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  • 1920
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Meurt, then plodded on to Gopher Prairie to stay with their nephew. They appeared unannounced, before the baby was born, took their welcome for granted, and immediately began to complain of the fact that their room faced north.

Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie assumed that it was their privilege as relatives to laugh at Carol, and their duty as Christians to let her know how absurd her “notions” were. They objected to the food, to Oscarina’s lack of friendliness, to the wind, the rain, and the immodesty of Carol’s maternity gowns. They were strong and enduring; for an hour at a time they could go on heaving questions about her father’s income, about her theology, and about the reason why she had not put on her rubbers when she had gone across the street. For fussy discussion they had a rich, full genius, and their example developed in Kennicott a tendency to the same form of affectionate flaying.

If Carol was so indiscreet as to murmur that she had a small headache, instantly the two Smails and Kennicott were at it. Every five minutes, every time she sat down or rose or spoke to Oscarina, they twanged, “Is your head better now? Where does it hurt? Don’t you keep hartshorn in the house? Didn’t you walk too far today? Have you tried hartshorn? Don’t you keep some in the house so it will be handy? Does it feel better now? How does it feel? Do your eyes hurt, too? What time do you usually get to bed? As late as THAT? Well! How does it feel now?”

In her presence Uncle Whittier snorted at Kennicott, “Carol get these headaches often? Huh? Be better for her if she didn’t go gadding around to all these bridge-whist parties, and took some care of herself once in a while!”

They kept it up, commenting, questioning, commenting, questioning, till her determination broke and she bleated, “For heaven’s SAKE, don’t dis-CUSS it! My head ‘s all RIGHT!”

She listened to the Smails and Kennicott trying to determine by dialectics whether the copy of the Dauntless, which Aunt Bessie wanted to send to her sister in Alberta, ought to have two or four cents postage on it. Carol would have taken it to the drug store and weighed it, but then she was a dreamer, while they were practical people (as they frequently admitted). So they sought to evolve the postal rate from their inner consciousnesses, which, combined with entire frankness in thinking aloud, was their method of settling all problems.

The Smails did not “believe in all this nonsense” about privacy and reticence. When Carol left a letter from her sister on the table, she was astounded to hear from Uncle Whittier, “I see your sister says her husband is doing fine. You ought to go see her oftener. I asked Will and he says you don’t go see her very often. My! You ought to go see her oftener!”

If Carol was writing a letter to a classmate, or planning the week’s menus, she could be certain that Aunt Bessie would pop in and titter, “Now don’t let me disturb you, I just wanted to see where you were, don’t stop, I’m not going to stay only a second. I just wondered if you could possibly have thought that I didn’t eat the onions this noon because I didn’t think they were properly cooked, but that wasn’t the reason at all, it wasn’t because I didn’t think they were well cooked, I’m sure that everything in your house is always very dainty and nice, though I do think that Oscarina is careless about some things, she doesn’t appreciate the big wages you pay her, and she is so cranky, all these Swedes are so cranky, I don’t really see why you have a Swede, but—- But that wasn’t it, I didn’t eat them not because I didn’t think they weren’t cooked proper, it was just–I find that onions don’t agree with me, it’s very strange, ever since I had an attack of biliousness one time, I have found that onions, either fried onions or raw ones, and Whittier does love raw onions with vinegar and sugar on them—-“

It was pure affection.

Carol was discovering that the one thing that can be more disconcerting than intelligent hatred is demanding love.

She supposed that she was being gracefully dull and standardized in the Smails’ presence, but they scented the heretic, and with forward-stooping delight they sat and tried to drag out her ludicrous concepts for their amusement. They were like the Sunday-afternoon mob starting at monkeys in the Zoo, poking fingers arid making faces and giggling at the resentment of the more dignified race.

With a loose-lipped, superior, village smile Uncle Whittier hinted, “What’s this I hear about your thinking Gopher Prairie ought to be all tore down and rebuilt, Carrie? I don’t know where folks get these new-fangled ideas. Lots of farmers in Dakota getting ’em these days. About co-operation. Think they can run stores better ‘n storekeepers! Huh!”

“Whit and I didn’t need no co-operation as long as we was farming!” triumphed Aunt Bessie. “Carrie, tell your old auntie now: don’t you ever go to church on Sunday? You do go sometimes? But you ought to go every Sunday! When you’re as old as I am, you’ll learn that no matter how smart folks think they are, God knows a whole lot more than they do, and then you’ll realize and be glad to go and listen to your pastor!”

In the manner of one who has just beheld a two-headed calf they repeated that they had “never HEARD such funny ideas!” They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden; that mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word “dude” is no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not always pedlers or pants- makers.

“Where does she get all them the’ries?” marveled Uncle Whittier Smail; while Aunt Bessie inquired, “Do you suppose there’s many folks got notions like hers? My! If there are,” and her tone settled the fact that there were not, “I just don’t know what the world’s coming to!”

Patiently–more or less–Carol awaited the exquisite day when they would announce departure. After three weeks Uncle Whittier remarked, “We kinda like Gopher Prairie. Guess maybe we’ll stay here. We’d been wondering what we’d do, now we’ve sold the creamery and my farms. So I had a talk with Ole Jenson about his grocery, and I guess I’ll buy him out and storekeep for a while.”

He did.

Carol rebelled. Kennicott soothed her: “Oh, we won’t see much of them. They’ll have their own house.”

She resolved to be so chilly that they would stay away. But she had no talent for conscious insolence. They found a house, but Carol was never safe from their appearance with a hearty, “Thought we’d drop in this evening and keep you from being lonely. Why, you ain’t had them curtains washed yet!” Invariably, whenever she was touched by the realization that it was they who were lonely, they wrecked her pitying affection by comments–questions–comments–advice.

They immediately became friendly with all of their own race, with the Luke Dawsons, the Deacon Piersons, and Mrs. Bogart; and brought them along in the evening. Aunt Bessie was a bridge over whom the older women, bearing gifts of counsel and the ignorance of experience, poured into Carol’s island of reserve. Aunt Bessie urged the good Widow Bogart, “Drop in and see Carrie real often. Young folks today don’t understand housekeeping like we do.”

Mrs. Bogart showed herself perfectly willing to be an associate relative.

Carol was thinking up protective insults when Kennicott’s mother came down to stay with Brother Whittier for two months. Carol was fond of Mrs. Kennicott. She could not carry out her insults.

She felt trapped.

She had been kidnaped by the town. She was Aunt Bessie’s niece, and she was to be a mother. She was expected, she almost expected herself, to sit forever talking of babies, cooks, embroidery stitches, the price of potatoes, and the tastes of husbands in the matter of spinach.

She found a refuge in the Jolly Seventeen. She suddenly understood that they could be depended upon to laugh with her at Mrs. Bogart, and she now saw Juanita Haydock’s gossip not as vulgarity but as gaiety and remarkable analysis.

Her life had changed, even before Hugh appeared. She looked forward to the next bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, and the security of whispering with her dear friends Maud Dyer and Juanita and Mrs. McGanum.

She was part of the town. Its philosophy and its feuds dominated her.

III

She was no longer irritated by the cooing of the matrons, nor by their opinion that diet didn’t matter so long as the Little Ones had plenty of lace and moist kisses, but she concluded that in the care of babies as in politics, intelligence was superior to quotations about pansies. She liked best to talk about Hugh to Kennicott, Vida, and the Bjornstams. She was happily domestic when Kennicott sat by her on the floor, to watch baby make faces. She was delighted when Miles, speaking as one man to another, admonished Hugh, “I wouldn’t stand them skirts if I was you. Come on. Join the union and strike. Make ’em give you pants.”

As a parent, Kennicott was moved to establish the first child-welfare week held in Gopher Prairie. Carol helped him weigh babies and examine their throats, and she wrote out the diets for mute German and Scandinavian mothers.

The aristocracy of Gopher Prairie, even the wives of the rival doctors, took part, and for several days there was community spirit and much uplift. But this reign of love was overthrown when the prize for Best Baby was awarded not to decent parents but to Bea and Miles Bjornstam! The good matrons glared at Olaf Bjornstam, with his blue eyes, his honey-colored hair, and magnificent back, and they remarked, “Well, Mrs. Kennicott, maybe that Swede brat is as healthy as your husband says he is, but let me tell you I hate to think of the future that awaits any boy with a hired girl for a mother and an awful irreligious socialist for a pa!”

She raged, but so violent was the current of their respectability, so persistent was Aunt Bessie in running to her with their blabber, that she was embarrassed when she took Hugh to play with Olaf. She hated herself for it, but she hoped that no one saw her go into the Bjornstam shanty. She hated herself and the town’s indifferent cruelty when she saw Bea’s radiant devotion to both babies alike; when she saw Miles staring at them wistfully.

He had saved money, had quit Elder’s planing-mill and started a dairy on a vacant lot near his shack. He was proud of his three cows and sixty chickens, and got up nights to nurse them.

“I’ll be a big farmer before you can bat an eye! I tell you that young fellow Olaf is going to go East to college along with the Haydock kids. Uh—- Lots of folks dropping in to chin with Bea and me now. Say! Ma Bogart come in one day! She was—- I liked the old lady fine. And the mill foreman comes in right along. Oh, we got lots of friends. You bet!”

IV

Though the town seemed to Carol to change no more than the surrounding fields, there was a constant shifting, these three years. The citizen of the prairie drifts always westward. It may be because he is the heir of ancient migrations–and it may be because he finds within his own spirit so little adventure that he is driven to seek it by changing his horizon. The towns remain unvaried, yet the individual faces alter like classes in college. The Gopher Prairie jeweler sells out, for no discernible reason, and moves on to Alberta or the state of Washington, to open a shop precisely like his former one, in a town precisely like the one he has left. There is, except among professional men and the wealthy, small permanence either of residence or occupation. A man becomes farmer, grocer, town policeman, garageman, restaurant-owner, postmaster, insurance-agent, and farmer all over again, and the community more or less patiently suffers from his lack of knowledge in each of his experiments.

Ole Jenson the grocer and Dahl the butcher moved on to South Dakota and Idaho. Luke and Mrs. Dawson picked up ten thousand acres of prairie soil, in the magic portable form of a small check book, and went to Pasadena, to a bungalow and sunshine and cafeterias. Chet Dashaway sold his furniture and undertaking business and wandered to Los Angeles, where, the Dauntless reported, “Our good friend Chester has accepted a fine position with a real-estate firm, and his wife has in the charming social circles of the Queen City of the Southwestland that same popularity which she enjoyed in our own society sets.”

Rita Simons was married to Terry Gould, and rivaled Juanita Haydock as the gayest of the Young Married Set. But Juanita also acquired merit. Harry’s father died, Harry became senior partner in the Bon Ton Store, and Juanita was more acidulous and shrewd and cackling than ever. She bought an evening frock, and exposed her collar-bone to the wonder of the Jolly Seventeen, and talked of moving to Minneapolis.

To defend her position against the new Mrs. Terry Gould she sought to attach Carol to her faction by giggling that “SOME folks might call Rita innocent, but I’ve got a hunch that she isn’t half as ignorant of things as brides are supposed to be–and of course Terry isn’t one-two-three as a doctor alongside of your husband.”

Carol herself would gladly have followed Mr. Ole Jenson, and migrated even to another Main Street; flight from familiar tedium to new tedium would have for a time the outer look and promise of adventure. She hinted to Kennicott of the probable medical advantages of Montana and Oregon. She knew that he was satisfied with Gopher Prairie, but it gave her vicarious hope to think of going, to ask for railroad folders at the station, to trace the maps with a restless forefinger.

Yet to the casual eye she was not discontented, she was not an abnormal and distressing traitor to the faith of Main Street.

The settled citizen believes that the rebel is constantly in a stew of complaining and, hearing of a Carol Kennicott, he gasps, “What an awful person! She must be a Holy Terror to live with! Glad MY folks are satisfied with things way they are!” Actually, it was not so much as five minutes a day that Carol devoted to lonely desires. It is probable that the agitated citizen has within his circle at least one inarticulate rebel with aspirations as wayward as Carol’s.

The presence of the baby had made her take Gopher Prairie and the brown house seriously, as natural places of residence. She pleased Kennicott by being friendly with the complacent maturity of Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Elder, and when she had often enough been in conference upon the Elders’ new Cadillac car, or the job which the oldest Clark boy had taken in the office of the flour-mill, these topics became important, things to follow up day by day.

With nine-tenths of her emotion concentrated upon Hugh, she did not criticize shops, streets, acquaintances. . . this year or two. She hurried to Uncle Whittier’s store for a package of corn-flakes, she abstractedly listened to Uncle Whittier’s denunciation of Martin Mahoney for asserting that the wind last Tuesday had been south and not southwest, she came back along streets that held no surprises nor the startling faces of strangers. Thinking of Hugh’s teething all the way, she did not reflect that this store, these drab blocks, made up all her background. She did her work, and she triumphed over winning from the Clarks at five hundred.

The most considerable event of the two years after the birth of Hugh occurred when Vida Sherwin resigned from the high school and was married. Carol was her attendant, and as the wedding was at the Episcopal Church, all the women wore new kid slippers and long white kid gloves, and looked refined.

For years Carol had been little sister to Vida, and had never in the least known to what degree Vida loved her and hated her and in curious strained ways was bound to her.

CHAPTER XXI

I

GRAY steel that seems unmoving because it spins so fast in the balanced fly-wheel, gray snow in an avenue of elms, gray dawn with the sun behind it–this was the gray of Vida Sherwin’s life at thirty-six.

She was small and active and sallow; her yellow hair was faded, and looked dry; her blue silk blouses and modest lace collars and high black shoes and sailor hats were as literal and uncharming as a schoolroom desk; but her eyes determined her appearance, revealed her as a personage and a force, indicated her faith in the goodness and purpose of everything. They were blue, and they were never still; they expressed amusement, pity, enthusiasm. If she had been seen in sleep, with the wrinkles beside her eyes stilled and the creased lids hiding the radiant irises, she would have lost her potency.

She was born in a hill-smothered Wisconsin village where her father was a prosy minister; she labored through a sanctimonious college; she taught for two years in an iron-range town of blurry-faced Tatars and Montenegrins, and wastes of ore, and when she came to Gopher Prairie, its trees and the shining spaciousness of the wheat prairie made her certain that she was in paradise.

She admitted to her fellow-teachers that the schoolbuilding was slightly damp, but she insisted that the rooms were “arranged so conveniently–and then that bust of President McKinley at the head of the stairs, it’s a lovely art-work, and isn’t it an inspiration to have the brave, honest, martyr president to think about!” She taught French, English, and history, and the Sophomore Latin class, which dealt in matters of a metaphysical nature called Indirect Discourse and the Ablative Absolute. Each year she was reconvinced that the pupils were beginning to learn more quickly. She spent four winters in building up the Debating Society, and when the debate really was lively one Friday afternoon, and the speakers of pieces did not forget their lines, she felt rewarded.

She lived an engrossed useful life, and seemed as cool and simple as an apple. But secretly she was creeping among fears, longing, and guilt. She knew what it was, but she dared not name it. She hated even the sound of the word “sex.” When she dreamed of being a woman of the harem, with great white warm limbs, she awoke to shudder, defenseless in the dusk of her room. She prayed to Jesus, always to the Son of God, offering him the terrible power of her adoration, addressing him as the eternal lover, growing passionate, exalted, large, as she contemplated his splendor. Thus she mounted to endurance and surcease.

By day, rattling about in many activities, she was able to ridicule her blazing nights of darkness. With spurious cheerfulness she announced everywhere, “I guess I’m a born spinster,” and “No one will ever marry a plain schoolma’am like me,” and “You men, great big noisy bothersome creatures, we women wouldn’t have you round the place, dirtying up nice clean rooms, if it wasn’t that you have to be petted and guided. We just ought to say `Scat!’ to all of you!”

But when a man held her close at a dance, even when “Professor” George Edwin Mott patted her hand paternally as they considered the naughtinesses of Cy Bogart, she quivered, and reflected how superior she was to have kept her virginity.

In the autumn of 1911, a year before Dr. Will Kennicott was married, Vida was his partner at a five-hundred tournament. She was thirty-four then; Kennicott about thirty-six. To her he was a superb, boyish, diverting creature; all the heroic qualities in a manly magnificent body. They had been helping the hostess to serve the Waldorf salad and coffee and gingerbread. They were in the kitchen, side by side on a bench, while the others ponderously supped in the room beyond.

Kennicott was masculine and experimental. He stroked Vida’s hand, he put his arm carelessly about her shoulder.

“Don’t!” she said sharply.

“You’re a cunning thing,” he offered, patting the back of her shoulder in an exploratory manner.

While she strained away, she longed to move nearer to him. He bent over, looked at her knowingly. She glanced down at his left hand as it touched her knee. She sprang up, started noisily and needlessly to wash the dishes. He helped her. He was too lazy to adventure further–and too used to women in his profession. She was grateful for the impersonality of his talk. It enabled her to gain control. She knew that she had skirted wild thoughts.

A month after, on a sleighing-party, under the buffalo robes in the bob-sled, he whispered, “You pretend to be a grown-up schoolteacher, but you’re nothing but a kiddie.” His arm was about her. She resisted.

“Don’t you like the poor lonely bachelor?” he yammered in a fatuous way.

“No, I don’t! You don’t care for me in the least. You’re just practising on me.”

“You’re so mean! I’m terribly fond of you.”

“I’m not of you. And I’m not going to let myself be fond of you, either.”

He persistently drew her toward him. She clutched his arm. Then she threw off the robe, climbed out of the sled, raced after it with Harry Haydock. At the dance which followed the sleigh-ride Kennicott was devoted to the watery prettiness of Maud Dyer, and Vida was noisily interested in getting up a Virginia Reel. Without seeming to watch Kennicott, she knew that he did not once look at her.

That was all of her first love-affair.

He gave no sign of remembering that he was “terribly fond.” She waited for him; she reveled in longing, and in a sense of guilt because she longed. She told herself that she did not want part of him; unless he gave her all his devotion she would never let him touch her; and when she found that she was probably lying, she burned with scorn. She fought it out in prayer. She knelt in a pink flannel nightgown, her thin hair down her back, her forehead as full of horror as a mask of tragedy, while she identified her love for the Son of God with her love for a mortal, and wondered if any other woman had ever been so sacrilegious. She wanted to be a nun and observe perpetual adoration. She bought a rosary, but she had been so bitterly reared as a Protestant that she could not bring herself to use it.

Yet none of her intimates in the school and in the boarding- house knew of her abyss of passion. They said she was “so optimistic.”

When she heard that Kennicott was to marry a girl, pretty, young, and imposingly from the Cities, Vida despaired. She congratulated Kennicott; carelessly ascertained from him the hour of marriage. At that hour, sitting in her room, Vida pictured the wedding in St. Paul. Full of an ecstasy which horrified her, she followed Kennicott and the girl who had stolen her place, followed them to the train, through the evening, the night.

She was relieved when she had worked out a belief that she wasn’t really shameful, that there was a mystical relation between herself and Carol, so that she was vicariously yet veritably with Kennicott, and had the right to be.

She saw Carol during the first five minutes in Gopher Prairie. She stared at the passing motor, at Kennicott and the girl beside him. In that fog world of transference of emotion Vida had no normal jealousy but a conviction that, since through Carol she had received Kennicott’s love, then Carol was a part of her, an astral self, a heightened and more beloved self. She was glad of the girl’s charm, of the smooth black hair, the airy head and young shoulders. But she was suddenly angry. Carol glanced at her for a quarter-second, but looked past her, at an old roadside barn. If she had made the great sacrifice, at least she expected gratitude and recognition, Vida raged, while her conscious schoolroom mind fussily begged her to control this insanity.

During her first call half of her wanted to welcome a fellow reader of books; the other half itched to find out whether Carol knew anything about Kennicott’s former interest in herself. She discovered that Carol was not aware that he had ever touched another woman’s hand. Carol was an amusing, naive, curiously learned child. While Vida was most actively describing the glories of the Thanatopsis, and complimenting this librarian on her training as a worker, she was fancying that this girl was the child born of herself and Kennicott; and out of that symbolizing she had a comfort she had not known for months.

When she came home, after supper with the Kennicotts and Guy Pollock, she had a sudden and rather pleasant backsliding from devotion. She bustled into her room, she slammed her hat on the bed, and chattered, “I don’t CARE! I’m a lot like her–except a few years older. I’m light and quick, too, and I can talk just as well as she can, and I’m sure—- Men are such fools. I’d be ten times as sweet to make love to as that dreamy baby. And I AM as good-looking!”

But as she sat on the bed and stared at her thin thighs, defiance oozed away. She mourned:

“No. I’m not. Dear God, how we fool ourselves! I pretend I’m `spiritual.’ I pretend my legs are graceful. They aren’t. They’re skinny. Old-maidish. I hate it! I hate that impertinent young woman! A selfish cat, taking his love for granted. . . . No, she’s adorable. . . . I don’t think she ought to be so friendly with Guy Pollock.”

For a year Vida loved Carol, longed to and did not pry into the details of her relations with Kennicotts enjoyed her spirit of play as expressed in childish tea-parties, and, with the mystic bond between them forgotten, was healthily vexed by Carol’s assumption that she was a sociological messiah come to save Gopher Prairie. This last facet of Vida’s thought was the one which, after a year, was most often turned to the light. In a testy way she brooded, “These people that want to change everything all of a sudden without doing any work, make me tired! Here I have to go and work for four years, picking out the pupils for debates, and drilling them, and nagging at them to get them to look up references, and begging them to choose their own subjects–four years, to get up a couple of good debates! And she comes rushing in, and expects in one year to change the whole town into a lollypop paradise with everybody stopping everything else to grow tulips and drink tea. And it’s a comfy homey old town, too!”

She had such an outburst after each of Carol’s campaigns– for better Thanatopsis programs, for Shavian plays, for more human schools–but she never betrayed herself, and always she was penitent.

Vida was, and always would be, a reformer, a liberal. She believed that details could excitingly be altered, but that things-in-general were comely and kind and immutable. Carol was, without understanding or accepting it, a revolutionist, a radical, and therefore possessed of “constructive ideas,” which only the destroyer can have, since the reformer believes that all the essential constructing has already been done. After years of intimacy it was this unexpressed opposition more than the fancied loss of Kennicott’s love which held Vida irritably fascinated.

But the birth of Hugh revived the transcendental emotion. She was indignant that Carol should not be utterly fulfilled in having borne Kennicott’s child. She admitted that Carol seemed to have affection and immaculate care for the baby, but she began to identify herself now with Kennicott, and in this phase to feel that she had endured quite too much from Carol’s instability.

She recalled certain other women who had come from the Outside and had not appreciated Gopher Prairie. She remembered the rector’s wife who had been chilly to callers and who was rumored throughout the town to have said, “Re-ah-ly I cawn’t endure this bucolic heartiness in the responses.” The woman was positively known to have worn handkerchiefs in her bodice as padding–oh, the town had simply roared at her. Of course the rector and she were got rid of in a few months.

Then there was the mysterious woman with the dyed hair and penciled eyebrows, who wore tight English dresses, like basques, who smelled of stale musk, who flirted with the men and got them to advance money for her expenses in a lawsuit, who laughed at Vida’s reading at a school-entertainment, and went off owing a hotel-bill and the three hundred dollars she had borrowed.

Vida insisted that she loved Carol, but with some satisfaction she compared her to these traducers of the town.

II

Vida had enjoyed Raymie Wutherspoon’s singing in the Episcopal choir; she had thoroughly reviewed the weather with him at Methodist sociables and in the Bon Ton. But she did not really know him till she moved to Mrs. Gurrey’s boarding- house. It was five years after her affair with Kennicott. She was thirty-nine, Raymie perhaps a year younger.

She said to him, and sincerely, “My! You can do anything, with your brains and tact and that heavenly voice. You were so good in `The Girl from Kankakee.’ You made me feel terribly stupid. If you’d gone on the stage, I believe you’d be just as good as anybody in Minneapolis. But still, I’m not sorry you stuck to business. It’s such a constructive career.”

“Do you really think so?” yearned Raymie, across the apple-sauce.

It was the first time that either of them had found a dependable intellectual companionship. They looked down on Willis Woodford the bank-clerk, and his anxious babycentric wife, the silent Lyman Casses, the slangy traveling man, and the rest of Mrs. Gurrey’s unenlightened guests. They sat opposite, and they sat late. They were exhilarated to find that they agreed in confession of faith:

“People like Sam Clark and Harry Haydock aren’t earnest about music and pictures and eloquent sermons and really refined movies, but then, on the other hand, people like Carol Kennicott put too much stress on all this art. Folks ought to appreciate lovely things, but just the same, they got to be practical and–they got to look at things in a practical way.”

Smiling, passing each other the pressed-glass pickle-dish, seeing Mrs. Gurrey’s linty supper-cloth irradiated by the light of intimacy, Vida and Raymie talked about Carol’s rose-colored turban, Carol’s sweetness, Carol’s new low shoes, Carol’s erroneous theory that there was no need of strict discipline in school, Carol’s amiability in the Bon Ton, Carol’s flow of wild ideas, which, honestly, just simply made you nervous trying to keep track of them;

About the lovely display of gents’ shirts in the Bon Ton window as dressed by Raymie, about Raymie’s offertory last Sunday, the fact that there weren’t any of these new solos as nice as “Jerusalem the Golden,” and the way Raymie stood up to Juanita Haydock when she came into the store and tried to run things and he as much as told her that she was so anxious to have folks think she was smart and bright that she said things she didn’t mean, and anyway, Raymie was running the shoe-department, and if Juanita, or Harry either, didn’t like the way he ran things, they could go get another man;

About Vida’s new jabot which made her look thirty-two (Vida’s estimate) or twenty-two (Raymie’s estimate), Vida’s plan to have the high-school Debating Society give a playlet, and the difficulty of keeping the younger boys well behaved on the playground when a big lubber like Cy Bogart acted up so;

About the picture post-card which Mrs. Dawson had sent to Mrs. Cass from Pasadena, showing roses growing right outdoors in February, the change in time on No. 4, the reckless way Dr. Gould always drove his auto, the reckless way almost all these people drove their autos, the fallacy of supposing that these socialists could carry on a government for as much as six months if they ever did have a chance to try out their theories, and the crazy way in which Carol jumped from subject to subject.

Vida had once beheld Raymie as a thin man with spectacles, mournful drawn-out face, and colorless stiff hair. Now she noted that his jaw was square, that his long hands moved quickly and were bleached in a refined manner, and that his trusting eyes indicated that he had “led a clean life.” She began to call him “Ray,” and to bounce in defense of his unselfishness and thoughtfulness every time Juanita Haydock or Rita Gould giggled about him at the Jolly Seventeen.

On a Sunday afternoon of late autumn they walked down to Lake Minniemashie. Ray said that he would like to see the ocean; it must be a grand sight; it must be much grander than a lake, even a great big lake. Vida had seen it, she stated modestly; she had seen it on a summer trip to Cape Cod.

“Have you been clear to Cape Cod? Massachusetts? I knew you’d traveled, but I never realized you’d been that far!”

Made taller and younger by his interest she poured out, “Oh my yes. It was a wonderful trip. So many points of interest through Massachusetts–historical. There’s Lexington where we turned back the redcoats, and Longfellow’s home at Cambridge, and Cape Cod–just everything–fishermen and whale- ships and sand-dunes and everything.”

She wished that she had a little cane to carry. He broke off a willow branch.

“My, you’re strong!” she said.

“No, not very. I wish there was a Y. M. C. A. here, so I could take up regular exercise. I used to think I could do pretty good acrobatics, if I had a chance.”

“I’m sure you could. You’re unusually lithe, for a large man.”

“Oh no, not so very. But I wish we had a Y. M. It would be dandy to have lectures and everything, and I’d like to take a class in improving the memory–I believe a fellow ought to go on educating himself and improving his mind even if he is in business, don’t you, Vida–I guess I’m kind of fresh to call you `Vida’!”

“I’ve been calling you `Ray’ for weeks!”

He wondered why she sounded tart.

He helped her down the bank to the edge of the lake but dropped her hand abruptly, and as they sat on a willow log and he brushed her sleeve, he delicately moved over and murmured, “Oh, excuse me–accident.”

She stared at the mud-browned chilly water, the floating gray reeds.

“You look so thoughtful,” he said.

She threw out her hands. “I am! Will you kindly tell me what’s the use of–anything! Oh, don’t mind me. I’m a moody old hen. Tell me about your plan for getting a partnership in the Bon Ton. I do think you’re right: Harry Haydock and that mean old Simons ought to give you one.”

He hymned the old unhappy wars in which he had been Achilles and the mellifluous Nestor, yet gone his righteous ways unheeded by the cruel kings. . . . “Why, if I’ve told ’em once, I’ve told ’em a dozen times to get in a side-line of light-weight pants for gents’ summer wear, and of course here they go and let a cheap kike like Rifkin beat them to it and grab the trade right off ’em, and then Harry said– you know how Harry is, maybe he don’t mean to be grouchy, but he’s such a sore-head—-“

He gave her a hand to rise. “If you don’t MIND. I think a fellow is awful if a lady goes on a walk with him and she can’t trust him and he tries to flirt with her and all.”

“I’m sure you’re highly trustworthy!” she snapped, and she sprang up without his aid. Then, smiling excessively, “Uh–don’t you think Carol sometimes fails to appreciate Dr. Will’s ability?”

III

Ray habitually asked her about his window-trimming, the display of the new shoes, the best music for the entertainment at the Eastern Star, and (though he was recognized as a professional authority on what the town called “gents’ furnishings”) about his own clothes. She persuaded him not to wear the small bow ties which made him look like an elongated Sunday School scholar. Once she burst out:

“Ray, I could shake you! Do you know you’re too apologetic? You always appreciate other people too much. You fuss over Carol Kennicott when she has some crazy theory that we all ought to turn anarchists or live on figs and nuts or something. And you listen when Harry Haydock tries to show off and talk about turnovers and credits and things you know lots better than he does. Look folks in the eye! Glare at ’em! Talk deep! You’re the smartest man in town, if you only knew it. You ARE!”

He could not believe it. He kept coming back to her for confirmation. He practised glaring and talking deep, but he circuitously hinted to Vida that when he had tried to look Harry Haydock in the eye, Harry had inquired, “What’s the matter with you, Raymie? Got a pain?” But afterward Harry had asked about Kantbeatum socks in a manner which, Ray felt, was somehow different from his former condescension.

They were sitting on the squat yellow satin settee in the boarding-house parlor. As Ray reannounced that he simply wouldn’t stand it many more years if Harry didn’t give him a partnership, his gesticulating hand touched Vida’s shoulders.

“Oh, excuse me!” he pleaded.

“It’s all right. Well, I think I must be running up to my room. Headache,” she said briefly.

IV

Ray and she had stopped in at Dyer’s for a hot chocolate on their way home from the movies, that March evening. Vida speculated, “Do you know that I may not be here next year?”

“What do you mean?”

With her fragile narrow nails she smoothed the glass slab which formed the top of the round table at which they sat. She peeped through the glass at the perfume-boxes of black and gold and citron in the hollow table. She looked about at shelves of red rubber water-bottles, pale yellow sponges, wash- rags with blue borders, hair-brushes of polished cherry backs. She shook her head like a nervous medium coming out of a trance, stared at him unhappily, demanded:

“Why should I stay here? And I must make up my mind. Now. Time to renew our teaching-contracts for next year. I think I’ll go teach in some other town. Everybody here is tired of me. I might as well go. Before folks come out and SAY they’re tired of me. I have to decide tonight. I might as well—- Oh, no matter. Come. Let’s skip. It’s late.”

She sprang up, ignoring his wail of “Vida! Wait! Sit down! Gosh! I’m flabbergasted! Gee! Vida!” She marched out. While he was paying his check she got ahead. He ran after her, blubbering, “Vida! Wait!” In the shade of the lilacs in front of the Gougerling house he came up with her, stayed her flight by a hand on her shoulder.

“Oh, don’t! Don’t! What does it matter?” she begged. She was sobbing, her soft wrinkly lids soaked with tears. “Who cares for my affection or help? I might as well drift on, forgotten. O Ray, please don’t hold me. Let me go. I’ll just decide not to renew my contract here, and–and drift–way off—-“

His hand was steady on her shoulder. She dropped her head, rubbed the back of his hand with her cheek.

They were married in June.

V

They took the Ole Jenson house. “It’s small,” said Vida, “but it’s got the dearest vegetable garden, and I love having time to get near to Nature for once.”

Though she became Vida Wutherspoon technically, and though she certainly had no ideals about the independence of keeping her name, she continued to be known as Vida Sherwin.

She had resigned from the school, but she kept up one class in English. She bustled about on every committee of the Thanatopsis; she was always popping into the rest-room to make Mrs. Nodelquist sweep the floor; she was appointed to the library-board to succeed Carol; she taught the Senior Girls’ Class in the Episcopal Sunday School, and tried to revive the King’s Daughters. She exploded into self-confidence and happiness; her draining thoughts were by marriage turned into energy. She became daily and visibly more plump, and though she chattered as eagerly, she was less obviously admiring of marital bliss, less sentimental about babies, sharper in demanding that the entire town share her reforms–the purchase of a park, the compulsory cleaning of back-yards.

She penned Harry Haydock at his desk in the Bon Ton; she interrupted his joking; she told him that it was Ray who had built up the shoe-department and men’s department; she demanded that he be made a partner. Before Harry could answer she threatened that Ray and she would start a rival shop. “I’ll clerk behind the counter myself, and a Certain Party is all ready to put up the money.”

She rather wondered who the Certain Party was.

Ray was made a one-sixth partner.

He became a glorified floor-walker, greeting the men with new poise, no longer coyly subservient to pretty women. When he was not affectionately coercing people into buying things they did not need, he stood at the back of the store, glowing, abstracted, feeling masculine as he recalled the tempestuous surprises of love revealed by Vida.

The only remnant of Vida’s identification of herself with Carol was a jealousy when she saw Kennicott and Ray together, and reflected that some people might suppose that Kennicott was his superior. She was sure that Carol thought so, and she wanted to shriek, “You needn’t try to gloat! I wouldn’t have your pokey old husband. He hasn’t one single bit of Ray’s spiritual nobility.”

CHAPTER XXII

I

THE greatest mystery about a human being is not his reaction to sex or praise, but the manner in which he contrives to put in twenty-four hours a day. It is this which puzzles the long- shoreman about the clerk, the Londoner about the bushman. It was this which puzzled Carol in regard to the married Vida. Carol herself had the baby, a larger house to care for, all the telephone calls for Kennicott when he was away; and she read everything, while Vida was satisfied with newspaper headlines.

But after detached brown years in boarding-houses, Vida was hungry for housework, for the most pottering detail of it. She had no maid, nor wanted one. She cooked, baked, swept, washed supper-cloths, with the triumph of a chemist in a new laboratory. To her the hearth was veritably the altar. When she went shopping she hugged the cans of soup, and she bought a mop or a side of bacon as though she were preparing for a reception. She knelt beside a bean sprout and crooned, “I raised this with my own hands–I brought this new life into the world.”

“I love her for being so happy,” Carol brooded. “I ought to be that way. I worship the baby, but the housework—- Oh, I suppose I’m fortunate; so much better off than farm- women on a new clearing, or people in a slum.”

It has not yet been recorded that any human being has gained a very large or permanent contentment from meditation upon the fact that he is better off than others.

In Carol’s own twenty-four hours a day she got up, dressed the baby, had breakfast, talked to Oscarina about the day’s shopping, put the baby on the porch to play, went. to the butcher’s to choose between steak and pork chops, bathed the baby, nailed up a shelf, had dinner, put the baby to bed for a nap, paid the iceman, read for an hour, took the baby out for a walk, called on Vida, had supper, put the baby to bed, darned socks, listened to Kennicott’s yawning comment on what a fool Dr. McGanum was to try to use that cheap X-ray outfit of his on an epithelioma, repaired a frock, drowsily heard Kennicott stoke the furnace, tried to read a page of Thorstein Veblen–and the day was gone.

Except when Hugh was vigorously naughty, or whiney, or laughing, or saying “I like my chair” with thrilling maturity, she was always enfeebled by loneliness. She no longer felt superior about that misfortune. She would gladly have been converted to Vida’s satisfaction in Gopher Prairie and mopping the floor.

II

Carol drove through an astonishing number of books from the public library and from city shops. Kennicott was at first uncomfortable over her disconcerting habit of buying them. A book was a book, and if you had several thousand of them right here in the library, free, why the dickens should you spend your good money? After worrying about it for two or three years, he decided that this was one of the Funny Ideas which she had caught as a librarian and from which she would never entirely recover.

The authors whom she read were most of them frightfully annoyed by the Vida Sherwins. They were young American sociologists, young English realists, Russian horrorists; Anatole France, Rolland, Nexo, Wells, Shaw, Key, Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Henry Mencken, and all the other subversive philosophers and artists whom women were consulting everywhere, in batik-curtained studios in New York, in Kansas farmhouses, San Francisco drawing- rooms, Alabama schools for negroes. From them she got the same confused desire which the million other women felt; the same determination to be class-conscious without discovering the class of which she was to be conscious.

Certainly her reading precipitated her observations of Main Street, of Gopher Prairie and of the several adjacent Gopher Prairies which she had seen on drives with Kennicott. In her fluid thought certain convictions appeared, jaggedly, a fragment of an impression at a time, while she was going to sleep, or manicuring her nails, or waiting for Kennicott.

These convictions she presented to Vida Sherwin–Vida Wutherspoon–beside a radiator, over a bowl of not very good walnuts and pecans from Uncle Whittier’s grocery, on an evening when both Kennicott and Raymie had gone out of town with the other officers of the Ancient and Affiliated Order of Spartans, to inaugurate a new chapter at Wakamin. Vida had come to the house for the night. She helped in putting Hugh to bed, sputtering the while about his soft skin. Then they talked till midnight.

What Carol said that evening, what she was passionately thinking, was also emerging in the minds of women in ten thousand Gopher Prairies. Her formulations were not pat solutions but visions of a tragic futility. She did not utter them so compactly that they can be given in her words; they were roughened with “Well, you see” and “if you get what I mean” and “I don’t know that I’m making myself clear.” But they were definite enough, and indignant enough.

III

In reading popular stories and seeing plays, asserted Carol, she had found only two traditions of the American small town. The first tradition, repeated in scores of magazines every month, is that the American village remains the one sure abode of friendship, honesty, and clean sweet marriageable girls. Therefore all men who succeed in painting in Paris or in finance in New York at last become weary of smart women, return to their native towns, assert that cities are vicious, marry their childhood sweethearts and, presumably, joyously abide in those towns until death.

The other tradition is that the significant features of all villages are whiskers, iron dogs upon lawns, gold bricks, checkers, jars of gilded cat-tails, and shrewd comic old men who are known as “hicks” and who ejaculate “Waal I swan.” This altogether admirable tradition rules the vaudeville stage, facetious illustrators, and syndicated newspaper humor, but out of actual life it passed forty years ago. Carol’s small town thinks not in hoss-swapping but in cheap motor cars, telephones, ready-made clothes, silos, alfalfa, kodaks, phonographs, leather-upholstered Morris chairs, bridge-prizes, oil- stocks, motion-pictures, land-deals, unread sets of Mark Twain, and a chaste version of national politics.

With such a small-town life a Kennicott or a Champ Perry is content, but there are also hundreds of thousands, par- ticularly women and young men, who are not at all content. The more intelligent young people (and the fortunate widows!) flee to the cities with agility and, despite the fictional tradition, resolutely stay there, seldom returning even for holidays. The most protesting patriots of the towns leave them in old age, if they can afford it, and go to live in California or in the cities.

The reason, Carol insisted, is not a whiskered rusticity. It is nothing so amusing!

It is an unimaginatively standardized background, a sluggishness of speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit by the desire to appear respectable. It is contentment. . . the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful of the living for their restless walking. It is negation canonized as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is slavery self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness made God.

A savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking-chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world.

IV

She had inquired as to the effect of this dominating dullness upon foreigners. She remembered the feeble exotic quality to be found in the first-generation Scandinavians; she recalled the Norwegian Fair at the Lutheran Church, to which Bea had taken her. There, in the bondestue, the replica of a Norse farm kitchen, pale women in scarlet jackets embroidered with gold thread and colored beads, in black skirts with a line of blue, green-striped aprons, and ridged caps very pretty to set off a fresh face, had served rommegrod og lefse– sweet cakes and sour milk pudding spiced with cinnamon. For the first time in Gopher Prairie Carol had found novelty. She had reveled in the mild foreignness of it.

But she saw these Scandinavian women zealously exchanging their spiced puddings and red jackets for fried pork chops and congealed white blouses, trading the ancient Christmas hymns of the fjords for “She’s My Jazzland Cutie,” being Americanized into uniformity, and in less than a generation losing in the grayness whatever pleasant new customs they might have added to the life of the town. Their sons finished the process. In ready-made clothes and ready-made high- school phrases they sank into propriety, and the sound American customs had absorbed without one trace of pollution another alien invasion.

And along with these foreigners, she felt herself being ironed into glossy mediocrity, and she rebelled, in fear.

The respectability of the Gopher Prairies, said Carol, is reinforced by vows of poverty and chastity in the matter of knowledge. Except for half a dozen in each town the citizens are proud of that achievement of ignorance which it is so easy to come by. To be “intellectual” or “artistic” or, in their own word, to be “highbrow,” is to be priggish and of dubious virtue.

Large experiments in politics and in co-operative distribution, ventures requiring knowledge, courage, and imagination, do originate in the West and Middlewest, but they are not of the towns, they are of the farmers. If these heresies are supported by the townsmen it is only by occasional teachers doctors, lawyers, the labor unions, and workmen like Miles Bjornstam, who are punished by being mocked as “cranks,” as “half-baked parlor socialists.” The editor and the rector preach at them. The cloud of serene ignorance submerges them in unhappiness and futility.

V

Here Vida observed, “Yes–well—- Do you know, I’ve always thought that Ray would have made a wonderful rector. He has what I call an essentially religious soul. My! He’d have read the service beautifully! I suppose it’s too late now, but as I tell him, he can also serve the world by selling shoes and—- I wonder if we oughtn’t to have family-prayers?”

VI

Doubtless all small towns, in all countries, in all ages, Carol admitted, have a tendency to be not only dull but mean, bitter, infested with curiosity. In France or Tibet quite as much as in Wyoming or Indiana these timidities are inherent in isolation.

But a village in a country which is taking pains to become altogether standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed Victorian England as the chief mediocrity of the world, is no longer merely provincial, no longer downy and restful in its leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking to dominate the earth, to drain the hills and sea of color, to set Dante at boosting Gopher Prairie, and to dress the high gods in Klassy Kollege Klothes. Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations, as a traveling salesman in a brown derby conquers the wisdom of China and tacks advertisements of cigarettes over arches for centuries dedicate to the sayings of Confucius.

Such a society functions admirably in the large production of cheap automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors. But it is not satisfied until the entire world also admits that the end and joyous purpose of living is to ride in flivvers, to make advertising-pictures of dollar watches, and in the twilight to sit talking not of love and courage but of the convenience of safety razors.

And such a society, such a nation, is determined by the Gopher Prairies. The greatest manufacturer is but a busier Sam Clark, and all the rotund senators and presidents are village lawyers and bankers grown nine feet tall.

Though a Gopher Prairie regards itself as a part of the Great World, compares itself to Rome and Vienna, it will not acquire the scientific spirit, the international mind, which would make it great. It picks at information which will visibly procure money or social distinction. Its conception of a community ideal is not the grand manner, the noble aspiration, the fine aristocratic pride, but cheap labor for the kitchen and rapid increase in the price of land. It plays at cards on greasy oil- cloth in a shanty, and does not know that prophets are walking and talking on the terrace.

If all the provincials were as kindly as Champ Perry and Sam Clark there would be no reason for desiring the town to seek great traditions. It is the Harry Haydocks, the Dave Dyers, the Jackson Elders, small busy men crushingly powerful in their common purpose, viewing themselves as men of the world but keeping themselves men of the cash-register and the comic film, who make the town a sterile oligarchy.

VII

She had sought to be definite in analyzing the surface ugliness of the Gopher Prairies. She asserted that it is a matter of universal similarity; of flimsiness of construction, so that the towns resemble frontier camps; of neglect of natural advantages, so that the hills are covered with brush, the lakes shut off by railroads, and the creeks lined with dumping- grounds; of depressing sobriety of color; rectangularity of buildings; and excessive breadth and straightness of the gashed streets, so that there is no escape from gales and from sight of the grim sweep of land, nor any windings to coax the loiterer along, while the breadth which would be majestic in an avenue of palaces makes the low shabby shops creeping down the typical Main Street the more mean by comparison.

The universal similarity–that is the physical expression of the philosophy of dull safety. Nine-tenths of the American towns are so alike that it is the completest boredom to wander from one to another. Always, west of Pittsburg, and often, east of it, there is the same lumber yard, the same railroad station, the same Ford garage, the same creamery, the same box-like houses and two-story shops. The new, more conscious houses are alike in their very attempts at diversity: the same bungalows, the same square houses of stucco or tapestry brick. The shops show the same standardized, nationally advertised wares; the newspapers of sections three thousand miles apart have the same “syndicated features”; the boy in Arkansas displays just such a flamboyant ready-made suit as is found on just such a boy in Delaware, both of them iterate the same slang phrases from the same sporting-pages, and if one of them is in college and the other is a barber, no one may surmise which is which.

If Kennicott were snatched from Gopher Prairie and instantly conveyed to a town leagues away, he would not realize it. He would go down apparently the same Main Street (almost certainly it would be called Main Street); in the same drug store he would see the same young man serving the same ice-cream soda to the same young woman with the same magazines and phonograph records under her arm. Not till he had climbed to his office and found another sign on the door, another Dr. Kennicott inside, would he understand that something curious had presumably happened.

Finally, behind all her comments, Carol saw the fact that the prairie towns no more exist to serve the farmers who are their reason of existence than do the great capitals; they exist to fatten on the farmers, to provide for the townsmen large motors and social preferment; and, unlike the capitals, they do not give to the district in return for usury a stately and permanent center, but only this ragged camp. It is a “parasitic Greek civilization”–minus the civilization.

“There we are then,” said Carol. “The remedy? Is there any? Criticism, perhaps, for the beginning of the beginning. Oh, there’s nothing that attacks the Tribal God Mediocrity that doesn’t help a little. . .and probably there’s nothing that helps very much. Perhaps some day the farmers will build and own their market-towns. (Think of the club they could have!) But I’m afraid I haven’t any `reform program.’ Not any more! The trouble is spiritual, and no League or Party can enact a preference for gardens rather than dumping-grounds. . . . There’s my confession. WELL?”

“In other words, all you want is perfection?”

“Yes! Why not?”

“How you hate this place! How can you expect to do anything with it if you haven’t any sympathy?”

“But I have! And affection. Or else I wouldn’t fume so. I’ve learned that Gopher Prairie isn’t just an eruption on the prairie, as I thought first, but as large as New York. In New York I wouldn’t know more than forty or fifty people, and I know that many here. Go on! Say what you’re thinking.”

“Well, my dear, if I DID take all your notions seriously, it would be pretty discouraging. Imagine how a person would feel, after working hard for years and helping to build up a nice town, to have you airily flit in and simply say `Rotten!’ Think that’s fair?”

“Why not? It must be just as discouraging for the Gopher Prairieite to see Venice and make comparisons.”

“It would not! I imagine gondolas are kind of nice to ride in, but we’ve got better bath-rooms! But—- My dear, you’re not the only person in this town who has done some thinking for herself, although (pardon my rudeness) I’m afraid you think so. I’ll admit we lack some things. Maybe our theater isn’t as good as shows in Paris. All right! I don’t want to see any foreign culture suddenly forced on us–whether it’s street-planning or table-manners or crazy communistic ideas.”

Vida sketched what she termed “practical things that will make a happier and prettier town, but that do belong to our life, that actually are being done.” Of the Thanatopsis Club she spoke; of the rest-room, the fight against mosquitos, the campaign for more gardens and shade-trees and sewers– matters not fantastic and nebulous and distant, but immediate and sure.

Carol’s answer was fantastic and nebulous enough:

“Yes. . . . Yes. . . . I know. They’re good. But if I could put through all those reforms at once, I’d still want startling, exotic things. Life is comfortable and clean enough here already. And so secure. What it needs is to be less secure, more eager. The civic improvements which I’d like the Thanatopsis to advocate are Strindberg plays, and classic dancers–exquisite legs beneath tulle–and (I can see him so clearly!) a thick, black-bearded, cynical Frenchman who would sit about and drink and sing opera and tell bawdy stories and laugh at our proprieties and quote Rabelais and not be ashamed to kiss my hand!”

“Huh! Not sure about the rest of it but I guess that’s what you and all the other discontented young women really want: some stranger kissing your hand!” At Carol’s gasp, the old squirrel-like Vida darted out and cried, “Oh, my dear, don’t take that too seriously. I just meant—-“

“I know. You just meant it. Go on. Be good for my soul. Isn’t it funny: here we all are–me trying to be good for Gopher Prairie’s soul, and Gopher Prairie trying to be good for my soul. What are my other sins?”

“Oh, there’s plenty of them. Possibly some day we shall have your fat cynical Frenchman (horrible, sneering, tobacco- stained object, ruining his brains and his digestion with vile liquor!) but, thank heaven, for a while we’ll manage to keep busy with our lawns and pavements! You see, these things really are coming! The Thanatopsis is getting somewhere. And you—-” Her tone italicized the words–“to my great disappointment, are doing less, not more, than the people you laugh at! Sam Clark, on the school-board, is working for better school ventilation. Ella Stowbody (whose elocuting you always think is so absurd) has persuaded the railroad to share the expense of a parked space at the station, to do away with that vacant lot.

“You sneer so easily. I’m sorry, but I do think there’s something essentially cheap in your attitude. Especially about religion.

“If you must know, you’re not a sound reformer at all. You’re an impossibilist. And you give up too easily. You gave up on the new city hall, the anti-fly campaign, club papers, the library-board, the dramatic association–just because we didn’t graduate into Ibsen the very first thing. You want perfection all at once. Do you know what the finest thing you’ve done is–aside from bringing Hugh into the world? It was the help you gave Dr. Will during baby-welfare week. You didn’t demand that each baby be a philosopher and artist before you weighed him, as you do with the rest of us.

“And now I’m afraid perhaps I’ll hurt you. We’re going to have a new schoolbuilding in this town–in just a few years–and we’ll have it without one bit of help or interest from you!

“Professor Mott and I and some others have been dinging away at the moneyed men for years. We didn’t call on you because you would never stand the pound-pound-pounding year after year without one bit of encouragement. And we’ve won! I’ve got the promise of everybody who counts that just as soon as war-conditions permit, they’ll vote the bonds for the schoolhouse. And we’ll have a wonderful building– lovely brown brick, with big windows, and agricultural and manual-training departments. When we get it, that’ll be my answer to all your theories!”

“I’m glad. And I’m ashamed I haven’t had any part in getting it. But—- Please don’t think I’m unsympathetic if I ask one question: Will the teachers in the hygienic new building go on informing the children that Persia is a yellow spot on the map, and `Caesar’ the title of a book of grammatical puzzles?”

VIII

Vida was indignant; Carol was apologetic; they talked for another hour, the eternal Mary and Martha–an immoralist Mary and a reformist Martha. It was Vida who conquered.

The fact that she had been left out of the campaign for the new schoolbuilding disconcerted Carol. She laid her dreams of perfection aside. When Vida asked her to take charge of a group of Camp Fire Girls, she obeyed, and had definite pleasure out of the Indian dances and ritual and costumes. She went more regularly to the Thanatopsis. With Vida as lieutenant and unofficial commander she campaigned for a village nurse to attend poor families, raised the fund herself, saw to it that the nurse was young and strong and amiable and intelligent.

Yet all the while she beheld the burly cynical Frenchman and the diaphanous dancers as clearly as the child sees its air-born playmates; she relished the Camp Fire Girls not because, in Vida’s words, “this Scout training will help so much to make them Good Wives,” but because she hoped that the Sioux dances would bring subversive color into their dinginess.

She helped Ella Stowbody to set out plants in the tiny triangular park at the railroad station; she squatted in the dirt, with a small curved trowel and the most decorous of gardening gauntlets; she talked to Ella about the public- spiritedness of fuchsias and cannas; and she felt that she was scrubbing a temple deserted by the gods and empty even of incense and the sound of chanting. Passengers looking from trains saw her as a village woman of fading prettiness, incorruptible virtue, and no abnormalities; the baggageman heard her say, “Oh yes, I do think it will be a good example for the children”; and all the while she saw herself running garlanded through the streets of Babylon.

Planting led her to botanizing. She never got much farther than recognizing the tiger lily and the wild rose, but she rediscovered Hugh. “What does the buttercup say, mummy?” he cried, his hand full of straggly grasses, his cheek gilded with pollen. She knelt to embrace him; she affirmed that he made life more than full; she was altogether reconciled. . .for an hour.

But she awoke at night to hovering death. She crept away from the hump of bedding that was Kennicott; tiptoed into the bathroom and, by the mirror in the door of the medicine- cabinet, examined her pallid face.

Wasn’t she growing visibly older in ratio as Vida grew plumper and younger? Wasn’t her nose sharper? Wasn’t her neck granulated? She stared and choked. She was only thirty. But the five years since her marriage–had they not gone by as hastily and stupidly as though she had been under ether; would time not slink past till death? She pounded her fist on the cool enameled rim of the bathtub and raged mutely against the indifferent gods:

“I don’t care! I won’t endure it! They lie so–Vida and Will and Aunt Bessie–they tell me I ought to be satisfied with Hugh and a good home and planting seven nasturtiums in a station garden! I am I! When I die the world will be annihilated, as far as I’m concerned. I am I! I’m not content to leave the sea and the ivory towers to others. I want them for me! Damn Vida! Damn all of them! Do they think they can make me believe that a display of potatoes at Howland & Gould’s is enough beauty and strangeness?”

CHAPTER XXIII

I

WHEN America entered the Great European War, Vida sent Raymie off to an officers’ training-camp–less than a year after her wedding. Raymie was diligent and rather strong. He came out a first lieutenant of infantry, and was one of the earliest sent abroad.

Carol grew definitely afraid of Vida as Vida transferred the passion which had been released in marriage to the cause of the war; as she lost all tolerance. When Carol was touched by the desire for heroism in Raymie and tried tactfully to express it, Vida made her feel like an impertinent child.

By enlistment and draft, the sons of Lyman Cass, Nat Hicks, Sam Clark joined the army. But most of the soldiers were the sons of German and Swedish farmers unknown to Carol. Dr. Terry Gould and Dr. McGanum became captains in the medical corps, and were stationed at camps in Iowa and Georgia. They were the only officers, besides Raymie, from the Gopher Prairie district. Kennicott wanted to go with them, but the several doctors of the town forgot medical rivalry and, meeting in council, decided that he would do better to wait and keep the town well till he should be needed. Kennicott was forty-two now; the only youngish doctor left in a radius of eighteen miles. Old Dr. Westlake, who loved comfort like a cat, protestingly rolled out at night for country calls, and hunted through his collar-box for his G. A. R. button.

Carol did not quite know what she thought about Kennicott’s going. Certainly she was no Spartan wife. She knew that he wanted to go; she knew that this longing was always in him, behind his unchanged trudging and remarks about the weather. She felt for him an admiring affection–and she was sorry that she had nothing more than affection.

Cy Bogart was the spectacular warrior of the town. Cy was no longer the weedy boy who had sat in the loft speculating about Carol’s egotism and the mysteries of generation. He was nineteen now, tall, broad, busy, the “town sport,” famous for his ability to drink beer, to shake dice, to tell undesirable stories, and, from his post in front of Dyer’s drug store, to embarrass the girls by “jollying” them as they passed. His face was at once peach-bloomed and pimply.

Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn’t get the Widow Bogart’s permission to enlist, he’d run away and enlist without it. He shouted that he “hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and democracy, he’d die happy.” Cy got much reputation by whipping a farmboy named Adolph Pochbauer for being a “damn hyphenated German.” . . . This was the younger Pochbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to go to war.

II

Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring a basic change in psychology, to purify and uplift everything from marital relations to national politics, and she tried to exult in it. Only she did not find it. She saw the women who made bandages for the Red Cross giving up bridge, and laughing at having to do without sugar, but over the surgical- dressings they did not speak of God and the souls of men, but of Miles Bjornstam’s impudence, of Terry Gould’s scandalous carryings-on with a farmer’s daughter four years ago, of cooking cabbage, and of altering blouses. Their references to the war touched atrocities only. She herself was punctual, and efficient at making dressings, but she could not, like Mrs. Lyman Cass and Mrs. Bogart, fill the dressings with hate for enemies.

When she protested to Vida, “The young do the work while these old ones sit around and interrupt us and gag with hate because they’re too feeble to do anything but hate,” then Vida turned on her:

“If you can’t be reverent, at least don’t be so pert and opinionated, now when men and women are dying. Some of us–we have given up so much, and we’re glad to. At least we expect that you others sha’n’t try to be witty at our expense.”

There was weeping.

Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated; she did persuade herself that there were no autocracies save that of Prussia; she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops embarking in New York; and she was uncomfortable when she met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he croaked:

“How’s tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new cows. Well, have you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they’ll bring democracy–the democracy of death. Yes, sure, in every war since the Garden of Eden the workmen have gone out to fight each other for perfectly good reasons–handed to them by their bosses. Now me, I’m wise. I’m so wise that I know I don’t know anything about the war.”

It was not a thought of the war that remained with her after Miles’s declamation but a perception that she and Vida and all of the good-intentioners who wanted to “do something for the common people” were insignificant, because the “common people” were able to do things for themselves, and highly likely to, as soon as they learned the fact. The conception of millions of workmen like Miles taking control frightened her, and she scuttled rapidly away from the thought of a time when she might no longer retain the position of Lady Bountiful to the Bjornstams and Beas and Oscarinas whom she loved–and patronized.

III

It was in June, two months after America’s entrance into the war, that the momentous event happened–the visit of the great Percy Bresnahan, the millionaire president of the Velvet Motor Car Company of Boston, the one native son who was always to be mentioned to strangers.

For two weeks there were rumors. Sam Clark cried to Kennicott, “Say, I hear Perce Bresnahan is coming! By golly it’ll be great to see the old scout, eh?” Finally the Dauntless printed, on the front page with a No. 1 head, a letter from Bresnahan to Jackson Elder:

DEAR JACK:

Well, Jack, I find I can make it. I’m to go to Washington as a dollar a year man for the government, in the aviation motor section, and tell them how much I don’t know about carburetors. But before I start in being a hero I want to shoot out and catch me a big black bass and cuss out you and Sam Clark and Harry Haydock and Will Kennicott and the rest of you pirates. I’ll land in G. P. on June 7, on No. 7 from Mpls. Shake a day-day. Tell Bert Tybee to save me a glass of beer.

Sincerely yours,

Perce.

All members of the social, financial, scientific, literary, and sporting sets were at No. 7 to meet Bresnahan; Mrs. Lyman Cass was beside Del Snafflin the barber, and Juanita Haydock almost cordial to Miss Villets the librarian. Carol saw Bresnahan laughing down at them from the train vestibule–big, immaculate, overjawed, with the eye of an executive. In the voice of the professional Good Fellow he bellowed, “Howdy, folks!” As she was introduced to him (not he to her) Bresnahan looked into her eyes, and his hand-shake was warm, unhurried.

He declined the offers of motors; he walked off, his arm about the shoulder of Nat Hicks the sporting tailor, with the elegant Harry Haydock carrying one of his enormous pale leather bags, Del Snafflin the other, Jack Elder bearing an overcoat, and Julius Flickerbaugh the fishing-tackle. Carol noted that though Bresnahan wore spats and a stick, no small boy jeered. She decided, “I must have Will get a double- breasted blue coat and a wing collar and a dotted bow-tie like his.”

That evening, when Kennicott was trimming the grass along the walk with sheep-shears, Bresnahan rolled up, alone. He was now in corduroy trousers, khaki shirt open at the throat, a white boating hat, and marvelous canvas-and-leather shoes “On the job there, old Will! Say, my Lord, this is living, to come back and get into a regular man-sized pair of pants. They can talk all they want to about the city, but my idea of a good time is to loaf around and see you boys and catch a gamey bass!”

He hustled up the walk and blared at Carol, “Where’s that little fellow? I hear you’ve got one fine big he-boy that you’re holding out on me!”

“He’s gone to bed,” rather briefly.

“I know. And rules are rules, these days. Kids get routed through the shop like a motor. But look here, sister; I’m one great hand at busting rules. Come on now, let Uncle Perce have a look at him. Please now, sister?”

He put his arm about her waist; it was a large, strong, sophisticated arm, and very agreeable; he grinned at her with a devastating knowingness, while Kennicott glowed inanely. She flushed; she was alarmed by the ease with which the big-city man invaded her guarded personality. She was glad, in retreat, to scamper ahead of the two men up-stairs to the hall-room in which Hugh slept. All the way Kennicott muttered, “Well, well, say, gee whittakers but it’s good to have you back, certainly is good to see you!”

Hugh lay on his stomach, making an earnest business of sleeping. He burrowed his eyes in the dwarf blue pillow to escape the electric light, then sat up abruptly, small and frail in his woolly nightdrawers, his floss of brown hair wild, the pillow clutched to his breast. He wailed. He stared at the stranger, in a manner of patient dismissal. He explained confidentially to Carol, “Daddy wouldn’t let it be morning yet. What does the pillow say?”

Bresnahan dropped his arm caressingly on Carol’s shoulder; he pronounced, “My Lord, you’re a lucky girl to have a fine young husk like that. I figure Will knew what he was doing when he persuaded you to take a chance on an old bum like him! They tell me you come from St. Paul. We’re going to get you to come to Boston some day.” He leaned over the bed. “Young man, you’re the slickest sight I’ve seen this side of Boston. With your permission, may we present you with a slight token of our regard and appreciation of your long service?”

He held out a red rubber Pierrot. Hugh remarked, “Gimme it,” hid it under the bedclothes, and stared at Bresnahan as though he had never seen the man before.

For once Carol permitted herself the spiritual luxury of not asking “Why, Hugh dear, what do you say when some one gives you a present?” The great man was apparently waiting. They stood in inane suspense till Bresnahan led them out, rumbling, “How about planning a fishing-trip, Will?”

He remained for half an hour. Always he told Carol what a charming person she was; always he looked at her knowingly.

“Yes. He probably would make a woman fall in love with him. But it wouldn’t last a week. I’d get tired of his confounded buoyancy. His hypocrisy. He’s a spiritual bully. He makes me rude to him in self-defense. Oh yes, he is glad to be here. He does like us. He’s so good an actor that he convinces his own self. . . . I’d HATE him in Boston. He’d have all the obvious big-city things. Limousines. Discreet evening-clothes. Order a clever dinner at a smart restaurant. Drawing-room decorated by the best firm–but the pictures giving him away. I’d rather talk to Guy Pollock in his dusty office. . . . How I lie! His arm coaxed my shoulder and his eyes dared me not to admire him. I’d be afraid of him. I hate him! . . . Oh, the inconceivable egotistic imagination of women! All this stew of analysss. about a man, a good, decent, friendly, efficient man, because he was kind to me, as Will’s wife!”

IV

The Kennicotts, the Elders, the Clarks, and Bresnahan went fishing at Red Squaw Lake. They drove forty miles to the lake in Elder’s new Cadillac. There was much laughter and bustle at the start, much storing of lunch-baskets and jointed poles, much inquiry as to whether it would really bother Carol to sit with her feet up on a roll of shawls. When they were ready to go Mrs. Clark lamented, “Oh, Sam, I forgot my magazine,” and Bresnahan bullied, “Come on now, if you women think you’re going to be literary, you can’t go with us tough guys!” Every one laughed a great deal, and as they drove on Mrs. Clark explained that though probably she would not have read it, still, she might have wanted to, while the other girls had a nap in the afternoon, and she was right in the middle of a serial–it was an awfully exciting story– it seems that this girl was a Turkish dancer (only she was really the daughter of an American lady and a Russian prince) and men kept running after her, just disgustingly, but she remained pure, and there was a scene—-

While the men floated on the lake, casting for black bass, the women prepared lunch and yawned. Carol was a little resentful of the manner in which the men assumed that they did not care to fish. “I don’t want to go with them, but I would like the privilege of refusing.”

The lunch was long and pleasant. It was a background for the talk of the great man come home, hints of cities and large imperative affairs and famous people, jocosely modest admissions that, yes, their friend Perce was doing about as well as most of these “Boston swells that think so much of themselves because they come from rich old families and went to college and everything. Believe me, it’s us new business men that are running Beantown today, and not a lot of fussy old bucks snoozing in their clubs!”

Carol realized that he was not one of the sons of Gopher Prairie who, if they do not actually starve in the East, are invariably spoken of as “highly successful”; and she found behind his too incessant flattery a genuine affection for his mates. It was in the matter of the war that he most favored and thrilled them. Dropping his voice while they bent nearer (there was no one within two miles to overhear), he disclosed the fact that in both Boston and Washington he’d been getting a lot of inside stuff on the war–right straight from headquarters–he was in touch with some men–couldn’t name them but they were darn high up in both the War and State Departments–and he would say–only for Pete’s sake they mustn’t breathe one word of this; it was strictly on the Q.T. and not generally known outside of Washington–but just between ourselves–and they could take this for gospel–Spain had finally decided to join the Entente allies in the Grand Scrap. Yes, sir, there’d be two million fully equipped Spanish soldiers fighting with us in France in one month now. Some surprise for Germany, all right!

“How about the prospects for revolution in Germany?” reverently asked Kennicott.

The authority grunted, “Nothing to it. The one thing you can bet on is that no matter what happens to the German people, win or lose, they’ll stick by the Kaiser till hell freezes over. I got that absolutely straight, from a fellow who’s on the inside of the inside in Washington. No, sir! I don’t pretend to know much about international affairs but one thing you can put down as settled is that Germany will be a Hohenzollern empire for the next forty years. At that, I don’t know as it’s so bad. The Kaiser and the Junkers keep a firm hand on a lot of these red agitators who’d be worse than a king if they could get control.”

“I’m terribly interested in this uprising that overthrew the Czar in Russia,” suggested Carol. She had finally been conquered by the man’s wizard knowledge of affairs.

Kennicott apologized for her: “Carrie’s nuts about this Russian revolution. Is there much to it, Perce?”

“There is not!” Bresnahan said flatly. “I can speak by the book there. Carol, honey, I’m surprised to find you talking like a New York Russian Jew, or one of these long-hairs! I can tell you, only you don’t need to let every one in on it, this is confidential, I got it from a man who’s close to the State Department, but as a matter of fact the Czar will be back in power before the end of the year. You read a lot about his retiring and about his being killed, but I know he’s got a big army back of him, and he’ll show these damn agitators, lazy beggars hunting for a soft berth bossing the poor goats that fall for ’em, he’ll show ’em where they get off!”

Carol was sorry to hear that the Czar was coming back, but she said nothing. The others had looked vacant at the mention of a country so far away as Russia. Now they edged in and asked Bresnahan what he thought about the Packard car, investments in Texas oil-wells, the comparative merits of young men born in Minnesota and in Massachusetts, the question of prohibition, the future cost of motor tires, and wasn’t it true that American aviators put it all over these Frenchmen?

They were glad to find that he agreed with them on every point.

As she heard Bresnahan announce, “We’re perfectly willing to talk to any committee the men may choose, but we’re not going to stand for some outside agitator butting in and telling us how we’re going to run our plant!” Carol remembered that Jackson Elder (now meekly receiving New Ideas) had said the same thing in the same words.

While Sam Clark was digging up from his memory a long and immensely detailed story of the crushing things he had said to a Pullman porter, named George, Bresnahan hugged his knees and rocked and watched Carol. She wondered if he did not understand the laboriousness of the smile with which she listened to Kennicott’s account of the “good one he had on Carrie,” that marital, coyly improper, ten-times-told tale of how she had forgotten to attend to Hugh because she was “all het up pounding the box”–which may be translated as “eagerly playing the piano.” She was certain that Bresnahan saw through her when she pretended not to hear Kennicott’s invitation to join a game of cribbage. She feared the comments he might make; she was irritated by her fear.

She was equally irritated, when the motor returned through Gopher Prairie, to find that she was proud of sharing in Bresnahan’s kudos as people waved, and Juanita Haydock leaned from a window. She said to herself, “As though I cared whether I’m seen with this fat phonograph!” and simultaneously, “Everybody has noticed how much Will and I are playing with Mr. Bresnahan.”

The town was full of his stories, his friendliness, his memory for names, his clothes, his trout-flies, his generosity. He had given a hundred dollars to Father Klubok the priest, and a hundred to the Reverend Mr. Zitterel the Baptist minister, for Americanization work.

At the Bon Ton, Carol heard Nat Hicks the tailor exulting:

“Old Perce certainly pulled a good one on this fellow Bjornstam that always is shooting off his mouth. He’s supposed to of settled down since he got married, but Lord, those fellows that think they know it all, they never change. Well, the Red Swede got the grand razz handed to him, all right. He had the nerve to breeze up to Perce, at Dave Dyer’s, and he said, he said to Perce, `I’ve always wanted to look at a man that was so useful that folks would pay him a million dollars for existing,’ and Perce gave him the once-over and come right back, `Have, eh?’ he says. `Well,’ he says, `I’ve been looking for a man so useful sweeping floors that I could pay him four dollars a day. Want the job, my friend?’ Ha, ha, ha! Say, you know how lippy Bjornstam is? Well for once he didn’t have a thing to say. He tried to get fresh, and tell what a rotten town this is, and Perce come right back at him, `If you don’t like this country, you better get out of it and go back to Germany, where you belong!’ Say, maybe us fellows didn’t give Bjornstam the horse-laugh though! Oh, Perce is the white-haired boy in this burg, all rightee!”

V

Bresnahan had borrowed Jackson Elder’s motor; he stopped at the Kennicotts’; he bawled at Carol, rocking with Hugh en the porch, “Better come for a ride.”

She wanted to snub him. “Thanks so much, but I’m being maternal.”

“Bring him along! Bring him along!” Bresnahan was out of the seat, stalking up the sidewalk, and the rest of her protests and dignities were feeble.

She did not bring Hugh along.

Bresnahan was silent for a mile, in words, But he looked at her as though he meant her to know that he understood everything she thought.

She observed how deep was his chest.

“Lovely fields over there,” he said.

“You really like them? There’s no profit in them.”

He chuckled. “Sister, you can’t get away with it. I’m onto you. You consider me a big bluff. Well, maybe I am. But so are you, my dear–and pretty enough so that I’d try to make love to you, if I weren’t afraid you’d slap me.”

“Mr. Bresnahan, do you talk that way to your’ wife’s friends? And do you call them `sister’?”

“As a matter of fact, I do! And I make ’em like it. Score two!” But his chuckle was not so rotund, and he was very attentive to the ammeter.

In a moment he was cautiously attacking: “That’s a wonderful boy, Will Kennicott. Great work these country practitioners are doing. The other day, in Washington, I was talking to a big scientific shark, a professor in Johns Hopkins medical school, and he was saying that no one has ever sufficiently appreciated the general practitioner and the sympathy and help he gives folks. These crack specialists, the young scientific fellows, they’re so cocksure and so wrapped up in their laboratories that they miss the human element. Except in the case of a few freak diseases that no respectable human being would waste his time having, it’s the old doc that keeps a community well, mind and body. And strikes me that Will is one of the steadiest and clearest-headed counter practitioners I’ve ever met. Eh?”

“I’m sure he is. He’s a servant of reality.”

“Come again? Um. Yes. All of that, whatever that is. . . . Say, child, you don’t care a whole lot for Gopher Prairie, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Nope.”

“There’s where you’re missing a big chance. There’s nothing to these cities. Believe me, I KNOW! This is a good town, as they go. You’re lucky to be here. I wish I could shy on!”

“Very well, why don’t you?”

“Huh? Why–Lord–can’t get away fr—-“

“You don’t have to stay. I do! So I want to change it. Do you know that men like you, prominent men, do quite a reasonable amount of harm by insisting that your native towns and native states are perfect? It’s you who encourage the denizens not to change. They quote you, and go on believing that they live in paradise, and—-” She clenched her fist. “The incredible dullness of it!”

“Suppose you were right. Even so, don’t you think you waste a lot of thundering on one poor scared little town? Kind of mean!”

“I tell you it’s dull. DULL!”

“The folks don’t find it dull. These couples like the Haydocks have a high old time; dances and cards—-“

“They don’t. They’re bored. Almost every one here is. Vacuousness and bad manners and spiteful gossip–that’s what I hate.”

“Those things–course they’re here. So are they in Boston! And every place else! Why, the faults you find in this town are simply human nature, and never will be changed.”

“Perhaps. But in a Boston all the good Carols (I’ll admit I have no faults) can find one another and play. But here– I’m alone, in a stale pool–except as it’s stirred by the great Mr. Bresnahan!”

“My Lord, to hear you tell it, a fellow ‘d think that all the denizens, as you impolitely call ’em, are so confoundedly unhappy that it’s a wonder they don’t all up and commit suicide. But they seem to struggle along somehow!”

“They don’t know what they miss. And anybody can endure anything. Look at men in mines and in prisons.”

He drew up on the south shore of Lake Minniemashie. He glanced across the reeds reflected on the water, the quiver of wavelets like crumpled tinfoil, the distant shores patched with dark woods, silvery oats and deep yellow wheat. He patted her hand. “Sis—- Carol, you’re a darling girl, but you’re difficult. Know what I think?”

“Yes.”

“Humph. Maybe you do, but—- My humble (not too humble!) opinion is that you like to be different. You like to think you’re peculiar. Why, if you knew how many tens of thousands of women, especially in New York, say just what you do, you’d lose all the fun of thinking you’re a lone genius and you’d be on the band-wagon whooping it up for Gopher Prairie and a good decent family life. There’s always about a million young women just out of college who want to teach their grandmothers how to suck eggs.”

“How proud you are of that homely rustic metaphor! You use it at `banquets’ and directors’ meetings, and boast of your climb from a humble homestead.”

“Huh! You may have my number. I’m not telling. But look here: You’re so prejudiced against Gopher Prairie that you overshoot the mark; you antagonize those who might be inclined to agree with you in some particulars but—- Great guns, the town can’t be all wrong!”

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