of very interesting papers, this is such an interesting subject, the
poets, they have been an inspiration for higher thought, in fact wasn't
it Reverend Benlick who said that some of the poets have been as much an
inspiration as a good many of the ministers, and so we shall be glad to
The poor lady smiled neuralgically, panted with fright, scrabbled about
the small oak table to find her eye-glasses, and continued, "We
will first have the pleasure of hearing Mrs. Jenson on the subject
'Shakespeare and Milton.'"
Mrs. Ole Jenson said that Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died 1616. He
lived in London, England, and in Stratford-on-Avon, which many American
tourists loved to visit, a lovely town with many curios and old houses
well worth examination. Many people believed that Shakespeare was the
greatest play-wright who ever lived, also a fine poet. Not much was
known about his life, but after all that did not really make so much
difference, because they loved to read his numerous plays, several of
the best known of which she would now criticize.
Perhaps the best known of his plays was "The Merchant of Venice," having
a beautiful love story and a fine appreciation of a woman's brains,
which a woman's club, even those who did not care to commit themselves
on the question of suffrage, ought to appreciate. (Laughter.) Mrs.
Jenson was sure that she, for one, would love to be like Portia. The
play was about a Jew named Shylock, and he didn't want his daughter to
marry a Venice gentleman named Antonio----
Mrs. Leonard Warren, a slender, gray, nervous woman, president of the
Thanatopsis and wife of the Congregational pastor, reported the birth
and death dates of Byron, Scott, Moore, Burns; and wound up:
"Burns was quite a poor boy and he did not enjoy the advantages we enjoy
today, except for the advantages of the fine old Scotch kirk where he
heard the Word of God preached more fearlessly than even in the finest
big brick churches in the big and so-called advanced cities of today,
but he did not have our educational advantages and Latin and the other
treasures of the mind so richly strewn before the, alas, too ofttimes
inattentive feet of our youth who do not always sufficiently appreciate
the privileges freely granted to every American boy rich or poor. Burns
had to work hard and was sometimes led by evil companionship into low
habits. But it is morally instructive to know that he was a good
student and educated himself, in striking contrast to the loose ways and
so-called aristocratic society-life of Lord Byron, on which I have just
spoken. And certainly though the lords and earls of his day may have
looked down upon Burns as a humble person, many of us have greatly
enjoyed his pieces about the mouse and other rustic subjects, with their
message of humble beauty--I am so sorry I have not got the time to quote
some of them."
Mrs. George Edwin Mott gave ten minutes to Tennyson and Browning.
Mrs. Nat Hicks, a wry-faced, curiously sweet woman, so awed by her
betters that Carol wanted to kiss her, completed the day's grim task by
a paper on "Other Poets." The other poets worthy of consideration were
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Gray, Mrs. Hemans, and Kipling.
Miss Ella Stowbody obliged with a recital of "The Recessional" and
extracts from "Lalla Rookh." By request, she gave "An Old Sweetheart of
Mine" as encore.
Gopher Prairie had finished the poets. It was ready for the next week's
labor: English Fiction and Essays.
Mrs. Dawson besought, "Now we will have a discussion of the papers, and
I am sure we shall all enjoy hearing from one who we hope to have as a
new member, Mrs. Kennicott, who with her splendid literary training and
all should be able to give us many pointers and--many helpful pointers."
Carol had warned herself not to be so "beastly supercilious." She had
insisted that in the belated quest of these work-stained women was
an aspiration which ought to stir her tears. "But they're so
self-satisfied. They think they're doing Burns a favor. They don't
believe they have a 'belated quest.' They're sure that they have culture
salted and hung up." It was out of this stupor of doubt that Mrs.
Dawson's summons roused her. She was in a panic. How could she speak
without hurting them?
Mrs. Champ Perry leaned over to stroke her hand and whisper, "You look
tired, dearie. Don't you talk unless you want to."
Affection flooded Carol; she was on her feet, searching for words and
"The only thing in the way of suggestion----I know you are following
a definite program, but I do wish that now you've had such a splendid
introduction, instead of going on with some other subject next year you
could return and take up the poets more in detail. Especially actual
quotations--even though their lives are so interesting and, as Mrs.
Warren said, so morally instructive. And perhaps there are several poets
not mentioned today whom it might be worth while considering--Keats, for
instance, and Matthew Arnold and Rossetti and Swinburne. Swinburne would
be such a--well, that is, such a contrast to life as we all enjoy it in
our beautiful Middle-west----"
She saw that Mrs. Leonard Warren was not with her. She captured her by
"Unless perhaps Swinburne tends to be, uh, more outspoken than you, than
we really like. What do you think, Mrs. Warren?"
The pastor's wife decided, "Why, you've caught my very thoughts, Mrs.
Kennicott. Of course I have never READ Swinburne, but years ago, when
he was in vogue, I remember Mr. Warren saying that Swinburne (or was
it Oscar Wilde? but anyway:) he said that though many so-called
intellectual people posed and pretended to find beauty in Swinburne,
there can never be genuine beauty without the message from the heart.
But at the same time I do think you have an excellent idea, and though
we have talked about Furnishings and China as the probable subject for
next year, I believe that it would be nice if the program committee
would try to work in another day entirely devoted to English poetry! In
fact, Madame Chairman, I so move you."
When Mrs. Dawson's coffee and angel's-food had helped them to recover
from the depression caused by thoughts of Shakespeare's death they all
told Carol that it was a pleasure to have her with them. The membership
committee retired to the sitting-room for three minutes and elected her
And she stopped being patronizing.
She wanted to be one of them. They were so loyal and kind. It was they
who would carry out her aspiration. Her campaign against village sloth
was actually begun! On what specific reform should she first loose
her army? During the gossip after the meeting Mrs. George Edwin Mott
remarked that the city hall seemed inadequate for the splendid modern
Gopher Prairie. Mrs. Nat Hicks timidly wished that the young people
could have free dances there--the lodge dances were so exclusive. The
city hall. That was it! Carol hurried home.
She had not realized that Gopher Prairie was a city. From Kennicott she
discovered that it was legally organized with a mayor and city-council
and wards. She was delighted by the simplicity of voting one's self a
metropolis. Why not?
She was a proud and patriotic citizen, all evening.
She examined the city hall, next morning. She had remembered it only as
a bleak inconspicuousness. She found it a liver-colored frame coop half
a block from Main Street. The front was an unrelieved wall of clapboards
and dirty windows. It had an unobstructed view of a vacant lot and Nat
Hicks's tailor shop. It was larger than the carpenter shop beside it,
but not so well built.
No one was about. She walked into the corridor. On one side was the
municipal court, like a country school; on the other, the room of the
volunteer fire company, with a Ford hose-cart and the ornamental helmets
used in parades, at the end of the hall, a filthy two-cell jail, now
empty but smelling of ammonia and ancient sweat. The whole second story
was a large unfinished room littered with piles of folding chairs, a
lime-crusted mortar-mixing box, and the skeletons of Fourth of July
floats covered with decomposing plaster shields and faded red, white,
and blue bunting. At the end was an abortive stage. The room was large
enough for the community dances which Mrs. Nat Hicks advocated. But
Carol was after something bigger than dances.
In the afternoon she scampered to the public library.
The library was open three afternoons and four evenings a week. It was
housed in an old dwelling, sufficient but unattractive. Carol caught
herself picturing pleasanter reading-rooms, chairs for children, an art
collection, a librarian young enough to experiment.
She berated herself, "Stop this fever of reforming everything! I WILL be
satisfied with the library! The city hall is enough for a beginning.
And it's really an excellent library. It's--it isn't so bad. . . . Is
it possible that I am to find dishonesties and stupidity in every
human activity I encounter? In schools and business and government and
everything? Is there never any contentment, never any rest?"
She shook her head as though she were shaking off water, and hastened
into the library, a young, light, amiable presence, modest in unbuttoned
fur coat, blue suit, fresh organdy collar, and tan boots roughened from
scuffling snow. Miss Villets stared at her, and Carol purred, "I was so
sorry not to see you at the Thanatopsis yesterday. Vida said you might
"Oh. You went to the Thanatopsis. Did you enjoy it?"
"So much. Such good papers on the poets." Carol lied resolutely. "But I
did think they should have had you give one of the papers on poetry!"
"Well----Of course I'm not one of the bunch that seem to have the
time to take and run the club, and if they prefer to have papers on
literature by other ladies who have no literary training--after all, why
should I complain? What am I but a city employee!"
"You're not! You're the one person that does--that does--oh, you do so
much. Tell me, is there, uh----Who are the people who control the club?"
Miss Villets emphatically stamped a date in the front of "Frank on the
Lower Mississippi" for a small flaxen boy, glowered at him as though she
were stamping a warning on his brain, and sighed:
"I wouldn't put myself forward or criticize any one for the world, and
Vida is one of my best friends, and such a splendid teacher, and there
is no one in town more advanced and interested in all movements, but I
must say that no matter who the president or the committees are, Vida
Sherwin seems to be behind them all the time, and though she is always
telling me about what she is pleased to call my 'fine work in the
library,' I notice that I'm not often called on for papers, though Mrs.
Lyman Cass once volunteered and told me that she thought my paper on
'The Cathedrals of England' was the most interesting paper we had, the
year we took up English and French travel and architecture. But----And
of course Mrs. Mott and Mrs. Warren are very important in the club, as
you might expect of the wives of the superintendent of schools and
the Congregational pastor, and indeed they are both very cultured,
but----No, you may regard me as entirely unimportant. I'm sure what I
say doesn't matter a bit!"
"You're much too modest, and I'm going to tell Vida so, and, uh, I
wonder if you can give me just a teeny bit of your time and show me
where the magazine files are kept?"
She had won. She was profusely escorted to a room like a grandmother's
attic, where she discovered periodicals devoted to house-decoration and
town-planning, with a six-year file of the National Geographic. Miss
Villets blessedly left her alone. Humming, fluttering pages with
delighted fingers, Carol sat cross-legged on the floor, the magazines in
heaps about her.
She found pictures of New England streets: the dignity of Falmouth, the
charm of Concord, Stockbridge and Farmington and Hillhouse Avenue. The
fairy-book suburb of Forest Hills on Long Island. Devonshire cottages
and Essex manors and a Yorkshire High Street and Port Sunlight. The
Arab village of Djeddah--an intricately chased jewel-box. A town in
California which had changed itself from the barren brick fronts and
slatternly frame sheds of a Main Street to a way which led the eye down
a vista of arcades and gardens.
Assured that she was not quite mad in her belief that a small American
town might be lovely, as well as useful in buying wheat and selling
plows, she sat brooding, her thin fingers playing a tattoo on her
cheeks. She saw in Gopher Prairie a Georgian city hall: warm brick walls
with white shutters, a fanlight, a wide hall and curving stair. She
saw it the common home and inspiration not only of the town but of
the country about. It should contain the court-room (she couldn't get
herself to put in a jail), public library, a collection of excellent
prints, rest-room and model kitchen for farmwives, theater, lecture
room, free community ballroom, farm-bureau, gymnasium. Forming about it
and influenced by it, as mediaeval villages gathered about the castle,
she saw a new Georgian town as graceful and beloved as Annapolis or that
bowery Alexandria to which Washington rode.
All this the Thanatopsis Club was to accomplish with no difficulty
whatever, since its several husbands were the controllers of business
and politics. She was proud of herself for this practical view.
She had taken only half an hour to change a wire-fenced potato-plot into
a walled rose-garden. She hurried out to apprize Mrs. Leonard Warren, as
president of the Thanatopsis, of the miracle which had been worked.
At a quarter to three Carol had left home; at half-past four she had
created the Georgian town; at a quarter to five she was in the dignified
poverty of the Congregational parsonage, her enthusiasm pattering upon
Mrs. Leonard Warren like summer rain upon an old gray roof; at two
minutes to five a town of demure courtyards and welcoming dormer windows
had been erected, and at two minutes past five the entire town was as
flat as Babylon.
Erect in a black William and Mary chair against gray and speckly-brown
volumes of sermons and Biblical commentaries and Palestine geographies
upon long pine shelves, her neat black shoes firm on a rag-rug, herself
as correct and low-toned as her background, Mrs. Warren listened without
comment till Carol was quite through, then answered delicately:
"Yes, I think you draw a very nice picture of what might easily come to
pass--some day. I have no doubt that such villages will be found on the
prairie--some day. But if I might make just the least little criticism:
it seems to me that you are wrong in supposing either that the city hall
would be the proper start, or that the Thanatopsis would be the right
instrument. After all, it's the churches, isn't it, that are the
real heart of the community. As you may possibly know, my husband
is prominent in Congregational circles all through the state for
his advocacy of church-union. He hopes to see all the evangelical
denominations joined in one strong body, opposing Catholicism and
Christian Science, and properly guiding all movements that make for
morality and prohibition. Here, the combined churches could afford
a splendid club-house, maybe a stucco and half-timber building with
gargoyles and all sorts of pleasing decorations on it, which, it seems
to me, would be lots better to impress the ordinary class of people than
just a plain old-fashioned colonial house, such as you describe. And
that would be the proper center for all educational and pleasurable
activities, instead of letting them fall into the hands of the
"I don't suppose it will take more than thirty or forty years for the
churches to get together?" Carol said innocently.
"Hardly that long even; things are moving so rapidly. So it would be a
mistake to make any other plans."
Carol did not recover her zeal till two days after, when she tried Mrs.
George Edwin Mott, wife of the superintendent of schools.
Mrs. Mott commented, "Personally, I am terribly busy with dressmaking
and having the seamstress in the house and all, but it would be splendid
to have the other members of the Thanatopsis take up the question.
Except for one thing: First and foremost, we must have a new
schoolbuilding. Mr. Mott says they are terribly cramped."
Carol went to view the old building. The grades and the high school were
combined in a damp yellow-brick structure with the narrow windows of an
antiquated jail--a hulk which expressed hatred and compulsory training.
She conceded Mrs. Mott's demand so violently that for two days she
dropped her own campaign. Then she built the school and city hall
together, as the center of the reborn town.
She ventured to the lead-colored dwelling of Mrs. Dave Dyer. Behind the
mask of winter-stripped vines and a wide porch only a foot above the
ground, the cottage was so impersonal that Carol could never visualize
it. Nor could she remember anything that was inside it. But Mrs. Dyer
was personal enough. With Carol, Mrs. Howland, Mrs. McGanum, and Vida
Sherwin she was a link between the Jolly Seventeen and the serious
Thanatopsis (in contrast to Juanita Haydock, who unnecessarily boasted
of being a "lowbrow" and publicly stated that she would "see herself
in jail before she'd write any darned old club papers"). Mrs. Dyer was
superfeminine in the kimono in which she received Carol. Her skin was
fine, pale, soft, suggesting a weak voluptuousness. At afternoon-coffees
she had been rude but now she addressed Carol as "dear," and insisted on
being called Maud. Carol did not quite know why she was uncomfortable
in this talcum-powder atmosphere, but she hastened to get into the fresh
air of her plans.
Maud Dyer granted that the city hall wasn't "so very nice," yet, as Dave
said, there was no use doing anything about it till they received
an appropriation from the state and combined a new city hall with
a national guard armory. Dave had given verdict, "What these mouthy
youngsters that hang around the pool-room need is universal military
training. Make men of 'em."
Mrs. Dyer removed the new schoolbuilding from the city hall:
"Oh, so Mrs. Mott has got you going on her school craze! She's been
dinging at that till everybody's sick and tired. What she really wants
is a big office for her dear bald-headed Gawge to sit around and look
important in. Of course I admire Mrs. Mott, and I'm very fond of
her, she's so brainy, even if she does try to butt in and run the
Thanatopsis, but I must say we're sick of her nagging. The old building
was good enough for us when we were kids! I hate these would-be women
politicians, don't you?"
The first week of March had given promise of spring and stirred Carol
with a thousand desires for lakes and fields and roads. The snow was
gone except for filthy woolly patches under trees, the thermometer
leaped in a day from wind-bitten chill to itchy warmth. As soon as Carol
was convinced that even in this imprisoned North, spring could exist
again, the snow came down as abruptly as a paper storm in a theater; the
northwest gale flung it up in a half blizzard; and with her hope of a
glorified town went hope of summer meadows.
But a week later, though the snow was everywhere in slushy heaps, the
promise was unmistakable. By the invisible hints in air and sky and
earth which had aroused her every year through ten thousand generations
she knew that spring was coming. It was not a scorching, hard, dusty day
like the treacherous intruder of a week before, but soaked with languor,
softened with a milky light. Rivulets were hurrying in each alley; a
calling robin appeared by magic on the crab-apple tree in the Howlands'
yard. Everybody chuckled, "Looks like winter is going," and "This 'll
bring the frost out of the roads--have the autos out pretty soon
now--wonder what kind of bass-fishing we'll get this summer--ought to be
good crops this year."
Each evening Kennicott repeated, "We better not take off our Heavy
Underwear or the storm windows too soon--might be 'nother spell of
cold--got to be careful 'bout catching cold--wonder if the coal will
The expanding forces of life within her choked the desire for reforming.
She trotted through the house, planning the spring cleaning with Bea.
When she attended her second meeting of the Thanatopsis she said nothing
about remaking the town. She listened respectably to statistics on
Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Scott, Hardy, Lamb, De
Quincey, and Mrs. Humphry Ward, who, it seemed, constituted the writers
of English Fiction and Essays.
Not till she inspected the rest-room did she again become a fanatic.
She had often glanced at the store-building which had been turned into
a refuge in which farmwives could wait while their husbands transacted
business. She had heard Vida Sherwin and Mrs. Warren caress the virtue
of the Thanatopsis in establishing the rest-room and in sharing with the
city council the expense of maintaining it. But she had never entered it
till this March day.
She went in impulsively; nodded at the matron, a plump worthy widow
named Nodelquist, and at a couple of farm-women who were meekly rocking.
The rest-room resembled a second-hand store. It was furnished with
discarded patent rockers, lopsided reed chairs, a scratched pine table,
a gritty straw mat, old steel engravings of milkmaids being morally
amorous under willow-trees, faded chromos of roses and fish, and a
kerosene stove for warming lunches. The front window was darkened by
torn net curtains and by a mound of geraniums and rubber-plants.
While she was listening to Mrs. Nodelquist's account of how many
thousands of farmers' wives used the rest-room every year, and how much
they "appreciated the kindness of the ladies in providing them with
this lovely place, and all free," she thought, "Kindness nothing! The
kind-ladies' husbands get the farmers' trade. This is mere commercial