but have returned to their swamp. I'm a perfect example. But I sha'n't
pester you with my dolors."
"You won't. And do sit down, so I can see you."
He dropped into the shrieking desk-chair. He looked squarely at her; she
was conscious of the pupils of his eyes; of the fact that he was a man,
and lonely. They were embarrassed. They elaborately glanced away, and
were relieved as he went on:
"The diagnosis of my Village Virus is simple enough. I was born in an
Ohio town about the same size as Gopher Prairie, and much less
friendly. It'd had more generations in which to form an oligarchy of
respectability. Here, a stranger is taken in if he is correct, if he
likes hunting and motoring and God and our Senator. There, we didn't
take in even our own till we had contemptuously got used to them. It
was a red-brick Ohio town, and the trees made it damp, and it smelled of
rotten apples. The country wasn't like our lakes and prairie. There were
small stuffy corn-fields and brick-yards and greasy oil-wells.
"I went to a denominational college and learned that since dictating
the Bible, and hiring a perfect race of ministers to explain it, God has
never done much but creep around and try to catch us disobeying it. From
college I went to New York, to the Columbia Law School. And for four
years I lived. Oh, I won't rhapsodize about New York. It was dirty and
noisy and breathless and ghastly expensive. But compared with the moldy
academy in which I had been smothered----! I went to symphonies twice
a week. I saw Irving and Terry and Duse and Bernhardt, from the top
gallery. I walked in Gramercy Park. And I read, oh, everything.
"Through a cousin I learned that Julius Flickerbaugh was sick and
needed a partner. I came here. Julius got well. He didn't like my way of
loafing five hours and then doing my work (really not so badly) in one.
"When I first came here I swore I'd 'keep up my interests.' Very lofty!
I read Browning, and went to Minneapolis for the theaters. I thought I
was 'keeping up.' But I guess the Village Virus had me already. I was
reading four copies of cheap fiction-magazines to one poem. I'd put off
the Minneapolis trips till I simply had to go there on a lot of legal
"A few years ago I was talking to a patent lawyer from Chicago, and
I realized that----I'd always felt so superior to people like Julius
Flickerbaugh, but I saw that I was as provincial and behind-the-times as
Julius. (Worse! Julius plows through the Literary Digest and the Outlook
faithfully, while I'm turning over pages of a book by Charles Flandrau
that I already know by heart.)
"I decided to leave here. Stern resolution. Grasp the world. Then I
found that the Village Virus had me, absolute: I didn't want to face
new streets and younger men--real competition. It was too easy to go on
making out conveyances and arguing ditching cases. So----That's all of
the biography of a living dead man, except the diverting last chapter,
the lies about my having been 'a tower of strength and legal wisdom'
which some day a preacher will spin over my lean dry body."
He looked down at his table-desk, fingering the starry enameled vase.
She could not comment. She pictured herself running across the room
to pat his hair. She saw that his lips were firm, under his soft faded
mustache. She sat still and maundered, "I know. The Village Virus.
Perhaps it will get me. Some day I'm going----Oh, no matter. At least,
I am making you talk! Usually you have to be polite to my garrulousness,
but now I'm sitting at your feet."
"It would be rather nice to have you literally sitting at my feet, by a
"Would you have a fireplace for me?"
"Naturally! Please don't snub me now! Let the old man rave. How old are
"Twenty-six! I was just leaving New York, at twenty-six. I heard Patti
sing, at twenty-six. And now I'm forty-seven. I feel like a child, yet
I'm old enough to be your father. So it's decently paternal to imagine
you curled at my feet. . . . Of course I hope it isn't, but we'll
reflect the morals of Gopher Prairie by officially announcing that it
is! . . . These standards that you and I live up to! There's one thing
that's the matter with Gopher Prairie, at least with the ruling-class
(there is a ruling-class, despite all our professions of democracy).
And the penalty we tribal rulers pay is that our subjects watch us
every minute. We can't get wholesomely drunk and relax. We have to be
so correct about sex morals, and inconspicuous clothes, and doing our
commercial trickery only in the traditional ways, that none of us can
live up to it, and we become horribly hypocritical. Unavoidably. The
widow-robbing deacon of fiction can't help being hypocritical. The
widows themselves demand it! They admire his unctuousness. And look at
me. Suppose I did dare to make love to--some exquisite married woman.
I wouldn't admit it to myself. I giggle with the most revolting
salaciousness over La Vie Parisienne, when I get hold of one in Chicago,
yet I shouldn't even try to hold your hand. I'm broken. It's the
historical Anglo-Saxon way of making life miserable. . . . Oh, my dear,
I haven't talked to anybody about myself and all our selves for years."
"Guy! Can't we do something with the town? Really?"
"No, we can't!" He disposed of it like a judge ruling out an improper
objection; returned to matters less uncomfortably energetic: "Curious.
Most troubles are unnecessary. We have Nature beaten; we can make her
grow wheat; we can keep warm when she sends blizzards. So we raise the
devil just for pleasure--wars, politics, race-hatreds, labor-disputes.
Here in Gopher Prairie we've cleared the fields, and become soft, so
we make ourselves unhappy artificially, at great expense and exertion:
Methodists disliking Episcopalians, the man with the Hudson laughing at
the man with the flivver. The worst is the commercial hatred--the grocer
feeling that any man who doesn't deal with him is robbing him. What
hurts me is that it applies to lawyers and doctors (and decidedly
to their wives!) as much as to grocers. The doctors--you know about
that--how your husband and Westlake and Gould dislike one another."
"No! I won't admit it!"
"Oh, maybe once or twice, when Will has positively known of a case where
Doctor--where one of the others has continued to call on patients longer
than necessary, he has laughed about it, but----"
He still grinned.
"No, REALLY! And when you say the wives of the doctors share these
jealousies----Mrs. McGanum and I haven't any particular crush on each
other; she's so stolid. But her mother, Mrs. Westlake--nobody could be
"Yes, I'm sure she's very bland. But I wouldn't tell her my heart's
secrets if I were you, my dear. I insist that there's only one
professional-man's wife in this town who doesn't plot, and that is you,
you blessed, credulous outsider!"
"I won't be cajoled! I won't believe that medicine, the priesthood of
healing, can be turned into a penny-picking business."
"See here: Hasn't Kennicott ever hinted to you that you'd better be nice
to some old woman because she tells her friends which doctor to call in?
But I oughtn't to----"
She remembered certain remarks which Kennicott had offered regarding the
Widow Bogart. She flinched, looked at Guy beseechingly.
He sprang up, strode to her with a nervous step, smoothed her hand. She
wondered if she ought to be offended by his caress. Then she wondered if
he liked her hat, the new Oriental turban of rose and silver brocade.
He dropped her hand. His elbow brushed her shoulder. He flitted over to
the desk-chair, his thin back stooped. He picked up the cloisonne vase.
Across it he peered at her with such loneliness that she was startled.
But his eyes faded into impersonality as he talked of the jealousies
of Gopher Prairie. He stopped himself with a sharp, "Good Lord, Carol,
you're not a jury. You are within your legal rights in refusing to
be subjected to this summing-up. I'm a tedious old fool analyzing the
obvious, while you're the spirit of rebellion. Tell me your side. What
is Gopher Prairie to you?"
"Can I help?"
"How could you?"
"I don't know. Perhaps by listening. I haven't done that tonight.
But normally----Can't I be the confidant of the old French plays, the
tiring-maid with the mirror and the loyal ears?"
"Oh, what is there to confide? The people are savorless and proud of
it. And even if I liked you tremendously, I couldn't talk to you without
twenty old hexes watching, whispering."
"But you will come talk to me, once in a while?"
"I'm not sure that I shall. I'm trying to develop my own large capacity
for dullness and contentment. I've failed at every positive thing I've
tried. I'd better 'settle down,' as they call it, and be satisfied to
"Don't be cynical. It hurts me, in you. It's like blood on the wing of a
"I'm not a humming-bird. I'm a hawk; a tiny leashed hawk, pecked to
death by these large, white, flabby, wormy hens. But I am grateful to
you for confirming me in the faith. And I'm going home!"
"Please stay and have some coffee with me."
"I'd like to. But they've succeeded in terrorizing me. I'm afraid of
what people might say."
"I'm not afraid of that. I'm only afraid of what you might say!" He
stalked to her; took her unresponsive hand. "Carol! You have been happy
here tonight? (Yes. I'm begging!)"
She squeezed his hand quickly, then snatched hers away. She had but
little of the curiosity of the flirt, and none of the intrigante's joy
in furtiveness. If she was the naive girl, Guy Pollock was the clumsy
boy. He raced about the office; he rammed his fists into his pockets.
He stammered, "I--I--I----Oh, the devil! Why do I awaken from smooth
dustiness to this jagged rawness? I'll make I'm going to trot down the
hall and bring in the Dillons, and we'll all have coffee or something."
"Yes. Really quite a decent young pair--Harvey Dillon and his wife. He's
a dentist, just come to town. They live in a room behind his office,
same as I do here. They don't know much of anybody----"
"I've heard of them. And I've never thought to call. I'm horribly
ashamed. Do bring them----"
She stopped, for no very clear reason, but his expression said, her
faltering admitted, that they wished they had never mentioned the
Dillons. With spurious enthusiasm he said, "Splendid! I will." From the
door he glanced at her, curled in the peeled leather chair. He slipped
out, came back with Dr. and Mrs. Dillon.
The four of them drank rather bad coffee which Pollock made on a
kerosene burner. They laughed, and spoke of Minneapolis, and were
tremendously tactful; and Carol started for home, through the November
SHE was marching home.
"No. I couldn't fall in love with him. I like him, very much. But
he's too much of a recluse. Could I kiss him? No! No! Guy Pollock at
twenty-six I could have kissed him then, maybe, even if I were married
to some one else, and probably I'd have been glib in persuading myself
that 'it wasn't really wrong.'
"The amazing thing is that I'm not more amazed at myself. I, the
virtuous young matron. Am I to be trusted? If the Prince Charming
"A Gopher Prairie housewife, married a year, and yearning for a 'Prince
Charming' like a bachfisch of sixteen! They say that marriage is a magic
change. But I'm not changed. But----
"No! I wouldn't want to fall in love, even if the Prince did come. I
wouldn't want to hurt Will. I am fond of Will. I am! He doesn't stir me,
not any longer. But I depend on him. He is home and children.
"I wonder when we will begin to have children? I do want them.
"I wonder whether I remembered to tell Bea to have hominy tomorrow,
instead of oatmeal? She will have gone to bed by now. Perhaps I'll be up
"Ever so fond of Will. I wouldn't hurt him, even if I had to lose the
mad love. If the Prince came I'd look once at him, and run. Darn fast!
Oh, Carol, you are not heroic nor fine. You are the immutable vulgar
"But I'm not the faithless wife who enjoys confiding that she's
'misunderstood.' Oh, I'm not, I'm not!
"At least I didn't whisper to Guy about Will's faults and his blindness
to my remarkable soul. I didn't! Matter of fact, Will probably
understands me perfectly! If only--if he would just back me up in
rousing the town.
"How many, how incredibly many wives there must be who tingle over the
first Guy Pollock who smiles at them. No! I will not be one of that
herd of yearners! The coy virgin brides. Yet probably if the Prince were
young and dared to face life----
"I'm not half as well oriented as that Mrs. Dillon. So obviously adoring
her dentist! And seeing Guy only as an eccentric fogy.
"They weren't silk, Mrs. Dillon's stockings. They were lisle. Her legs
are nice and slim. But no nicer than mine. I hate cotton tops on silk
stockings. . . . Are my ankles getting fat? I will NOT have fat ankles!
"No. I am fond of Will. His work--one farmer he pulls through diphtheria
is worth all my yammering for a castle in Spain. A castle with baths.
"This hat is so tight. I must stretch it. Guy liked it.
"There's the house. I'm awfully chilly. Time to get out the fur coat.
I wonder if I'll ever have a beaver coat? Nutria is NOT the same thing!
Beaver-glossy. Like to run my fingers over it. Guy's mustache like
beaver. How utterly absurd!
"I am, I AM fond of Will, and----Can't I ever find another word than
"He's home. He'll think I was out late.
"Why can't he ever remember to pull down the shades? Cy Bogart and all
the beastly boys peeping in. But the poor dear, he's absent-minded about
minute--minush--whatever the word is. He has so much worry and work,
while I do nothing but jabber to Bea.
"I MUSTN'T forget the hominy----"
She was flying into the hall. Kennicott looked up from the Journal of
the American Medical Society.
"Hello! What time did you get back?" she cried.
"About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven!" Good-natured yet
not quite approving.
"Did it feel neglected?"
"Well, you didn't remember to close the lower draft in the furnace."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. But I don't often forget things like that, do I?"
She dropped into his lap and (after he had jerked back his head to save
his eye-glasses, and removed the glasses, and settled her in a position
less cramping to his legs, and casually cleared his throat) he kissed
her amiably, and remarked:
"Nope, I must say you're fairly good about things like that. I wasn't
kicking. I just meant I wouldn't want the fire to go out on us. Leave
that draft open and the fire might burn up and go out on us. And the
nights are beginning to get pretty cold again. Pretty cold on my drive.
I put the side-curtains up, it was so chilly. But the generator is
working all right now."
"Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk."
"I went up to see the Perrys." By a definite act of will she added
the truth: "They weren't in. And I saw Guy Pollock. Dropped into his
"Why, you haven't been sitting and chinning with him till eleven
"Of course there were some other people there and----Will! What do you
think of Dr. Westlake?"
"I noticed him on the street today."
"Was he limping? If the poor fish would have his teeth X-rayed, I'll bet
nine and a half cents he'd find an abscess there. 'Rheumatism' he calls
it. Rheumatism, hell! He's behind the times. Wonder he doesn't bleed
himself! Wellllllll----" A profound and serious yawn. "I hate to break
up the party, but it's getting late, and a doctor never knows when he'll
get routed out before morning." (She remembered that he had given this
explanation, in these words, not less than thirty times in the year.) "I
guess we better be trotting up to bed. I've wound the clock and looked
at the furnace. Did you lock the front door when you came in?"
They trailed up-stairs, after he had turned out the lights and twice
tested the front door to make sure it was fast. While they talked
they were preparing for bed. Carol still sought to maintain privacy by
undressing behind the screen of the closet door. Kennicott was not so
reticent. Tonight, as every night, she was irritated by having to push
the old plush chair out of the way before she could open the closet
door. Every time she opened the door she shoved the chair. Ten times an
hour. But Kennicott liked to have the chair in the room, and there was
no place for it except in front of the closet.
She pushed it, felt angry, hid her anger. Kennicott was yawning, more
portentously. The room smelled stale. She shrugged and became chatty:
"You were speaking of Dr. Westlake. Tell me--you've never summed him up:
Is he really a good doctor?"
"Oh yes, he's a wise old coot."
("There! You see there is no medical rivalry. Not in my house!" she said
triumphantly to Guy Pollock.)
She hung her silk petticoat on a closet hook, and went on, "Dr. Westlake
is so gentle and scholarly----"
"Well, I don't know as I'd say he was such a whale of a scholar. I've
always had a suspicion he did a good deal of four-flushing about that.
He likes to have people think he keeps up his French and Greek and Lord
knows what all; and he's always got an old Dago book lying around the
sitting-room, but I've got a hunch he reads detective stories 'bout like
the rest of us. And I don't know where he'd ever learn so dog-gone many
languages anyway! He kind of lets people assume he went to Harvard
or Berlin or Oxford or somewhere, but I looked him up in the medical
register, and he graduated from a hick college in Pennsylvania, 'way
back in 1861!"
"But this is the important thing: Is he an honest doctor?"
"How do you mean 'honest'? Depends on what you mean."
"Suppose you were sick. Would you call him in? Would you let me call him
"Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn't! No, SIR! I
wouldn't have the old fake in the house. Makes me tired, his everlasting
palavering and soft-soaping. He's all right for an ordinary bellyache
or holding some fool woman's hand, but I wouldn't call him in for an
honest-to-God illness, not much I wouldn't, NO-sir! You know I don't
do much back-biting, but same time----I'll tell you, Carrrie: I've never
got over being sore at Westlake for the way he treated Mrs. Jonderquist.
Nothing the matter with her, what she really needed was a rest, but
Westlake kept calling on her and calling on her for weeks, almost every
day, and he sent her a good big fat bill, too, you can bet! I never
did forgive him for that. Nice decent hard-working people like the
In her batiste nightgown she was standing at the bureau engaged in the
invariable rites of wishing that she had a real dressing-table with a
triple mirror, of bending toward the streaky glass and raising her chin
to inspect a pin-head mole on her throat, and finally of brushing her
hair. In rhythm to the strokes she went on:
"But, Will, there isn't any of what you might call financial rivalry
between you and the partners--Westlake and McGanum--is there?"
He flipped into bed with a solemn back-somersault and a ludicrous kick
of his heels as he tucked his legs under the blankets. He snorted, "Lord
no! I never begrudge any man a nickel he can get away from me--fairly."
"But is Westlake fair? Isn't he sly?"
"Sly is the word. He's a fox, that boy!"
She saw Guy Pollock's grin in the mirror. She flushed.
Kennicott, with his arms behind his head, was yawning:
"Yump. He's smooth, too smooth. But I bet I make prett' near as much
as Westlake and McGanum both together, though I've never wanted to grab
more than my just share. If anybody wants to go to the partners instead
of to me, that's his business. Though I must say it makes me tired when
Westlake gets hold of the Dawsons. Here Luke Dawson had been coming to
me for every toeache and headache and a lot of little things that just
wasted my time, and then when his grandchild was here last summer and
had summer-complaint, I suppose, or something like that, probably--you
know, the time you and I drove up to Lac-qui-Meurt--why, Westlake got
hold of Ma Dawson, and scared her to death, and made her think the kid
had appendicitis, and, by golly, if he and McGanum didn't operate, and
holler their heads off about the terrible adhesions they found, and what
a regular Charley and Will Mayo they were for classy surgery. They let
on that if they'd waited two hours more the kid would have developed
peritonitis, and God knows what all; and then they collected a nice
fat hundred and fifty dollars. And probably they'd have charged three
hundred, if they hadn't been afraid of me! I'm no hog, but I certainly
do hate to give old Luke ten dollars' worth of advice for a dollar and a
half, and then see a hundred and fifty go glimmering. And if I can't do
a better 'pendectomy than either Westlake or McGanum, I'll eat my hat!"
As she crept into bed she was dazzled by Guy's blazing grin. She
"But Westlake is cleverer than his son-in-law, don't you think?"
"Yes, Westlake may be old-fashioned and all that, but he's got a certain
amount of intuition, while McGanum goes into everything bull-headed, and
butts his way through like a damn yahoo, and tries to argue his patients
into having whatever he diagnoses them as having! About the best thing
Mac can do is to stick to baby-snatching. He's just about on a par with
this bone-pounding chiropractor female, Mrs. Mattie Gooch."
"Mrs. Westlake and Mrs. McGanum, though--they're nice. They've been
awfully cordial to me."
"Well, no reason why they shouldn't be, is there? Oh, they're nice
enough--though you can bet your bottom dollar they're both plugging for
their husbands all the time, trying to get the business. And I don't
know as I call it so damn cordial in Mrs. McGanum when I holler at her
on the street and she nods back like she had a sore neck. Still, she's
all right. It's Ma Westlake that makes the mischief, pussyfooting around