approached an oak-grove where shifty winter sunlight quivered in the
hollow between two snow-drifts.
They drove from the natural prairie to a cleared district which twenty
years ago had been forest. The country seemed to stretch unchanging to
the North Pole: low hill, brush-scraggly bottom, reedy creek, muskrat
mound, fields with frozen brown clods thrust up through the snow.
Her ears and nose were pinched; her breath frosted her collar; her
"Getting colder," she said.
That was all their conversation for three miles. Yet she was happy.
They reached Nels Erdstrom's at four, and with a throb she recognized
the courageous venture which had lured her to Gopher Prairie: the
cleared fields, furrows among stumps, a log cabin chinked with mud and
roofed with dry hay. But Nels had prospered. He used the log cabin as a
barn; and a new house reared up, a proud, unwise, Gopher Prairie
house, the more naked and ungraceful in its glossy white paint and pink
trimmings. Every tree had been cut down. The house was so unsheltered,
so battered by the wind, so bleakly thrust out into the harsh clearing,
that Carol shivered. But they were welcomed warmly enough in the
kitchen, with its crisp new plaster, its black and nickel range, its
cream separator in a corner.
Mrs. Erdstrom begged her to sit in the parlor, where there was a
phonograph and an oak and leather davenport, the prairie farmer's
proofs of social progress, but she dropped down by the kitchen stove and
insisted, "Please don't mind me." When Mrs. Erdstrom had followed the
doctor out of the room Carol glanced in a friendly way at the grained
pine cupboard, the framed Lutheran Konfirmations Attest, the traces
of fried eggs and sausages on the dining table against the wall, and a
jewel among calendars, presenting not only a lithographic young woman
with cherry lips, and a Swedish advertisement of Axel Egge's grocery,
but also a thermometer and a match-holder.
She saw that a boy of four or five was staring at her from the hall,
a boy in gingham shirt and faded corduroy trousers, but large-eyed,
firm-mouthed, wide-browed. He vanished, then peeped in again, biting his
knuckles, turning his shoulder toward her in shyness.
Didn't she remember--what was it?--Kennicott sitting beside her at Fort
Snelling, urging, "See how scared that baby is. Needs some woman like
Magic had fluttered about her then--magic of sunset and cool air and the
curiosity of lovers. She held out her hands as much to that sanctity as
to the boy.
He edged into the room, doubtfully sucking his thumb.
"Hello," she said. "What's your name?"
"Hee, hee, hee!"
"You're quite right. I agree with you. Silly people like me always ask
children their names."
"Hee, hee, hee!"
"Come here and I'll tell you the story of--well, I don't know what it
will be about, but it will have a slim heroine and a Prince Charming."
He stood stoically while she spun nonsense. His giggling ceased. She was
winning him. Then the telephone bell--two long rings, one short.
Mrs. Erdstrom galloped into the room, shrieked into the transmitter,
"Vell? Yes, yes, dis is Erdstrom's place! Heh? Oh, you vant de doctor?"
Kennicott appeared, growled into the telephone:
"Well, what do you want? Oh, hello Dave; what do you want? Which
Morgenroth's? Adolph's? All right. Amputation? Yuh, I see. Say, Dave,
get Gus to harness up and take my surgical kit down there--and have him
take some chloroform. I'll go straight down from here. May not get
home tonight. You can get me at Adolph's. Huh? No, Carrie can give the
anesthetic, I guess. G'-by. Huh? No; tell me about that tomorrow--too
damn many people always listening in on this farmers' line."
He turned to Carol. "Adolph Morgenroth, farmer ten miles southwest of
town, got his arm crushed-fixing his cow-shed and a post caved in on
him--smashed him up pretty bad--may have to amputate, Dave Dyer says.
Afraid we'll have to go right from here. Darn sorry to drag you clear
down there with me----"
"Please do. Don't mind me a bit."
"Think you could give the anesthetic? Usually have my driver do it."
"If you'll tell me how."
"All right. Say, did you hear me putting one over on these goats that
are always rubbering in on party-wires? I hope they heard me! Well. . . .
Now, Bessie, don't you worry about Nels. He's getting along all right.
Tomorrow you or one of the neighbors drive in and get this prescription
filled at Dyer's. Give him a teaspoonful every four hours. Good-by.
Hel-lo! Here's the little fellow! My Lord, Bessie, it ain't possible
this is the fellow that used to be so sickly? Why, say, he's a great big
strapping Svenska now--going to be bigger 'n his daddy!"
Kennicott's bluffness made the child squirm with a delight which Carol
could not evoke. It was a humble wife who followed the busy doctor out
to the carriage, and her ambition was not to play Rachmaninoff better,
nor to build town halls, but to chuckle at babies.
The sunset was merely a flush of rose on a dome of silver, with oak
twigs and thin poplar branches against it, but a silo on the horizon
changed from a red tank to a tower of violet misted over with gray. The
purple road vanished, and without lights, in the darkness of a world
destroyed, they swayed on--toward nothing.
It was a bumpy cold way to the Morgenroth farm, and she was asleep when
Here was no glaring new house with a proud phonograph, but a low
whitewashed kitchen smelling of cream and cabbage. Adolph Morgenroth was
lying on a couch in the rarely used dining-room. His heavy work-scarred
wife was shaking her hands in anxiety.
Carol felt that Kennicott would do something magnificent and startling.
But he was casual. He greeted the man, "Well, well, Adolph, have to fix
you up, eh?" Quietly, to the wife, "Hat die drug store my schwartze bag
hier geschickt? So--schon. Wie viel Uhr ist 's? Sieben? Nun, lassen uns
ein wenig supper zuerst haben. Got any of that good beer left--giebt 's
He had supped in four minutes. His coat off, his sleeves rolled up, he
was scrubbing his hands in a tin basin in the sink, using the bar of
yellow kitchen soap.
Carol had not dared to look into the farther room while she labored over
the supper of beer, rye bread, moist cornbeef and cabbage, set on the
kitchen table. The man in there was groaning. In her one glance she
had seen that his blue flannel shirt was open at a corded tobacco-brown
neck, the hollows of which were sprinkled with thin black and gray
hairs. He was covered with a sheet, like a corpse, and outside the sheet
was his right arm, wrapped in towels stained with blood.
But Kennicott strode into the other room gaily, and she followed him.
With surprising delicacy in his large fingers he unwrapped the towels
and revealed an arm which, below the elbow, was a mass of blood and raw
flesh. The man bellowed. The room grew thick about her; she was very
seasick; she fled to a chair in the kitchen. Through the haze of nausea
she heard Kennicott grumbling, "Afraid it will have to come off, Adolph.
What did you do? Fall on a reaper blade? We'll fix it right up. Carrie!
She couldn't--she couldn't get up. Then she was up, her knees like
water, her stomach revolving a thousand times a second, her eyes filmed,
her ears full of roaring. She couldn't reach the dining-room. She was
going to faint. Then she was in the dining-room, leaning against the
wall, trying to smile, flushing hot and cold along her chest and sides,
while Kennicott mumbled, "Say, help Mrs. Morgenroth and me carry him
in on the kitchen table. No, first go out and shove those two tables
together, and put a blanket on them and a clean sheet."
It was salvation to push the heavy tables, to scrub them, to be exact in
placing the sheet. Her head cleared; she was able to look calmly in at
her husband and the farmwife while they undressed the wailing man, got
him into a clean nightgown, and washed his arm. Kennicott came to lay
out his instruments. She realized that, with no hospital facilities, yet
with no worry about it, her husband--HER HUSBAND--was going to perform
a surgical operation, that miraculous boldness of which one read in
stories about famous surgeons.
She helped them to move Adolph into the kitchen. The man was in such a
funk that he would not use his legs. He was heavy, and smelled of sweat
and the stable. But she put her arm about his waist, her sleek head by
his chest; she tugged at him; she clicked her tongue in imitation of
Kennicott's cheerful noises.
When Adolph was on the table Kennicott laid a hemispheric steel and
cotton frame on his face; suggested to Carol, "Now you sit here at his
head and keep the ether dripping--about this fast, see? I'll watch
his breathing. Look who's here! Real anesthetist! Ochsner hasn't got a
better one! Class, eh? . . . Now, now, Adolph, take it easy. This won't
hurt you a bit. Put you all nice and asleep and it won't hurt a bit.
Schweig' mal! Bald schlaft man grat wie ein Kind. So! So! Bald geht's
As she let the ether drip, nervously trying to keep the rhythm that
Kennicott had indicated, Carol stared at her husband with the abandon of
He shook his head. "Bad light--bad light. Here, Mrs. Morgenroth, you
stand right here and hold this lamp. Hier, und dieses--dieses lamp
By that streaky glimmer he worked, swiftly, at ease. The room was still.
Carol tried to look at him, yet not look at the seeping blood, the
crimson slash, the vicious scalpel. The ether fumes were sweet, choking.
Her head seemed to be floating away from her body. Her arm was feeble.
It was not the blood but the grating of the surgical saw on the living
bone that broke her, and she knew that she had been fighting off nausea,
that she was beaten. She was lost in dizziness. She heard Kennicott's
"Sick? Trot outdoors couple minutes. Adolph will stay under now."
She was fumbling at a door-knob which whirled in insulting circles;
she was on the stoop, gasping, forcing air into her chest, her head
clearing. As she returned she caught the scene as a whole: the cavernous
kitchen, two milk-cans a leaden patch by the wall, hams dangling from a
beam, bats of light at the stove door, and in the center, illuminated
by a small glass lamp held by a frightened stout woman, Dr. Kennicott
bending over a body which was humped under a sheet--the surgeon, his
bare arms daubed with blood, his hands, in pale-yellow rubber gloves,
loosening the tourniquet, his face without emotion save when he threw
up his head and clucked at the farmwife, "Hold that light steady just a
second more--noch blos esn wenig."
"He speaks a vulgar, common, incorrect German of life and death and
birth and the soil. I read the French and German of sentimental
lovers and Christmas garlands. And I thought that it was I who had the
culture!" she worshiped as she returned to her place.
After a time he snapped, "That's enough. Don't give him any more ether."
He was concentrated on tying an artery. His gruffness seemed heroic to
As he shaped the flap of flesh she murmured, "Oh, you ARE wonderful!"
He was surprised. "Why, this is a cinch. Now if it had been like last
week----Get me some more water. Now last week I had a case with an ooze
in the peritoneal cavity, and by golly if it wasn't a stomach ulcer that
I hadn't suspected and----There. Say, I certainly am sleepy. Let's turn
in here. Too late to drive home. And tastes to me like a storm coming."
They slept on a feather bed with their fur coats over them; in the
morning they broke ice in the pitcher--the vast flowered and gilt
Kennicott's storm had not come. When they set out it was hazy and
growing warmer. After a mile she saw that he was studying a dark cloud
in the north. He urged the horses to the run. But she forgot his unusual
haste in wonder at the tragic landscape. The pale snow, the prickles of
old stubble, and the clumps of ragged brush faded into a gray obscurity.
Under the hillocks were cold shadows. The willows about a farmhouse were
agitated by the rising wind, and the patches of bare wood where the bark
had peeled away were white as the flesh of a leper. The snowy slews were
of a harsh flatness. The whole land was cruel, and a climbing cloud of
slate-edged blackness dominated the sky.
"Guess we're about in for a blizzard," speculated Kennicott "We can make
Ben McGonegal's, anyway."
"Blizzard? Really? Why----But still we used to think they were fun when
I was a girl. Daddy had to stay home from court, and we'd stand at the
window and watch the snow."
"Not much fun on the prairie. Get lost. Freeze to death. Take no
chances." He chirruped at the horses. They were flying now, the carriage
rocking on the hard ruts.
The whole air suddenly crystallized into large damp flakes. The horses
and the buffalo robe were covered with snow; her face was wet; the
thin butt of the whip held a white ridge. The air became colder. The
snowflakes were harder; they shot in level lines, clawing at her face.
She could not see a hundred feet ahead.
Kennicott was stern. He bent forward, the reins firm in his coonskin
gauntlets. She was certain that he would get through. He always got
Save for his presence, the world and all normal living disappeared. They
were lost in the boiling snow. He leaned close to bawl, "Letting the
horses have their heads. They'll get us home."
With a terrifying bump they were off the road, slanting with two wheels
in the ditch, but instantly they were jerked back as the horses fled
on. She gasped. She tried to, and did not, feel brave as she pulled the
woolen robe up about her chin.
They were passing something like a dark wall on the right. "I know that
barn!" he yelped. He pulled at the reins. Peeping from the covers she
saw his teeth pinch his lower lip, saw him scowl as he slackened and
sawed and jerked sharply again at the racing horses.
"Farmhouse there. Put robe around you and come on," he cried.
It was like diving into icy water to climb out of the carriage, but
on the ground she smiled at him, her face little and childish and pink
above the buffalo robe over her shoulders. In a swirl of flakes which
scratched at their eyes like a maniac darkness, he unbuckled the
harness. He turned and plodded back, a ponderous furry figure, holding
the horses' bridles, Carol's hand dragging at his sleeve.
They came to the cloudy bulk of a barn whose outer wall was directly
upon the road. Feeling along it, he found a gate, led them into a yard,
into the barn. The interior was warm. It stunned them with its languid
He carefully drove the horses into stalls.
Her toes were coals of pain. "Let's run for the house," she said.
"Can't. Not yet. Might never find it. Might get lost ten feet away from
it. Sit over in this stall, near the horses. We'll rush for the house
when the blizzard lifts."
"I'm so stiff! I can't walk!"
He carried her into the stall, stripped off her overshoes and boots,
stopping to blow on his purple fingers as he fumbled at her laces.
He rubbed her feet, and covered her with the buffalo robe and
horse-blankets from the pile on the feed-box. She was drowsy, hemmed in
by the storm. She sighed:
"You're so strong and yet so skilful and not afraid of blood or storm
"Used to it. Only thing that's bothered me was the chance the ether
fumes might explode, last night."
"I don't understand."
"Why, Dave, the darn fool, sent me ether, instead of chloroform like I
told him, and you know ether fumes are mighty inflammable, especially
with that lamp right by the table. But I had to operate, of
course--wound chuck-full of barnyard filth that way."
"You knew all the time that----Both you and I might have been blown up?
You knew it while you were operating?"
"Sure. Didn't you? Why, what's the matter?"
KENNICOTT was heavily pleased by her Christmas presents, and he gave her
a diamond bar-pin. But she could not persuade herself that he was much
interested in the rites of the morning, in the tree she had decorated,
the three stockings she had hung, the ribbons and gilt seals and hidden
messages. He said only:
"Nice way to fix things, all right. What do you say we go down to Jack
Elder's and have a game of five hundred this afternoon?"
She remembered her father's Christmas fantasies: the sacred old rag
doll at the top of the tree, the score of cheap presents, the punch and
carols, the roast chestnuts by the fire, and the gravity with which the
judge opened the children's scrawly notes and took cognizance of demands
for sled-rides, for opinions upon the existence of Santa Claus. She
remembered him reading out a long indictment of himself for being a
sentimentalist, against the peace and dignity of the State of Minnesota.
She remembered his thin legs twinkling before their sled----
She muttered unsteadily, "Must run up and put on my shoes--slippers so
cold." In the not very romantic solitude of the locked bathroom she sat
on the slippery edge of the tub and wept.
Kennicott had five hobbies: medicine, land-investment, Carol, motoring,
and hunting. It is not certain in what order he preferred them. Solid
though his enthusiasms were in the matter of medicine--his admiration
of this city surgeon, his condemnation of that for tricky ways of
persuading country practitioners to bring in surgical patients,
his indignation about fee-splitting, his pride in a new X-ray
apparatus--none of these beatified him as did motoring.
He nursed his two-year-old Buick even in winter, when it was stored in
the stable-garage behind the house. He filled the grease-cups, varnished
a fender, removed from beneath the back seat the debris of gloves,
copper washers, crumpled maps, dust, and greasy rags. Winter noons he
wandered out and stared owlishly at the car. He became excited over a
fabulous "trip we might take next summer." He galloped to the station,
brought home railway maps, and traced motor-routes from Gopher Prairie
to Winnipeg or Des Moines or Grand Marais, thinking aloud and expecting
her to be effusive about such academic questions as "Now I wonder if we
could stop at Baraboo and break the jump from La Crosse to Chicago?"
To him motoring was a faith not to be questioned, a high-church cult,
with electric sparks for candles, and piston-rings possessing the
sanctity of altar-vessels. His liturgy was composed of intoned and
metrical road-comments: "They say there's a pretty good hike from Duluth
to International Falls."
Hunting was equally a devotion, full of metaphysical concepts veiled
from Carol. All winter he read sporting-catalogues, and thought about
remarkable past shots: "'Member that time when I got two ducks on a
long chance, just at sunset?" At least once a month he drew his favorite
repeating shotgun, his "pump gun," from its wrapper of greased canton
flannel; he oiled the trigger, and spent silent ecstatic moments aiming
at the ceiling. Sunday mornings Carol heard him trudging up to the
attic and there, an hour later, she found him turning over boots, wooden
duck-decoys, lunch-boxes, or reflectively squinting at old shells,
rubbing their brass caps with his sleeve and shaking his head as he
thought about their uselessness.
He kept the loading-tools he had used as a boy: a capper for shot-gun
shells, a mold for lead bullets. When once, in a housewifely frenzy for
getting rid of things, she raged, "Why don't you give these away?" he
solemnly defended them, "Well, you can't tell; they might come in handy
She flushed. She wondered if he was thinking of the child they would
have when, as he put it, they were "sure they could afford one."
Mysteriously aching, nebulously sad, she slipped away, half-convinced
but only half-convinced that it was horrible and unnatural, this
postponement of release of mother-affection, this sacrifice to her
opinionation and to his cautious desire for prosperity.
"But it would be worse if he were like Sam Clark--insisted on having
children," she considered; then, "If Will were the Prince, wouldn't I
DEMAND his child?"
Kennicott's land-deals were both financial advancement and favorite
game. Driving through the country, he noticed which farms had good
crops; he heard the news about the restless farmer who was "thinking
about selling out here and pulling his freight for Alberta." He asked
the veterinarian about the value of different breeds of stock; he
inquired of Lyman Cass whether or not Einar Gyseldson really had had a
yield of forty bushels of wheat to the acre. He was always consulting
Julius Flickerbaugh, who handled more real estate than law, and more law
than justice. He studied township maps, and read notices of auctions.
Thus he was able to buy a quarter-section of land for one hundred and
fifty dollars an acre, and to sell it in a year or two, after installing
a cement floor in the barn and running water in the house, for one
hundred and eighty or even two hundred.
He spoke of these details to Sam Clark . . . rather often.
In all his games, cars and guns and land, he expected Carol to take an
interest. But he did not give her the facts which might have created
interest. He talked only of the obvious and tedious aspects; never of
his aspirations in finance, nor of the mechanical principles of motors.
This month of romance she was eager to understand his hobbies. She
shivered in the garage while he spent half an hour in deciding whether
to put alcohol or patent non-freezing liquid into the radiator, or to
drain out the water entirely. "Or no, then I wouldn't want to take
her out if it turned warm--still, of course, I could fill the
radiator again--wouldn't take so awful long--just take a few pails
of water--still, if it turned cold on me again before I drained
it----Course there's some people that put in kerosene, but they say it
rots the hose-connections and----Where did I put that lug-wrench?"
It was at this point that she gave up being a motorist and retired to