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  • 1920
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“I AM, I am fond of Will, and—- Can’t I ever find another word than `fond’?

“He’s home. He’ll think I was out late.

“Why can’t he ever remember to pull down the shades? Cy Bogart and all the beastly boys peeping in. But the poor dear, he’s absent-minded about minute–minush–whatever the word is. He has so much worry and work, while I do nothing but jabber to Bea.

“I MUSTN’T forget the hominy—-“

She was flying into the hall. Kennicott looked up from the Journal of the American Medical Society.

“Hello! What time did you get back?” she cried.

“About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven!” Good-natured yet not quite approving.

“Did it feel neglected?”

“Well, you didn’t remember to close the lower draft in the furnace.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. But I don’t often forget things like that, do I?”

She dropped into his lap and (after he had jerked back his head to save his eye-glasses, and removed the glasses, and settled her in a position less cramping to his legs, and casually cleared his throat) he kissed her amiably, and remarked:

“Nope, I must say you’re fairly good about things like that. I wasn’t kicking. I just meant I wouldn’t want the fire to go out on us. Leave that draft open and the fire might burn up and go out on us. And the nights are beginning to get pretty cold again. Pretty cold on my drive. I put the side-curtains up, it was so chilly. But the generator is working all right now.”

“Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk.”

“Go walking?”

“I went up to see the Perrys.” By a definite act of will she added the truth: “They weren’t in. And I saw Guy Pollock. Dropped into his office.”

“Why, you haven’t been sitting and chinning with him till eleven o’clock?”

“Of course there were some other people there and—- Will! What do you think of Dr. Westlake?”

“Westlake? Why?”

“I noticed him on the street today.”

“Was he limping? If the poor fish would have his teeth X-rayed, I’ll bet nine and a half cents he’d find an abscess there. `Rheumatism’ he calls it. Rheumatism, hell! He’s behind the times. Wonder he doesn’t bleed himself I Wellllllll —-” A profound and serious yawn. “I hate to break up the party, but it’s getting late, and a doctor never knows when he’ll get routed out before morning.” (She remembered that he had given this explanation, in these words, not less than thirty times in the year.) “I guess we better be trotting up to bed. I’ve wound the clock and looked at the furnace. Did you lock the front door when you came in?”

They trailed up-stairs, after he had turned out the lights and twice tested the front door to make sure it was fast. While they talked they were preparing for bed. Carol still sought to maintain privacy by undressing behind the screen of the closet door. Kennicott was not so reticent. Tonight, as every night, she was irritated by having to push the old plush chair out of the way before she could open the closet door. Every time she opened the door she shoved the chair. Ten times an hour. But Kennicott liked to have the chair in the room, and there was no place for it except in front of the closet.

She pushed it, felt angry, hid her anger. Kennicott was yawning, more portentously. The room smelled stale. She shrugged and became chatty:

“You were speaking of Dr. Westlake. Tell me–you’ve never summed him up: Is he really a good doctor?”

“Oh yes, he’s a wise old coot.”

(“There! You see there is no medical rivalry. Not in my house!” she said triumphantly to Guy Pollock.)

She hung her silk petticoat on a closet hook, and went on, “Dr. Westlake is so gentle and scholarly—-“

“Well, I don’t know as I’d say he was such a whale of a scholar. I’ve always had a suspicion he did a good deal of four-flushing about that. He likes to have people think he keeps up his French and Greek and Lord knows what all; and he’s always got an old Dago book lying around the sitting-room, but I’ve got a hunch he reads detective stories ’bout like the rest of us. And I don’t know where he’d ever learn so dog- gone many languages anyway! He kind of lets people assume he went to Harvard or Berlin or Oxford or somewhere, but I looked him up in the medical register, and he graduated from a hick college in Pennsylvania, ‘way back in 1861!”

“But this is the important thing: Is he an honest doctor?”

“How do you mean `honest’? Depends on what you mean.”

“Suppose you were sick. Would you call him in? Would you let me call him in?”

“Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn’t! No, SIR! I wouldn’t have the old fake in the house. Makes me tired, his everlasting palavering and soft-soaping. He’s all right for an ordinary bellyache or holding some fool woman’s hand, but I wouldn’t call him in for an honest-to-God illness, not much I wouldn’t, NO–sir! You know I don’t do much back- biting, but same time—- I’ll tell you, Carrrie: I’ve never got over being sore at Westlake for the way he treated Mrs. Jonderquist. Nothing the matter with her, what she really needed was a rest, but Westlake kept calling on her and calling on her for weeks, almost every day, and he sent her a good big fat bill, too, you can bet! I never did forgive him for that. Nice decent hard-working people like the Jonderquists!”

In her batiste nightgown she was standing at the bureau engaged in the invariable rites of wishing that she had a real dressing-table with a triple mirror, of bending toward the streaky glass and raising her chin to inspect a pin-head mole on her throat, and finally of brushing her hair. In rhythm to the strokes she went on:

“But, Will, there isn’t any of what you might call financial rivalry between you and the partners–Westlake and McGanum –is there?”

He flipped into bed with a solemn back-somersault and a ludicrous kick of his heels as he tucked his legs under the blankets. He snorted, “Lord no! I never begrudge any man a nickel he can get away from me–fairly.”

“But is Westlake fair? Isn’t he sly?”

“Sly is the word. He’s a fox, that boy!”

She saw Guy Pollock’s grin in the mirror. She flushed.

Kennicott, with his arms behind his head, was yawning:

“Yump. He’s smooth, too smooth. But I bet I make prett’ near as much as Westlake and McGanum both together, though I’ve never wanted to grab more than my just share. If anybody wants to go to the partners instead of to me, that’s his business. Though I must say it makes me tired when Westlake gets hold of the Dawsons. Here Luke Dawson had been coming to me for every toeache and headache and a lot of little things that just wasted my time, and then when his grandchild was here last summer and had summer-complaint, I suppose, or something like that, probably–you know, the time you and I drove up to Lac-qui-Meurt–why, Westlake got hold of Ma Dawson, and scared her to death, and made her think the kid had appendicitis, and, by golly, if he and McGanum didn’t operate, and holler their heads off about the terrible adhesions they found, and what a regular Charley and Will Mayo they were for classy surgery. They let on that if they’d waited two hours more the kid would have developed peritonitis, and God knows what all; and then they collected a nice fat hundred and fifty dollars. And probably they’d have charged three hundred, if they hadn’t been afraid of me! I’m no hog, but I certainly do hate to give old Luke ten dollars’ worth of advice for a dollar and a half, and then see a hundred and fifty go glimmering. And if I can’t do a better ‘pendectomy than either Westlake or McGanum, I’ll eat my hat!”

As she crept into bed she was dazzled by Guy’s blazing grin. She experimented:

“But Westlake is cleverer than his son-in-law, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Westlake may be old-fashioned and all that, but he’s got a certain amount of intuition, while McGanum goes into everything bull-headed, and butts his way through like a damn yahoo, and tries to argue his patients into having whatever he diagnoses them as having! About the best thing Mac can do is to stick to baby-snatching. He’s just about on a par with this bone-pounding chiropractor female, Mrs. Mattie Gooch.”

“Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. McGanum, though–they’re nice. They’ve been awfully cordial to me.”

“Well, no reason why they shouldn’t be, is there? Oh, they’re nice enough–though you can bet your bottom dollar they’re both plugging for their husbands all the time, trying to get the business. And I don’t know as I call it so damn cordial in Mrs. McGanum when I holler at her on the street and she nods back like she had a sore neck. Still, she’s all right. It’s Ma Westlake that makes the mischief, pussyfooting around all the time. But I wouldn’t trust any Westlake out of the whole lot, and while Mrs. McGanum SEEMS square enough, you don’t never want to forget that she’s Westlake’s daughter. You bet!”

“What about Dr. Gould? Don’t you think he’s worse than either Westlake or McGanum? He’s so cheap–drinking, and playing pool, and always smoking cigars in such a cocky way—-“

“That’s all right now! Terry Gould is a good deal of a tin- horn sport, but he knows a lot about medicine, and don’t you forget it for one second!”

She stared down Guy’s grin, and asked more cheerfully, “Is he honest, too?”

“Ooooooooooo! Gosh I’m sleepy!” He burrowed beneath the bedclothes in a luxurious stretch, and came up like a diver, shaking his head, as he complained, “How’s that? Who? Terry Gould honest? Don’t start me laughing–I’m too nice and sleepy! I didn’t say he was honest. I said he had savvy enough to find the index in `Gray’s Anatomy,’ which is more than McGanum can do! But I didn’t say anything about his being honest. He isn’t. Terry is crooked as a dog’s hind leg. He’s done me more than one dirty trick. He told Mrs. Glorbach, seventeen miles out, that I wasn’t up-to-date in obstetrics. Fat lot of good it did him! She came right in and told me! And Terry’s lazy. He’d let a pneumonia patient choke rather than interrupt a poker game.”

“Oh no. I can’t believe—-“

“Well now, I’m telling you!”

“Does he play much poker? Dr. Dillon told me that Dr. Gould wanted him to play—-“

“Dillon told you what? Where’d you meet Dillon? He’s just come to town.”

“He and his wife were at Mr. Pollock’s tonight.”

“Say, uh, what’d you think of them? Didn’t Dillon strike you as pretty light-waisted?”

“Why no. He seemed intelligent. I’m sure he’s much more wide-awake than our dentist.”

“Well now, the old man is a good dentist. He knows his business. And Dillon—- I wouldn’t cuddle up to the Dillons too close, if I were you. All right for Pollock, and that’s none of our business, but we—- I think I’d just give the Dillons the glad hand and pass ’em up.”

“But why? He isn’t a rival.”

“That’s–all–right!” Kennicott was aggressively awake now. “He’ll work right in with Westlake and McGanum. Matter of fact, I suspect they were largely responsible for his locating here. They’ll be sending him patients, and he’ll send all that he can get hold of to them. I don’t trust anybody that’s too much hand-in-glove with Westlake. You give Dillon a shot at some fellow that’s just bought a farm here and drifts into town to get his teeth looked at, and after Dillon gets through with him, you’ll see him edging around to Westlake and McGanum, every time!”

Carol reached for her blouse, which hung on a chair by the bed. She draped it about her shoulders, and sat up studying Kennicott, her chin in her hands. In the gray light from the small electric bulb down the hall she could see that he was frowning.

“Will, this is–I must get this straight. Some one said to me the other day that in towns like this, even more than in cities, all the doctors hate each other, because of the money—-“

“Who said that?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll bet a hat it was your Vida Sherwin. She’s a brainy woman, but she’d be a damn sight brainier if she kept her mouth shut and didn’t let so much of her brains ooze out that way.”

“Will! O Will! That’s horrible! Aside from the vulgarity—-Some ways, Vida is my best friend. Even if she HAD said it. Which, as a matter of fact, she didn’t.” He reared up his thick shoulders, in absurd pink and green flannelette pajamas. He sat straight, and irritatingly snapped his fingers, and growled:

“Well, if she didn’t say it, let’s forget her. Doesn’t make any difference who said it, anyway. The point is that you believe it. God! To think you don’t understand me any better than that! Money!”

(“This is the first real quarrel we’ve ever had,” she was agonizing.)

He thrust out his long arm and snatched his wrinkly vest from a chair. He took out a cigar, a match. He tossed the vest on the floor. He lighted the cigar and puffed savagely. He broke up the match and snapped the fragments at the foot- board.

She suddenly saw the foot-board of the bed as the foot- stone of the grave of love.

The room was drab-colored and ill-ventilated-Kennicott did not “believe in opening the windows so darn wide that you heat all outdoors.” The stale air seemed never to change. In the light from the hall they were two lumps of bedclothes with shoulders and tousled heads attached.

She begged, “I didn’t mean to wake you up, dear. And please don’t smoke. You’ve been smoking so much. Please go back to sleep. I’m sorry.”

“Being sorry ‘s all right, but I’m going to tell you one or two things. This falling for anybody’s say-so about medical jealousy and competition is simply part and parcel of your usual willingness to think the worst you possibly can of us poor dubs in Gopher Prairie. Trouble with women like you is, you always want to ARGUE. Can’t take things the way they are. Got to argue. Well, I’m not going to argue about this in any way, shape, manner, or form. Trouble with you is, you don’t make any effort to appreciate us. You’re so damned superior, and think the city is such a hell of a lot finer place, and you want us to do what YOU want, all the time—-“

“That’s not true! It’s I who make the effort. It’s they– it’s you–who stand back and criticize. I have to come over to the town’s opinion; I have to devote myself to their interests. They can’t even SEE my interests, to say nothing of adopting them. I get ever so excited about their old Lake Minniemashie and the cottages, but they simply guffaw (in that lovely friendly way you advertise so much) if I speak of wanting to see Taormina also.”

“Sure, Tormina, whatever that is–some nice expensive millionaire colony, I suppose. Sure; that’s the idea; champagne taste and beer income; and make sure that we never will have more than a beer income, too!”

“Are you by any chance implying that I am not economical?”

“Well, I hadn’t intended to, but since you bring it up yourself, I don’t mind saying the grocery bills are about twice what they ought to be.”

“Yes, they probably are. I’m not economical. I can’t be. Thanks to you!”

“Where d’ you get that `thanks to you’?”

“Please don’t be quite so colloquial–or shall I say VULGAR?”

“I’ll be as damn colloquial as I want to. How do you get that `thanks to you’? Here about a year ago you jump me for not remembering to give you money. Well, I’m reasonable. I didn’t blame you, and I SAID I was to blame. But have I ever forgotten it since–practically?”

“No. You haven’t–practically! But that isn’t it. I ought to have an allowance. I will, too! I must have an agreement for a regular stated amount, every month.”

“Fine idea! Of course a doctor gets a regular stated amount! Sure! A thousand one month–and lucky if he makes a hundred the next.”

“Very well then, a percentage. Or something else. No matter how much you vary, you can make a rough average for—-“

“But what’s the idea? What are you trying to get at? Mean to say I’m unreasonable? Think I’m so unreliable and tightwad that you’ve got to tie me down with a contract? By God, that hurts! I thought I’d been pretty generous and decent, and I took a lot of pleasure–thinks I, `she’ll be tickled when I hand her over this twenty’–or fifty, or whatever it was; and now seems you been wanting to make it a kind of alimony. Me, like a poor fool, thinking I was liberal all the while, and you—-“

“Please stop pitying yourself! You’re having a beautiful time feeling injured. I admit all you say. Certainly. You’ve given me money both freely and amiably. Quite as if I were your mistress!”

“Carrie!”

“I mean it! What was a magnificent spectacle of generosity to you was humiliation to me. You GAVE me money–gave it to your mistress, if she was complaisant, and then you—-“

“Carrie!”

“(Don’t interrupt me!)–then you felt you’d discharged all obligation. Well, hereafter I’ll refuse your money, as a gift. Either I’m your partner, in charge of the household department of our business, with a regular budget for it, or else I’m nothing. If I’m to be a mistress, I shall choose my lovers. Oh, I hate it–I hate it–this smirking and hoping for money–and then not even spending it on jewels as a mistress has a right to, but spending it on double-boilers and socks for you! Yes indeed! You’re generous! You give me a dollar, right out–the only proviso is that I must spend it on a tie for you! And you give it when and as you wish. How can I be anything but uneconomical?”

“Oh well, of course, looking at it that way—-“

“I can’t shop around, can’t buy in large quantities, have to stick to stores where I have a charge account, good deal of the time, can’t plan because I don’t know how much money I can depend on. That’s what I pay for your charming sentimentalities about giving so generously. You make me—-“

“Wait! Wait! You know you’re exaggerating. You never thought about that mistress stuff till just this minute! Matter of fact, you never have `smirked and hoped for money.’ But all the same, you may be right. You ought to run the household as a business. I’ll figure out a definite plan tomorrow, and hereafter you’ll be on a regular amount or percentage, with your own checking account.”

“Oh, that IS decent of you!” She turned toward him, trying to be affectionate. But his eyes were pink and unlovely in the flare of the match with which he lighted his dead and malodorous cigar. His head drooped, and a ridge of flesh scattered with pale small bristles bulged out under his chin.

She sat in abeyance till he croaked:

“No. ‘Tisn’t especially decent. It’s just fair. And God knows I want to be fair. But I expect others to be fair, too. And you’re so high and mighty about people. Take Sam Clark; best soul that ever lived, honest and loyal and a damn good fellow—-“

(“Yes, and a good shot at ducks, don’t forget that!”)

(“Well, and he is a good shot, too!) Sam drops around in the evening to sit and visit, and by golly just because he takes a dry smoke and rolls his cigar around in his mouth, and maybe spits a few times, you look at him as if he was a hog. Oh, you didn’t know I was onto you, and I certainly hope Sam hasn’t noticed it, but I never miss it.”

“I have felt that way. Spitting–ugh! But I’m sorry you caught my thoughts. I tried to be nice; I tried to hide them.”

“Maybe I catch a whole lot more than you think I do!”

“Yes, perhaps you do.”

“And d’ you know why Sam doesn’t light his cigar when he’s here?”

“Why?”

“He’s so darn afraid you’ll be offended if he smokes. You scare him. Every time he speaks of the weather you jump him because he ain’t talking about poetry or Gertie–Goethe? –or some other highbrow junk. You’ve got him so leery he scarcely dares to come here.”

“Oh, I AM sorry. (Though I’m sure it’s you who are exaggerating now.”)

“Well now, I don’t know as I am! And I can tell you one thing: if you keep on you’ll manage to drive away every friend I’ve got.”

“That would be horrible of me. You KNOW I don’t mean to Will, what is it about me that frightens Sam–if I do frighten him.”

“Oh, you do, all right! ‘Stead of putting his legs up on another chair, and unbuttoning his vest, and telling a good story or maybe kidding me about something, he sits on the edge of his chair and tries to make conversation about politics, and he doesn’t even cuss, and Sam’s never real comfortable unless he can cuss a little!”

“In other words, he isn’t comfortable unless he can behave like a peasant in a mud hut!”

“Now that’ll be about enough of that! You want to know how you scare him? First you deliberately fire some question at him that you know darn well he can’t answer–any fool could see you were experimenting with him–and then you shock him by talking of mistresses or something, like you were doing just now—-“

“Of course the pure Samuel never speaks of such erring ladies in his private conversations!”

“Not when there’s ladies around! You can bet your life on that!”

“So the impurity lies in failing to pretend that—-“

“Now we won’t go into all that–eugenics or whatever damn fad you choose to call it. As I say, first you shock him, and then you become so darn flighty that nobody can follow you. Either you want to dance, or you bang the piano, or else you get moody as the devil and don’t want to talk or anything else. If you must be temperamental, why can’t you be that way by yourself?”

“My dear man, there’s nothing I’d like better than to be by myself occasionally! To have a room of my own! I suppose you expect me to sit here and dream delicately and satisfy my `temperamentality’ while you wander in from the bathroom with lather all over your face, and shout, `Seen my brown pants?’ “

“Huh!” He did not sound impressed. He made no answer. He turned out of bed, his feet making one solid thud on the floor. He marched from the room, a grotesque figure in baggy union-pajamas. She heard him drawing a drink of water at the bathroom tap. She was furious at the contemptuousness of his exit. She snuggled down in bed, and looked away from him as he returned. He ignored her. As he flumped into bed he yawned, and casually stated:

“Well, you’ll have plenty of privacy when we build a new house.

“When!”

“Oh, I’ll build it all right, don’t you fret! But of course I don’t expect any credit for it.”

Now it was she who grunted “Huh!” and ignored him, and felt independent and masterful as she shot up out of bed, turned her back on him, fished a lone and petrified chocolate out of her glove-box in the top right-hand drawer of the bureau, gnawed at it, found that it had cocoanut filling, said “Damn!” wished that she had not said it, so that she might be superior to his colloquialism, and hurled the chocolate into the wastebasket, where it made an evil and mocking clatter among the debris of torn linen collars and toothpaste box. Then, in great dignity and self-dramatization, she returned to bed.

All this time he had been talking on, embroidering his assertion that he “didn’t expect any credit.” She was reflecting that he was a rustic, that she hated him, that she had been insane to marry him, that she had married him only because she was tired of work, that she must get her long gloves cleaned, that she would never do anything more for him, and that she mustn’t forget his hominy for breakfast. She was roused to attention by his storming:

“I’m a fool to think about a new house. By the time I get it built you’ll probably have succeeded in your plan to get me completely in Dutch with every friend and every patient I’ve got.”

She sat up with a bounce. She said coldly, “Thank you very much for revealing your real opinion of me. If that’s the way you feel, if I’m such a hindrance to you, I can’t stay under this roof another minute. And I am perfectly well able to earn my own living. I will go at once, and you may get a divorce at your pleasure! What you want is a nice sweet cow of a woman who will enjoy having your dear friends talk about the weather and spit on the floor!”

“Tut! Don’t be a fool!”

“You will very soon find out whether I’m a fool or not! I mean it! Do you think I’d stay here one second after I found out that I was injuring you? At least I have enough sense of justice not to do that.”

“Please stop flying off at tangents, Carrie. This—-“

“Tangents? TANGENTS! Let me tell you—-“

“—-isn’t a theater-play; it’s a serious effort to have us get together on fundamentals. We’ve both been cranky, and said a lot of things we didn’t mean. I wish we were a couple o’ bloomin’ poets and just talked about roses and moonshine, but we’re human. All right. Let’s cut out jabbing at each other. Let’s admit we both do fool things. See here: You KNOW you feel superior to folks. You’re not as bad as I say, but you’re not as good as you say–not by a long shot! What’s the reason you’re so superior? Why can’t you take folks as they are?”

Her preparations for stalking out of the Doll’s House were not yet visible. She mused:

“I think perhaps it’s my childhood.” She halted. When she went on her voice had an artificial sound, her words the bookish quality of emotional meditation. “My father was the tenderest man in the world, but he did feel superior to ordinary people. Well, he was! And the Minnesota Valley—- I used to sit there on the cliffs above Mankato for hours at a time, my chin in my hand, looking way down the valley, wanting to write poems. The shiny tilted roofs below me, and the river, and beyond it the level fields in the mist, and the rim of palisades across—- It held my thoughts in. I LIVED, in the valley. But the prairie–all my thoughts go flying off into the big space. Do you think it might be that?”

“Um, well, maybe, but—- Carrie, you always talk so much about getting all you can out of life, and not letting the years slip by, and here you deliberately go and deprive yourself of a lot of real good home pleasure by not enjoying people unless they wear frock coats and trot out—-“

(“Morning clothes. Oh. Sorry. Didn’t mean t’ interrupt you.”)

“—-to a lot of tea-parties. Take Jack Elder. You think Jack hasn’t got any ideas about anything but manufacturing and the tariff on lumber. But do you know that Jack is nutty about music? He’ll put a grand-opera record on the phonograph and sit and listen to it and close his eyes—- Or you take Lym Cass. Ever realize what a well-informed man he is?”

“But IS he? Gopher Prairie calls anybody `well-informed’ who’s been through the State Capitol and heard about Gladstone.”

“Now I’m telling you! Lym reads a lot–solid stuff– history. Or take Mart Mahoney, the garageman. He’s got a lot of Perry prints of famous pictures in his office. Or old Bingham Playfair, that died here ’bout a year ago–lived seven miles out. He was a captain in the Civil War, and knew General Sherman, and they say he was a miner in Nevada right alongside of Mark Twain. You’ll find these characters in all these small towns, and a pile of savvy in every single one of them, if you just dig for it.”

“I know. And I do love them. Especially people like Champ Perry. But I can’t be so very enthusiastic over the smug cits like Jack Elder.”

“Then I’m a smug cit, too, whatever that is.”

“No, you’re a scientist. Oh, I will try and get the music out of Mr. Elder. Only, why can’t he let it COME out, instead of being ashamed of it, and always talking about hunting dogs? But I will try. Is it all right now?”

“Sure. But there’s one other thing. You might give me some attention, too!”

“That’s unjust! You have everything I am!”

“No, I haven’t. You think you respect me–you always hand out some spiel about my being so `useful.’ But you never think of me as having ambitions, just as much as you haves—-“

“Perhaps not. I think of you as being perfectly satisfied.”

“Well, I’m not, not by a long shot! I don’t want to be a plug general practitioner all my life, like Westlake, and die in harness because I can’t get out of it, and have ’em say, `He was a good fellow, but he couldn’t save a cent.’ Not that I care a whoop what they say, after I’ve kicked in and can’t hear ’em, but I want to put enough money away so you and I can be independent some day, and not have to work unless I feel like it, and I want to have a good house–by golly, I’ll have as good a house as anybody in THIS town!–and if we want to travel and see your Tormina or whatever it is, why we can do it, with enough money in our jeans so we won’t have to take anything off anybody, or fret about our old age. You never worry about what might happen if we got sick and didn’t have a good fat wad salted away, do you!”

“I don’t suppose I do.”

“Well then, I have to do it for you. And if you think for one moment I want to be stuck in this burg all my life, and not have a chance to travel and see the different points of interest and all that, then you simply don’t get me. I want to have a squint at the world, much’s you do. Only, I’m practical about it. First place, I’m going to make the money– I’m investing in good safe farmlands. Do you understand why now?”

“Yes.”

“Will you try and see if you can’t think of me as something more than just a dollar-chasing roughneck?”

“Oh, my dear, I haven’t been just! I AM difficile. And I won’t call on the Dillons! And if Dr. Dillon is working for Westlake and McGanum, I hate him!”

CHAPTER XV

THAT December she was in love with her husband.

She romanticized herself not as a great reformer but as the wife of a country physician. The realities of the doctor’s household were colored by her pride.

Late at night, a step on the wooden porch, heard through her confusion of sleep; the storm-door opened; fumbling over the inner door-panels; the buzz of the electric bell. Kennicott muttering “Gol darn it,” but patiently creeping out of bed, remembering to draw the covers up to keep her warm, feeling for slippers and bathrobe, clumping down-stairs.

From below, half-heard in her drowsiness, a colloquy in the pidgin-German of the farmers who have forgotten the Old Country language without learning the new:

“Hello, Barney, wass willst du?”

“Morgen, doctor. Die Frau ist ja awful sick. All night she been having an awful pain in de belly.”

“How long she been this way? Wie lang, eh?”

“I dunno, maybe two days.”

“Why didn’t you come for me yesterday, instead of waking me up out of a sound sleep? Here it is two o’clock! So spat- warum, eh?”

“Nun aber, I know it, but she got soch a lot vorse last evening. I t’ought maybe all de time it go avay, but it got a lot vorse.”

“Any fever?”

“Vell ja, I t’ink she got fever.”

“Which side is the pain on?”

“Huh?”

“Das Schmertz–die Weh–which side is it on? Here?”

“So. Right here it is.”

“Any rigidity there?”

“Huh?”

“Is it rigid–stiff–I mean, does the belly feel hard to the fingers?”

“I dunno. She ain’t said yet.”

“What she been eating?”

“Vell, I t’ink about vot ve alwis eat, maybe corn beef and cabbage and sausage, und so weiter. Doc, sie weint immer, all the time she holler like hell. I vish you come.”

“Well, all right, but you call me earlier, next time. Look here, Barney, you better install a ‘phone–telephone haben. Some of you Dutchmen will be dying one of these days before you can fetch the doctor.”

The door closing. Barney’s wagon–the wheels silent in the snow, but the wagon-body rattling. Kennicott clicking the receiver-hook to rouse the night telephone-operator, giving a number, waiting, cursing mildly, waiting again, and at last growling, “Hello, Gus, this is the doctor. Say, uh, send me up a team. Guess snow’s too thick for a machine. Going eight miles south. All right. Huh? The hell I will! Don’t you go back to sleep. Huh? Well, that’s all right now, you didn’t wait so very darn long. All right, Gus; shoot her along. By!”

His step on the stairs; his quiet moving about the frigid room while he dressed; his abstracted and meaningless cough. She was supposed to be asleep; she was too exquisitely drowsy to break the charm by speaking. On a slip of paper laid on the bureau–she could hear the pencil grinding against the marble slab–he wrote his destination. He went out, hungry, chilly, unprotesting; and she, before she fell asleep again, loved him for his sturdiness, and saw the drama of his riding by night to the frightened household on the distant farm; pictured children standing at a window, waiting for him. He suddenly had in her eyes the heroism of a wireless operator on a ship in a collision; of an explorer, fever-clawed, deserted by his bearers, but going on–jungle–going—-

At six, when the light faltered in as through ground glass and bleakly identified the chairs as gray rectangles, she heard his step on the porch; heard him at the furnace: the rattle of shaking the grate, the slow grinding removal of ashes, the shovel thrust into the coal-bin, the abrupt clatter of the coal as it flew into the fire-box, the fussy regulation of drafts-the daily sounds of a Gopher Prairie life, now first appealing to her as something brave and enduring, many-colored and free. She visioned the fire-box: flames turned to lemon and metallic gold as the coal-dust sifted over them; thin twisty flutters of purple, ghost flames which gave no light, slipping up between the dark banked coals.

It was luxurious in bed, and the house would be warm for her when she rose, she reflected. What a worthless cat she was! What were her aspirations beside his capability?

She awoke again as he dropped into bed.

“Seems just a few minutes ago that you started out!”

“I’ve been away four hours. I’ve operated a woman for appendicitis, in a Dutch kitchen. Came awful close to losing her, too, but I pulled her through all right. Close squeak. Barney says he shot ten rabbits last Sunday.”

He was instantly asleep–one hour of rest before he had to be up and ready for the farmers who came in early. She marveled that in what was to her but a night-blurred moment, he should have been in a distant place, have taken charge of a strange house, have slashed a woman, saved a life.

What wonder he detested the lazy Westlake and McGanum! How could the easy Guy Pollock understand this skill and endurance?

Then Kennicott was grumbling, “Seven-fifteen! Aren’t you ever going to get up for breakfast?” and he was not a hero- scientist but a rather irritable and commonplace man who needed a shave. They had coffee, griddle-cakes, and sausages, and talked about Mrs. McGanum’s atrocious alligator-hide belt. Night witchery and morning disillusion were alike forgotten in the march of realities and days.

II

Familiar to the doctor’s wife was the man with an injured leg, driven in from the country on a Sunday afternoon and brought to the house. He sat in a rocker in the back of a lumber-wagon, his face pale from the anguish of the jolting. His leg was thrust out before him, resting on a starch-box and covered with a leather-bound horse-blanket. His drab courageous wife drove the wagon, and she helped Kennicott support him as he hobbled up the steps, into the house.

“Fellow cut his leg with an ax–pretty bad gash–Halvor Nelson, nine miles out,” Kennicott observed.

Carol fluttered at the back of the room, childishly excited when she was sent to fetch towels and a basin of water. Kennicott lifted the farmer into a chair and chuckled, “There we are, Halvor! We’ll have you out fixing fences and drinking aquavit in a month.” The farmwife sat on the couch, expressionless, bulky in a man’s dogskin coat and unplumbed layers of jackets. The flowery silk handkerchief which she had worn over her head now hung about her seamed neck. Her white wool gloves lay in her lap.

Kennicott drew from the injured leg the thick red “German sock,” the innumerous other socks of gray and white wool, then the spiral bandage. The leg was of an unwholesome dead white, with the black hairs feeble and thin and flattened, and the scar a puckered line of crimson. Surely, Carol shuddered, this was not human flesh, the rosy shining tissue of the amorous poets.

Kennicott examined the scar, smiled at Halvor and his wife, chanted, “Fine, b’ gosh! Couldn’t be better!”

The Nelsons looked deprecating. The farmer nodded a cue to his wife and she mourned:

“Vell, how much ve going to owe you, doctor?”

“I guess it’ll be—- Let’s see: one drive out and two calls. I guess it’ll be about eleven dollars in all, Lena.”

“I dunno ve can pay you yoost a little w’ile, doctor.”

Kennicott lumbered over to her, patted her shoulder, roared, “Why, Lord love you, sister, I won’t worry if I never get it! You pay me next fall, when you get your crop. . . . Carrie! Suppose you or Bea could shake up a cup of coffee and some cold lamb for the Nelsons? They got a long cold drive ahead.”

III

He had been gone since morning; her eyes ached with reading; Vida Sherwin could not come to tea. She wandered through the house, empty as the bleary street without. The problem of “Will the doctor be home in time for supper, or shall I sit down without him?” was important in the household. Six was the rigid, the canonical supper-hour, but at half-past six he had not come. Much speculation with Bea: Had the obstetrical case taken longer than he had expected? Had he been called somewhere else? Was the snow much heavier out in the country, so that he should have taken a buggy, or even a cutter, instead of the car? Here in town it had melted a lot, but still—-

A honking, a shout, the motor engine raced before it was shut off.

She hurried to the window. The car was a monster at rest after furious adventures. The headlights blazed on the clots of ice in the road so that the tiniest lumps gave mountainous shadows, and the taillight cast a circle of ruby on the snow behind. Kennicott was opening the door, crying, “Here we are, old girl! Got stuck couple times, but we made it, by golly, we made it, and here we be! Come on! Food! Eatin’s!”

She rushed to him, patted his fur coat, the long hairs smooth but chilly to her fingers. She joyously summoned Bea, “All right! He’s here! We’ll sit right down!”

IV

There were, to inform the doctor’s wife of his successes no clapping audiences nor book-reviews nor honorary degrees. But there was a letter written by a German farmer recently moved from Minnesota to Saskatchewan:

Dear sor, as you haf bin treading mee for a fue Weaks dis Somer and seen wat is rong wit mee so in Regarding to dat i wont to tank you. the Doctor heir say wat shot bee rong wit mee and day give mee som Madsin but it diten halp mee like wat you dit. Now day glaim dat i Woten Neet aney Madsin ad all wat you tink?

Well i haven ben tacking aney ting for about one & 1/2 Mont but i dont get better so i like to heir Wat you tink about it i feel like dis Disconfebil feeling around the Stomac after eating and dat Pain around Heard and down the arm and about 3 to 3 1/2 Hour after Eating i feel weeak like and dissy and a dull Hadig. Now you gust lett mee know Wat you tink about mee, i do Wat you say.

V

She encountered Guy Pollock at the drug store. He looked at her as though he had a right to; he spoke softly. “I haven’t see you, the last few days.”

“No. I’ve been out in the country with Will several times. He’s so—- Do you know that people like you and me can never understand people like him? We’re a pair of hypercritical loafers, you and I, while he quietly goes and does things.”

She nodded and smiled and was very busy about purchasing boric acid. He stared after her, and slipped away.

When she found that he was gone she was slightly disconcerted.

VI

She could–at times–agree with Kennicott that the shaving- and-corsets familiarity of married life was not dreary vulgarity but a wholesome frankness; that artificial reticences might merely be irritating. She was not much disturbed when for hours he sat about the living-room in his honest socks. But she would not listen to his theory that “all this romance stuff is simply moonshine–elegant when you’re courting, but no use busting yourself keeping it up all your life.”

She thought of surprises, games, to vary the days. She knitted an astounding purple scarf, which she hid under his supper plate. (When he discovered it he looked embarrassed, and gasped, “Is today an anniversary or something? Gosh, I’d forgotten it!”)

Once she filled a thermos bottle with hot coffee a corn-flakes box with cookies just baked by Bea, and bustled to his office at three in the afternoon. She hid her bundles in the hall and peeped in.

The office was shabby. Kennicott had inherited it from a medical predecessor, and changed it only by adding a white enameled operating-table, a sterilizer, a Roentgen-ray apparatus, and a small portable typewriter. It was a suite of two rooms: a waiting-room with straight chairs, shaky pine table, and those coverless and unknown magazines which are found only in the offices of dentists and doctors. The room beyond, looking on Main Street, was business-office, consulting- room, operating-room, and, in an alcove, bacteriological and chemical laboratory. The wooden floors of both rooms were bare; the furniture was brown and scaly.

Waiting for the doctor were two women, as still as though they were paralyzed, and a man in a railroad brakeman’s uniform, holding his bandaged right hand with his tanned left. They stared at Carol. She sat modestly in a stiff chair, feeling frivolous and out of place.

Kennicott appeared at the inner door, ushering out a bleached man with a trickle of wan beard, and consoling him, “All right, Dad. Be careful about the sugar, and mind the diet I gave you. Gut the prescription filled, and come in and see me next week. Say, uh, better, uh, better not drink too much beer. All right, Dad.”

His voice was artificially hearty. He looked absently at Carol. He was a medical machine now, not a domestic machine. “What is it, Carrie?” he droned.

“No hurry. Just wanted to say hello.”

“Well—-“

Self-pity because he did not divine that this was a surprise party rendered her sad and interesting to herself, and she had the pleasure of the martyrs in saying bravely to him, “It’s nothing special. If you’re busy long I’ll trot home.”

While she waited she ceased to pity and began to mock herself. For the first time she observed the waiting-room. Oh yes, the doctor’s family had to have obi panels and a wide couch and an electric percolator, but any hole was good enough for sick tired common people who were nothing but the one means and excuse for the doctor’s existing! No. She couldn’t blame Kennicott. He was satisfied by the shabby chairs. He put up with them as his patients did. It was her neglected province–she who had been going about talking of rebuilding the whole town!

When the patients were gone she brought in her bundles.

“What’s those?” wondered Kennicott.

“Turn your back! Look out of the window!”

He obeyed–not very much bored. When she cried “Now!” a feast of cookies and small hard candies and hot coffee was spread on the roll-top desk in the inner room.

His broad face lightened. “That’s a new one on me! Never was more surprised in my life! And, by golly, I believe I am hungry. Say, this is fine.”

When the first exhilaration of the surprise had declined she demanded, “Will! I’m going to refurnish your waiting-room!”

“What’s the matter with it? It’s all right.”

“It is not! It’s hideous. We can afford to give your patients a better place. And it would be good business.” She felt tremendously politic.

“Rats! I don’t worry about the business. You look here now: As I told you—- Just because I like to tuck a few dollars away, I’ll be switched if I’ll stand for your thinking I’m nothing but a dollar-chasing—-“

“Stop it! Quick! I’m not hurting your feelings! I’m not criticizing! I’m the adoring least one of thy harem. I just mean—-“

Two days later, with pictures, wicker chairs, a rug, she had made the waiting-room habitable; and Kennicott admitted, “Does look a lot better. Never thought much about it. Guess I need being bullied.”

She was convinced that she was gloriously content in her career as doctor’s-wife.

VII

She tried to free herself from the speculation and disillusionment which had been twitching at her; sought to dismiss all the opinionation of an insurgent era. She wanted to shine upon the veal-faced bristly-bearded Lyman Cass as much as upon Miles Bjornstam or Guy Pollock. She gave a reception for the Thanatopsis Club. But her real acquiring of merit was in calling upon that Mrs. Bogart whose gossipy good opinion was so valuable to a doctor.

Though the Bogart house was next door she had entered it but three times. Now she put on her new moleskin cap, which made her face small and innocent, she rubbed off the traces of a lip-stick–and fled across the alley before her admirable resolution should sneak away.

The age of houses, like the age of men, has small relation to their years. The dull-green cottage of the good Widow Bogart was twenty years old, but it had the antiquity of Cheops, and the smell of mummy-dust. Its neatness rebuked the street. The two stones by the path were painted yellow; the outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice that it was not concealed at all; the last iron dog remaining in Gopher Prairie stood among whitewashed conch-shells upon the lawn. The hallway was dismayingly scrubbed; the kitchen was an exercise in mathematics, with problems worked out in equidistant chairs.

The parlor was kept for visitors. Carol suggested, “Let’s sit in the kitchen. Please don’t trouble to light the parlor stove.”

“No trouble at all! My gracious, and you coming so seldom and all, and the kitchen is a perfect sight, I try to keep it clean, but Cy will track mud all over it, I’ve spoken to him about it a hundred times if I’ve spoken once, no, you sit right there, dearie, and I’ll make a fire, no trouble at all, practically no trouble at all.”

Mrs. Bogart groaned, rubbed her joints, and repeatedly dusted her hands while she made the fire, and when Carol tried to help she lamented, “Oh, it doesn’t matter; guess I ain’t good for much but toil and workin’ anyway; seems as though that’s what a lot of folks think.”

The parlor was distinguished by an expanse of rag carpet from which, as they entered, Mrs. Bogart hastily picked one sad dead fly. In the center of the carpet was a rug depicting a red Newfoundland dog, reclining in a green and yellow daisy field and labeled “Our Friend.” The parlor organ, tall and thin, was adorned with a mirror partly circular, partly square, and partly diamond-shaped, and with brackets holding a pot of geraniums, a mouth-organ, and a copy of “The Oldtime Hymnal.” On the center table was a Sears-Roebuck mail-order catalogue, a silver frame with photographs of the Baptist Church and of an elderly clergyman, and an aluminum tray containing a rattlesnake’s rattle and a broken spectacle-lens.

Mrs. Bogart spoke of the eloquence of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel, the coldness of cold days, the price of poplar wood, Dave Dyer’s new hair-cut, and Cy Bogart’s essential piety. “As I said to his Sunday School teacher, Cy may be a little wild, but that’s because he’s got so much better brains than a lot of these boys, and this farmer that claims he caught Cy stealing ‘beggies, is a liar, and I ought to have the law on him.”

Mrs. Bogart went thoroughly into the rumor that the girl waiter at Billy’s Lunch was not all she might be–or, rather, was quite all she might be.

“My lands, what can you expect when everybody knows what her mother was? And if these traveling salesmen would let her alone she would be all right, though I certainly don’t believe she ought to be allowed to think she can pull the wool over our eyes. The sooner she’s sent to the school for incorrigible girls down at Sauk Centre, the better for all and—- Won’t you just have a cup of coffee, Carol dearie, I’m sure you won’t mind old Aunty Bogart calling you by your first name when you think how long I’ve known Will, and I was such a friend of his dear lovely mother when she lived here and–was that fur cap expensive? But—- Don’t you think it’s awful, the way folks talk in this town?”

Mrs. Bogart hitched her chair nearer. Her large face, with its disturbing collection of moles and lone black hairs, wrinkled cunningly. She showed her decayed teeth in a reproving smile, and in the confidential voice of one who scents stale bedroom scandal she breathed:

“I just don’t see how folks can talk and act like they do. You don’t know the things that go on under cover. This town–why it’s only the religious training I’ve given Cy that’s kept him so innocent of–things. Just the other day—- I never pay no attention to stories, but I heard it mighty good and straight that Harry Haydock is carrying on with a girl that clerks in a store down in Minneapolis, and poor Juanita not knowing anything about it–though maybe it’s the judgment of God, because before she married Harry she acted up with more than one boy—- Well, I don’t like to say it, and maybe I ain’t up-to-date, like Cy says, but I always believed a lady shouldn’t even give names to all sorts of dreadful things, but just the same I know there was at least one case where Juanita and a boy–well, they were just dreadful. And– and—- Then there’s that Ole Jenson the grocer, that thinks he’s so plaguey smart, and I know he made up to a farmer’s wife and—- And this awful man Bjornstam that does chores, and Nat Hicks and—-“

There was, it seemed, no person in town who was not living a life of shame except Mrs. Bogart, and naturally she resented it.

She knew. She had always happened to be there. Once, she whispered, she was going by when an indiscreet window- shade had been left up a couple of inches. Once she had noticed a man and woman holding hands, and right at a Methodist sociable!

“Another thing—- Heaven knows I never want to start trouble, but I can’t help what I see from my back steps, and I notice your hired girl Bea carrying on with the grocery boys and all—-“

“Mrs. Bogart! I’d trust Bea as I would myself!”

“Oh, dearie, you don’t understand me! I’m sure she’s a good girl. I mean she’s green, and I hope that none of these horrid young men that there are around town will get her into trouble! It’s their parents’ fault, letting them run wild and hear evil things. If I had my way there wouldn’t be none of them, not boys nor girls neither, allowed to know anything about–about things till they was married. It’s terrible the bald way that some folks talk. It just shows and gives away what awful thoughts they got inside them, and there’s nothing can cure them except coming right to God and kneeling down like I do at prayer-meeting every Wednesday evening, and saying, `O God, I would be a miserable sinner except for thy grace.’

“I’d make every last one of these brats go to Sunday School and learn to think about nice things ‘stead of about cigarettes and goings-on–and these dances they have at the lodges are the worst thing that ever happened to this town, lot of young men squeezing girls and finding out—- Oh, it’s dreadful. I’ve told the mayor he ought to put a stop to them and—- There was one boy in this town, I don’t want to be suspicious or uncharitable but—-“

It was half an hour before Carol escaped.

She stopped on her own porch and thought viciously:

“If that woman is on the side of the angels, then I have no choice; I must be on the side of the devil. But–isn’t she like me? She too wants to `reform the town’! She too criticizes everybody! She too thinks the men are vulgar and limited! AM I LIKE HER? This is ghastly!”

That evening she did not merely consent to play cribbage with Kennicott; she urged him to play; and she worked up a hectic interest in land-deals and Sam Clark.

VIII

In courtship days Kennicott had shown her a photograph of Nels Erdstrom’s baby and log cabin, but she had never seen the Erdstroms. They had become merely “patients of the doctor.” Kennicott telephoned her on a mid-December afternoon, “Want to throw your coat on and drive out to Erdstrom’s with me? Fairly warm. Nels got the jaundice.”

“Oh yes!” She hastened to put on woolen stockings, high boots, sweater, muffler, cap, mittens.

The snow was too thick and the ruts frozen too hard for the motor. They drove out in a clumsy high carriage. Tucked over them was a blue woolen cover, prickly to her wrists, and outside of it a buffalo robe, humble and moth-eaten now, used ever since the bison herds had streaked the prairie a few miles to the west.

The scattered houses between which they passed in town were small and desolate in contrast to the expanse of huge snowy yards and wide street. They crossed the railroad tracks, and instantly were in the farm country. The big piebald horses snorted clouds of steam, and started to trot. The carriage squeaked in rhythm. Kennicott drove with clucks of “There boy, take it easy!” He was thinking. He paid no attention to Carol. Yet it was he who commented, “Pretty nice, over there,” as they approached an oak-grove where shifty winter sunlight quivered in the hollow between two snow-drifts.

They drove from the natural prairie to a cleared district which twenty years ago had been forest. The country seemed to stretch unchanging to the North Pole: low hill, brush- scraggly bottom, reedy creek, muskrat mound, fields with frozen brown clods thrust up through the snow.

Her ears and nose were pinched; her breath frosted her collar; her fingers ached.

“Getting colder,” she said.

“Yup.”

That was all their conversation for three miles. Yet she was happy.

They reached Nels Erdstrom’s at four, and with a throb she recognized the courageous venture which had lured her to Gopher Prairie: the cleared fields, furrows among stumps, a log cabin chinked with mud and roofed with dry hay. But Nels had prospered. He used the log cabin as a barn; and a new house reared up, a proud, unwise, Gopher Prairie house, the more naked and ungraceful in its glossy white paint and pink trimmings. Every tree had been cut down. The house was so unsheltered, so battered by the wind, so bleakly thrust out into the harsh clearing, that Carol shivered. But they were welcomed warmly enough in the kitchen, with its crisp new plaster, its black and nickel range, its cream separator in a corner.

Mrs. Erdstrom begged her to sit in the parlor, where there was a phonograph and an oak and leather davenport, the prairie farmer’s proofs of social progress, but she dropped down by the kitchen stove and insisted, “Please don’t mind me.” When Mrs. Erdstrom had followed the doctor out of the room Carol glanced in a friendly way at the grained pine cupboard, the framed Lutheran Konfirmations Attest, the traces of fried eggs and sausages on the dining table against the wall, and a jewel among calendars, presenting not only a lithographic young woman with cherry lips, and a Swedish advertisement of Axel Egge’s grocery, but also a thermometer and a match- holder.

She saw that a boy of four or five was staring at her from the hall, a boy in gingham shirt and faded corduroy trousers, but large-eyed, firm-mouthed, wide-browed. He vanished, then peeped in again, biting his knuckles, turning his shoulder toward her in shyness.

Didn’t she remember–what was it?–Kennicott sitting beside her at Fort Snelling, urging, “See how scared that baby is. Needs some woman like you.”

Magic had fluttered about her then–magic of sunset and cool air and the curiosity of lovers. She held out her hands as much to that sanctity as to the boy.

He edged into the room, doubtfully sucking his thumb.

“Hello,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Hee, hee, hee!”

“You’re quite right. I agree with you. Silly people like me always ask children their names.”

“Hee, hee, hee!”

“Come here and I’ll tell you the story of–well, I don’t know what it will be about, but it will have a slim heroine and a Prince Charming.”

He stood stoically while she spun nonsense. His giggling ceased. She was winning him. Then the telephone bell–two long rings, one short.

Mrs. Erdstrom galloped into the room, shrieked into the transmitter, “Vell? Yes, yes, dis is Erdstrom’s place! Heh? Oh, you vant de doctor?”

Kennicott appeared, growled into the telephone:

“Well, what do you want? Oh, hello Dave; what do you want? Which Morgenroth’s? Adolph’s? All right. Amputation? Yuh, I see. Say, Dave, get Gus to harness up and take my surgical kit down there–and have him take some chloroform. I’ll go straight down from here. May not get home tonight. You can get me at Adolph’s. Huh? No, Carrie can give the anesthetic, I guess. G’-by. Huh? No; tell me about that tomorrow–too damn many people always listening in on this farmers’ line.”

He turned to Carol. “Adolph Morgenroth, farmer ten miles southwest of town, got his arm crushed-fixing his cow-shed and a post caved in on him–smashed him up pretty bad– may have to amputate, Dave Dyer says. Afraid we’ll have to go right from here. Darn sorry to drag you clear down there with me—-“

“Please do. Don’t mind me a bit.”

“Think you could give the anesthetic? Usually have my driver do it.”

“If you’ll tell me how.”

“All right. Say, did you hear me putting one over on these goats that are always rubbering in on party-wires? I hope they heard me! Well. . . . Now, Bessie, don’t you worry about Nels. He’s getting along all right. Tomorrow you or one of the neighbors drive in and get this prescription filled at Dyer’s. Give him a teaspoonful every four hours. Good- by. Hel-lo! Here’s the little fellow! My Lord, Bessie, it ain’t possible this is the fellow that used to be so sickly? Why, say, he’s a great big strapping Svenska now–going to be bigger ‘n his daddy!”

Kennicott’s bluffness made the child squirm with a delight which Carol could not evoke. It was a humble wife who followed the busy doctor out to the carriage, and her ambition was not to play Rachmaninoff better, nor to build town halls, but to chuckle at babies.

The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver, with oak twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo on the horizon changed from a red tank to a tower of violet misted over with gray. The purple road vanished, and without lights, in the darkness of a world destroyed, they swayed on– toward nothing.

It was a bumpy cold way to the Morgenroth farm, and she was asleep when they arrived.

Here was no glaring new house with a proud phonograph, but a low whitewashed kitchen smelling of cream and cabbage. Adolph Morgenroth was lying on a couch in the rarely used dining-room. His heavy work-scarred wife was shaking her hands in anxiety.

Carol felt that Kennicott would do something magnificent and startling. But he was casual. He greeted the man, “Well, well, Adolph, have to fix you up, eh?” Quietly, to the wife, “Hat die drug store my schwartze bag hier geschickt? So– schon. Wie viel Uhr ist ‘s? Sieben? Nun, lassen uns ein wenig supper zuerst haben. Got any of that good beer left– giebt ‘s noch Bier?”

He had supped in four minutes. His coat off, his sleeves rolled up, he was scrubbing his hands in a tin basin in the sink, using the bar of yellow kitchen soap.

Carol had not dared to look into the farther room while she labored over the supper of beer, rye bread, moist cornbeef and cabbage, set on the kitchen table. The man in there was groaning. In her one glance she had seen that his blue flannel shirt was open at a corded tobacco-brown neck, the hollows of which were sprinkled with thin black and gray hairs. He was covered with a sheet, like a corpse, and outside the sheet was his right arm, wrapped in towels stained with blood.

But Kennicott strode into the other room gaily, and she followed him. With surprising delicacy in his large fingers he unwrapped the towels and revealed an arm which, below the elbow, was a mass of blood and raw flesh. The man bellowed. The room grew thick about her; she was very seasick; she fled to a chair in the kitchen. Through the haze of nausea she heard Kennicott grumbling, “Afraid it will have to come off, Adolph. What did you do? Fall on a reaper blade? We’ll fix it right up. Carrie! CAROL!”

She couldn’t–she couldn’t get up. Then she was up, her knees like water, her stomach revolving a thousand times a second, her eyes filmed, her ears full of roaring. She couldn’t reach the dining-room. She was going to faint. Then she was in the dining-room, leaning against the wall, trying to smile, flushing hot and cold along her chest and sides, while Kennicott mumbled, “Say, help Mrs. Morgenroth and me carry him in on the kitchen table. No, first go out and shove those two tables together, and put a blanket on them and a clean sheet.”

It was salvation to push the heavy tables, to scrub them, to be exact in placing the sheet. Her head cleared; she was able to look calmly in at her husband and the farmwife while they undressed the wailing man, got him into a clean nightgown, and washed his arm. Kennicott came to lay out his instruments. She realized that, with no hospital facilities, yet with no worry about it, her husband–HER HUSBAND–was going to perform a surgical operation, that miraculous boldness of which one read in stories about famous surgeons.

She helped them to move Adolph into the kitchen. The man was in such a funk that he would not use his legs. He was heavy, and smelled of sweat and the stable. But she put her arm about his waist, her sleek head by his chest; she tugged at him; she clicked her tongue in imitation of Kennicott’s cheerful noises.

When Adolph was on the table Kennicott laid a hemispheric steel and cotton frame on his face; suggested to Carol, “Now you sit here at his head and keep the ether dripping–about this fast, see? I’ll watch his breathing. Look who’s here! Real anesthetist! Ochsner hasn’t got a better one! Class, eh? . . . Now, now, Adolph, take it easy. This won’t hurt you a bit. Put you all nice and asleep and it won’t hurt a bit. Schweig’ mal! Bald schlaft man grat wie ein Kind. So! So! Bald geht’s besser!”

As she let the ether drip, nervously trying to keep the rhythm that Kennicott had indicated, Carol stared at her husband with the abandon of hero-worship.

He shook his head. “Bad light–bad light. Here, Mrs. Morgenroth, you stand right here and hold this lamp. Hier, und dieses–dieses lamp halten–so!”

By that streaky glimmer he worked, swiftly, at ease. The room was still. Carol tried to look at him, yet not look at the seeping blood, the crimson slash, the vicious scalpel. The ether fumes were sweet, choking. Her head seemed to be floating away from her body. Her arm was feeble.

It was not the blood but the grating of the surgical saw on the living bone that broke her, and she knew that she had been fighting off nausea, that she was beaten. She was lost in dizziness. She heard Kennicott’s voice

“Sick? Trot outdoors couple minutes. Adolph will stay under now.”

She was fumbling at a door-knob which whirled in insulting circles; she was on the stoop, gasping, forcing air into her chest, her head clearing. As she returned she caught the scene as a whole: the cavernous kitchen, two milk-cans a leaden patch by the wall, hams dangling from a beam, bats of light at the stove door, and in the center, illuminated by a small glass lamp held by a frightened stout woman, Dr. Kennicott bending over a body which was humped under a sheet–the surgeon, his bare arms daubed with blood, his hands, in pale- yellow rubber gloves, loosening the tourniquet, his face without emotion save when he threw up his head and clucked at the farmwife, “Hold that light steady just a second more–noch blos esn wenig.”

“He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life and death and birth and the soil. I read the French and German of sentimental lovers and Christmas garlands. And I thought that it was I who had the culture!” she worshiped as she returned to her place.

After a time he snapped, “That’s enough. Don’t give him any more ether.” He was concentrated on tying an artery. His gruffness seemed heroic to her.

As he shaped the flap of flesh she murmured, “Oh, you ARE wonderful!”

He was surprised. “Why, this is a cinch. Now if it had been like last week—- Get me some more water. Now last week I had a case with an ooze in the peritoneal cavity, and by golly if it wasn’t a stomach ulcer that I hadn’t suspected and—- There. Say, I certainly am sleepy. Let’s turn in here. Too late to drive home. And tastes to me like a storm coming.”

IX

They slept on a feather bed with their fur coats over them; in the morning they broke ice in the pitcher–the vast flowered and gilt pitcher.

Kennicott’s storm had not come. When they set out it was hazy and growing warmer. After a mile she saw that he was studying a dark cloud in the north. He urged the horses to the run. But she forgot his unusual haste in wonder at the tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of old stubble, and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity. Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a farmhouse were agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of bare wood where the bark had peeled away were white as the flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were of a harsh flatness. The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of slate-edged blackness dominated the sky.

“Guess we’re about in for a blizzard,” speculated Kennicott “We can make Ben McGonegal’s, anyway.”

“Blizzard? Really? Why—- But still we used to think they were fun when I was a girl. Daddy had to stay home from court, and we’d stand at the window and watch the snow.”

“Not much fun on the prairie. Get lost. Freeze to death. Take no chances.” He chirruped at the horses. They were flying now, the carriage rocking on the hard ruts.

The whole air suddenly crystallized into large damp flakes. The horses and the buffalo robe were covered with snow; her face was wet; the thin butt of the whip held a white ridge. The air became colder. The snowflakes were harder; they shot in level lines, clawing at her face.

She could not see a hundred feet ahead.

Kennicott was stern. He bent forward, the reins firm in his coonskin gauntlets. She was certain that he would get through. He always got through things.

Save for his presence, the world and all normal living disappeared. They were lost in the boiling snow. He leaned close to bawl, “Letting the horses have their heads. They’ll get us home.”

With a terrifying bump they were off the road, slanting with two wheels in the ditch, but instantly they were jerked back as the horses fled on. She gasped. She tried to, and did not, feel brave as she pulled the woolen robe up about her chin.

They were passing something like a dark wall on the right. “I know that barn!” he yelped. He pulled at the reins. Peeping from the covers she saw his teeth pinch his lower lip, saw him scowl as he slackened and sawed and jerked sharply again at the racing horses.

They stopped.

“Farmhouse there. Put robe around you and come on,” he cried.

It was like diving into icy water to climb out of the carriage, but on the ground she smiled at him, her face little and childish and pink above the buffalo robe over her shoulders. In a swirl of flakes which scratched at their eyes like a maniac darkness, he unbuckled the harness. He turned and plodded back, a ponderous furry figure, holding the horses’ bridles, Carol’s hand dragging at his sleeve.

They came to the cloudy bulk of a barn whose outer wall was directly upon the road. Feeling along it, he found a gate, led them into a yard, into the barn. The interior was warm. It stunned them with its languid quiet.

He carefully drove the horses into stalls.

Her toes were coals of pain. “Let’s run for the house,” she said.

“Can’t. Not yet. Might never find it. Might get lost ten feet away from it. Sit over in this stall, near the horses. We’ll rush for the house when the blizzard lifts.”

“I’m so stiff! I can’t walk!”

He carried her into the stall, stripped off her overshoes and boots, stopping to blow on his purple fingers as he fumbled at her laces. He rubbed her feet, and covered her with the buffalo robe and horse-blankets from the pile on the feed-box. She was drowsy, hemmed in by the storm. She sighed:

“You’re so strong and yet so skilful and not afraid of blood or storm or—-“

“Used to it. Only thing that’s bothered me was the chance the ether fumes might explode, last night.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Why, Dave, the darn fool, sent me ether, instead of chloroform like I told him, and you know ether fumes are mighty inflammable, especially with that lamp right by the table. But I had to operate, of course–wound chuck-full of barnyard filth that way.”

“You knew all the time that—- Both you and I might have been blown up? You knew it while you were operating?”

“Sure. Didn’t you? Why, what’s the matter?”

CHAPTER XVI

KENNICOTT was heavily pleased by her Christmas presents, and he gave her a diamond bar-pin. But she could not persuade herself that he was much interested in the rites of the morning, in the tree she had decorated, the three stockings she had hung, the ribbons and gilt seals and hidden messages. He said only:

“Nice way to fix things, all right. What do you say we go down to Jack Elder’s and have a game of five hundred this afternoon?”

She remembered her father’s Christmas fantasies: the sacred old rag doll at the top of the tree, the score of cheap presents, the punch and carols, the roast chestnuts by the fire, and the gravity with which the judge opened the children’s scrawly notes and took cognizance of demands for sled-rides, for opinions upon the existence of Santa Claus. She remembered him reading out a long indictment of himself for being a sentimentalist, against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota. She remembered his thin legs twinkling before their sled—-

She muttered unsteadily, “Must run up and put on my shoes –slippers so cold.” In the not very romantic solitude of the locked bathroom she sat on the slippery edge of the tub and wept.

II

Kennicott had five hobbies: medicine, land-investment, Carol, motoring, and hunting. It is not certain in what order he preferred them. Solid though his enthusiasms were in the matter of medicine–his admiration of this city surgeon, his condemnation of that for tricky ways of persuading country practitioners to bring in surgical patients, his indignation about fee-splitting, his pride in a new X-ray apparatus–none of these beatified him as did motoring.

He nursed his two-year-old Buick even in winter, when it was stored in the stable-garage behind the house. He filled the grease-cups, varnished a fender, removed from beneath the back seat the debris of gloves, copper washers, crumpled maps, dust, and greasy rags. Winter noons he wandered out and stared owlishly at the car. He became excited over a fabulous “trip we might take next summer.” He galloped to the station, brought home railway maps, and traced motor-routes from Gopher Prairie to Winnipeg or Des Moines or Grand Marais, thinking aloud and expecting her to be effusive about such academic questions as “Now I wonder if we could stop at Baraboo and break the jump from La Crosse to Chicago?”

To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned, a high- church cult, with electric sparks for candles, and piston-rings possessing the sanctity of altar-vessels. His liturgy was composed of intoned and metrical road-comments: “They say there’s a pretty good hike from Duluth to International Falls.”

Hunting was equally a devotion, full of metaphysical concepts veiled from Carol. All winter he read sporting- catalogues, and thought about remarkable past shots: ” ‘Member that time when I got two ducks on a long chance, just at sunset?” At least once a month he drew his favorite repeating shotgun, his “pump gun,” from its wrapper of greased canton flannel; he oiled the trigger, and spent silent ecstatic moments aiming at the ceiling. Sunday mornings Carol heard him trudging up to the attic and there, an hour later, she found him turning over boots, wooden duck-decoys, lunch- boxes, or reflectively squinting at old shells, rubbing their brass caps with his sleeve and shaking his head as he thought about their uselessness.

He kept the loading-tools he had used as a boy: a capper for shot-gun shells, a mold for lead bullets. When once, in a housewifely frenzy for getting rid of things, she raged, “Why don’t you give these away?” he solemnly defended them, “Well, you can’t tell; they might come in handy some day.”

She flushed. She wondered if he was thinking of the child they would have when, as he put it, they were “sure they could afford one.”

Mysteriously aching, nebulously sad, she slipped away, half- convinced but only half-convinced that it was horrible and unnatural, this postponement of release of mother-affection, this sacrifice to her opinionation and to his cautious desire for prosperity.

“But it would be worse if he were like Sam Clark– insisted on having children,” she considered; then, “If Will were the Prince, wouldn’t I DEMAND his child?”

Kennicott’s land-deals were both financial advancement and favorite game. Driving through the country, he noticed which farms had good crops; he heard the news about the restless farmer who was “thinking about selling out here and pulling his freight for Alberta.” He asked the veterinarian about the value of different breeds of stock; he inquired of Lyman Cass whether or not Einar Gyseldson really had had a yield of forty bushels of wheat to the acre. He was always consulting Julius Flickerbaugh, who handled more real estate than law, and more law than justice. He studied township maps, and read notices of auctions.

Thus he was able to buy a quarter-section of land for one hundred and fifty dollars an acre, and to sell it in a year or two, after installing a cement floor in the barn and running water in the house, for one hundred and eighty or even two hundred.

He spoke of these details to Sam Clark. . .rather often.

In all his games, cars and guns and land, he expected Carol to take an interest. But he did not give her the facts which might have created interest. He talked only of the obvious and tedious aspects; never of his aspirations in finance, nor of the mechanical principles of motors.

This month of romance she was eager to understand his hobbies. She shivered in the garage while he spent half an hour in deciding whether to put alcohol or patent non-freezing liquid into the radiator, or to drain out the water entirely. “Or no, then I wouldn’t want to take her out if it turned warm– still, of course, I could fill the radiator again–wouldn’t take so awful long–just take a few pails of water–still, if it turned cold on me again before I drained it—- Course there’s some people that put in kerosene, but they say it rots the hose- connections and—- Where did I put that lug-wrench?”

It was at this point that she gave up being a motorist and retired to the house.

In their new intimacy he was more communicative about his practise; he informed her, with the invariable warning not to tell, that Mrs. Sunderquist had another baby coming, that the “hired girl at Howland’s was in trouble.” But when she asked technical questions he did not know how to answer; when she inquired, “Exactly what is the method of taking out the tonsils?” he yawned, “Tonsilectomy? Why you just—- If there’s pus, you operate. Just take ’em out. Seen the newspaper? What the devil did Bea do with it?”

She did not try again.

III

They had gone to the “movies.” The movies were almost as vital to Kennicott and the other solid citizens of Gopher Prairie as land-speculation and guns and automobiles.

The feature film portrayed a brave young Yankee who conquered a South American republic. He turned the natives from their barbarous habits of singing and laughing to the vigorous sanity, the Pep and Punch and Go, of the North; he taught them to work in factories, to wear Klassy Kollege Klothes, and to shout, “Oh, you baby doll, watch me gather in the mazuma.” He changed nature itself. A mountain which had borne nothing but lilies and cedars and loafing clouds was by his Hustle so inspirited that it broke out in long wooden sheds, and piles of iron ore to be converted into steamers to carry iron ore to be converted into steamers to carry iron ore.

The intellectual tension induced by the master film was relieved by a livelier, more lyric and less philosophical drama: Mack Schnarken and the Bathing Suit Babes in a comedy of manners entitled “Right on the Coco.” Mr. Schnarken was at various high moments a cook, a life-guard, a burlesque actor, and a sculptor. There was a hotel hallway up which policemen charged, only to be stunned by plaster busts hurled upon them from the innumerous doors. If the plot lacked lucidity, the dual motif of legs and pie was clear and sure. Bathing and modeling were equally sound occasions for legs; the wedding- scene was but an approach to the thunderous climax when Mr. Schnarken slipped a piece of custard pie into the clergyman’s rear pocket.

The audience in the Rosebud Movie Palace squealed and wiped their eyes; they scrambled under the seats for overshoes, mittens, and mufflers, while the screen announced that next week Mr. Schnarken might be seen in a new, riproaring, extra-special superfeature of the Clean Comedy Corporation entitled, “Under Mollie’s Bed.”

“I’m glad,” said Carol to Kennicott as they stooped before the northwest gale which was torturing the barren street, “that this is a moral country. We don’t allow any of these beastly frank novels.”

“Yump. Vice Society and Postal Department won’t stand for them. The American people don’t like filth.”

“Yes. It’s fine. I’m glad we have such dainty romances as `Right on the Coco’ instead.”

“Say what in heck do you think you’re trying to do? Kid me?”

He was silent. She awaited his anger. She meditated upon his gutter patois, the Boeotian dialect characteristic of Gopher Prairie. He laughed puzzlingly. When they came into the glow of the house he laughed again. He condescended:

“I’ve got to hand it to you. You’re consistent, all right. I’d of thought that after getting this look-in at a lot of good decent farmers, you’d get over this high-art stuff, but you hang right on.”

“Well—-” To herself: “He takes advantage of my trying to be good.”

“Tell you, Carrie: There’s just three classes of people: folks that haven’t got any ideas at all; and cranks that kick about everything; and Regular Guys, the fellows with stick- tuitiveness, that boost and get the world’s work done.”

“Then I’m probably a crank.” She smiled negligently.

“No. I won’t admit it. You do like to talk, but at a show-down you’d prefer Sam Clark to any damn long-haired artist.”

“Oh–well—-“

“Oh well!” mockingly. “My, we’re just going to change everything, aren’t we! Going to tell fellows that have been making movies for ten years how to direct ’em; and tell architects how to build towns; and make the magazines publish nothing but a lot of highbrow stories about old maids, and about wives that don’t know what they want. Oh, we’re a terror! . . . Come on now, Carrie; come out of it; wake up! You’ve got a fine nerve, kicking about a movie because it shows a few legs! Why, you’re always touting these Greek dancers, or whatever they are, that don’t even wear a shimmy!”

“But, dear, the trouble with that film–it wasn’t that it got in so many legs, but that it giggled coyly and promised to show more of them, and then didn’t keep the promise. It was Peeping Tom’s idea of humor.”

“I don’t get you. Look here now—-“

She lay awake, while he rumbled with sleep

“I must go on. My `crank ideas;’ he calls them. I thought that adoring him, watching him operate, would be enough. It isn’t. Not after the first thrill.

“I don’t want to hurt him. But I must go on.

“It isn’t enough, to stand by while he fills an automobile radiator and chucks me bits of information.

“If I stood by and admired him long enough, I would be content. I would become a `nice little woman.’ The Village Virus. Already—- I’m not reading anything. I haven’t touched the piano for a week. I’m letting the days drown in worship of `a good deal, ten plunks more per acre.’ I won’t! I won’t succumb!

“How? I’ve failed at everything: the Thanatopsis, parties, pioneers, city hall, Guy and Vida. But—- It doesn’t MATTER! I’m not trying to `reform the town’ now. I’m not trying to organize Browning Clubs, and sit in clean white kids yearning up at lecturers with ribbony eyeglasses. I am trying to save my soul.

“Will Kennicott, asleep there, trusting me, thinking he holds me. And I’m leaving him. All of me left him when he laughed at me. It wasn’t enough for him that I admired him; I must change myself and grow like him. He takes advantage. No more. It’s finished. I will go on.”

IV

Her violin lay on top of the upright piano. She picked it up. Since she had last touched it the dried strings had snapped, and upon it lay a gold and crimson cigar-band.

V

She longed to see Guy Pollock, for the confirming of the brethren in the faith. But Kennicott’s dominance was heavy upon her. She could not determine whether she was checked by fear or him, or by inertia–by dislike of the emotional labor of the “scenes” which would be involved in asserting independence. She was like the revolutionist at fifty: not afraid of death, but bored by the probability of bad steaks and bad breaths and sitting up all night on windy barricades.

The second evening after the movies she impulsively summoned Vida Sherwin and Guy to the house for pop-corn and cider. In the living-room Vida and Kennicott debated “the value of manual training in grades below the eighth,” while Carol sat beside Guy at the dining table, buttering pop-corn. She was quickened by the speculation in his eyes. She murmured:

“Guy, do you want to help me?”

“My dear! How?”

“I don’t know!”

He waited.

“I think I want you to help me find out what has made the darkness of the women. Gray darkness and shadowy trees. We’re all in it, ten million women, young married women with good prosperous husbands, and business women in linen collars, and grandmothers that gad out to teas, and wives of under- paid miners, and farmwives who really like to make butter and go to church. What is it we want–and need? Will Kennicott there would say that we need lots of children and hard work. But it isn’t that. There’s the same discontent in women with eight children and one more coming–always one more coming! And you find it in stenographers and wives who scrub, just as much as in girl college-graduates who wonder how they can escape their kind parents. What do we want?”

“Essentially, I think, you are like myself, Carol; you want to go back to an age of tranquillity and charming manners. You want to enthrone good taste again.”

“Just good taste? Fastidious people? Oh–no! I believe all of us want the same things–we’re all together, the industrial workers and the women and the farmers and the negro race and the Asiatic colonies, and even a few of the

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