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  • 1920
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Respectables. It’s all the same revolt, in all the classes that have waited and taken advice. I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We’re tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We’re tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We’re tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We’re tired of hearing the politicians and priests and cautious reformers (and the husbands!) coax us, `Be calm! Be patient! Wait! We have the plans for a Utopia already made; just give us a bit more time and we’ll produce it; trust us; we’re wiser than you.’ For ten thousand years they’ve said that. We want our Utopia NOW–and we’re going to try our hands at it. All we want is–everything for all of us! For every housewife and every longshoreman and every Hindu nationalist and every teacher. We want everything. We shatn’t get it. So we shatn’t ever be content—-“

She wondered why he was wincing. He broke in:

“See here, my dear, I certainly hope you don’t class yourself with a lot of trouble-making labor-leaders! Democracy is all right theoretically, and I’ll admit there are industrial injustices, but I’d rather have them than see the world reduced to a dead level of mediocrity. I refuse to believe that you have anything in common with a lot of laboring men rowing for bigger wages so that they can buy wretched flivvers and hideous player-pianos and—-“

At this second, in Buenos Ayres, a newspaper editor broke his routine of being bored by exchanges to assert, “Any injustice is better than seeing the world reduced to a gray level of scientific dullness.” At this second a clerk standing at the bar of a New York saloon stopped milling his secret fear of his nagging office-manager long enough to growl at the chauffeur beside him, “Aw, you socialists make me sick! I’m an individualist. I ain’t going to be nagged by no bureaus and take orders off labor-leaders. And mean to say a hobo’s as good as you and me?”

At this second Carol realized that for all Guy’s love of dead elegances his timidity was as depressing to her as the bulkiness of Sam Clark. She realized that he was not a mystery, as she had excitedly believed; not a romantic messenger from the World Outside on whom she could count for escape. He belonged to Gopher Prairie, absolutely. She was snatched back from a dream of far countries, and found herself on Main Street.

He was completing his protest, “You don’t want to be mixed up in all this orgy of meaningless discontent?”

She soothed him. “No, I don’t. I’m not heroic. I’m scared by all the fighting that’s going on in the world. I want nobility and adventure, but perhaps I want still more to curl on the hearth with some one I love.”

“Would you—-“

He did not finish it. He picked up a handful of pop-corn, let it run through his fingers, looked at her wistfully.

With the loneliness of one who has put away a possible love Carol saw that he was a stranger. She saw that he had never been anything but a frame on which she had hung shining garments. If she had let him diffidently make love to her, it was not because she cared, but because she did not care, because it did not matter.

She smiled at him with the exasperating tactfulness of a woman checking a flirtation; a smile like an airy pat on the arm. She sighed, “You’re a dear to let me tell you my imaginary troubles.” She bounced up, and trilled, “Shall we take the pop-corn in to them now?”

Guy looked after her desolately.

While she teased Vida and Kennicott she was repeating, “I must go on.”

VI

Miles Bjornstam, the pariah “Red Swede,” had brought his circular saw and portable gasoline engine to the house, to cut the cords of poplar for the kitchen range. Kennicott had given the order; Carol knew nothing of it till she heard the ringing of the saw, and glanced out to see Bjornstam, in black leather jacket and enormous ragged purple mittens, pressing sticks against the whirling blade, and flinging the stove- lengths to one side. The red irritable motor kept up a red irritable “tip-tip-tip-tip-tip-tip.” The whine of the saw rose till it simulated the shriek of a fire-alarm whistle at night, but always at the end it gave a lively metallic clang, and in the stillness she heard the flump of the cut stick falling on the pile.

She threw a motor robe over her, ran out. Bjornstam welcomed her, “Well, well, well! Here’s old Miles, fresh as ever. Well say, that’s all right; he ain’t even begun to be cheeky yet; next summer he’s going to take you out on his horse-trading trip, clear into Idaho.”

“Yes, and I may go!”

“How’s tricks? Crazy about the town yet?”

“No, but I probably shall be, some day.”

“Don’t let ’em get you. Kick ’em in the face!”

He shouted at her while he worked. The pile of stove- wood grew astonishingly. The pale bark of the poplar sticks was mottled with lichens of sage-green and dusty gray; the newly sawed ends were fresh-colored, with the agreeable roughness of a woolen muffler. To the sterile winter air the wood gave a scent of March sap.

Kennicott telephoned that he was going into the country. Bjornstam had not finished his work at noon, and she invited him to have dinner with Bea in the kitchen. She wished that she were independent enough to dine with these her guests. She considered their friendliness, she sneered at “social distinctions,” she raged at her own taboos–and she continued to regard them as retainers and herself as a lady. She sat in the dining-room and listened through the door to Bjornstam’s booming and Bea’s giggles. She was the more absurd to herself in that, after the rite of dining alone, she could go out to the kitchen, lean against the sink, and talk to them.

They were attracted to each other; a Swedish Othello and Desdemona, more useful and amiable than their prototypes. Bjornstam told his scapes: selling horses in a Montana mining- camp, breaking a log-jam, being impertinent to a “two- fisted” millionaire lumberman. Bea gurgled “Oh my!” and kept his coffee cup filled.

He took a long time to finish the wood. He had frequently to go into the kitchen to get warm. Carol heard him confiding to Bea, “You’re a darn nice Swede girl. I guess if I had a woman like you I wouldn’t be such a sorehead. Gosh, your kitchen is clean; makes an old bach feel sloppy. Say, that’s nice hair you got. Huh? Me fresh? Saaaay, girl, if I ever do get fresh, you’ll know it. Why, I could pick you up with one finger, and hold you in the air long enough to read Robert J. Ingersoll clean through. Ingersoll? Oh, he’s a religious writer. Sure. You’d like him fine.”

When he drove off he waved to Bea; and Carol, lonely at the window above, was envious of their pastoral.

“And I—- But I will go on.”

CHAPTER XVII

I

THEY were driving down the lake to the cottages that moonlit January night, twenty of them in the bob-sled. They sang “Toy Land” and “Seeing Nelly Home”; they leaped from the low back of the sled to race over the slippery snow ruts; and when they were tired they climbed on the runners for a lift. The moon-tipped flakes kicked up by the horses settled over the revelers and dripped down their necks, but they laughed, yelped, beat their leather mittens against their chests. The harness rattled, the sleigh-bells were frantic, Jack Elder’s setter sprang beside the horses, barking.

For a time Carol raced with them. The cold air gave fictive power. She felt that she could run on all night, leap twenty feet at a stride. But the excess of energy tired her, and she was glad to snuggle under the comforters which covered the hay in the sled-box.

In the midst of the babel she found enchanted quietude.

Along the road the shadows from oak-branches were inked on the snow like bars of music. Then the sled came out on the surface of Lake Minniemashie. Across the thick ice was a veritable road, a short-cut for farmers. On the glaring expanse of the lake-levels of hard crust, flashes of green ice blown clear, chains of drifts ribbed like the sea-beach–the moonlight was overwhelming. It stormed on the snow, it turned the woods ashore into crystals of fire. The night was tropical and voluptuous. In that drugged magic there was no difference between heavy heat and insinuating cold.

Carol was dream-strayed. The turbulent voices, even Guy Pollock being connotative beside her, were nothing. She repeated:

Deep on the convent-roof the snows Are sparkling to the moon.

The words and the light blurred into one vast indefinite happiness, and she believed that some great thing was coming to her. She withdrew from the clamor into a worship of incomprehensible gods. The night expanded, she was conscious of the universe, and all mysteries stooped down to her.

She was jarred out of her ecstasy as the bob-sled bumped up the steep road to the bluff where stood the cottages.

They dismounted at Jack Elder’s shack. The interior walls of unpainted boards, which had been grateful in August, were forbidding in the chill. In fur coats and mufflers tied over caps they were a strange company, bears and walruses talking. Jack Elder lighted the shavings waiting in the belly of a cast-iron stove which was like an enlarged bean-pot. They piled their wraps high on a rocker, and cheered the rocker as it solemnly tipped over backward.

Mrs. Elder and Mrs. Sam Clark made coffee in an enormous blackened tin pot; Vida Sherwin and Mrs. McGanum unpacked doughnuts and gingerbread; Mrs. Dave Dyer warmed up “hot dogs”–frankfurters in rolls; Dr. Terry Gould, after announcing, “Ladies and gents, prepare to be shocked; shock line forms on the right,” produced a bottle of bourbon whisky.

The others danced, muttering “Ouch!” as their frosted feet struck the pine planks. Carol had lost her dream. Harry Haydock lifted her by the waist and swung her. She laughed. The gravity of the people who stood apart and talked made her the more impatient for frolic.

Kennicott, Sam Clark, Jackson Elder, young Dr. McGanum, and James Madison Howland, teetering on their toes near the stove, conversed with the sedate pomposity of the commercialist. In details the men were unlike, yet they said the same things in the same hearty monotonous voices. You had to look at them to see which was speaking.

“Well, we made pretty good time coming up,” from one– any one.

“Yump, we hit it up after we struck the good going on the lake.”

“Seems kind of slow though, after driving an auto.”

“Yump, it does, at that. Say, how’d you make out with that Sphinx tire you got?”

“Seems to hold out fine. Still, I don’t know’s I like it any better than the Roadeater Cord.”

“Yump, nothing better than a Roadeater. Especially the cord. The cord’s lots better than the fabric.”

“Yump, you said something—- Roadeater’s a good tire.”

“Say, how’d you come out with Pete Garsheim on his payments?”

“He’s paying up pretty good. That’s a nice piece of land he’s got.”

“Yump, that’s a dandy farm.”

“Yump, Pete’s got a good place there.”

They glided from these serious topics into the jocose insults which are the wit of Main Street. Sam Clark was particularly apt at them. “What’s this wild-eyed sale of summer caps you think you’re trying to pull off?” he clamored at Harry Haydock. “Did you steal ’em, or are you just overcharging us, as usual? . . . Oh say, speaking about caps, d’I ever tell you the good one I’ve got on Will? The doc thinks he’s a pretty good driver, fact, he thinks he’s almost got human intelligence, but one time he had his machine out in the rain, and the poor fish, he hadn’t put on chains, and thinks I—-“

Carol had heard the story rather often. She fled back to the dancers, and at Dave Dyer’s masterstroke of dropping an icicle down Mrs. McGanum’s back she applauded hysterically.

They sat on the floor, devouring the food. The men giggled amiably as they passed the whisky bottle, and laughed, “There’s a real sport!” when Juanita Haydock took a sip. Carol tried to follow; she believed that she desired to be drunk and riotous; but the whisky choked her and as she saw Kennicott frown she handed the bottle on repentantly. Somewhat too late she remembered that she had given up domesticity and repentance.

“Let’s play charades!” said Raymie Wutherspoon.

“Oh yes, do let us,” said Ella Stowbody.

“That’s the caper,” sanctioned Harry Haydock.

They interpreted the word “making” as May and King. The crown was a red flannel mitten cocked on Sam Clark’s broad pink bald head. They forgot they were respectable. They made-believe. Carol was stimulated to cry:

“Let’s form a dramatic club and give a play! Shall we? It’s been so much fun tonight!”

They looked affable.

“Sure,” observed Sam Clark loyally.

“Oh, do let us! I think it would be lovely to present `Romeo and Juliet’!” yearned Ella Stowbody.

“Be a whale of a lot of fun,” Dr. Terry Gould granted.

“But if we did,” Carol cautioned, “it would be awfully silly to have amateur theatricals. We ought to paint our own scenery and everything, and really do something fine. There’d be a lot of hard work. Would you–would we all be punctual at rehearsals, do you suppose?”

“You bet!” “Sure.” “That’s the idea.” “Fellow ought to be prompt at rehearsals,” they all agreed.

“Then let’s meet next week and form the Gopher Prairie Dramatic Association!” Carol sang.

She drove home loving these friends who raced through moonlit snow, had Bohemian parties, and were about to create beauty in the theater. Everything was solved. She would be an authentic part of the town, yet escape the coma of the Village Virus. . . . She would be free of Kennicott again, without hurting him, without his knowing.

She had triumphed.

The moon was small and high now, and unheeding.

II

Though they had all been certain that they longed for the privilege of attending committee meetings and rehearsals, the dramatic association as definitely formed consisted only of Kennicott, Carol, Guy Pollock, Vida Sherwin, Ella Stowbody, the Harry Haydocks, the Dave Dyers, Raymie Wutherspoon, Dr. Terry Gould, and four new candidates: flirtatious Rita Simons, Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon and Myrtle Cass, an uncomely but intense girl of nineteen. Of these fifteen only seven came to the first meeting. The rest telephoned their unparalleled regrets and engagements and illnesses, and announced that they would be present at all other meetings through eternity.

Carol was made president and director.

She had added the Dillons. Despite Kennicott’s apprehension the dentist and his wife had not been taken up by the Westlakes but had remained as definitely outside really smart society as Willis Woodford, who was teller, bookkeeper, and janitor in Stowbody’s bank. Carol had noted Mrs. Dillon dragging past the house during a bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, looking in with pathetic lips at the splendor of the accepted. She impulsively invited the Dillons to the dramatic association meeting, and when Kennicott was brusque to them she was unusually cordial, and felt virtuous.

That self-approval balanced her disappointment at the small- ness of the meeting, and her embarrassment during Raymie Wutherspoon’s repetitions of “The stage needs uplifting,” and “I believe that there are great lessons in some plays.”

Ella Stowbody, who was a professional, having studied elocution in Milwaukee, disapproved of Carol’s enthusiasm for recent plays. Miss Stowbody expressed the fundamental principle of the American drama: the only way to be artistic is to present Shakespeare. As no one listened to her she sat back and looked like Lady Macbeth.

III

The Little Theaters, which were to give piquancy to American drama three or four years later, were only in embryo. But of this fast coming revolt Carol had premonitions. She knew from some lost magazine article that in Dublin were innovators called The Irish Players. She knew confusedly that a man named Gordon Craig had painted scenery–or had he written plays? She felt that in the turbulence of the drama she was discovering a history more important than the commonplace chronicles which dealt with senators and their pompous puerilities. She had a sensation of familiarity; a dream of sitting in a Brussels cafe and going afterward to a tiny gay theater under a cathedral wall.

The advertisement in the Minneapolis paper leaped from the page to her eyes:

The Cosmos School of Music, Oratory, and Dramatic Art announces a program of four one-act plays by Schnitzler, Shaw, Yeats, ard Lord Dunsany.

She had to be there! She begged Kennicott to “run down to the Cities” with her.

“Well, I don’t know. Be fun to take in a show, but why the deuce do you want to see those darn foreign plays, given by a lot of amateurs? Why don’t you wait for a regular play, later on? There’s going to be some corkers coming: `Lottie of Two-Gun Rancho,’ and `Cops and Crooks’–real Broadway stuff, with the New York casts. What’s this junk you want to see? Hm. `How He Lied to Her Husband.’ That doesn’t listen so bad. Sounds racy. And, uh, well, I could go to the motor show, I suppose. I’d like to see this new Hup roadster. Well—-“

She never knew which attraction made him decide.

She had four days of delightful worry–over the hole in her one good silk petticoat, the loss of a string of beads from her chiffon and brown velvet frock, the catsup stain on her best georgette crepe blouse. She wailed, “I haven’t a single solitary thing that’s fit to be seen in,” and enjoyed herself very much indeed.

Kennicott went about casually letting people know that he was “going to run down to the Cities and see some shows.”

As the train plodded through the gray prairie, on a windless day with the smoke from the engine clinging to the fields in giant cotton-rolls, in a low and writhing wall which shut off the snowy fields, she did not look out of the window. She closed her eyes and hummed, and did not know that she was humming.

She was the young poet attacking fame and Paris.

In the Minneapolis station the crowd of lumberjacks, farmers, and Swedish families with innumerous children and grandparents and paper parcels, their foggy crowding and their clamor confused her. She felt rustic in this once familiar city, after a year and a half of Gopher Prairie. She was certain that Kennicott was taking the wrong trolley-car. By dusk, the liquor warehouses, Hebraic clothing-shops, and lodging- houses on lower Hennepin Avenue were smoky, hideous, ill- tempered. She was battered by the noise and shuttling of the rush-hour traffic. When a clerk in an overcoat too closely fitted at the waist stared at her, she moved nearer to Kennicott’s arm. The clerk was flippant and urban. He was a superior person, used to this tumult. Was he laughing at her?

For a moment she wanted the secure quiet of Gopher Prairie.

In the hotel-lobby she was self-conscious. She was not used to hotels; she remembered with jealousy how often Juanita Haydock talked of the famous hotels in Chicago. She could not face the traveling salesmen, baronial in large leather chairs. She wanted people to believe that her husband and she were accustomed to luxury and chill elegance; she was faintly angry at him for the vulgar way in which, after signing the register “Dr. W. P. Kennicott & wife,” he bellowed at the clerk, “Got a nice room with bath for us, old man?” She gazed about haughtily, but as she discovered that no one was interested in her she felt foolish, and ashamed of her irritation.

She asserted, “This silly lobby is too florid,” and simultaneously she admired it: the onyx columns with gilt capitals, the crown-embroidered velvet curtains at the restaurant door, the silk-roped alcove where pretty girls perpetually waited for mysterious men, the two-pound boxes of candy and the variety of magazines at the news-stand. The hidden orchestra was lively. She saw a man who looked like a European diplomat, in a loose top-coat and a Homburg hat. A woman with a broadtail coat, a heavy lace veil, pearl earrings, and a close black hat entered the restaurant. “Heavens! That’s the first really smart woman I’ve seen in a year!” Carol exulted. She felt metropolitan.

But as she followed Kennicott to the elevator the coat- check girl, a confident young woman, with cheeks powdered like lime, and a blouse low and thin and furiously crimson, inspected her, and under that supercilious glance Carol was shy again. She unconsciously waited for the bellboy to precede her into the elevator. When he snorted “Go ahead!” she was mortified. He thought she was a hayseed, she worried.

The moment she was in their room, with the bellboy safely out of the way, she looked critically at Kennicott. For the first time in months she really saw him.

His clothes were too heavy and provincial. His decent gray suit, made by Nat Hicks of Gopher Prairie, might have been of sheet iron; it had no distinction of cut, no easy grace like the diplomat’s Burberry. His black shoes were blunt and not well polished. His scarf was a stupid brown. He needed a shave.

But she forgot her doubt as she realized the ingenuities of the room. She ran about, turning on the taps of the bathtub, which gushed instead of dribbling like the taps at home, snatching the new wash-rag out of its envelope of oiled paper, trying the rose-shaded light between the twin beds, pulling out the drawers of the kidney-shaped walnut desk to examine the engraved stationery, planning to write on it to every one she knew, admiring the claret-colored velvet armchair and the blue rug, testing the ice-water tap, and squealing happily when the water really did come out cold. She flung her arms about Kennicott, kissed him.

“Like it, old lady?”

“It’s adorable. It’s so amusing. I love you for bringing me. You really are a dear!”

He looked blankly indulgent, and yawned, and condescended, “That’s a pretty slick arrangement on the radiator, so you can adjust it at any temperature you want. Must take a big furnace to run this place. Gosh, I hope Bea remembers to turn off the drafts tonight.”

Under the glass cover of the dressing-table was a menu with the most enchanting dishes: breast of guinea hen De Vitresse, pommes de terre a la Russe, meringue Chantilly, gateaux Bruxelles.

“Oh, let’s—- I’m going to have a hot bath, and put on my new hat with the wool flowers, and let’s go down and eat for hours, and we’ll have a cocktail!” she chanted.

While Kennicott labored over ordering it was annoying to see him permit the waiter to be impertinent, but as the cocktail elevated her to a bridge among colored stars, as the oysters came in–not canned oysters in the Gopher Prairie fashion, but on the half-shell–she cried, “If you only knew how wonderful it is not to have had to plan this dinner, and order it at the butcher’s and fuss and think about it, and then watch Bea cook it! I feel so free. And to have new kinds of food, and different patterns of dishes and linen, and not worry about whether the pudding is being spoiled! Oh, this is a great moment for me!”

IV

They had all the experiences of provincials in a metropolis. After breakfast Carol bustled to a hair-dresser’s, bought gloves and a blouse, and importantly met Kennicott in front of an optician’s, in accordance with plans laid down, revised, and verified. They admired the diamonds and furs and frosty silverware and mahogany chairs and polished morocco sewing- boxes in shop-windows, and were abashed by the throngs in the department-stores, and were bullied by a clerk into buying too many shirts for Kennicott, and gaped at the “clever novelty perfumes–just in from New York.” Carol got three books on the theater, and spent an exultant hour in warning herself that she could not afford this rajah-silk frock, in thinking how envious it would make Juanita Haydock, in closing her eyes, and buying it. Kennicott went from shop to shop, earnestly hunting down a felt-covered device to keep the windshield of his car clear of rain.

They dined extravagantly at their hotel at night, and next morning sneaked round the corner to economize at a Childs’ Restaurant. They were tired by three in the afternoon, and dozed at the motion-pictures and said they wished they were back in Gopher Prairie–and by eleven in the evening they were again so lively that they went to a Chinese restaurant that was frequented by clerks and their sweethearts on pay-days. They sat at a teak and marble table eating Eggs Fooyung, and listened to a brassy automatic piano, and were altogether cosmopolitan.

On the street they met people from home–the McGanums. They laughed, shook hands repeatedly, and exclaimed, “Well, this is quite a coincidence!” They asked when the McGanums had come down, and begged for news of the town they had left two days before. Whatever the McGanums were at home, here they stood out as so superior to all the undistinguishable strangers absurdly hurrying past that the Kennicotts held them as long as they could. The McGanums said good-by as though they were going to Tibet instead of to the station to catch No. 7 north.

They explored Minneapolis. Kennicott was conversational and technical regarding gluten and cockle-cylinders and No. I Hard, when they were shown through the gray stone hulks and new cement elevators of the largest flour-mills in the world. They looked across Loring Park and the Parade to the towers of St. Mark’s and the Procathedral, and the red roofs of houses climbing Kenwood Hill. They drove about the chain of garden-circled lakes, and viewed the houses of the millers and lumbermen and real estate peers–the potentates of the expanding city. They surveyed the small eccentric bungalows with pergolas, the houses of pebbledash and tapestry brick with sleeping-porches above sun-parlors, and one vast incredible chateau fronting the Lake of the Isles. They tramped through a shining-new section of apartment-houses; not the tall bleak apartments of Eastern cities but low structures of cheerful yellow brick, in which each flat had its glass-enclosed porch with swinging couch and scarlet cushions and Russian brass bowls. Between a waste of tracks and a raw gouged hill they found poverty in staggering shanties.

They saw miles of the city which they had never known in their days of absorption in college. They were distinguished explorers, and they remarked, in great mutual esteem, “I bet Harry Haydock’s never seen the City like this! Why, he’d never have sense enough to study the machinery in the mills, or go through all these outlying districts. Wonder folks in Gopher Prairie wouldn’t use their legs and explore, the way we do!”

They had two meals with Carol’s sister, and were bored, and felt that intimacy which beatifies married people when they suddenly admit that they equally dislike a relative of either of them.

So it was with affection but also with weariness that they approached the evening on which Carol was to see the plays at the dramatic school. Kennicott suggested not going. “So darn tired from all this walking; don’t know but what we better turn in early and get rested up.” It was only from duty that Carol dragged him and herself out of the warm hotel, into a stinking trolley, up the brownstone steps of the converted residence which lugubriously housed the dramatic school.

V

They were in a long whitewashed hall with a clumsy draw- curtain across the front. The folding chairs were filled with people who looked washed and ironed: parents of the pupils, girl students, dutiful teachers.

“Strikes me it’s going to be punk. If the first play isn’t good, let’s beat it,” said Kennicott hopefully.

“All right,” she yawned. With hazy eyes she tried to read the lists of characters, which were hidden among lifeless advertisements of pianos, music-dealers, restaurants, candy.

She regarded the Schnitzler play with no vast interest. The actors moved and spoke stiffly. Just as its cynicism was beginning to rouse her village-dulled frivolity, it was over.

“Don’t think a whale of a lot of that. How about taking a sneak?” petitioned Kennicott.

“Oh, let’s try the next one, `How He Lied to Her Husband.’ “

The Shaw conceit amused her, and perplexed Kennicott:

“Strikes me it’s darn fresh. Thought it would be racy. Don’t know as I think much of a play where a husband actually claims he wants a fellow to make love to his wife. No husband ever did that! Shall we shake a leg?”

“I want to see this Yeats thing, `Land of Heart’s Desire.’ I used to love it in college.” She was awake now, and urgent. “I know you didn’t care so much for Yeats when I read him aloud to you, but you just see if you don’t adore him on the stage.”

Most of the cast were as unwieldy as oak chairs marching, and the setting was an arty arrangement of batik scarfs and heavy tables, but Maire Bruin was slim as Carol, and larger- eyed, and her voice was a morning bell. In her, Carol lived, and on her lifting voice was transported from this sleepy small- town husband and all the rows of polite parents to the stilly loft of a thatched cottage where in a green dimness, beside a window caressed by linden branches, she bent over a chronicle of twilight women and the ancient gods.

“Well–gosh–nice kid played that girl–good-looker,” said Kennicott. “Want to stay for the last piece? Heh?”

She shivered. She did not answer.

The curtain was again drawn aside. On the stage they saw nothing but long green curtains and a leather chair. Two young men in brown robes like furniture-covers were gesturing vacuously and droning cryptic sentences full of repetitions.

It was Carol’s first hearing of Dunsany. She sympathized with the restless Kennicott as he felt in his pocket for a cigar and unhappily put it back.

Without understanding when or how, without a tangible change in the stilted intoning of the stage-puppets, she was conscious of another time and place.

Stately and aloof among vainglorious tiring-maids, a queen in robes that murmured on the marble floor, she trod the gallery of a crumbling palace. In the courtyard, elephants trumpeted, and swart men with beards dyed crimson stood with blood-stained hands folded upon their hilts, guarding the caravan from El Sharnak, the camels with Tyrian stuffs of topaz and cinnabar. Beyond the turrets of the outer wall the jungle glared and shrieked, and the sun was furious above drenched orchids. A youth came striding through the steel- bossed doors, the sword-bitten doors that were higher than ten tall men. He was in flexible mail, and under the rim of his planished morion were amorous curls. His hand was out to her; before she touched it she could feel its warmth—-

“Gosh all hemlock! What the dickens is all this stuff about, Carrie?”

She was no Syrian queen. She was Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. She fell with a jolt into a whitewashed hall and sat looking at two scared girls and a young man in wrinkled tights.

Kennicott fondly rambled as they left the hall:

“What the deuce did that last spiel mean? Couldn’t make head or tail of it. If that’s highbrow drama, give me a cow- puncher movie, every time! Thank God, that’s over, and we can get to bed. Wonder if we wouldn’t make time by walking over to Nicollet to take a car? One thing I will say for that dump: they had it warm enough. Must have a big hot-air furnace, I guess. Wonder how much coal it takes to run ’em through the winter?”

In the car he affectionately patted her knee, and he was for a second the striding youth in armor; then he was Doc Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, and she was recaptured by Main Street. Never, not all her life, would she behold jungles and the tombs of kings. There were strange things in the world, they really existed; but she would never see them.

She would recreate them in plays!

She would make the dramatic association understand her aspiration. They would, surely they would—-

She looked doubtfully at the impenetrable reality of yawning trolley conductor and sleepy passengers and placards advertising soap and underwear.

CHAPTER XVIII

I

SHE hurried to the first meeting of the play-reading committee. Her jungle romance had faded, but she retained a religious fervor, a surge of half-formed thought about the creation of beauty by suggestion.

A Dunsany play would be too difficult for the Gopher Prairie association. She would let them compromise on Shaw–on “Androcles and the Lion,” which had just been published.

The committee was composed of Carol, Vida Sherwin, Guy Pollock, Raymie Wutherspoon, and Juanita Haydock. They were exalted by the picture of themselves as being simultaneously business-like and artistic. They were entertained by Vida in the parlor of Mrs. Elisha Gurrey’s boarding-house, with its steel engraving of Grant at Appomattox, its basket of stereoscopic views, and its mysterious stains on the gritty carpet.

Vida was an advocate of culture-buying and efficiency- systems. She hinted that they ought to have (as at the committee-meetings of the Thanatopsis) a “regular order of business,” and “the reading of the minutes,” but as there were no minutes to read, and as no one knew exactly what was the regular order of the business of being literary, they had to give up efficiency.

Carol, as chairman, said politely, “Have you any ideas about what play we’d better give first?” She waited for them to look abashed and vacant, so that she might suggest “Androcles.”

Guy Pollock answered with disconcerting readiness, “I’ll tell you: since we’re going to try to do something artistic, and not simply fool around, I believe we ought to give something classic. How about `The School for Scandal’?”

“Why—- Don’t you think that has been done a good deal?”

“Yes, perhaps it has.”

Carol was ready to say, “How about Bernard Shaw?” when he treacherously went on, “How would it be then to give a Greek drama–say `Oedipus Tyrannus’?”

“Why, I don’t believe—-“

Vida Sherwin intruded, “I’m sure that would be too hard for us. Now I’ve brought something that I think would be awfully jolly.”

She held out, and Carol incredulously took, a thin gray pamphlet entitled “McGinerty’s Mother-in-law.” It was the sort of farce which is advertised in “school entertainment” catalogues as:

Riproaring knock-out, 5 m. 3 f., time 2 hrs., interior set, popular with churches and all high-class occasions.

Carol glanced from the scabrous object to Vida, and realized that she was not joking.

“But this is–this is–why, it’s just a—- Why, Vida, I thought you appreciated–well–appreciated art.”

Vida snorted, “Oh. Art. Oh yes. I do like art. It’s very nice. But after all, what does it matter what kind of play we give as long as we get the association started? The thing that matters is something that none of you have spoken of, that is: what are we going to do with the money, if we make any? I think it would be awfully nice if we presented the high school with a full set of Stoddard’s travel-lectures!”

Carol moaned, “Oh, but Vida dear, do forgive me but this farce—- Now what I’d like us to give is something distinguished. Say Shaw’s `Androcles.’ Have any of you read it?”

“Yes. Good play,” said Guy Pollock.

Then Raymie Wutherspoon astoundingly spoke up:

“So have I. I read through all the plays in the public library, so’s to be ready for this meeting. And—- But I don’t believe you grasp the irreligious ideas in this `Androcles,’ Mrs. Kennicott. I guess the feminine mind is too innocent to understand all these immoral writers. I’m sure I don’t want to criticize Bernard Shaw; I understand he is very popular with the highbrows in Minneapolis; but just the same—- As far as I can make out, he’s downright improper! The things he SAYS—- Well, it would be a very risky thing for our young folks to see. It seems to me that a play that doesn’t leave a nice taste in the mouth and that hasn’t any message is nothing but–nothing but—- Well, whatever it may be, it isn’t art. So—- Now I’ve found a play that is clean, and there’s some awfully funny scenes in it, too. I laughed out loud, reading it. It’s called `His Mother’s Heart,’ and it’s about a young man in college who gets in with a lot of free- thinkers and boozers and everything, but in the end his mother’s influence—-“

Juanita Haydock broke in with a derisive, “Oh rats, Raymie! Can the mother’s influence! I say let’s give something with some class to it. I bet we could get the rights to `The Girl from Kankakee,’ and that’s a real show. It ran for eleven months in New York!”

“That would be lots of fun, if it wouldn’t cost too much,” reflected Vida.

Carol’s was the only vote cast against “The Girl from Kankakee.”

II

She disliked “The Girl from Kankakee” even more than she had expected. It narrated the success of a farm-lassie in clearing her brother of a charge of forgery. She became secretary to a New York millionaire and social counselor to his wife; and after a well-conceived speech on the discomfort of having money, she married his son.

There was also a humorous office-boy.

Carol discerned that both Juanita Haydock and Ella Stowbody wanted the lead. She let Juanita have it. Juanita kissed her and in the exuberant manner of a new star presented to the executive committee her theory, “What we want in a play is humor and pep. There’s where American playwrights put it all over these darn old European glooms.”

As selected by Carol and confirmed by the committee, the persons of the play were:

John Grimm, a millionaire . . . . Guy Pollock His wife. . . . . . . . . Miss Vida Sherwin His son . . . . . . . . . Dr. Harvey Dillon His business rival. . . . . Raymond T. Wutherspoon Friend of Mrs. Grimm . . . . . . Miss Ella Stowbody The girl from Kankakee . . . . . Mrs. Harold C. Haydock Her brother. . . . . . . . . . Dr. Terence Gould Her mother . . . . . . . . . . Mrs. David Dyer Stenographer . . . . . . . Miss Rita Simons Office-boy . . . . . . . . . . Miss Myrtle Cass Maid in the Grimms’ home . . Mrs. W. P. Kennicott Direction of Mrs. Kennicott

Among the minor lamentations was Maud Dyer’s “Well of course I suppose I look old enough to be Juanita’s mother, even if Juanita is eight months older than I am, but I don’t know as I care to have everybody noticing it and—-“

Carol pleaded, “Oh, my DEAR! You two look exactly the same age. I chose you because you have such a darling complexion, and you know with powder and a white wig, anybody looks twice her age, and I want the mother to be sweet, no matter who else is.”

Ella Stowbody, the professional, perceiving that it was because of a conspiracy of jealousy that she had been given a small part, alternated between lofty amusement and Christian patience.

Carol hinted that the play would be improved by cutting, but as every actor except Vida and Guy and herself wailed at the loss of a single line, she was defeated. She told herself that, after all, a great deal could be done with direction and settings.

Sam Clark had boastfully written about the dramatic association to his schoolmate, Percy Bresnahan, president of the Velvet Motor Company of Boston. Bresnahan sent a check for a hundred dollars; Sam added twenty-five and brought the fund to Carol, fondly crying, “There! That’ll give you a start for putting the thing across swell!”

She rented the second floor of the city hall for two months. All through the spring the association thrilled to its own talent in that dismal room. They cleared out the bunting, ballot- boxes, handbills, legless chairs. They attacked the stage. It was a simple-minded stage. It was raised above the floor, and it did have a movable curtain, painted with the advertisement of a druggist dead these ten years, but otherwise it might not have been recognized as a stage. There were two dressing-rooms, one for men, one for women, on either side. The dressing-room doors were also the stage-entrances, opening from the house, and many a citizen of Gopher Prairie had for his first glimpse of romance the bare shoulders of the leading woman.

There were three sets of scenery: a woodland, a Poor Interior, and a Rich Interior, the last also useful for railway stations, offices, and as a background for the Swedish Quartette from Chicago. There were three gradations of lighting: full on, half on, and entirely off.

This was the only theater in Gopher Prairie. It was known as the “op’ra house.” Once, strolling companies had used it for performances of “The Two Orphans,” and “Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model,” and “Othello” with specialties between acts, but now the motion-pictures had ousted the gipsy drama.

Carol intended to be furiously modern in constructing the office-set, the drawing-room for Mr. Grimm, and the Humble Home near Kankakee. It was the first time that any one in Gopher Prairie had been so revolutionary as to use enclosed scenes with continuous side-walls. The rooms in the op’ra house sets had separate wing-pieces for sides, which simplified dramaturgy, as the villain could always get out of the hero’s way by walking out through the wall.

The inhabitants of the Humble Home were supposed to be amiable and intelligent. Carol planned for them a simple set with warm color. She could see the beginning of the play: all dark save the high settles and the solid wooden table between them, which were to be illuminated by a ray from offstage. The high light was a polished copper pot filled with primroses. Less clearly she sketched the Grimm drawing-room as a series of cool high white arches.

As to how she was to produce these effects she had no notion.

She discovered that, despite the enthusiastic young writers, the drama was not half so native and close to the soil as motor cars and telephones. She discovered that simple arts require sophisticated training. She discovered that to produce one perfect stage-picture would be as difficult as to turn all of Gopher Prairie into a Georgian garden.

She read all she could find regarding staging, she bought paint and light wood; she borrowed furniture and drapes unscrupulously; she made Kennicott turn carpenter. She collided with the problem of lighting. Against the protest of Kennicott and Vida she mortgaged the association by sending to Minneapolis for a baby spotlight, a strip light, a dimming device, and blue and amber bulbs; and with the gloating rapture of a born painter first turned loose among colors, she spent absorbed evenings in grouping, dimming-painting with lights.

Only Kennicott, Guy, and Vida helped her. They speculated as to how flats could be lashed together to form a wall; they hung crocus-yellow curtains at the windows; they blacked the sheet-iron stove; they put on aprons and swept. The rest of the association dropped into the theater every evening, and were literary and superior. They had borrowed Carol’s manuals of play-production and had become extremely stagey in vocabulary.

Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons, and Raymie Wutherspoon sat on a sawhorse, watching Carol try to get the right position for a picture on the wall in the first scene.

“I don’t want to hand myself anything but I believe I’ll give a swell performance in this first act,” confided Juanita. “I wish Carol wasn’t so bossy though. She doesn’t understand clothes. I want to wear, oh, a dandy dress I have– all scarlet–and I said to her, `When I enter wouldn’t it knock their eyes out if I just stood there at the door in this straight scarlet thing?’ But she wouldn’t let me.”

Young Rita agreed, “She’s so much taken up with her old details and carpentering and everything that she can’t see the picture as a whole. Now I thought it would be lovely if we had an office-scene like the one in `Little, But Oh My!’ Because I SAW that, in Duluth. But she simply wouldn’t listen at all.”

Juanita sighed, “I wanted to give one speech like Ethel Barrymore would, if she was in a play like this. (Harry and I heard her one time in Minneapolis–we had dandy seats, in the orchestra–I just know I could imitate her.) Carol didn’t pay any attention to my suggestion. I don’t want to criticize but I guess Ethel knows more about acting than Carol does!”

“Say, do you think Carol has the right dope about using a strip light behind the fireplace in the second act? I told her I thought we ought to use a bunch,” offered Raymie. “And I suggested it would be lovely if we used a cyclorama outside the window in the first act, and what do you think she said? `Yes, and it would be lovely to have Eleanora Duse play the lead,’ she said, `and aside from the fact that it’s evening in the first act, you’re a great technician,’ she said. I must say I think she was pretty sarcastic. I’ve been reading up, and I know I could build a cyclorama, if she didn’t want to run everything.”

“Yes, and another thing, I think the entrance in the first act ought to be L. U. E., not L. 3 E.,” from Juanita.

“And why does she just use plain white tormenters?”

“What’s a tormenter?” blurted Rita Simons.

The savants stared at her ignorance.

III

Carol did not resent their criticisms, she didn’t very much resent their sudden knowledge, so long as they let her make pictures. It was at rehearsals that the quarrrels broke. No one understood that rehearsals were as real engagements as bridge-games or sociables at the Episcopal Church. They gaily came in half an hour late, or they vociferously came in ten minutes early, and they were so hurt that they whispered about resigning when Carol protested. They telephoned, “I don’t think I’d better come out; afraid the dampness might start my toothache,” or “Guess can’t make it tonight; Dave wants me to sit in on a poker game.”

When, after a month of labor, as many as nine-elevenths of the cast were often present at a rehearsal; when most of them had learned their parts and some of them spoke like human beings, Carol had a new shock in the realization that Guy Pollock and herself were very bad actors, and that Raymie Wutherspoon was a surprisingly good one. For all her visions she could not control her voice, and she was bored by the fiftieth repetition of her few lines as maid. Guy pulled his soft mustache, looked self-conscious, and turned Mr. Grimm into a limp dummy. But Raymie, as the villain, had no repressions. The tilt of his head was full of character; his drawl was admirably vicious.

There was an evening when Carol hoped she was going to make a play; a rehearsal during which Guy stopped looking abashed.

From that evening the play declined.

They were weary. “We know our parts well enough now; what’s the use of getting sick of them?” they complained. They began to skylark; to play with the sacred lights; to giggle when Carol was trying to make the sentimental Myrtle Cass into a humorous office-boy; to act everything but “The Girl from Kankakee.” After loafing through his proper part Dr. Terry Gould had great applause for his burlesque of “Hamlet.” Even Raymie lost his simple faith, and tried to show that he could do a vaudeville shuffle.

Carol turned on the company. “See here, I want this nonsense to stop. We’ve simply got to get down to work.”

Juanita Haydock led the mutiny: “Look here, Carol, don’t be so bossy. After all, we’re doing this play principally for the fun of it, and if we have fun out of a lot of monkey- shines, why then—-“

“Ye-es,” feebly.

“You said one time that folks in G. P. didn’t get enough fun out of life. And now we are having a circus, you want us to stop!”

Carol answered slowly: “I wonder if I can explain what I mean? It’s the difference between looking at the comic page and looking at Manet. I want fun out of this, of course. Only—- I don’t think it would be less fun, but more, to produce as perfect a play as we can.” She was curiously exalted; her voice was strained; she stared not at the company but at the grotesques scrawled on the backs of wing-pieces by forgotten stage-hands. “I wonder if you can understand the `fun’ of making a beautiful thing, the pride and satisfaction of it, and the holiness!”

The company glanced doubtfully at one another. In Gopher Prairie it is not good form to be holy except at a church, between ten-thirty and twelve on Sunday.

“But if we want to do it, we’ve got to work; we must have self-discipline.”

They were at once amused and embarrassed. They did not want to affront this mad woman. They backed off and tried to rehearse. Carol did not hear Juanita, in front, protesting to Maud Dyer, “If she calls it fun and holiness to sweat over her darned old play-well, I don’t!”

IV

Carol attended the only professional play which came to Gopher Prairie that spring. It was a “tent show, presenting snappy new dramas under canvas.” The hard-working actors doubled in brass, and took tickets; and between acts sang about the moon in June, and sold Dr. Wintergreen’s Surefire Tonic for Ills of the Heart, Lungs, Kidneys, and Bowels. They presented “Sunbonnet Nell: A Dramatic Comedy of the Ozarks,” with J. Witherbee Boothby wringing the soul by his resonant “Yuh ain’t done right by mah little gal, Mr. City Man, but yer a-goin’ to find that back in these-yere hills there’s honest folks and good shots!”

The audience, on planks beneath the patched tent, admired Mr. Boothby’s beard and long rifle; stamped their feet in the dust at the spectacle of his heroism; shouted when the comedian aped the City Lady’s use of a lorgnon by looking through a doughnut stuck on a fork; wept visibly over Mr. Boothby’s Little Gal Nell, who was also Mr. Boothby’s legal wife Pearl, and when the curtain went down, listened respectfully to Mr. Boothby’s lecture on Dr. Wintergreen’s Tonic as a cure for tape-worms, which he illustrated by horrible pallid objects curled in bottles of yellowing alcohol.

Carol shook her head. “Juanita is right. I’m a fool. Holiness of the drama! Bernard Shaw! The only trouble with `The Girl from Kankakee’ is that it’s too subtle for Gopher Prairie!”

She sought faith in spacious banal phrases, taken from books: “the instinctive nobility of simple souls,” “need only the opportunity, to appreciate fine things,” and “sturdy exponents of democracy.” But these optimisms did not sound so loud as the laughter of the audience at the funny-man’s line, “Yes, by heckelum, I’m a smart fella.” She wanted to give up the play, the dramatic association, the town. As she came out of the tent and walked with Kennicott down the dusty spring street, she peered at this straggling wooden village and felt that she could not possibly stay here through all of tomorrow.

It was Miles Bjornstam who gave her strength–he and the fact that every seat for “The Girl from Kankakee” had been sold.

Bjornstam was “keeping company” with Bea. Every night he was sitting on the back steps. Once when Carol appeared he grumbled, “Hope you’re going to give this burg one good show. If you don’t, reckon nobody ever will.”

V

It was the great night; it was the night of the play. The two dressing-rooms were swirling with actors, panting, twitchy pale. Del Snafflin the barber, who was as much a professional as Ella, having once gone on in a mob scene at a stock- company performance in Minneapolis, was making them up, and showing his scorn for amateurs with, “Stand still! For the love o’ Mike, how do you expect me to get your eyelids dark if you keep a-wigglin’?” The actors were beseeching, “Hey, Del, put some red in my nostrils–you put some in Rita’s–gee, you didn’t hardly do anything to my face.”

They were enormously theatric. They examined Del’s makeup box, they sniffed the scent of grease-paint, every minute they ran out to peep through the hole in the curtain, they came back to inspect their wigs and costumes, they read on the whitewashed walls of the dressing-rooms the pencil inscriptions: “The Flora Flanders Comedy Company,” and “This is a bum theater,” and felt that they were companions of these vanished troupers.

Carol, smart in maid’s uniform, coaxed the temporary stage- hands to finish setting the first act, wailed at Kennicott, the electrician, “Now for heaven’s sake remember the change in cue for the ambers in Act Two,” slipped out to ask Dave Dyer, the ticket-taker, if he could get some more chairs, warned the frightened Myrtle Cass to be sure to upset the waste-basket when John Grimm called, “Here you, Reddy.”

Del Snafflin’s orchestra of piano, violin, and cornet began to tune up and every one behind the magic line of the proscenic arch was frightened into paralysis. Carol wavered to the hole in the curtain. There were so many people out there, staring so hard—-

In the second row she saw Miles Bjornstam, not with Bea but alone. He really wanted to see the play! It was a good omen. Who could tell? Perhaps this evening would convert Gopher Prairie to conscious beauty.

She darted into the women’s dressing-room, roused Maud Dyer from her fainting panic, pushed her to the wings, and ordered the curtain up.

It rose doubtfully, it staggered and trembled, but it did get up without catching–this time. Then she realized that Kennicott had forgotten to turn off the houselights. Some one out front was giggling.

She galloped round to the left wing, herself pulled the switch, looked so ferociously at Kennicott that he quaked, and fled back.

Mrs. Dyer was creeping out on the half-darkened stage. The play was begun.

And with that instant Carol realized that it was a bad play abominably acted.

Encouraging them with lying smiles, she watched her work go to pieces. The settings seemed flimsy, the lighting commonplace. She watched Guy Pollock stammer and twist his mustache when he should have been a bullying magnate; Vida Sherwin, as Grimm’s timid wife, chatter at the audience as though they were her class in high-school English; Juanita, in the leading role, defy Mr. Grimm as though she were repeating a list of things she had to buy at the grocery this morning; Ella Stowbody remark “I’d like a cup of tea” as though she were reciting “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight”; and Dr. Gould, making love to Rita Simons, squeak, “My– my–you–are–a–won’erful–girl .”

Myrtle Cass, as the office-boy, was so much pleased by the applause of her relatives, then so much agitated by the remarks of Cy Bogart, in the back row, in reference to her wearing trousers, that she could hardly be got off the stage. Only Raymie was so unsociable as to devote himself entirely to acting.

That she was right in her opinion of the play Carol was certain when Miles Bjornstam went out after the first act, and did not come back.

VI

Between the second and third acts she called the company together, and supplicated, “I want to know something, before we have a chance to separate. Whether we’re doing well or badly tonight, it is a beginning. But will we take it as merely a beginning? How many of you will pledge yourselves to start in with me, right away, tomorrow, and plan for another play, to be given in September?”

They stared at her; they nodded at Juanita’s protest: “I think one’s enough for a while. It’s going elegant tonight, but another play—- Seems to me it’ll be time enough to talk about that next fall. Carol! I hope you don’t mean to hint and suggest we’re not doing fine tonight? I’m sure the applause shows the audience think it’s just dandy!”

Then Carol knew how completely she had failed.

As the audience seeped out she heard B. J. Gougerling the banker say to Howland the grocer, “Well, I think the folks did splendid; just as good as professionals. But I don’t care much for these plays. What I like is a good movie, with auto accidents and hold-ups, and some git to it, and not all this talky-talk.”

Then Carol knew how certain she was to fail again.

She wearily did not blame them, company nor audience. Herself she blamed for trying to carve intaglios in good wholesome jack-pine.

“It’s the worst defeat of all. I’m beaten. By Main Street. `I must go on.’ But I can’t!”

She was not vastly encouraged by the Gopher Prairie Dauntless:

. . .would be impossible to distinguish among the actors when all gave such fine account of themselves in difficult roles of this well-known New York stage play. Guy Pollock as the old millionaire could not have been bettered for his fine impersonation of the gruff old millionaire; Mrs. Harry Haydock as the young lady from the West who so easily showed the New York four-flushers where they got off was a vision of loveliness and with fine stage presence. Miss Vida Sherwin the ever popular teacher in our high school pleased as Mrs. Grimm, Dr. Gould was well suited in the role of young lover-girls you better look out, remember the doc is a bachelor. The local Four Hundred also report that he is a great hand at shaking the light fantastic tootsies in the dance. As the stenographer Rita Simons was pretty as a picture, and Miss Ella Stowbody’s long and intensive study of the drama and kindred arts in Eastern schools was seen in the fine finish of her part.

. . .to no one is greater credit to be given than to Mrs. Will Kennicott on whose capable shoulders fell the burden of directing.

“So kindly,” Carol mused, “so well meant, so neighborly– and so confoundedly untrue. Is it really my failure, or theirs?”

She sought to be sensible; she elaborately explained to herself that it was hysterical to condemn Gopher Prairie because it did not foam over the drama. Its justification was in its service as a market-town for farmers. How bravely and generously it did its work, forwarding the bread of the world, feeding and healing the farmers!

Then, on the corner below her husband’s office, she heard a farmer holding forth:

“Sure. Course I was beaten. The shipper and the grocers here wouldn’t pay us a decent price for our potatoes, even though folks in the cities were howling for ’em. So we says, well, we’ll get a truck and ship ’em right down to Minneapolis. But the commission merchants there were in cahoots with the local shipper here; they said they wouldn’t pay us a cent more than he would, not even if they was nearer to the market. Well, we found we could get higher prices in Chicago, but when we tried to get freight cars to ship there, the railroads wouldn’t let us have ’em–even though they had cars standing empty right here in the yards. There you got it– good market, and these towns keeping us from it. Gus, that’s the way these towns work all the time. They pay what they want to for our wheat, but we pay what they want us to for their clothes. Stowbody and Dawson foreclose every mortgage they can, and put in tenant farmers. The Dauntless lies to us about the Nonpartisan League, the lawyers sting us, the machinery-dealers hate to carry us over bad years, and then their daughters put on swell dresses and look at us as if we were a bunch of hoboes. Man, I’d like to burn this town!”

Kennicott observed, “There’s that old crank Wes Brannigan shooting off his mouth again. Gosh, but he loves to hear himself talk! They ought to run that fellow out of town!”

VII

She felt old and detached through high-school commencement week, which is the fete of youth in Gopher Prairie; through baccalaureate sermon, senior Parade, junior entertainment, commencement address by an Iowa clergyman who asserted that he believed in the virtue of virtuousness, and the procession of Decoration Day, when the few Civil War veterans followed Champ Perry, in his rusty forage-cap, along the spring-powdered road to the cemetery. She met Guy; she found that she had nothing to say to him. Her head ached in an aimless way. When Kennicott rejoiced, “We’ll have a great time this summer; move down to the lake early and wear old clothes and act natural,” she smiled, but her smile creaked.

In the prairie heat she trudged along unchanging ways, talked about nothing to tepid people, and reflected that she might never escape from them.

She was startled to find that she was using the word “escape.”

Then, for three years which passed like one curt paragraph, she ceased to find anything interesting save the Bjornstams and her baby.

CHAPTER XIX

I

IN three years of exile from herself Carol had certain experiences chronicled as important by the Dauntless, or discussed by the Jolly Seventeen, but the event unchronicled, undiscussed, and supremely controlling, was her slow admission of longing to find her own people.

II

Bea and Miles Bjornstam were married in June, a month after “The Girl from Kankakee.” Miles had turned respectable. He had renounced his criticisms of state and society; he had given up roving as horse-trader, and wearing red mackinaws in lumber-camps; he had gone to work as engineer in Jackson Elder’s planing-mill; he was to be seen upon the streets endeavoring to be neighborly with suspicious men whom he had taunted for years.

Carol was the patroness and manager of the wedding. Juanita Haydock mocked, “You’re a chump to let a good hired girl like Bea go. Besides! How do you know it’s a good thing, her marrying a sassy bum like this awful Red Swede person? Get wise! Chase the man off with a mop, and hold onto your Svenska while the holding’s good. Huh? Me go to their Scandahoofian wedding? Not a chance!”

The other matrons echoed Juanita. Carol was dismayed by the casualness of their cruelty, but she persisted. Miles had exclaimed to her, “Jack Elder says maybe he’ll come to the wedding! Gee, it would be nice to have Bea meet the Boss as a reg’lar married lady. Some day I’ll be so well off that Bea can play with Mrs. Elder–and you! Watch us!”

There was an uneasy knot of only nine guests at the service in the unpainted Lutheran Church–Carol, Kennicott, Guy Pollock, and the Champ Perrys, all brought by Carol; Bea’s frightened rustic parents, her cousin Tina, and Pete, Miles’s ex-partner in horse-trading, a surly, hairy man who had bought a black suit and come twelve hundred miles from Spokane for the event.

Miles continuously glanced back at the church door. Jackson Elder did not appear. The door did not once open after the awkward entrance of the first guests. Miles’s hand closed on Bea’s arm.

He had, with Carol’s help, made his shanty over into a cottage with white curtains and a canary and a chintz chair.

Carol coaxed the powerful matrons to call on Bea. They half scoffed, half promised to go.

Bea’s successor was the oldish, broad, silent Oscarina, who was suspicious of her frivolous mistress for a month, so that Juanita Haydock was able to crow, “There, smarty, I told you you’d run into the Domestic Problem!” But Oscarina adopted Carol as a daughter, and with her as faithful to the kitchen as Bea had been, there was nothing changed in Carol’s life.

III

She was unexpectedly appointed to the town library-board by Ole Jenson, the new mayor. The other members were Dr. Westlake, Lyman Cass, Julius Flickerbaugh the attorney, Guy Pollock, and Martin Mahoney, former livery-stable keeper and now owner of a garage. She was delighted. She went to the first meeting rather condescendingly, regarding herself as the only one besides Guy who knew anything about books or library methods. She was planning to revolutionize the whole system.

Her condescension was ruined and her humility wholesomely increased when she found the board, in the shabby room on the second floor of the house which had been converted into the library, not discussing the weather and longing to play checkers, but talking about books. She discovered that amiable old Dr. Westlake read everything in verse and “light fiction”; that Lyman Cass, the veal-faced, bristly-bearded owner of the mill, had tramped through Gibbon, Hume, Grote, Prescott, and the other thick historians; that he could repeat pages from them–and did. When Dr. Westlake whispered to her, “Yes, Lym is a very well-informed man, but he’s modest about it,” she felt uninformed and immodest, and scolded at herself that she had missed the human potentialities in this vast Gopher Prairie. When Dr. Westlake quoted the “Paradiso,” “Don Quixote,” “Wilhelm Meister,” and the Koran, she reflected that no one she knew, not even her father, had read all four.

She came diffidently to the second meeting of the board. She did not plan to revolutionize anything. She hoped that the wise elders might be so tolerant as to listen to her suggestions about changing the shelving of the juveniles.

Yet after four sessions of the library-board she was where she had been before the first session. She had found that for all their pride in being reading men, Westlake and Cass and even Guy had no conception of making the library familiar to the whole town. They used it, they passed resolutions about it, and they left it as dead as Moses. Only the Henty books and the Elsie books and the latest optimisms by moral female novelists and virile clergymen were in general demand, and the board themselves were interested only in old, stilted volumes. They had no tenderness for the noisiness of youth discovering great literature.

If she was egotistic about her tiny learning, they were at least as much so regarding theirs. And for all their talk of the need of additional library-tax none of them was willing to risk censure by battling for it, though they now had so small a fund that, after paying for rent, heat, light, and Miss Villets’s salary, they had only a hundred dollars a year for the purchase of books.

The Incident of the Seventeen Cents killed her none too enduring interest.

She had come to the board-meeting singing with a plan. She had made a list of thirty European novels of the past ten years, with twenty important books on psychology, education, and economics which the library lacked. She had made Kennicott promise to give fifteen dollars. If each of the board would contribute the same, they could have the books.

Lym Cass looked alarmed, scratched himself, and protested, “I think it would be a bad precedent for the board-members to contribute money–uh–not that I mind, but it wouldn’t be fair–establish precedent. Gracious! They don’t pay us a cent for our services! Certainly can’t expect us to pay for the privilege of serving!”

Only Guy looked sympathetic, and he stroked the pine table and said nothing.

The rest of the meeting they gave to a bellicose investigation of the fact that there was seventeen cents less than there should be in the Fund. Miss Villets was summoned; she spent half an hour in explosively defending herself; the seventeen cents were gnawed over, penny by penny; and Carol, glancing at the carefully inscribed list which had been so lovely and exciting an hour before, was silent, and sorry for Miss Villets, and sorrier for herself.

She was reasonably regular in attendance till her two years were up and Vida Sherwin was appointed to the board in her place, but she did not try to be revolutionary. In the plodding course of her life there was nothing changed, and nothing new.

IV

Kennicott made an excellent land-deal, but as he told her none of the details, she was not greatly exalted or agitated. What did agitate her was his announcement, half whispered and half blurted, half tender and half coldly medical, that they “ought to have a baby, now they could afford it.” They had so long agreed that “perhaps it would be just as well not to have any children for a while yet,” that childlessness had come to be natural. Now, she feared and longed and did not know; she hesitatingly assented, and wished that she had not assented.

As there appeared no change in their drowsy relations, she forgot all about it, and life was planless.

V

Idling on the porch of their summer cottage at the lake, on afternoons when Kennicott was in town, when the water was glazed and the whole air languid, she pictured a hundred escapes: Fifth Avenue in a snow-storm, with limousines, golden shops, a cathedral spire. A reed hut on fantastic piles above the mud of a jungle river. A suite in Paris, immense high grave rooms, with lambrequins and a balcony. The Enchanted Mesa. An ancient stone mill in Maryland, at the turn of the road, between rocky brook and abrupt hills. An upland moor of sheep and flitting cool sunlight. A clanging dock where steel cranes unloaded steamers from Buenos Ayres and Tsing- tao. A Munich concert-hall, and a famous ‘cellist playing– playing to her.

One scene had a persistent witchery:

She stood on a terrace overlooking a boulevard by the warm sea. She was certain, though she had no reason for it, that the place was Mentone. Along the drive below her swept barouches, with a mechanical tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, and great cars with polished black hoods and engines quiet as the sigh of an old man. In them were women erect, slender, enameled, and expressionless as marionettes, their small hands upon parasols, their unchanging eyes always forward, ignoring the men beside them, tall men with gray hair and distinguished faces. Beyond the drive were painted sea and painted sands, and blue and yellow pavilions. Nothing moved except the gliding carriages, and the people were small and wooden, spots in a picture drenched with gold and hard bright blues. There was no sound of sea or winds; no softness of whispers nor of falling petals; nothing but yellow and cobalt and staring light, and the never-changing tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot—-

She startled. She whimpered. It was the rapid ticking of the clock which had hypnotized her into hearing the steady hoofs. No aching color of the sea and pride of supercilious people, but the reality of a round-bellied nickel alarm-clock on a shelf against a fuzzy unplaned pine wall, with a stiff gray wash-rag hanging above it and a kerosene-stove standing below.

A thousand dreams governed by the fiction she had read, drawn from the pictures she had envied, absorbed her drowsy lake afternoons, but always in the midst of them Kennicott came out from town, drew on khaki trousers which were plastered with dry fish-scales, asked, “Enjoying yourself?” and did not listen to her answer.

And nothing was changed, and there was no reason to believe that there ever would be change.

VI

Trains!

At the lake cottage she missed the passing of the trains. She realized that in town she had depended upon them for assurance that there remained a world beyond.

The railroad was more than a means of transportation to Gopher Prairie. It was a new god; a monster of steel limbs, oak ribs, flesh of gravel, and a stupendous hunger for freight; a deity created by man that he might keep himself respectful to Property, as elsewhere he had elevated and served as tribal gods the mines, cotton-mills, motor-factories, colleges, army.

The East remembered generations when there had been no railroad, and had no awe of it; but here the railroads had been before time was. The towns had been staked out on barren prairie as convenient points for future train-halts; and back in 1860 and 1870 there had been much profit, much opportunity to found aristocratic families, in the possession of advance knowledge as to where the towns would arise.

If a town was in disfavor, the railroad could ignore it, cut it off from commerce, slay it. To Gopher Prairie the tracks were eternal verities, and boards of railroad directors an omnipotence. The smallest boy or the most secluded grandam could tell you whether No. 32 had a hot-box last Tuesday, whether No. 7 was going to put on an extra day- coach; and the name of the president of the road was familiar to every breakfast table.

Even in this new era of motors the citizens went down to the station to see the trains go through. It was their romance; their only mystery besides mass at the Catholic Church; and from the trains came lords of the outer world– traveling salesmen with piping on their waistcoats, and visiting cousins from Milwaukee.

Gopher Prairie had once been a “division-point.” The roundhouse and repair-shops were gone, but two conductors still retained residence, and they were persons of distinction, men who traveled and talked to strangers, who wore uniforms with brass buttons, and knew all about these crooked games of con-men. They were a special caste, neither above nor below the Haydocks, but apart, artists and adventurers.

The night telegraph-operator at the railroad station was the most melodramatic figure in town: awake at three in the morning, alone in a room hectic with clatter of the telegraph key. All night he “talked” to operators twenty, fifty, a hundred miles away. It was always to be expected that he would be held up by robbers. He never was, but round him was a suggestion of masked faces at the window, revolvers, cords binding him to a chair, his struggle to crawl to the key before he fainted.

During blizzards everything about the railroad was melodramatic. There were days when the town was completely shut off, when they had no mail, no express, no fresh meat, no newspapers. At last the rotary snow-plow came through, bucking the drifts, sending up a geyser, and the way to the Outside was open again. The brakemen, in mufflers and fur caps, running along the tops of ice-coated freight-cars; the engineers scratching frost from the cab windows and looking out, inscrutable, self-contained, pilots of the prairie sea–they were heroism, they were to Carol the daring of the quest in a world of groceries and sermons.

To the small boys the railroad was a familiar playground. They climbed the iron ladders on the sides of the box-cars; built fires behind piles of old ties; waved to favorite brakemen. But to Carol it was magic.

She was motoring with Kennicott, the car lumping through darkness, the lights showing mud-puddles and ragged weeds by the road. A train coming! A rapid chuck-a-chuck, chuck- a-chuck, chuck-a-chuck. It was hurling past–the Pacific Flyer, an arrow of golden flame. Light from the fire-box splashed the under side of the trailing smoke. Instantly the vision was gone; Carol was back in the long darkness; and Kennicott was giving his version of that fire and wonder: “No. 19. Must be ’bout ten minutes late.”

In town, she listened from bed to the express whistling in the cut a mile north. Uuuuuuu!–faint, nervous, distrait, horn of the free night riders journeying to the tall towns where were laughter and banners and the sound of bells–Uuuuu! Uuuuu!–the world going by–Uuuuuuu!–fainter, more wistful, gone.

Down here there were no trains. The stillness was very great. The prairie encircled the lake, lay round her, raw, dusty, thick. Only the train could cut it. Some day she would take a train; and that would be a great taking.

VII

She turned to the Chautauqua as she had turned to the dramatic association, to the library-board.

Besides the permanent Mother Chautauqua, in New York, there are, all over these States, commercial Chautauqua companies which send out to every smallest town troupes of lecturers and “entertainers” to give a week of culture under canvas. Living in Minneapolis, Carol had never encountered the ambulant Chautauqua, and the announcement of its com- ing to Gopher Prairie gave her hope that others might be doing the vague things which she had attempted. She pictured a condensed university course brought to the people. Mornings when she came in from the lake with Kennicott she saw placards in every shop-window, and strung on a cord across Main Street, a line of pennants alternately worded “The Boland Chautauqua COMING!” and “A solid week of inspiration and enjoyment!” But she was disappointed when she saw the program. It did not seem to be a tabloid university; it did not seem to be any kind of a university; it seemed to be a combination of vaudeville performance Y. M. C. A. lecture, and the graduation exercises of an elocution class.

She took her doubt to Kennicott. He insisted, “Well, maybe it won’t be so awful darn intellectual, the way you and I might like it, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.” Vida Sherwin added, “They have some splendid speakers. If the people don’t carry off so much actual information, they do get a lot of new ideas, and that’s what counts.”

During the Chautauqua Carol attended three evening meetings, two afternoon meetings, and one in the morning. She was impressed by the audience: the sallow women in skirts and blouses, eager to be made to think, the men in vests and shirt- sleeves, eager to be allowed to laugh, and the wriggling children, eager to sneak away. She liked the plain benches, the portable stage under its red marquee, the great tent over all, shadowy above strings of incandescent bulbs at night and by day casting an amber radiance on the patient crowd. The scent of dust and trampled grass and sun-baked wood gave her an illusion of Syrian caravans; she forgot the speakers while she listened to noises outside the tent: two farmers talking hoarsely, a wagon creaking down Main Street, the crow of a rooster. She was content. But it was the contentment of the lost hunter stopping to rest.

For from the Chautauqua itself she got nothing but wind and chaff and heavy laughter, the laughter of yokels at old jokes, a mirthless and primitive sound like the cries of beasts on a farm.

These were the several instructors in the condensed university’s seven-day course:

Nine lecturers, four of them ex-ministers, and one an ex- congressman, all of them delivering “inspirational addresses.” The only facts or opinions which Carol derived from them were: Lincoln was a celebrated president of the United States, but in his youth extremely poor. James J. Hill was the best- known railroad-man of the West, and in his youth extremely poor. Honesty and courtesy in business are preferable to boorishness and exposed trickery, but this is not to be taken personally, since all persons in Gopher Prairie are known to be honest and courteous. London is a large city. A distinguished statesman once taught Sunday School.

Four “entertainers” who told Jewish stories, Irish stories, German stories, Chinese stories, and Tennessee mountaineer stories, most of which Carol had heard.

A “lady elocutionist” who recited Kipling and imitated children.

A lecturer with motion-pictures of an Andean exploration; excellent pictures and a halting narrative.

Three brass-bands, a company of six opera-singers, a Hawaiian sextette, and four youths who played saxophones and guitars disguised as wash-boards. The most applauded pieces were those, such as the “Lucia” inevitability, which the audience had heard most often.

The local superintendent, who remained through the week while the other enlighteners went to other Chautauquas for their daily performances. The superintendent was a bookish, underfed man who worked hard at rousing artificial enthusiasm, at trying to make the audience cheer by dividing them into competitive squads and telling them that they were intelligent and made splendid communal noises. He gave most of the morning lectures, droning with equal unhappy facility about poetry, the Holy Land, and the injustice to employers in any system of profit-sharing.

The final item was a man who neither lectured, inspired, nor entertained; a plain little man with his hands in his pockets. All the other speakers had confessed, “I cannot keep from telling the citizens of your beautiful city that none of the talent on this circuit have found a more charming spot or more enterprising and hospitable people.” But the little man suggested that the architecture of Gopher Prairie was haphazard, and that it was sottish to let the lake-front be monopolized by the cinder-heaped wall of the railroad embankment. Afterward the audience grumbled, “Maybe that guy’s got the right dope, but what’s the use of looking on the dark side of things all the time? New ideas are first-rate, but not all this criticism. Enough trouble in life without looking for it!”

Thus the Chautauqua, as Carol saw it. After it, the town felt proud and educated.

VIII

Two weeks later the Great War smote Europe.

For a month Gopher Prairie had the delight of shuddering, then, as the war settled down to a business of trench-fighting, they forgot.

When Carol talked about the Balkans, and the possibility of a German revolution, Kennicott yawned, “Oh yes, it’s a great old scrap, but it’s none of our business. Folks out here are too busy growing corn to monkey with any fool war that those foreigners want to get themselves into.”

It was Miles Bjornstam who said, “I can’t figure it out. I’m opposed to wars, but still, seems like Germany has got to be licked because them Junkers stands in the way of progress.”

She was calling on Miles and Bea, early in autumn. They had received her with cries, with dusting of chairs, and a running to fetch water for coffee. Miles stood and beamed at her. He fell often and joyously into his old irreverence about the lords of Gopher Prairie, but always–with a certain difficulty–he added something decorous and appreciative.

“Lots of people have come to see you, haven’t they?” Carol hinted.

“Why, Bea’s cousin Tina comes in right along, and the foreman at the mill, and—- Oh, we have good times. Say, take a look at that Bea! Wouldn’t you think she was a canary-bird, to listen to her, and to see that Scandahoofian tow- head of hers? But say, know what she is? She’s a mother hen! Way she fusses over me–way she makes old Miles wear a necktie! Hate to spoil her by letting her hear it, but she’s one pretty darn nice–nice—- Hell! What do we care if none of the dirty snobs come and call? We’ve got each other.”

Carol worried about their struggle, but she forgot it in the stress of sickness and fear. For that autumn she knew that a baby was coming, that at last life promised to be interesting in the peril of the great change.

CHAPTER XX

I

THE baby was coming. Each morning she was nauseated, chilly, bedraggled, and certain that she would never again be attractive; each twilight she was afraid. She did not feel exalted, but unkempt and furious. The period of daily sickness crawled into an endless time of boredom. It became difficult for her to move about, and she raged that she, who had been slim and light-footed, should have to lean on a stick, and be heartily commented upon by street gossips. She was encircled by greasy eyes. Every matron hinted, “Now that you’re going to be a mother, dearie, you’ll get over all these ideas of yours and settle down.” She felt that willy-nilly she was being initiated into the assembly of housekeepers; with the baby for hostage, she would never escape; presently she would be drinking coffee and rocking and talking about diapers.

“I could stand fighting them. I’m used to that. But this being taken in, being taken as a matter of course, I can’t stand it–and I must stand it!”

She alternately detested herself for not appreciating the kindly women, and detested them for their advice: lugubrious hints as to how much she would suffer in labor, details of baby-hygiene based on long experience and total misunderstanding, superstitious cautions about the things she must eat and read and look at in prenatal care for the baby’s soul, and always a pest of simpering baby-talk. Mrs. Champ Perry bustled in to lend “Ben Hur,” as a preventive of future infant immorality. The Widow Bogart appeared trailing pinkish exclamations, “And how is our lovely ‘ittle muzzy today! My, ain’t it just like they always say: being in a Family Way does make the girlie so lovely, just like a Madonna. Tell me–” Her whisper was tinged with salaciousness–“does oo feel the dear itsy one stirring, the pledge of love? I remember with Cy, of course he was so big—-“

“I do not look lovely, Mrs. Bogart. My complexion is rotten, and my hair is coming out, and I look like a potato-bag, and I think my arches are falling, and he isn’t a pledge of love, and I’m afraid he WILL look like us, and I don’t believe in mother-devotion, and the whole business is a confounded nuisance of a biological process,” remarked Carol.

Then the baby was born, without unusual difficulty: a boy with straight back and strong legs. The first day she hated him for the tides of pain and hopeless fear he had caused; she resented his raw ugliness. After that she loved him with all the devotion and instinct at which she had scoffed. She marveled at the perfection of the miniature hands as noisily as did Kennicott, she was overwhelmed by the trust with which the baby turned to her; passion for him grew with each unpoetic irritating thing she had to do for him.

He was named Hugh, for her father.

Hugh developed into a thin healthy child with a large head and straight delicate hair of a faint brown. He was thoughtful and casual–a Kennicott.

For two years nothing else existed. She did not, as the cynical matrons had prophesied, “give up worrying about the world and other folks’ babies soon as she got one of her own to fight for.” The barbarity of that willingness to sacrifice other children so that one child might have too much was impossible to her. But she would sacrifice herself. She understood consecration–she who answered Kennicott’s hints about having Hugh christened: “I refuse to insult my baby and myself by asking an ignorant young man in a frock coat to sanction him, to permit me to have him! I refuse to subject him to any devil-chasing rites! If I didn’t give my baby–MY BABY– enough sanctification in those nine hours of hell, then he can’t get any more out of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel!”

“Well, Baptists hardly ever christen kids. I was kind of thinking more about Reverend Warren,” said Kennicott.

Hugh was her reason for living, promise of accomplishment in the future, shrine of adoration–and a diverting toy. “I thought I’d be a dilettante mother, but I’m as dismayingly natural as Mrs. Bogart,” she boasted.

For two–years Carol was a part of the town; as much one of Our Young Mothers as Mrs. McGanum. Her opinionation seemed dead; she had no apparent desire for escape; her brooding centered on Hugh. While she wondered at the pearl texture of his ear she exulted, “I feel like an old woman, with a skin like sandpaper, beside him, and I’m glad of it! He is perfect. He shall have everything. He sha’n’t always stay here in Gopher Prairie. . . . I wonder which is really the best, Harvard or Yale or Oxford?”

II

The people who hemmed her in had been brilliantly reinforced by Mr. and Mrs. Whittier N. Smail–Kennicott’s Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie.

The true Main Streetite defines a relative as a person to whose house you go uninvited, to stay as long as you like. If you hear that Lym Cass on his journey East has spent all his time “visiting” in Oyster Center, it does not mean that he prefers that village to the rest of New England, but that he has relatives there. It does not mean that he has written to the relatives these many years, nor that they have ever given signs of a desire to look upon him. But “you wouldn’t expect a man to go and spend good money at a hotel in Boston, when his own third cousins live right in the same state, would you?”

When the Smails sold their creamery in North Dakota they visited Mr. Smail’s sister, Kennicott’s mother, at Lac-qui-

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