in the country."
"Then let me do it!" Carol insisted. "They need some
one to cook for them, and isn't it good to give them sponge
baths, in typhoid?"
"Yes. All right." Kennicott was automatic; he was the
official, the physician. "I guess probably it would be hard to
get a nurse here in town just now. Mrs. Stiver is busy with
an obstetrical case, and that town nurse of yours is off on
vacation, ain't she? All right, Bjornstam can spell you at
All week, from eight each morning till midnight, Carol fed
them, bathed them, smoothed sheets, took temperatures.
Miles refused to let her cook. Terrified, pallid, noiseless in
stocking feet, he did the kitchen work and the sweeping, his
big red hands awkwardly careful. Kennicott came in three
times a day, unchangingly tender and hopeful in the sick-
room, evenly polite to Miles.
Carol understood how great was her love for her friends.
It bore her through; it made her arm steady and tireless to
bathe them. What exhausted her was the sight of Bea and
Olaf turned into flaccid invalids, uncomfortably flushed after
taking food, begging for the healing of sleep at night.
During the second week Olaf's powerful legs were flabby.
Spots of a viciously delicate pink came out on his chest and
back. His cheeks sank. He looked frightened. His tongue
was brown and revolting. His confident voice dwindled to a
bewildered murmur, ceaseless and racking.
Bea had stayed on her feet too long at the beginning. The
moment Kennicott had ordered her to bed she had begun to
collapse. One early evening she startled them by screaming,
in an intense abdominal pain, and within half an hour she was
in a delirium. Till dawn Carol was with her, and not all of
Bea's groping through the blackness of half-delirious pain
was so pitiful to Carol as the way in which Miles silently
peered into the room from the top of the narrow stairs. Carol
slept three hours next morning, and ran back. Bea was altogether
delirious but she muttered nothing save, "Olaf--ve
have such a good time----"
At ten, while Carol was preparing an ice-bag in the kitchen,
Miles answered a knock. At the front door she saw
Vida Sherwin, Maud Dyer, and Mrs. Zitterel, wife of the
Baptist pastor. They were carrying grapes, and women's-
magazines, magazines with high-colored pictures and optimistic
"We just heard your wife was sick. We've come to see
if there isn't something we can do," chirruped Vida.
Miles looked steadily at the three women. "You're too
late. You can't do nothing now. Bea's always kind of hoped
that you folks would come see her. She wanted to have a
chance and be friends. She used to sit waiting for somebody
to knock. I've seen her sitting here, waiting. Now---- Oh,
you ain't worth God-damning." He shut the door.
All day Carol watched Olaf's strength oozing. He was
emaciated. His ribs were grim clear lines, his skin was
clammy, his pulse was feeble but terrifyingly rapid. It beat--
beat--beat in a drum-roll of death. Late that afternoon
he sobbed, and died.
Bea did not know it. She was delirious. Next morning,
when she went, she did not know that Olaf would no longer
swing his lath sword on the door-step, no longer rule his
subjects of the cattle-yard; that Miles's son would not go
East to college.
Miles, Carol, Kennicott were silent. They washed the bodies
together, their eyes veiled.
"Go home now and sleep. You're pretty tired. I can't ever
pay you back for what you done," Miles whispered to Carol.
"Yes. But I'll be back here tomorrow. Go with you to
the funeral," she said laboriously.
When the time for the funeral came, Carol was in bed,
collapsed. She assumed that neighbors would go. They had
not told her that word of Miles's rebuff to Vida had spread
through town, a cyclonic fury.
It was only by chance that, leaning on her elbow in bed,
she glanced through the window and saw the funeral of Bea
and Olaf. There was no music, no carriages. There was only
Miles Bjornstam, in his black wedding-suit, walking quite
alone, head down, behind the shabby hearse that bore the
bodies of his wife and baby.
An hour after, Hugh came into her room crying, and when
she said as cheerily as she could, "What is it, dear?" he
besought, "Mummy, I want to go play with Olaf."
That afternoon Juanita Haydock dropped in to brighten
Carol. She said, "Too bad about this Bea that was your
hired girl. But I don't waste any sympathy on that man of
hers. Everybody says he drank too much, and treated his
family awful, and that's how they got sick."
A LETTER from Raymie Wutherspoon, in France, said that he
had been sent to the front, been slightly wounded, been made
a captain. From Vida's pride Carol sought to draw a stimulant
to rouse her from depression.
Miles had sold his dairy. He had several thousand dollars.
To Carol he said good-by with a mumbled word, a harsh
hand-shake, "Going to buy a farm in northern Alberta--far
off from folks as I can get." He turned sharply away, but
he did not walk with his former spring. His shoulders seemed
It was said that before he went he cursed the town.
There was talk of arresting him, of riding him on a rail. It
was rumored that at the station old Champ Perry rebuked
him, "You better not come back here. We've got respect for
your dead, but we haven't got any for a blasphemer and a
traitor that won't do anything for his country and only bought
one Liberty Bond."
Some of the people who had been at the station declared that
Miles made some dreadful seditious retort: something about
loving German workmen more than American bankers; but
others asserted that he couldn't find one word with which to
answer the veteran; that he merely sneaked up on the platform
of the train. He must have felt guilty, everybody agreed,
for as the train left town, a farmer saw him standing in the
vestibule and looking out.
His house--with the addition which he had built four
months ago--was very near the track on which his train passed.
When Carol went there, for the last time, she found Olaf's
chariot with its red spool wheels standing in the sunny corner
beside the stable. She wondered if a quick eye could have
noticed it from a train.
That day and that week she went reluctantly to Red Cross
work; she stitched and packed silently, while Vida read the war
bulletins. And she said nothing at all when Kennicott com-
mented, "From what Champ says, I guess Bjornstam was a
bad egg, after all. In spite of Bea, don't know but what the
citizens' committee ought to have forced him to be patriotic--
let on like they could send him to jail if he didn't volunteer and
come through for bonds and the Y. M. C. A. They've worked
that stunt fine with all these German farmers."
She found no inspiration but she did find a dependable
kindness in Mrs. Westlake, and at last she yielded to the old
woman's receptivity and had relief in sobbing the story of
Guy Pollock she often met on the street, but he was merely
a pleasant voice which said things about Charles Lamb and
Her most positive experience was the revelation of Mrs.
Flickerbaugh, the tall, thin, twitchy wife of the attorney.
Carol encountered her at the drug store.
"Walking?" snapped Mrs. Flickerbaugh.
"Humph. Guess you're the only female in this town that
retains the use of her legs. Come home and have a cup o'
tea with me."
Because she had nothing else to do, Carol went. But she
was uncomfortable in the presence of the amused stares which
Mrs. Flickerbaugh's raiment drew. Today, in reeking early
August, she wore a man's cap, a skinny fur like a dead cat,
a necklace of imitation pearls, a scabrous satin blouse, and a
thick cloth skirt hiked up in front.
"Come in. Sit down. Stick the baby in that rocker. Hope
you don't mind the house looking like a rat's nest. You don't
like this town. Neither do I," said Mrs. Flickerbaugh.
"Course you don't!"
"Well then, I don't! But I'm sure that some day I'll find
some solution. Probably I'm a hexagonal peg. Solution: find
the hexagonal hole." Carol was very brisk.
"How do you know you ever will find it?"
"There's Mrs. Westlake. She's naturally a big-city woman--
she ought to have a lovely old house in Philadelphia or Boston
--but she escapes by being absorbed in reading."
"You be satisfied to never do anything but read?"
"No, but Heavens, one can't go on hating a town
"Why not? I can! I've hated it for thirty-two years. I'll
die here--and I'll hate it till I die. I ought to have been a
business woman. I had a good deal of talent for tending to
figures. All gone now. Some folks think I'm crazy. Guess
I am. Sit and grouch. Go to church and sing hymns. Folks
think I'm religious. Tut! Trying to forget washing and
ironing and mending socks. Want an office of my own, and
sell things. Julius never hear of it. Too late."
Carol sat on the gritty couch, and sank into fear. Could
this drabness of life keep up forever, then? Would she some
day so despise herself and her neighbors that she too would
walk Main Street an old skinny eccentric woman in a mangy
cat's-fur? As she crept home she felt that the trap had
finally closed. She went into the house, a frail small woman,
still winsome but hopeless of eye as she staggered with the
weight of the drowsy boy in her arms.
She sat alone on the porch, that evening. It seemed that
Kennicott had to make a professional call on Mrs. Dave
Under the stilly boughs and the black gauze of dusk the
street was meshed in silence. There was but the hum of
motor tires crunching the road, the creak of a rocker on the
Howlands' porch, the slap of a hand attacking a mosquito, a
heat-weary conversation starting and dying, the precise rhythm
of crickets, the thud of moths against the screen--sounds that
were a distilled silence. It was a street beyond the end of the
world, beyond the boundaries of hope. Though she should sit
here forever, no brave procession, no one who was interesting,
would be coming by. It was tediousness made tangible, a
street builded of lassitude and of futility.
Myrtle Cass appeared, with Cy Bogart. She giggled and
bounced when Cy tickled her ear in village love. They strolled
with the half-dancing gait of lovers, kicking their feet out
sideways or shuffling a dragging jig, and the concrete walk sounded
to the broken two-four rhythm. Their voices had a dusky
turbulence. Suddenly, to the woman rocking on the porch of
the doctor's house, the night came alive, and she felt that
everywhere in the darkness panted an ardent quest which she
was missing as she sank back to wait for---- There must be
IT WAS at a supper of the Jolly Seventeen in August that
Carol heard of "Elizabeth," from Mrs. Dave Dyer.
Carol was fond of Maud Dyer, because she had been particularly
agreeable lately; had obviously repented of the nervous
distaste which she had once shown. Maud patted her hand
when they met, and asked about Hugh.
Kennicott said that he was "kind of sorry for the girl,
some ways; she's too darn emotional, but still, Dave is sort
of mean to her." He was polite to poor Maud when they
all went down to the cottages for a swim. Carol was proud of
that sympathy in him, and now she took pains to sit with their
Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, "Oh, have you folks heard about
this young fellow that's just come to town that the boys call
`Elizabeth'? He's working in Nat Hicks's tailor shop. I bet
he doesn't make eighteen a week, but my! isn't he the perfect
lady though! He talks so refined, and oh, the lugs he puts on
--belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin, and socks
to match his necktie, and honest--you won't believe this, but
I got it straight--this fellow, you know he's staying at Mrs.
Gurrey's punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs.
Gurrey if he ought to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine!
Can you beat that? And him nothing but a Swede tailor--Erik
Valborg his name is. But he used to be in a tailor shop
in Minneapolis (they do say he's a smart needle-pusher, at
that) and he tries to let on that he's a regular city fellow.
They say he tries to make people think he's a poet--carries
books around and pretends to read 'em. Myrtle Cass says
she met him at a dance, and he was mooning around all
over the place, and he asked her did she like flowers and
poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a
regular United States Senator; and Myrtle--she's a devil, that
girl, ha! ha!--she kidded him along, and got him going, and
honest, what d'you think he said? He said he didn't find any
intellectual companionship in this town. Can you BEAT it?
Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And they say he's
the most awful mollycoddle--looks just like a girl. The boys
call him `Elizabeth,' and they stop him and ask about the
books he lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them,
and they take it all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets
onto the fact they're kidding him. Oh, I think it's just TOO funny!"
The Jolly Seventeen laughed, and Carol laughed with them.
Mrs. Jack Elder added that this Erik Valborg had confided
to Mrs. Gurrey that he would "love to design clothes for
women." Imagine! Mrs. Harvey Dillon had had a glimpse
of him, but honestly, she'd thought he was awfully handsome.
This was instantly controverted by Mrs. B. J. Gougerling,
wife of the banker. Mrs. Gougerling had had, she reported,
a good look at this Valborg fellow. She and B. J.
had been motoring, and passed "Elizabeth" out by McGruder's
Bridge. He was wearing the awfullest clothes, with the waist
pinched in like a girl's. He was sitting on a rock doing
nothing, but when he heard the Gougerling car coming he
snatched a book out of his pocket, and as they went by he
pretended to be reading it, to show off. And he wasn't really
good-looking--just kind of soft, as B. J. had pointed out.
When the husbands came they joined in the expose. "My
name is Elizabeth. I'm the celebrated musical tailor. The
skirts fall for me by the thou. Do I get some more veal