This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1920
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days

shanty town. . . . “To think,” she marveled, “of coming two thousand miles, past mountains and cities, to get off here, and to plan to stay here! What conceivable reason for choosing this particular place?”

She noted a figure in a rusty coat and a cloth cap.

Kennicott chuckled, “Look who’s coming! It’s Sam Clark! Gosh, all rigged out for the weather.”

The two men shook hands a dozen times and, in the Western fashion, bumbled, “Well, well, well, well, you old hell-hound, you old devil, how are you, anyway? You old horse-thief, maybe it ain’t good to see you again!” While Sam nodded at her over Kennicott’s shoulder, she was embarrassed.

“Perhaps I should never have gone away. I’m out of practise in lying. I wish they would get it over! Just a block more and–my baby!”

They were home. She brushed past the welcoming Aunt Bessie and knelt by Hugh. As he stammered, “O mummy, mummy, don’t go away! Stay with me, mummy!” she cried, “No, I’ll never leave you again!”

He volunteered, “That’s daddy.”

“By golly, he knows us just as if we’d never been away!” said Kennicott. “You don’t find any of these California kids as bright as he is, at his age!”

When the trunk came they piled about Hugh the bewhiskered little wooden men fitting one inside another, the miniature junk, and the Oriental drum, from San Francisco Chinatown; the blocks carved by the old Frenchman in San Diego; the lariat from San Antonio.

“Will you forgive mummy for going away? Will you?” she whispered.

Absorbed in Hugh, asking a hundred questions about him– had he had any colds? did he still dawdle over his oatmeal? what about unfortunate morning incidents? she viewed Aunt Bessie only as a source of information, and was able to ignore her hint, pointed by a coyly shaken finger, “Now that you’ve had such a fine long trip and spent so much money and all, I hope you’re going to settle down and be satisfied and not—-“

“Does he like carrots yet?” replied Carol.

She was cheerful as the snow began to conceal the slatternly yards. She assured herself that the streets of New York and Chicago were as ugly as Gopher Prairie in such weather; she dismissed the thought, “But they do have charming interiors for refuge.” She sang as she energetically looked over Hugh’s clothes.

The afternoon grew old and dark. Aunt Bessie went home. Carol took the baby into her own room. The maid came in complaining, “I can’t get no extra milk to make chipped beef for supper.” Hugh was sleepy, and he had been spoiled by Aunt Bessie. Even to a returned mother, his whining and his trick of seven times snatching her silver brush were fatiguing. As a background, behind the noises of Hugh and the kitchen, the house reeked with a colorless stillness.

From the window she heard Kennicott greeting the Widow Bogart as he had always done, always, every snowy evening: “Guess this ‘ll keep up all night.” She waited. There they were, the furnace sounds, unalterable, eternal: removing ashes, shoveling coal.

Yes. She was back home! Nothing had changed. She had never been away. California? Had she seen it? Had she for one minute left this scraping sound of the small shovel in the ash-pit of the furnace? But Kennicott preposterously supposed that she had. Never had she been quite so far from going away as now when he believed she had just come back. She felt oozing through the walls the spirit of small houses and righteous people. At that instant she knew that in running away she had merely hidden her doubts behind the officious stir of travel.

“Dear God, don’t let me begin agonizing again!” she sobbed. Hugh wept with her.

“Wait for mummy a second!” She hastened down to the cellar, to Kennicott.

He was standing before the furnace. However inadequate the rest of the house, he had seen to it that the fundamental cellar should be large and clean, the square pillars whitewashed, and the bins for coal and potatoes and trunks convenient. A glow from the drafts fell on the smooth gray cement floor at his feet. He was whistling tenderly, staring at the furnace with eyes which saw the black-domed monster as a symbol of home and of the beloved routine to which he had returned– his gipsying decently accomplished, his duty of viewing “sights” and “curios” performed with thoroughness. Unconscious of her, he stooped and peered in at the blue flames among the coals. He closed the door briskly, and made a whirling gesture with his right hand, out of pure bliss.

He saw her. “Why, hello, old lady! Pretty darn good to be back, eh?”

“Yes,” she lied, while she quaked, “Not now. I can’t face the job of explaining now. He’s been so good. He trusts me. And I’m going to break his heart!”

She smiled at him. She tidied his sacred cellar by throwing an empty bluing bottle into the trash bin. She mourned, “It’s only the baby that holds me. If Hugh died—-” She fled upstairs in panic and made sure that nothing had happened to Hugh in these four minutes.

She saw a pencil-mark on a window-sill. She had made it on a September day when she had been planning a picnic for Fern Mullins and Erik. Fern and she had been hysterical with nonsense, had invented mad parties for all the coming winter. She glanced across the alley at the room which Fern had occupied. A rag of a gray curtain masked the still window.

She tried to think of some one to whom she wanted to telephone. There was no one.

The Sam Clarks called that evening and encouraged her to describe the missions. A dozen times they told her how glad they were to have her back.

“It is good to be wanted,” she thought. “It will drug me. But—- Oh, is all life, always, an unresolved But?”


SHE tried to be content, which was a contradiction in terms. She fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater for Hugh. She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was silent when Vida raved that though America hated war as much as ever, we must invade Germany and wipe out every man, because it was now proven that there was no soldier in the German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off babies’ hands.

Carol was volunteer nurse when Mrs. Champ Perry suddenly died of pneumonia.

In her funeral procession were the eleven people left out of the Grand Army and the Territorial Pioneers, old men and women, very old and weak, who a few decades ago had been boys and girls of the frontier, riding broncos through the rank windy grass of this prairie. They hobbled behind a band made up of business men and high-school boys, who straggled along without uniforms or ranks or leader, trying to play Chopin’s Funeral March–a shabby group of neighbors with grave eyes, stumbling through the slush under a solemnity of faltering music.

Champ was broken. His rheumatism was worse. The rooms over the store were silent. He could not do his work as buyer at the elevator. Farmers coming in with sled-loads of wheat complained that Champ could not read the scale, that he seemed always to be watching some one back in the darkness of the bins. He was seen slipping through alleys, talking to himself, trying to avoid observation, creeping at last to the cemetery. Once Carol followed him and found the coarse, tobacco-stained, unimaginative old man lying on the snow of the grave, his thick arms spread out across the raw mound as if to protect her from the cold, her whom he had carefully covered up every night for sixty years, who was alone there now, uncared for.

The elevator company, Ezra Stowbody president, let him go. The company, Ezra explained to Carol, had no funds for giving pensions.

She tried to have him appointed to the postmastership, which, since all the work was done by assistants, was the one sinecure in town, the one reward for political purity. But it proved that Mr. Bert Tybee, the former bartender, desired the postmastership.

At her solicitation Lyman Cass gave Champ a warm berth as night watchman. Small boys played a good many tricks on Champ when he fell asleep at the mill.


She had vicarious happiness in the return of Major Raymond Wutherspoon. He was well, but still weak from having been gassed; he had been discharged and he came home as the first of the war veterans. It was rumored that he surprised Vida by coming unannounced, that Vida fainted when she saw him, and for a night and day would not share him with the town. When Carol saw them Vida was hazy about everything except Raymie, and never went so far from him that she could not slip her hand under his. Without understanding why Carol was troubled by this intensity. And Raymie– surely this was not Raymie, but a sterner brother of his, this man with the tight blouse, the shoulder emblems, the trim legs in boots. His face seemed different, his lips more tight. He was not Raymie; he was Major Wutherspoon; and Kennicott and Carol were grateful when he divulged that Paris wasn’t half as pretty as Minneapolis, that all of the American soldiers had been distinguished by their morality when on leave. Kennicott was respectful as he inquired whether the Germans had good aeroplanes, and what a salient was, and a cootie, and Going West.

In a week Major Wutherspoon was made full manager of the Bon Ton. Harry Haydock was going to devote himself to the half-dozen branch stores which he was establishing at crossroads hamlets. Harry would be the town’s rich man in the coming generation, and Major Wutherspoon would rise with him, and Vida was jubilant, though she was regretful at having to give up most of her Red Cross work. Ray still needed nursing, she explained.

When Carol saw him with his uniform off, in a pepper-and salt suit and a new gray felt hat, she was disappointed. He was not Major Wutherspoon; he was Raymie

For a month small boys followed him down the street, and everybody called him Major, but that was presently shortened to Maje, and the small boys did not look up from their marbles as he went by.


The town was booming, as a result of the war price of wheat.

The wheat money did not remain in the pockets of the farmers; the towns existed to take care of all that. Iowa farmers were selling their land at four hundred dollars an acre and coming into Minnesota. But whoever bought or sold or mortgaged, the townsmen invited themselves to the feast– millers, real-estate men, lawyers, merchants, and Dr. Will Kennicott. They bought land at a hundred and fifty, sold it next day at a hundred and seventy, and bought again. In three months Kennicott made seven thousand dollars, which was rather more than four times as much as society paid him for healing the sick.

In early summer began a “campaign of boosting.” The Commercial Club decided that Gopher Prairie was not only a wheat-center but also the perfect site for factories, summer cottages, and state institutions. In charge of the campaign was Mr. James Blausser, who had recently come to town to speculate in land. Mr. Blausser was known as a Hustler. He liked to be called Honest Jim. He was a bulky, gauche, noisy, humorous man, with narrow eyes, a rustic complexion, large red hands, and brilliant clothes. He was attentive to all women. He was the first man in town who had not been sensitive enough to feel Carol’s aloofness. He put his arm about her shoulder while he condescended to Kennicott, “Nice lil wifey, I’ll say, doc,” and when she answered, not warmly, “Thank you very much for the imprimatur,” he blew on her neck, and did not know that he had been insulted.

He was a layer-on of hands. He never came to the house without trying to paw her. He touched her arm, let his fist brush her side. She hated the man, and she was afraid of him. She wondered if he had heard of Erik, and was taking advantage. She spoke ill of him at home and in public places, but Kennicott and the other powers insisted, “Maybe he is kind of a roughneck, but you got to hand it to him; he’s got more git-up-and-git than any fellow that ever hit this burg. And he’s pretty cute, too. Hear what he said to old Ezra? Chucked him in the ribs and said, `Say, boy, what do you want to go to Denver for? Wait ‘ll I get time and I’ll move the mountains here. Any mountain will be tickled to death to locate here once we get the White Way in!’ “

The town welcomed Mr. Blausser as fully as Carol snubbed him. He was the guest of honor at the Commercial Club Banquet at the Minniemashie House, an occasion for menus printed in gold (but injudiciously proof-read), for free cigars, soft damp slabs of Lake Superior whitefish served as fillet of sole, drenched cigar-ashes gradually filling the saucers of coffee cups, and oratorical references to Pep, Punch, Go, Vigor, Enterprise, Red Blood, He-Men, Fair Women, God’s Country, James J. Hill, the Blue Sky, the Green Fields, the Bountiful Harvest, Increasing Population, Fair Return on Investments, Alien Agitators Who Threaten the Security of Our Institutions, the Hearthstone the Foundation of the State, Senator Knute Nelson, One Hundred Per Cent. Americanism, and Pointing with Pride.

Harry Haydock, as chairman, introduced Honest Jim Blausser. “And I am proud to say, my fellow citizens, that in his brief stay here Mr. Blausser has become my warm personal friend as well as my fellow booster, and I advise you all to very carefully attend to the hints of a man who knows how to achieve.”

Mr. Blausser reared up like an elephant with a camel’s neck –red faced, red eyed, heavy fisted, slightly belching–a born leader, divinely intended to be a congressman but deflected to the more lucrative honors of real-estate. He smiled on his warm personal friends and fellow boosters, and boomed:

“I certainly was astonished in the streets of our lovely little city, the other day. I met the meanest kind of critter that God ever made–meaner than the horned toad or the Texas lallapaluza! (Laughter.) And do you know what the animile was? He was a knocker! (Laughter and applause.)

“I want to tell you good people, and it’s just as sure as God made little apples, the thing that distinguishes our American commonwealth from the pikers and tin-horns in other countries is our Punch. You take a genuwine, honest-to-God homo Americanibus and there ain’t anything he’s afraid to tackle. Snap and speed are his middle name! He’ll put her across if he has to ride from hell to breakfast, and believe me, I’m mighty good and sorry for the boob that’s so unlucky as to get in his way, because that poor slob is going to wonder where he was at when Old Mr. Cyclone hit town! (Laughter.)

“Now, frien’s, there’s some folks so yellow and small and so few in the pod that they go to work and claim that those– of us that have the big vision are off our trolleys. They say we can’t make Gopher Prairie, God bless her! just as big as Minneapolis or St. Paul or Duluth. But lemme tell you right here and now that there ain’t a town under the blue canopy of heaven that’s got a better chance to take a running jump and go scooting right up into the two-hundred-thousand class than little old G. P.! And if there’s anybody that’s got such cold kismets that he’s afraid to tag after Jim Blausser on the Big Going Up, then we don’t want him here! Way I figger it, you folks are just patriotic enough so that you ain’t going to stand for any guy sneering and knocking his own town, no matter how much of a smart Aleck he is–and just on the side I want to add that this Farmers’ Nonpartisan League and the whole bunch of socialists are right in the same category, or, as the fellow says, in the same scategory, meaning This Way Out, Exit, Beat It While the Going’s Good, This Means You, for all knockers of prosperity and the rights of property!

“Fellow citizens, there’s a lot of folks, even right here in this fair state, fairest and richest of all the glorious union, that stand up on their hind legs and claim that the East and Europe put it all over the golden Northwestland. Now let me nail that lie right here and now. `Ah-ha,’ says they, `so Jim Blausser is claiming that Gopher Prairie is as good a place to live in as London and Rome and–and all the rest of the Big Burgs, is he? How does the poor fish know?’ says they. Well I’ll tell you how I know! I’ve seen ’em! I’ve done Europe from soup to nuts! They can’t spring that stuff on Jim Blausser and get away with it! And let me tell you that the only live thing in Europe is our boys that are fighting there now! London–I spent three days, sixteen straight hours a day, giving London the once-over, and let me tell you that it’s nothing but a bunch of fog and out-of-date buildings that no live American burg would stand for one minute. You may not believe it, but there ain’t one first-class skyscraper in the whole works. And the same thing goes for that crowd of crabs and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag and bulling and trying to get your goat, you tell him that no two-fisted enterprising Westerner would have New York for a gift!

“Now the point of this is: I’m not only insisting that Gopher Prairie is going to be Minnesota’s pride, the brightest ray in the glory of the North Star State, but also and furthermore that it is right now, and still more shall be, as good a place to live in, and love in, and bring up the Little Ones in, and it’s got as much refinement and culture, as any burg on the whole bloomin’ expanse of God’s Green Footstool, and that goes, get me, that goes!”

Half an hour later Chairman Haydock moved a vote of thanks to Mr. Blausser.

The boosters’ campaign was on.

The town sought that efficient and modern variety of fame which is known as “publicity.” The band was reorganized, and provided by the Commercial Club with uniforms of purple and gold. The amateur baseball-team hired a semi-professional pitcher from Des Moines, and made a schedule of games with every town for fifty miles about. The citizens accompanied it as “rooters,” in a special car, with banners lettered “Watch Gopher Prairie Grow,” and with the band playing “Smile, Smile, Smile.” Whether the team won or lost the Dauntless loyally shrieked, “Boost, Boys, and Boost Together–Put Gopher Prairie on the Map–Brilliant Record of Our Matchless Team.”

Then, glory of glories, the town put in a White Way. White Ways were in fashion in the Middlewest. They were composed of ornamented posts with clusters of high-powered electric lights along two or three blocks on Main Street. The Dauntless confessed: “White Way Is Installed–Town Lit Up Like Broadway–Speech by Hon. James Blausser–Come On You Twin Cities–Our Hat Is In the Ring.”

The Commercial Club issued a booklet prepared by a great and expensive literary person from a Minneapolis advertising agency, a red-headed young man who smoked cigarettes in a long amber holder. Carol read the booklet with a certain wonder. She learned that Plover and Minniemashie Lakes were world-famed for their beauteous wooded shores and gamey pike and bass not to be equalled elsewhere in the entire country; that the residences of Gopher Prairie were models of dignity, comfort, and culture, with lawns and gardens known far and wide; that the Gopher Prairie schools and public library, in its neat and commodious building, were celebrated throughout the state; that the Gopher Prairie mills made the best flour in the country; that the surrounding farm lands were renowned, where’er men ate bread and butter, for their incomparable No. 1 Hard Wheat and Holstein-Friesian cattle; and that the stores in Gopher Prairie compared favorably with Minneapolis and Chicago in their abundance of luxuries and necessities and the ever-courteous attention of the skilled clerks. She learned, in brief, that this was the one Logical Location for factories and wholesale houses.

“THERE’S where I want to go; to that model town Gopher Prairie,” said Carol.

Kennicott was triumphant when the Commercial Club did capture one small shy factory which planned to make wooden automobile-wheels, but when Carol saw the promoter she could not feel that his coming much mattered–and a year after, when he failed, she could not be very sorrowful.

Retired farmers were moving into town. The price of lots had increased a third. But Carol could discover no more pictures nor interesting food nor gracious voices nor amusing conversation nor questing minds. She could, she asserted, endure a shabby but modest town; the town shabby and egomaniac she could not endure. She could nurse Champ Perry, and warm to the neighborliness of Sam Clark, but she could not sit applauding Honest Jim Blausser. Kennicott had begged her, in courtship days, to convert the town to beauty. If it was now as beautiful as Mr. Blausser and the Dauntless said, then her work was over, and she could go.


KENNICOTT was not so inhumanly patient that he could continue to forgive Carol’s heresies, to woo her as he had on the venture to California. She tried to be inconspicuous, but she was betrayed by her failure to glow over the boosting. Kennicott believed in it; demanded that she say patriotic things about the White Way and the new factory. He snorted, “By golly, I’ve done all I could, and now I expect you to play the game. Here you been complaining for years about us being so poky, and now when Blausser comes along and does stir up excitement and beautify the town like you’ve always wanted somebody to, why, you say he’s a roughneck, and you won’t jump on the band-wagon.”

Once, when Kennicott announced at noon-dinner, “What do you know about this! They say there’s a chance we may get another factory–cream-separator works!” he added, “You might try to look interested, even if you ain’t!” The baby was frightened by the Jovian roar; ran wailing to hide his face in Carol’s lap; and Kennicott had to make himself humble and court both mother and child. The dim injustice of not being understood even by his son left him irritable. He felt injured.

An event which did not directly touch them brought down his wrath.

In the early autumn, news came from Wakamin that the sheriff had forbidden an organizer for the National Nonpartisan League to speak anywhere in the county. The organizer had defied the sheriff, and announced that in a few days he would address a farmers’ political meeting. That night, the news ran, a mob of a hundred business men led by the sheriff–the tame village street and the smug village faces ruddled by the light of bobbing lanterns, the mob flowing between the squatty rows of shops–had taken the organizer from his hotel, ridden him on a fence-rail, put him on a freight train, and warned him not to return.

The story was threshed out in Dave Dyer’s drug store, with Sam Clark, Kennicott, and Carol present.

“That’s the way to treat those fellows–only they ought to have lynched him!” declared Sam, and Kennicott and Dave Dyer joined in a proud “You bet!”

Carol walked out hastily, Kennicott observing her.

Through supper-time she knew that he was bubbling and would soon boil over. When the baby was abed, and they sat composedly in canvas chairs on the porch, he experimented; “I had a hunch you thought Sam was kind of hard on that fellow they kicked out of Wakamin.”

“Wasn’t Sam rather needlessly heroic?”

“All these organizers, yes, and a whole lot of the German and Squarehead farmers themselves, they’re seditious as the devil–disloyal, non-patriotic, pro-German pacifists, that’s what they are!”

“Did this organizer say anything pro-German?”

“Not on your life! They didn’t give him a chance!” His laugh was stagey.

“So the whole thing was illegal–and led by the sheriff! Precisely how do you expect these aliens to obey your law if the officer of the law teaches them to break it? Is it a new kind of logic?”

“Maybe it wasn’t exactly regular, but what’s the odds? They knew this fellow would try to stir up trouble. Whenever it comes right down to a question of defending Americanism and our constitutional rights, it’s justifiable to set aside ordinary procedure.”

“What editorial did he get that from?” she wondered, as she protested, “See here, my beloved, why can’t you Tories declare war honestly? You don’t oppose this organizer because you think he’s seditious but because you’re afraid that the farmers he is organizing will deprive you townsmen of the money you make out of mortgages and wheat and shops. Of course, since we’re at war with Germany, anything that any one of us doesn’t like is `pro-German,’ whether it’s business competition or bad music. If we were fighting England, you’d call the radicals `pro-English.’ When this war is over, I suppose you’ll be calling them `red anarchists.’ What an eternal art it is–such a glittery delightful art–finding hard names for our opponents! How we do sanctify our efforts to keep them from getting the holy dollars we want for ourselves! The churches have always done it, and the political orators– and I suppose I do it when I call Mrs. Bogart a `Puritan’ and Mr. Stowbody a `capitalist.’ But you business men are going to beat all the rest of us at it, with your simple-hearted, energetic, pompous—-“

She got so far only because Kennicott was slow in shaking off respect for her. Now he bayed:

“That’ll be about all from you! I’ve stood for your sneering at this town, and saying how ugly and dull it is. I’ve stood for your refusing to appreciate good fellows like Sam. I’ve even stood for your ridiculing our Watch Gopher Prairie Grow campaign. But one thing I’m not going to stand: I’m not going to stand my own wife being seditious. You can camouflage all you want to, but you know darn well that these radicals, as you call ’em, are opposed to the war, and let me tell you right here and now, and you and all these long-haired men and short-haired women can beef all you want to, but we’re going to take these fellows, and if they ain’t patriotic, we’re going to make them be patriotic. And–Lord knows I never thought I’d have to say this to my own wife–but if you go defending these fellows, then the same thing applies to you! Next thing, I suppose you’ll be yapping about free speech. Free speech! There’s too much free speech and free gas and free beer and free love and all the rest of your damned mouthy freedom, and if I had my way I’d make you folks live up to the established rules of decency even if I had to take you—-“

“Will!” She was not timorous now. “Am I pro-German if I fail to throb to Honest Jim Blausser, too? Let’s have my whole duty as a wife!”

He was grumbling, “The whole thing’s right in line with the criticism you’ve always been making. Might have known you’d oppose any decent constructive work for the town or for—-“

“You’re right. All I’ve done has been in line. I don’t belong to Gopher Prairie. That isn’t meant as a condemnation of Gopher Prairie, and it may be a condemnation of me. All right! I don’t care! I don’t belong here, and I’m going. I’m not asking permission any more. I’m simply going.”

He grunted. “Do you mind telling me, if it isn’t too much trouble, how long you’re going for?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps for a year. Perhaps for a lifetime.”

“I see. Well, of course, I’ll be tickled to death to sell out my practise and go anywhere you say. Would you like to have me go with you to Paris and study art, maybe, and wear velveteen pants and a woman’s bonnet, and live on spaghetti?”

“No, I think we can save you that trouble. You don’t quite understand. I am going–I really am–and alone! I’ve got to find out what my work is—-“

“Work? Work? Sure! That’s the whole trouble with you! You haven’t got enough work to do. If you had five kids and no hired girl, and had to help with the chores and separate the cream, like these farmers’ wives, then you wouldn’t be so discontented.”

“I know. That’s what most men–and women–like you WOULD say. That’s how they would explain all I am and all I want. And I shouldn’t argue with them. These business men, from their crushing labors of sitting in an office seven hours a day, would calmly recommend that I have a dozen children. As it happens, I’ve done that sort of thing. There’ve been a good many times when we hadn’t a maid, and I did all the housework, and cared for Hugh, and went to Red Cross, and did it all very efficiently. I’m a good cook and a good sweeper, and you don’t dare say I’m not!”

“N-no, you’re—-“

“But was I more happy when I was drudging? I was not. I was just bedraggled and unhappy. It’s work–but not my work. I could run an office or a library, or nurse and teach children. But solitary dish-washing isn’t enough to satisfy me –or many other women. We’re going to chuck it. We’re going to wash ’em by machinery, and come out and play with you men in the offices and clubs and politics you’ve cleverly kept for yourselves! Oh, we’re hopeless, we dissatisfied women! Then why do you want to have us about the place, to fret you? So it’s for your sake that I’m going!”

“Of course a little thing like Hugh makes no difference!”

“Yes, all the difference. That’s why I’m going to take him with me.”

“Suppose I refuse?”

“You won’t!”

Forlornly, “Uh—- Carrie, what the devil is it you want, anyway?”

“Oh, conversation! No, it’s much more than that. I think it’s a greatness of life–a refusal to be content with even the healthiest mud.”

“Don’t you know that nobody ever solved a problem by running away from it?”

“Perhaps. Only I choose to make my own definition of `running away’ I don’t call—- Do you realize how big a world there is beyond this Gopher Prairie where you’d keep me all my life? It may be that some day I’ll come back, but not till I can bring something more than I have now. And even if I am cowardly and run away–all right, call it cowardly, call me anything you want to! I’ve been ruled too long by fear of being called things. I’m going away to be quiet and think. I’m–I’m going! I have a right to my own life.”

“So have I to mine!”


“I have a right to my life–and you’re it, you’re my life! You’ve made yourself so. I’m damned if I’ll agree to all your freak notions, but I will say I’ve got to depend on you. Never thought of that complication, did you, in this `off to Bohemia, and express yourself, and free love, and live your own life’ stuff!”

“You have a right to me if you can keep me. Can you?”

He moved uneasily.


For a month they discussed it. They hurt each other very much, and sometimes they were close to weeping, and invariably he used banal phrases about her duties and she used phrases quite as banal about freedom, and through it all, her discovery that she really could get away from Main Street was as sweet as the discovery of love. Kennicott never consented definitely. At most he agreed to a public theory that she was “going to take a short trip and see what the East was like in wartime.”

She set out for Washington in October–just before the war ended.

She had determined on Washington because it was less intimidating than the obvious New York, because she hoped to find streets in which Hugh could play, and because in the stress of war-work, with its demand for thousands of temporary clerks, she could be initiated into the world of offices.

Hugh was to go with her, despite the wails and rather extensive comments of Aunt Bessie.

She wondered if she might not encounter Erik in the East but it was a chance thought, soon forgotten.


The last thing she saw on the station platform was Kennicott, faithfully waving his hand, his face so full of uncomprehending loneliness that he could not smile but only twitch up his lips. She waved to him as long as she could, and when he was lost she wanted to leap from the vestibule and run back to him. She thought of a hundred tendernesses she had neglected.

She had her freedom, and it was empty. The moment was not the highest of her life, but the lowest and most desolate, which was altogether excellent, for instead of slipping downward she began to climb.

She sighed, “I couldn’t do this if it weren’t for Will’s kindness, his giving me money.” But a second after: “I wonder how many women would always stay home if they had the money?”

Hugh complained, “Notice me, mummy!” He was beside her on the red plush seat of the day-coach; a boy of three and a half. “I’m tired of playing train. Let’s play something else. Let’s go see Auntie Bogart.”

“Oh, NO! Do you really like Mrs. Bogart?”

“Yes. She gives me cookies and she tells me about the Dear Lord. You never tell me about the Dear Lord. Why don’t you tell me about the Dear Lord? Auntie Bogart says I’m going to be a preacher. Can I be a preacher? Can I preach about the Dear Lord?”

“Oh, please wait till my generation has stopped rebelling before yours starts in!”

“What’s a generation?”

“It’s a ray in the illumination of the spirit.”

“That’s foolish.” He was a serious and literal person, and rather humorless. She kissed his frown, and marveled:

“I am running away from my husband, after liking a Swedish ne’er-do-well and expressing immoral opinions, just as in a romantic story. And my own son reproves me because I haven’t given him religious instruction. But the story doesn’t go right. I’m neither groaning nor being dramatically saved. I keep on running away, and I enjoy it. I’m mad with joy over it. Gopher Prairie is lost back there in the dust and stubble, and I look forward—-“

She continued it to Hugh: “Darling, do you know what mother and you are going to find beyond the blue horizon rim?”

“What?” flatly.

“We’re going to find elephants with golden howdahs from which peep young maharanees with necklaces of rubies, and a dawn sea colored like the breast of a dove, and a white and green house filled with books and silver tea-sets.”

“And cookies?”

“Cookies? Oh, most decidedly cookies. We’ve had enough of bread and porridge. We’d get sick on too many cookies, but ever so much sicker on no cookies at all.”

“That’s foolish.”

“It is, O male Kennicott!”

“Huh!” said Kennicott II, and went to sleep on her shoulder.


The theory of the Dauntless regarding Carol’s absence:

Mrs. Will Kennicott and son Hugh left on No. 24 on Saturday last for a stay of some months in Minneapolis Chicago New York, and Washington. Mrs. Kennicott confided to Ye Scribe that she will be connected with one of the multifarious war activities now centering in the Nation’s Capital for a brief period before returning. Her countless friends who appreciate her splendid labors with the local Red Cross realize how valuable she will be to any war board with which she chooses to become connected. Gopher Prairie thus adds another shining star to its service flag and without wishing to knock any neighboring communities, we would like to know any town of anywheres near our size in the state that has such a sterling war record. Another reason why you’d better Watch Gopher Prairie Grow.

* * *

Mr. and Mrs. David Dyer, Mrs. Dyer’s sister, Mrs. Jennie Dayborn of Jackrabbit, and Dr. Will Kennicott drove to Minniemashie on Tuesday for a delightful picnic.



SHE found employment in the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. Though the armistice with Germany was signed a few weeks after her coming to Washington, the work of the bureau continued. She filed correspondence all day; then she dictated answers to letters of inquiry. It was an endurance of monotonous details, yet she asserted that she had found “real work.”

Disillusions she did have. She discovered that in the afternoon, office routine stretches to the grave. She discovered that an office is as full of cliques and scandals as a Gopher Prairie She discovered that most of the women in the government bureaus lived unhealthfully, dining on snatches in their crammed apartments. But she also discovered that business women may have friendships and enmities as frankly as men and may revel in a bliss which no housewife attains–a free Sunday. It did not appear that the Great World needed her inspiration, but she felt that her letters, her contact with the anxieties of men and women all over the country, were a part of vast affairs, not confined to Main Street and a kitchen but linked with Paris, Bangkok, Madrid.

She perceived that she could do office work without losing any of the putative feminine virtue of domesticity; that cooking and cleaning, when divested of the fussing of an Aunt Bessie, take but a tenth of the time which, in a Gopher Prairie, it is but decent to devote to them.

Not to have to apologize for her thoughts to the Jolly Seventeen, not to have to report to Kennicott at the end of the day all that she had done or might do, was a relief which made up for the office weariness. She felt that she was no longer one-half of a marriage but the whole of a human being.


Washington gave her all the graciousness in which she had had faith: white columns seen across leafy parks, spacious avenues, twisty alleys. Daily she passed a dark square house with a hint of magnolias and a courtyard behind it, and a tall curtained second-story window through which a woman was always peering. The woman was mystery, romance, a story which told itself differently every day; now she was a murderess, now the neglected wife of an ambassador. It was mystery which Carol had most lacked in Gopher Prairie, where every house was open to view, where every person was but too easy to meet, where there were no secret gates opening upon moors over which one might walk by moss-deadened paths to strange high adventures in an ancient garden.

As she flitted up Sixteenth Street after a Kreisler recital, given late in the afternoon for the government clerks, as the lamps kindled in spheres of soft fire, as the breeze flowed into the street, fresh as prairie winds and kindlier, as she glanced up the elm alley of Massachusetts Avenue, as she was rested by the integrity of the Scottish Rite Temple, she loved the city as she loved no one save Hugh. She encountered negro shanties turned into studios, with orange curtains and pots of mignonette; marble houses on New Hampshire Avenue, with butlers and limousines; and men who looked like fictional explorers and aviators. Her days were swift, and she knew that in her folly of running away she had found the courage to be wise.

She had a dispiriting first month of hunting lodgings in the crowded city. She had to roost in a hall-room in a moldy mansion conducted by an indignant decayed gentlewoman, and leave Hugh to the care of a doubtful nurse. But later she made a home.


Her first acquaintances were the members of the Tincomb Methodist Church, a vast red-brick tabernacle. Vida Sherwin had given her a letter to an earnest woman with eye-glasses, plaid silk waist, and a belief in Bible Classes, who introduced her to the Pastor and the Nicer Members of Tincomb. Carol recognized in Washington as she had in California a transplanted and guarded Main Street. Two-thirds of the church- members had come from Gopher Prairies. The church was their society and their standard; they went to Sunday service, Sunday School, Christian Endeavor, missionary lectures, church suppers, precisely as they had at home; they agreed that ambassadors and flippant newspapermen and infidel scientists of the bureaus were equally wicked and to be avoided; and by cleaving to Tincomb Church they kept their ideals from all contamination.

They welcomed Carol, asked about her husband, gave her advice regarding colic in babies, passed her the gingerbread and scalloped potatoes at church suppers, and in general made her very unhappy and lonely, so that she wondered if she might not enlist in the militant suffrage organization and be allowed to go to jail.

Always she was to perceive in Washington (as doubtless she would have perceived in New York or London) a thick streak of Main Street. The cautious dullness of a Gopher Prairie appeared in boarding-houses where ladylike bureau-clerks gossiped to polite young army officers about the movies; a thousand Sam Clarks and a few Widow Bogarts were to be identified in the Sunday motor procession, in theater parties, and at the dinners of State Societies, to which the emigres from Texas or Michigan surged that they might confirm themselves in the faith that their several Gopher Prairies were notoriously “a whole lot peppier and chummier than this stuck-up East.”

But she found a Washington which did not cleave to Main Street.

Guy Pollock wrote to a cousin, a temporary army captain, a confiding and buoyant lad who took Carol to tea-dances, and laughed, as she had always wanted some one to laugh, about nothing in particular. The captain introduced her to the secretary of a congressman, a cynical young widow with many acquaintances in the navy. Through her Carol met commanders and majors, newspapermen, chemists and geographers and fiscal experts from the bureaus, and a teacher who was a familiar of the militant suffrage headquarters. The teacher took her to headquarters. Carol never became a prominent suffragist. Indeed her only recognized position was as an able addresser of envelopes. But she was casually adopted by this family of friendly women who, when they were not being mobbed or arrested, took dancing lessons or went picnicking up the Chesapeake Canal or talked about the politics of the American Federation of Labor.

With the congressman’s secretary and the teacher Carol leased a small flat. Here she found home, her own place and her own people. She had, though it absorbed most of her salary, an excellent nurse for Hugh. She herself put him to bed and played with him on holidays. There were walks with him, there were motionless evenings of reading, but chiefly Washington was associated with people, scores of them, sitting about the flat, talking, talking, talking, not always wisely but always excitedly. It was not at all the “artist’s studio” of which, because of its persistence in fiction, she had dreamed. Most of them were in offices all day, and thought more in card-catalogues or statistics than in mass and color. But they played, very simply, and they saw no reason why anything which exists cannot also be acknowledged.

She was sometimes shocked quite as she had shocked Gopher Prairie by these girls with their cigarettes and elfish knowledge. When they were most eager about soviets or canoeing, she listened, longed to have some special learning which would distinguish her, and sighed that her adventure had come so late. Kennicott and Main Street had drained her self-reliance; the presence of Hugh made her feel temporary. Some day– oh, she’d have to take him back to open fields and the right to climb about hay-lofts.

But the fact that she could never be eminent among these scoffing enthusiasts did not keep her from being proud of them, from defending them in imaginary conversations with Kennicott, who grunted (she could hear his voice), “They’re simply a bunch of wild impractical theorists sittin’ round chewing the rag,” and “I haven’t got the time to chase after a lot of these fool fads; I’m too busy putting aside a stake for our old age.”

Most of the men who came to the flat, whether they were army officers or radicals who hated the army, had the easy gentleness, the acceptance of women without embarrassed banter, for which she had longed in Gopher Prairie. Yet they seemed to be as efficient as the Sam Clarks. She concluded that it was because they were of secure reputation, not hemmed in by the fire of provincial jealousies. Kennicott had asserted that the villager’s lack of courtesy is due to his poverty. “We’re no millionaire dudes,” he boasted. Yet these army and navy men, these bureau experts, and organizers of multitudinous leagues, were cheerful on three or four thousand a year, while Kennicott had, outside of his land speculations, six thousand or more, and Sam had eight.

Nor could she upon inquiry learn that many of this reckless race died in the poorhouse. That institution is reserved for men like Kennicott who, after devoting fifty years to “putting aside a stake,” incontinently invest the stake in spurious oil- stocks.


She was encouraged to believe that she had not been abnormal in viewing Gopher Prairie as unduly tedious and slatternly. She found the same faith not only in girls escaped from domesticity but also in demure old ladies who, tragically deprived of esteemed husbands and huge old houses, yet managed to make a very comfortable thing of it by living in small flats and having time to read.

But she also learned that by comparison Gopher Prairie was a model of daring color, clever planning, and frenzied intellectuality. From her teacher-housemate she had a sardonic description of a Middlewestern railroad-division town, of the same size as Gopher Prairie but devoid of lawns and trees, a town where the tracks sprawled along the cinder-scabbed Main Street, and the railroad shops, dripping soot from eaves and doorway, rolled out smoke in greasy coils.

Other towns she came to know by anecdote: a prairie village where the wind blew all day long, and the mud was two feet thick in spring, and in summer the flying sand scarred new- painted houses and dust covered the few flowers set out in pots. New England mill-towns with the hands living in rows of cottages like blocks of lava. A rich farming-center in New Jersey, off the railroad, furiously pious, ruled by old men, unbelievably ignorant old men, sitting about the grocery talking of James G. Blaine. A Southern town, full of the magnolias and white columns which Carol had accepted as proof of romance, but hating the negroes, obsequious to the Old Families. A Western mining-settlement like a tumor. A booming semi-city with parks and clever architects, visited by famous pianists and unctuous lecturers, but irritable from a struggle between union labor and the manufacturers’ association, so that in even the gayest of the new houses there was a ceaseless and intimidating heresy-hunt.


The chart which plots Carol’s progress is not easy to read. The lines are broken and uncertain of direction; often instead of rising they sink in wavering scrawls; and the colors are watery blue and pink and the dim gray of rubbed pencil marks. A few lines are traceable.

Unhappy women are given to protecting their sensitiveness by cynical gossip, by whining, by high-church and new-thought religions, or by a fog of vagueness. Carol had hidden in none of these refuges from reality, but she, who was tender and merry, had been made timorous by Gopher Prairie. Even her flight had been but the temporary courage of panic. The thing she gained in Washington was not information about office-systems and labor unions but renewed courage, that amiable contempt called poise. Her glimpse of tasks involving millions of people and a score of nations reduced Main Street from bloated importance to its actual pettiness. She could never again be quite so awed by the power with which she herself had endowed the Vidas and Blaussers and Bogarts.

From her work and from her association with women who had organized suffrage associations in hostile cities, or had defended political prisoners, she caught something of an impersonal attitude; saw that she had been as touchily personal as Maud Dyer.

And why, she began to ask, did she rage at individuals? Not individuals but institutions are the enemies, and they most afflict the disciples who the most generously serve them. They insinuate their tyranny under a hundred guises and pompous names, such as Polite Society, the Family, the Church, Sound Business, the Party, the Country, the Superior White Race; and the only defense against them, Carol beheld, is unembittered laughter.


SHE had lived in Washington for a year. She was tired of the office. It was tolerable, far more tolerable than housework, but it was not adventurous.

She was having tea and cinnamon toast, alone at a small round table on the balcony of Rauscher’s Confiserie. Four debutantes clattered in. She had felt young and dissipated, had thought rather well of her black and leaf-green suit, but as she watched them, thin of ankle, soft under the chin, seventeen or eighteen at most, smoking cigarettes with the correct ennui and talking of “bedroom farces” and their desire to “run up to New York and see something racy,” she became old and rustic and plain, and desirous of retreating from these hard brilliant children to a life easier and more sympathetic. When they flickered out and one child gave orders to a chauffeur, Carol was not a defiant philosopher but a faded government clerk from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota

She started dejectedly up Connecticut Avenue. She stopped, her heart stopped. Coming toward her were Harry and Juanita Haydock. She ran to them, she kissed Juanita, while Harry confided, “Hadn’t expected to come to Washington–had to go to New York for some buying–didn’t have your address along–just got in this morning–wondered how in the world we could get hold of you.”

She was definitely sorry to hear that they were to leave at nine that evening, and she clung to them as long as she could. She took them to St. Mark’s for dinner. Stooped, her elbows on the table, she heard with excitement that “Cy Bogart had the ‘flu, but of course he was too gol-darn mean to die of it.”

“Will wrote me that Mr. Blausser has gone away. How did he get on?”

“Fine! Fine! Great loss to the town. There was a real public-spirited fellow, all right!”

She discovered that she now had no opinions whatever about Mr. Blausser, and she said sympathetically, “Will you keep up the town-boosting campaign?”

Harry fumbled, “Well, we’ve dropped it just temporarily, but–sure you bet! Say, did the doc write you about the luck B. J. Gougerling had hunting ducks down in Texas?”

When the news had been told and their enthusiasm had slackened she looked about and was proud to be able to point out a senator, to explain the cleverness of the canopied garden. She fancied that a man with dinner-coat and waxed mustache glanced superciliously at Harry’s highly form-fitting bright- brown suit and Juanita’s tan silk frock, which was doubtful at the seams. She glared back, defending her own, daring the world not to appreciate them.

Then, waving to them, she lost them down the long train shed. She stood reading the list of stations: Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Chicago. Beyond Chicago—-? She saw the lakes and stubble fields, heard the rhythm of insects and the creak of a buggy, was greeted by Sam Clark’s “Well, well, how’s the little lady?”

Nobody in Washington cared enough for her to fret about her sins as Sam did.

But that night they had at the flat a man just back from Finland.


She was on the Powhatan roof with the captain. At a table, somewhat vociferously buying improbable “soft drinks” for two fluffy girls, was a man with a large familiar back.

“Oh! I think I know him,” she murmured.

“Who? There? Oh, Bresnahan, Percy Bresnahan.”

“Yes. You’ve met him? What sort of a man is he?”

“He’s a good-hearted idiot. I rather like him, and I believe that as a salesman of motors he’s a wonder. But he’s a nuisance in the aeronautic section. Tries so hard to be useful but he doesn’t know anything–he doesn’t know anything. Rather pathetic: rich man poking around and trying to be useful. Do you want to speak to him?”

“No–no–I don’t think so.”


She was at a motion-picture show. The film was a highly advertised and abysmal thing smacking of simpering hair- dressers, cheap perfume, red-plush suites on the back streets of tenderloins, and complacent fat women chewing gum. It pretended to deal with the life of studios. The leading man did a portrait which was a masterpiece. He also saw visions in pipe-smoke, and was very brave and poor and pure. He had ringlets, and his masterpiece was strangely like an enlarged photograph.

Carol prepared to leave.

On the screen, in the role of a composer, appeared an actor called Eric Valour.

She was startled, incredulous, then wretched. Looking straight out at her, wearing a beret and a velvet jacket, was Erik Valborg.

He had a pale part, which he played neither well nor badly. She speculated, “I could have made so much of him—-” She did not finish her speculation.

She went home and read Kennicott’s letters. They had seemed stiff and undetailed, but now there strode from them a personality, a personality unlike that of the languishing young man in the velvet jacket playing a dummy piano in a canvas room.


Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months after her arrival in Washington. When he announced that he was coming she was not at all sure that she wished to see him. She was glad that he had made the decision himself.

She had leave from the office for two days.

She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured, carrying his heavy suit-case, and she was diffident–he was such a bulky person to handle. They kissed each other questioningly, and said at the same time, “You’re looking fine; how’s the baby?” and “You’re looking awfully well, dear; how is everything?”

He grumbled, “I don’t want to butt in on any plans you’ve made or your friends or anything, but if you’ve got time for it, I’d like to chase around Washington, and take in some restaurants and shows and stuff, and forget work for a while.”

She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft gray suit, a soft easy hat, a flippant tie.

“Like the new outfit? Got ’em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope they’re the kind you like.”

They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was flustered, but he gave no sign of kissing her again.

As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he had had his new tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There was a recent cut on his chin. He must have shaved on the train just before coming into Washington.

It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many people she recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she told him (he asked and she obligingly guessed) how many feet it was to the top of the dome, as she pointed out Senator LaFollette and the vice-president, and at lunch-time showed herself an habitue by leading him through the catacombs to the senate restaurant.

She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar way in which his hair was parted on the left side agitated her. She looked down at his hands, and the fact that his nails were as ill-treated as ever touched her more than his pleading shoe-shine.

“You’d like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon, wouldn’t you?” she said.

It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that it seemed to be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing to do.

He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news: they were excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding, Vida “made him tired the way she always looked at the Maje,” poor Chet Dashaway had been killed in a motor accident out on the Coast. He did not coax her to like him. At Mount Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington’s dental tools.

She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have heard of Harvey’s apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took him there. At dinner his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment of everything, turned into nervousness in his desire to know a number of interesting matters, such as whether they still were married. But be did not ask questions, and be said nothing about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed, “Oh say, been trying out the old camera. Don’t you think these are pretty good?”

He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and the country about. Without defense, she was thrown into it. She remembered that he had lured her with photographs in courtship days; she made a note of his sameness, his satisfaction with the tactics which had proved good before; but she forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing the sun- speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie, wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where Hugh had played, Main Street where she knew every window and every face.

She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and he talked of lenses and time-exposures.

Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at the flat, but an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent, inescapable. She could not endure it. She stammered:

“I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn’t quite sure where you’d stay. I’m dreadfully sorry we haven’t room to put you up at the flat. We ought to have seen about a room for you before. Don’t you think you better call up the Willard or the Washington now?”

He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked, without speech she answered, whether she was also going to the Willard or the Washington. But she tried to look as though she did not know that they were debating anything of the sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about it. But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he may have been with her blandness he said readily:

“Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then how about grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn’t it the limit the way these taxi shuffers skin around a corner? Got more nerve driving than I have!) and going up to your flat for a while? Like to meet your friends–must be fine women–and I might take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how he breathes. Don’t think he has adenoids, but I better make sure, eh?” He patted her shoulder.

At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who had been to jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly. He laughed at the girl’s story of the humors of a hunger- strike; he told the secretary what to do when her eyes were tired from typing; and the teacher asked him–not as the husband of a friend but as a physician–whether there was “anything to this inoculation for colds.”

His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their habitual slang.

Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst of the company.

“He’s terribly nice,” said her housemates, and waited for confidences. They got none, nor did her own heart. She could find nothing definite to agonize about. She felt that she was no longer analyzing and controlling forces, but swept on by them.

He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes. That was her only occasion for spite. Back home he never thought of washing dishes!

She took him to the obvious “sights”–the Treasury, the Monument, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building, the Lincoln Memorial, with the Potomac beyond it and the Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee Mansion. For all his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy which piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to them now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette Square, looking past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil facade of the White House, he sighed, “I wish I’d had a shot at places like this. When I was in the U., I had to earn part of my way, and when I wasn’t doing that or studying, I guess I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I’d been caught early and sent to concerts and all that—- Would I have been what you call intelligent?”

“Oh, my dear, don’t be humble! You are intelligent! For instance, you’re the most thorough doctor—-“

He was edging about something he wished to say. He pounced on it:

“You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all, didn’t you!”

“Yes, of course.”

“Wouldn’t be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town, would it!”

“No, it wouldn’t. Just as I was terribly glad to see the Haydocks. But please understand me! That doesn’t mean that I withdraw all my criticisms. The fact that I might like a glimpse of old friends hasn’t any particular relation to the question of whether Gopher Prairie oughtn’t to have festivals and lamb chops.”

Hastily, “No, no! Sure not. I und’stand.”

“But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to live with anybody as perfect as I was.”

He grinned. She liked his grin.


He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes, the building to which his income tax would eventually go, a Rolls-Royce, Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room, a New York theatrical manager down for the try-out of a play, the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks of Italian officers, the barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches at noon, the barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.

She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green cottages and Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and white shutters against rosy brick, were more homelike than a painty wooden box. He volunteered, “I see how you mean. They make me think of these pictures of an old-fashioned Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you’ll have Sam and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d’ I tell you about this fierce green Jack Elder’s had his machine painted?”


They were at dinner.

He hinted, “Before you showed me those places today, I’d already made up my mind that when I built the new house we used to talk about, I’d fix it the way you wanted it. I’m pretty practical about foundations and radiation and stuff like that, but I guess I don’t know a whole lot about architecture.”

“My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don’t either!”

“Well–anyway–you let me plan the garage and the plumbing, and you do the rest, if you ever–I mean–if you ever want to.”

Doubtfully, “That’s sweet of you.”

“Look here, Carrie; you think I’m going to ask you to love me. I’m not. And I’m not going to ask you to come back to Gopher Prairie!”

She gaped.

“It’s been a whale of a fight. But I guess I’ve got myself to see that you won’t ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to come back to it. I needn’t say I’m crazy to have you. But I won’t ask you. I just want you to know how I wait for you. Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one I’m kind of scared to open it, I’m hoping so much that you’re coming back. Evenings—- You know I didn’t open the cottage down at the lake at all, this past summer. Simply couldn’t stand all the others laughing and swimming, and you not there. I used to sit on the porch, in town, and I–I couldn’t get over the feeling that you’d simply run up to the drug store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I’d catch myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the house was so empty and still that I didn’t like to go in. And sometimes I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn’t wake up till after midnight, and the house—- Oh, the devil! Please get me, Carrie. I just want you to know how welcome you’ll be if you ever do come. But I’m not asking you to.”

“You’re—- It’s awfully—-“

“‘Nother thing. I’m going to be frank. I haven’t always been absolutely, uh, absolutely, proper. I’ve always loved you more than anything else in the world, you and the kid. But sometimes when you were chilly to me I’d get lonely and sore, and pike out and—- Never intended—-“

She rescued him with a pitying, “It’s all right. Let’s forget it.”

“But before we were married you said if your husband ever did anything wrong, you’d want him to tell you.”

“Did I? I can’t remember. And I can’t seem to think. Oh, my dear, I do know how generously you’re trying to make me happy. The only thing is—- I can’t think. I don’t know what I think.”

“Then listen! Don’t think! Here’s what I want you to do! Get a two-weeks leave from your office. Weather’s beginning to get chilly here. Let’s run down to Charleston and Savannah and maybe Florida.

“A second honeymoon?” indecisively.

“No. Don’t even call it that. Call it a second wooing. I won’t ask anything. I just want the chance to chase around with you. I guess I never appreciated how lucky I was to have a girl with imagination and lively feet to play with. So—- Could you maybe run away and see the South with me? If you wanted to, you could just–you could just pretend you were my sister and—- I’ll get an extra nurse for Hugh! I’ll get the best dog-gone nurse in Washington!”


It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the Charleston Battery and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness melted.

When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the moon glitter, she cried, “Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie with you? Decide for me. I’m tired of deciding and undeciding.”

“No. You’ve got to do your own deciding. As a matter of fact, in spite of this honeymoon, I don’t think I want you to come home. Not yet.”

She could only stare.

“I want you to be satisfied when you get there. I’ll do everything I can to keep you happy, but I’ll make lots of breaks, so I want you to take time and think it over.”

She was relieved. She still had a chance to seize splendid indefinite freedoms. She might go–oh, she’d see Europe, somehow, before she was recaptured. But she also had a firmer respect for Kennicott. She had fancied that her life might make a story. She knew that there was nothing heroic or obviously dramatic in it, no magic of rare hours, nor valiant challenge, but it seemed to her that she was of some significance because she was commonplaceness, the ordinary life of the age, made articulate and protesting. It had not occurred to her that there was also a story of Will Kennicott, into which she entered only so much as he entered into hers; that he had bewilderments and concealments as intricate as her own, and soft treacherous desires for sympathy.

Thus she brooded, looking at the amazing sea, holding his hand.


She was in Washington; Kennicott was in Gopher Prairie, writing as dryly as ever about water-pipes and goose-hunting and Mrs. Fageros’s mastoid.

She was talking at dinner to a generalissima of suffrage. Should she return?

The leader spoke wearily:

“My dear, I’m perfectly selfish. I can’t quite visualize the needs of your husband, and it seems to me that your baby will do quite as well in the schools here as in your barracks at home.”

“Then you think I’d better not go back?” Carol sounded disappointed.

“It’s more difficult than that. When I say that I’m selfish I mean that the only thing I consider about women is whether they’re likely to prove useful in building up real political power for women. And you? Shall I be frank? Remember when I say `you’ I don’t mean you alone. I’m thinking of thousands of women who come to Washington and New York and Chicago every year, dissatisfied at home and seeking a sign in the heavens–women of all sorts, from timid mothers of fifty in cotton gloves, to girls just out of Vassar who organize strikes in their own fathers’ factories! All of you are more or less useful to me, but only a few of you can take my place, because I have one virtue (only one): I have given up father and mother and children for the love of God.

“Here’s the test for you: Do you come to `conquer the East,’ as people say, or do you come to conquer yourself?

“It’s so much more complicated than any of you know–so much more complicated than I knew when I put on Ground Grippers and started out to reform the world. The final complication in `conquering Washington’ or `conquering New York’ is that the conquerors must beyond all things not conquer! It must have been so easy in the good old days when authors dreamed only of selling a hundred thousand volumes, and sculptors of being feted in big houses, and even the Uplifters like me had a simple-hearted ambition to be elected to important offices and invited to go round lecturing. But we meddlers have upset everything. Now the one thing that is disgraceful to any of us is obvious success. The Uplifter who is very popular with wealthy patrons can be pretty sure that he has softened his philosophy to please them, and the author who is making lots of money–poor things, I’ve heard ’em apologizing for it to the shabby bitter-enders; I’ve seen ’em ashamed of the sleek luggage they got from movie rights.

“Do you want to sacrifice yourself in such a topsy-turvy world, where popularity makes you unpopular with the people you love, and the only failure is cheap success, and the only individualist is the person who gives up all his individualism to serve a jolly ungrateful proletariat which thumbs its nose at him?”

Carol smiled ingratiatingly, to indicate that she was indeed one who desired to sacrifice, but she sighed, “I don’t know; I’m afraid I’m not heroic. I certainly wasn’t out home. Why didn’t I do big effective—-“

“Not a matter of heroism. Matter of endurance. Your Middlewest is double-Puritan–prairie Puritan on top of New England Puritan; bluff frontiersman on the surface, but in its heart it still has the ideal of Plymouth Rock in a sleet-storm. There’s one attack you can make on it, perhaps the only kind that accomplishes much anywhere: you can keep on looking at one thing after another in your home and church and bank, and ask why it is, and who first laid down the law that it had to be that way. If enough of us do this impolitely enough, then we’ll become civilized in merely twenty thousand years or so, instead of having to wait the two hundred thousand years that my cynical anthropologist friends allow. . . . Easy, pleasant, lucrative home-work for wives: asking people to define their jobs. That’s the most dangerous doctrine I know!”

Carol was mediating, “I will go back! I will go on asking questions. I’ve always done it, and always failed at it, and it’s all I can do. I’m going to ask Ezra Stowbody why he’s opposed to the nationalization of railroads, and ask Dave Dyer why a druggist always is pleased when he’s called `doctor,’ and maybe ask Mrs. Bogart why she wears a widow’s veil that looks like a dead crow.”

The woman leader straightened. “And you have one thing. You have a baby to hug. That’s my temptation. I dream of babies–of a baby–and I sneak around parks to see them playing. (The children in Dupont Circle are like a poppy- garden.) And the antis call me `unsexed’!”

Carol was thinking, in panic, “Oughtn’t Hugh to have country air? I won’t let him become a yokel. I can guide him away from street-corner loafing. . . . I think I can.”

On her way home: “Now that I’ve made a precedent, joined the union and gone out on one strike and learned personal solidarity, I won’t be so afraid. Will won’t always be resisting my running away. Some day I really will go to Europe with him. . .or without him.

“I’ve lived with people who are not afraid to go to jail. I could invite a Miles Bjornstam to dinner without being afraid of the Haydocks. . .I think I could.

“I’ll take back the sound of Yvette Guilbert’s songs and Elman’s violin. They’ll be only the lovelier against the thrumming of crickets in the stubble on an autumn day.

“I can laugh now and be serene. . .I think I can.”

Though she should return, she said, she would not be utterly defeated. She was glad of her rebellion. The prairie was no longer empty land in the sun-glare; it was the living tawny beast which she had fought and made beautiful by fighting; and in the village streets were shadows of her desires and the sound of her marching and the seeds of mystery and greatness.


Her active hatred of Gopher Prairie had run out. She saw it now as a toiling new settlement. With sympathy she remembered Kennicott’s defense of its citizens as “a lot of pretty good folks, working hard and trying to bring up their families the best they can.” She recalled tenderly the young awkwardness of Main Street and the makeshifts of the little brown cottages; she pitied their shabbiness and isolation; had compassion for their assertion of culture, even as expressed in Thanatopsis papers, for their pretense of greatness, even as trumpeted in “boosting.” She saw Main Street in the dusty prairie sunset, a line of frontier shanties with solemn lonely people waiting for her, solemn and lonely as an old man who has outlived his friends. She remembered that Kennicott and Sam Clark had listened to her songs, and she wanted to run to them and sing.

“At last,” she rejoiced, “I’ve come to a fairer attitude toward the town. I can love it, now.”

She was, perhaps, rather proud of herself for having acquired so much tolerance.

She awoke at three in the morning, after a dream of being tortured by Ella Stowbody and the Widow Bogart.

“I’ve been making the town a myth. This is how people keep up the tradition of the perfect home-town, the happy boyhood, the brilliant college friends. We forget so. I’ve been forgetting that Main Street doesn’t think it’s in the least lonely and pitiful. It thinks it’s God’s Own Country. It isn’t waiting for me. It doesn’t care.”

But the next evening she again saw Gopher Prairie as her home, waiting for her in the sunset, rimmed round with splendor.

She did not return for five months more; five months crammed with greedy accumulation of sounds and colors to take back for the long still days.

She had spent nearly two years in Washington.

When she departed for Gopher Prairie, in June, her second baby was stirring within her.


SHE wondered all the way home what her sensations would be. She wondered about it so much that she had every sensation she had imagined. She was excited by each familiar porch, each hearty “Well, well!” and flattered to be, for a day, the most important news of the community. She bustled about, making calls. Juanita Haydock bubbled over their Washington encounter, and took Carol to her social bosom. This ancient opponent seemed likely to be her most intimate friend, for Vida Sherwin, though she was cordial, stood back and watched for imported heresies.

In the evening Carol went to the mill. The mystical Om- Om-Om of the dynamos in the electric-light plant behind the mill was louder in the darkness. Outside sat the night watchman, Champ Perry. He held up his stringy hands and squeaked, “We’ve all missed you terrible.”

Who in Washington would miss her?

Who in Washington could be depended upon like Guy Pollock? When she saw him on the street, smiling as always, he seemed an eternal thing, a part of her own self.

After a week she decided that she was neither glad nor sorry to be back. She entered each day with the matter-of-fact attitude with which she had gone to her office in Washington. It was her task; there would be mechanical details and meaningless talk; what of it?

The only problem which she had approached with emotion proved insignificant. She had, on the train, worked herself up to such devotion that she was willing to give up her own room, to try to share all of her life with Kennicott.

He mumbled, ten minutes after she had entered the house, “Say, I’ve kept your room for you like it was. I’ve kind of come round to your way of thinking. Don’t see why folks need to get on each other’s nerves just because they’re friendly. Darned if I haven’t got so I like a little privacy and mulling things over by myself.”


She had left a city which sat up nights to talk of universal transition; of European revolution, guild socialism, free verse. She had fancied that all the world was changing.

She found that it was not.

In Gopher Prairie the only ardent new topics were prohibition, the place in Minneapolis where you could get whisky at thirteen dollars a quart, recipes for home-made beer, the “high cost of living,” the presidential election, Clark’s new car, and not very novel foibles of Cy Bogart. Their problems were exactly what they had been two years ago, what they had been twenty years ago, and what they would be for twenty years to come. With the world a possible volcano, the husbandmen were plowing at the base of the mountain. A volcano does occasionally drop a river of lava on even the best of agriculturists, to their astonishment and considerable injury, but their cousins inherit the farms and a year or two later go back to the plowing.

She was unable to rhapsodize much over the seven new bungalows and the two garages which Kennicott had made to seem so important. Her intensest thought about them was, “Oh yes, they’re all right I suppose.” The change which she did heed was the erection of the schoolbuilding, with its cheerful brick walls, broad windows, gymnasium, classrooms for agriculture and cooking. It indicated Vida’s triumph, and it stirred her to activity–any activity. She went to Vida with a jaunty, “I think I shall work for you. And I’ll begin at the bottom.”

She did. She relieved the attendant at the rest-room for an hour a day. Her only innovation was painting the pine table a black and orange rather shocking to the Thanatopsis. She talked to the farmwives and soothed their babies and was happy.

Thinking of them she did not think of the ugliness of Main Street as she hurried along it to the chatter of the Jolly Seventeen.

She wore her eye-glasses on the street now. She was beginning to ask Kennicott and Juanita if she didn’t look young, much younger than thirty-three. The eye-glasses pinched her nose. She considered spectacles. They would make her seem older, and hopelessly settled. No! She would not wear spec- tacles yet. But she tried on a pair at Kennicott’s office. They really were much more comfortable.


Dr. Westlake, Sam Clark, Nat Hicks, and Del Snafflin were talking in Del’s barber shop.

“Well, I see Kennicott’s wife is taking a whirl at the rest- room, now,” said Dr. Westlake. He emphasized the “now.”

Del interrupted the shaving of Sam and, with his brush dripping lather, he observed jocularly:

“What’ll she be up to next? They say she used to claim this burg wasn’t swell enough for a city girl like her, and would we please tax ourselves about thirty-seven point nine and fix it all up pretty, with tidies on the hydrants and statoos on the lawns—-“

Sam irritably blew the lather from his lips, with milky small bubbles, and snorted, “Be a good thing for most of us roughnecks if we did have a smart woman to tell us how to fix up the town. Just as much to her kicking as there was to Jim Blausser’s gassing about factories. And you can bet Mrs. Kennicott is smart, even if she is skittish. Glad to see her back.”

Dr. Westlake hastened to play safe. “So was I! So was I! She’s got a nice way about her, and she knows a good deal about books, or fiction anyway. Of course she’s like all the rest of these women–not solidly founded–not scholarly– doesn’t know anything about political economy–falls for every new idea that some windjamming crank puts out. But she’s a nice woman. She’ll probably fix up the rest-room, and the rest-room is a fine thing, brings a lot of business to town. And now that Mrs. Kennicott’s been away, maybe she’s got over some of her fool ideas. Maybe she realizes that folks simply laugh at her when she tries to tell us how to run everything.”

“Sure. She’ll take a tumble to herself,” said Nat Hicks, sucking in his lips judicially. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ll say she’s as nice a looking skirt as there is in town. But yow!” His tone electrified them. “Guess she’ll miss that Swede Valborg that used to work for me! They was a pair! Talking poetry and moonshine! If they could of got away with it, they’d of been so darn lovey-dovey—-“

Sam Clark interrupted, “Rats, they never even thought about making love, Just talking books and all that junk. I tell you, Carrie Kennicott’s a smart woman, and these smart educated women all get funny ideas, but they get over ’em after they’ve had three or four kids. You’ll see her settled down one of these days, and teaching Sunday School and helping at sociables and behaving herself, and not trying to butt into business and politics. Sure!”

After only fifteen minutes of conference on her stockings, her son, her separate bedroom, her music, her ancient interest in Guy Pollock, her probable salary in Washington, and every remark which she was known to have made since her return, the supreme council decided that they would permit Carol Kennicott to live, and they passed on to a consideration of Nat Hicks’s New One about the traveling salesman and the old maid.


For some reason which was totally mysterious to Carol, Maud Dyer seemed to resent her return. At the Jolly Seventeen Maud giggled nervously, “Well, I suppose you found war-work a good excuse to stay away and have a swell time. Juanita! Don’t you think we ought to make Carrie tell us about the officers she met in Washington?”

They rustled and stared. Carol looked at them. Their curiosity seemed natural and unimportant.

“Oh yes, yes indeed, have to do that some day,” she yawned.

She no longer took Aunt Bessie Smail seriously enough to struggle for independence. She saw that Aunt Bessie did not mean to intrude; that she wanted to do things for all the Kennicotts. Thus Carol hit upon the tragedy of old age, which is not that it is less vigorous than youth, but that it is not needed by youth; that its love and prosy sageness, so important a few years ago, so gladly offered now, are rejected with laughter. She divined that when Aunt Bessie came in with a jar of wild-grape jelly she was waiting in hope of being asked for the recipe. After that she could be irritated but she could not be depressed by Aunt Bessie’s simoom of questioning.

She wasn’t depressed even when she heard Mrs. Bogart observe, “Now we’ve got prohibition it seems to me that the next problem of the country ain’t so much abolishing cigarettes as it is to make folks observe the Sabbath and arrest these law-breakers that play baseball and go to the movies and all on the Lord’s Day.”

Only one thing bruised Carol’s vanity. Few people asked her about Washington. They who had most admiringly begged Percy Bresnahan for his opinions were least interested in her facts. She laughed at herself when she saw that she had expected to be at once a heretic and a returned hero; she was very reasonable and merry about it; and it hurt just as much as ever.

Her baby, born in August, was a girl. Carol could not decide whether she was to become a feminist leader or marry a scientist or both, but did settle on Vassar and a tricolette suit with a small black hat for her Freshman year.


Hugh was loquacious at breakfast. He desired to give his impressions of owls and F Street.

“Don’t make so much noise. You talk too much,” growled Kennicott.

Carol flared. “Don’t speak to him that way! Why don’t you listen to him? He has some very interesting things to tell.”

“What’s the idea? Mean to say you expect me to spend all my time listening to his chatter?”

“Why not?”

“For one thing, he’s got to learn a little discipline. Time for him to start getting educated.”

“I’ve learned much more discipline, I’ve had much more education, from him than he has from me.”

“What’s this? Some new-fangled idea of raising kids you got in Washington?”

“Perhaps. Did you ever realize that children are people?”

“That’s all right. I’m not going to have him monopolizing the conversation.”

“No, of course. We have our rights, too. But I’m going to bring him up as a human being. He has just as many thoughts as we have, and I want him to develop them, not take Gopher Prairie’s version of them. That’s my biggest work now–keeping myself, keeping you, from `educating’ him.”

“Well, let’s not scrap about it. But I’m not going to have him spoiled.”

Kennicott had forgotten it in ten minutes; and she forgot it–this time.


The Kennicotts and the Sam Clarks had driven north to a duck-pass between two lakes, on an autumn day of blue and copper.

Kennicott had given her a light twenty-gauge shotgun. She had a first lesson in shooting, in keeping her eyes open, not wincing, understanding that the bead at the end of the barrel really had something to do with pointing the gun. She was radiant; she almost believed Sam when he insisted that it was she who had shot the mallard at which they had fired together.

She sat on the bank of the reedy lake and found rest in Mrs. Clark’s drawling comments on nothing. The brown dusk was still. Behind them were dark marshes. The plowed acres smelled fresh. The lake was garnet and silver. The voices of the men, waiting for the last flight, were clear in the cool air.

“Mark left!” sang Kennicott, in a long-drawn call.

Three ducks were swooping down in a swift line. The guns banged, and a duck fluttered. The men pushed their light boat out on the burnished lake, disappeared beyond the reeds. Their cheerful voices and the slow splash and clank of oars came back to Carol from the dimness. In the sky a fiery plain sloped down to a serene harbor. It dissolved; the lake was white marble; and Kennicott was crying, “Well, old lady, how about hiking out for home? Supper taste pretty good, eh?”

“I’ll sit back with Ethel,” she said, at the car.

It was the first time she had called Mrs. Clark by her given name; the first time she had willingly sat back, a woman of Main Street.

“I’m hungry. It’s good to be hungry,” she reflected, as they drove away.

She looked across the silent fields to the west. She was conscious of an unbroken sweep of land to the Rockies, to Alaska, a dominion which will rise to unexampled greatness when other empires have grown senile. Before that time, she

You may also like: