Vida Sherwin, Ella Stowbody, the Harry Haydocks, the Dave Dyers, Raymie
Wutherspoon, Dr. Terry Gould, and four new candidates: flirtatious Rita
Simons, Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon and Myrtle Cass, an uncomely but
intense girl of nineteen. Of these fifteen only seven came to the first
meeting. The rest telephoned their unparalleled regrets and engagements
and illnesses, and announced that they would be present at all other
meetings through eternity.
Carol was made president and director.
She had added the Dillons. Despite Kennicott's apprehension the dentist
and his wife had not been taken up by the Westlakes but had remained
as definitely outside really smart society as Willis Woodford, who was
teller, bookkeeper, and janitor in Stowbody's bank. Carol had noted Mrs.
Dillon dragging past the house during a bridge of the Jolly Seventeen,
looking in with pathetic lips at the splendor of the accepted. She
impulsively invited the Dillons to the dramatic association meeting, and
when Kennicott was brusque to them she was unusually cordial, and felt
That self-approval balanced her disappointment at the smallness of the
meeting, and her embarrassment during Raymie Wutherspoon's repetitions
of "The stage needs uplifting," and "I believe that there are great
lessons in some plays."
Ella Stowbody, who was a professional, having studied elocution in
Milwaukee, disapproved of Carol's enthusiasm for recent plays. Miss
Stowbody expressed the fundamental principle of the American drama: the
only way to be artistic is to present Shakespeare. As no one listened to
her she sat back and looked like Lady Macbeth.
The Little Theaters, which were to give piquancy to American drama three
or four years later, were only in embryo. But of this fast coming revolt
Carol had premonitions. She knew from some lost magazine article that
in Dublin were innovators called The Irish Players. She knew confusedly
that a man named Gordon Craig had painted scenery--or had he written
plays? She felt that in the turbulence of the drama she was discovering
a history more important than the commonplace chronicles which dealt
with senators and their pompous puerilities. She had a sensation of
familiarity; a dream of sitting in a Brussels cafe and going afterward
to a tiny gay theater under a cathedral wall.
The advertisement in the Minneapolis paper leaped from the page to her
The Cosmos School of Music, Oratory, and
Dramatic Art announces a program of four
one-act plays by Schnitzler, Shaw, Yeats,
and Lord Dunsany.
She had to be there! She begged Kennicott to "run down to the Cities"
"Well, I don't know. Be fun to take in a show, but why the deuce do you
want to see those darn foreign plays, given by a lot of amateurs? Why
don't you wait for a regular play, later on? There's going to be some
corkers coming: 'Lottie of Two-Gun Rancho,' and 'Cops and Crooks'--real
Broadway stuff, with the New York casts. What's this junk you want
to see? Hm. 'How He Lied to Her Husband.' That doesn't listen so bad.
Sounds racy. And, uh, well, I could go to the motor show, I suppose. I'd
like to see this new Hup roadster. Well----"
She never knew which attraction made him decide.
She had four days of delightful worry--over the hole in her one good
silk petticoat, the loss of a string of beads from her chiffon and brown
velvet frock, the catsup stain on her best georgette crepe blouse. She
wailed, "I haven't a single solitary thing that's fit to be seen in,"
and enjoyed herself very much indeed.
Kennicott went about casually letting people know that he was "going to
run down to the Cities and see some shows."
As the train plodded through the gray prairie, on a windless day with
the smoke from the engine clinging to the fields in giant cotton-rolls,
in a low and writhing wall which shut off the snowy fields, she did not
look out of the window. She closed her eyes and hummed, and did not know
that she was humming.
She was the young poet attacking fame and Paris.
In the Minneapolis station the crowd of lumberjacks, farmers, and
Swedish families with innumerous children and grandparents and paper
parcels, their foggy crowding and their clamor confused her. She felt
rustic in this once familiar city, after a year and a half of
Gopher Prairie. She was certain that Kennicott was taking the wrong
trolley-car. By dusk, the liquor warehouses, Hebraic clothing-shops,
and lodging-houses on lower Hennepin Avenue were smoky, hideous,
ill-tempered. She was battered by the noise and shuttling of the
rush-hour traffic. When a clerk in an overcoat too closely fitted at the
waist stared at her, she moved nearer to Kennicott's arm. The clerk was
flippant and urban. He was a superior person, used to this tumult. Was
he laughing at her?
For a moment she wanted the secure quiet of Gopher Prairie.
In the hotel-lobby she was self-conscious. She was not used to hotels;
she remembered with jealousy how often Juanita Haydock talked of the
famous hotels in Chicago. She could not face the traveling salesmen,
baronial in large leather chairs. She wanted people to believe that her
husband and she were accustomed to luxury and chill elegance; she was
faintly angry at him for the vulgar way in which, after signing the
register "Dr. W. P. Kennicott & wife," he bellowed at the clerk, "Got a
nice room with bath for us, old man?" She gazed about haughtily, but as
she discovered that no one was interested in her she felt foolish, and
ashamed of her irritation.
She asserted, "This silly lobby is too florid," and simultaneously she
admired it: the onyx columns with gilt capitals, the crown-embroidered
velvet curtains at the restaurant door, the silk-roped alcove where
pretty girls perpetually waited for mysterious men, the two-pound boxes
of candy and the variety of magazines at the news-stand. The hidden
orchestra was lively. She saw a man who looked like a European diplomat,
in a loose top-coat and a Homburg hat. A woman with a broadtail coat,
a heavy lace veil, pearl earrings, and a close black hat entered the
restaurant. "Heavens! That's the first really smart woman I've seen in a
year!" Carol exulted. She felt metropolitan.
But as she followed Kennicott to the elevator the coat-check girl, a
confident young woman, with cheeks powdered like lime, and a blouse
low and thin and furiously crimson, inspected her, and under that
supercilious glance Carol was shy again. She unconsciously waited
for the bellboy to precede her into the elevator. When he snorted "Go
ahead!" she was mortified. He thought she was a hayseed, she worried.
The moment she was in their room, with the bellboy safely out of the
way, she looked critically at Kennicott. For the first time in months
she really saw him.
His clothes were too heavy and provincial. His decent gray suit, made
by Nat Hicks of Gopher Prairie, might have been of sheet iron; it had
no distinction of cut, no easy grace like the diplomat's Burberry. His
black shoes were blunt and not well polished. His scarf was a stupid
brown. He needed a shave.
But she forgot her doubt as she realized the ingenuities of the room.
She ran about, turning on the taps of the bathtub, which gushed instead
of dribbling like the taps at home, snatching the new wash-rag out of
its envelope of oiled paper, trying the rose-shaded light between the
twin beds, pulling out the drawers of the kidney-shaped walnut desk to
examine the engraved stationery, planning to write on it to every one
she knew, admiring the claret-colored velvet armchair and the blue rug,
testing the ice-water tap, and squealing happily when the water really
did come out cold. She flung her arms about Kennicott, kissed him.
"Like it, old lady?"
"It's adorable. It's so amusing. I love you for bringing me. You really
are a dear!"
He looked blankly indulgent, and yawned, and condescended, "That's a
pretty slick arrangement on the radiator, so you can adjust it at any
temperature you want. Must take a big furnace to run this place. Gosh, I
hope Bea remembers to turn off the drafts tonight."
Under the glass cover of the dressing-table was a menu with the most
enchanting dishes: breast of guinea hen De Vitresse, pommes de terre a
la Russe, meringue Chantilly, gateaux Bruxelles.
"Oh, let's----I'm going to have a hot bath, and put on my new hat with
the wool flowers, and let's go down and eat for hours, and we'll have a
cocktail!" she chanted.
While Kennicott labored over ordering it was annoying to see him permit
the waiter to be impertinent, but as the cocktail elevated her to a
bridge among colored stars, as the oysters came in--not canned oysters
in the Gopher Prairie fashion, but on the half-shell--she cried, "If you
only knew how wonderful it is not to have had to plan this dinner, and
order it at the butcher's and fuss and think about it, and then
watch Bea cook it! I feel so free. And to have new kinds of food, and
different patterns of dishes and linen, and not worry about whether the
pudding is being spoiled! Oh, this is a great moment for me!"
They had all the experiences of provincials in a metropolis. After
breakfast Carol bustled to a hair-dresser's, bought gloves and a blouse,
and importantly met Kennicott in front of an optician's, in accordance
with plans laid down, revised, and verified. They admired the diamonds
and furs and frosty silverware and mahogany chairs and polished morocco
sewing-boxes in shop-windows, and were abashed by the throngs in the
department-stores, and were bullied by a clerk into buying too many
shirts for Kennicott, and gaped at the "clever novelty perfumes--just
in from New York." Carol got three books on the theater, and spent
an exultant hour in warning herself that she could not afford this
rajah-silk frock, in thinking how envious it would make Juanita Haydock,
in closing her eyes, and buying it. Kennicott went from shop to shop,
earnestly hunting down a felt-covered device to keep the windshield of
his car clear of rain.
They dined extravagantly at their hotel at night, and next morning
sneaked round the corner to economize at a Childs' Restaurant. They were
tired by three in the afternoon, and dozed at the motion-pictures and
said they wished they were back in Gopher Prairie--and by eleven in the
evening they were again so lively that they went to a Chinese restaurant
that was frequented by clerks and their sweethearts on pay-days. They
sat at a teak and marble table eating Eggs Fooyung, and listened to a
brassy automatic piano, and were altogether cosmopolitan.
On the street they met people from home--the McGanums. They laughed,
shook hands repeatedly, and exclaimed, "Well, this is quite a
coincidence!" They asked when the McGanums had come down, and begged for
news of the town they had left two days before. Whatever the
McGanums were at home, here they stood out as so superior to all the
undistinguishable strangers absurdly hurrying past that the Kennicotts
held them as long as they could. The McGanums said good-by as though
they were going to Tibet instead of to the station to catch No. 7 north.
They explored Minneapolis. Kennicott was conversational and technical
regarding gluten and cockle-cylinders and No. I Hard, when they were
shown through the gray stone hulks and new cement elevators of the
largest flour-mills in the world. They looked across Loring Park and
the Parade to the towers of St. Mark's and the Procathedral, and the
red roofs of houses climbing Kenwood Hill. They drove about the chain of
garden-circled lakes, and viewed the houses of the millers and lumbermen
and real estate peers--the potentates of the expanding city. They
surveyed the small eccentric bungalows with pergolas, the houses of
pebbledash and tapestry brick with sleeping-porches above sun-parlors,
and one vast incredible chateau fronting the Lake of the Isles. They
tramped through a shining-new section of apartment-houses; not the tall
bleak apartments of Eastern cities but low structures of cheerful yellow
brick, in which each flat had its glass-enclosed porch with swinging
couch and scarlet cushions and Russian brass bowls. Between a waste of
tracks and a raw gouged hill they found poverty in staggering shanties.
They saw miles of the city which they had never known in their days
of absorption in college. They were distinguished explorers, and they
remarked, in great mutual esteem, "I bet Harry Haydock's never seen the
City like this! Why, he'd never have sense enough to study the machinery
in the mills, or go through all these outlying districts. Wonder folks
in Gopher Prairie wouldn't use their legs and explore, the way we do!"
They had two meals with Carol's sister, and were bored, and felt that
intimacy which beatifies married people when they suddenly admit that
they equally dislike a relative of either of them.
So it was with affection but also with weariness that they approached
the evening on which Carol was to see the plays at the dramatic school.
Kennicott suggested not going. "So darn tired from all this walking;
don't know but what we better turn in early and get rested up." It was
only from duty that Carol dragged him and herself out of the warm
hotel, into a stinking trolley, up the brownstone steps of the converted
residence which lugubriously housed the dramatic school.
They were in a long whitewashed hall with a clumsy draw-curtain across
the front. The folding chairs were filled with people who looked washed
and ironed: parents of the pupils, girl students, dutiful teachers.
"Strikes me it's going to be punk. If the first play isn't good, let's
beat it," said Kennicott hopefully.
"All right," she yawned. With hazy eyes she tried to read the lists of
characters, which were hidden among lifeless advertisements of pianos,
music-dealers, restaurants, candy.
She regarded the Schnitzler play with no vast interest. The actors
moved and spoke stiffly. Just as its cynicism was beginning to rouse her
village-dulled frivolity, it was over.
"Don't think a whale of a lot of that. How about taking a sneak?"
"Oh, let's try the next one, 'How He Lied to Her Husband.'"
The Shaw conceit amused her, and perplexed Kennicott:
"Strikes me it's darn fresh. Thought it would be racy. Don't know as I
think much of a play where a husband actually claims he wants a fellow
to make love to his wife. No husband ever did that! Shall we shake a
"I want to see this Yeats thing, 'Land of Heart's Desire.' I used to
love it in college." She was awake now, and urgent. "I know you didn't
care so much for Yeats when I read him aloud to you, but you just see if
you don't adore him on the stage."
Most of the cast were as unwieldy as oak chairs marching, and the
setting was an arty arrangement of batik scarfs and heavy tables, but
Maire Bruin was slim as Carol, and larger-eyed, and her voice was
a morning bell. In her, Carol lived, and on her lifting voice was
transported from this sleepy small-town husband and all the rows of
polite parents to the stilly loft of a thatched cottage where in a green
dimness, beside a window caressed by linden branches, she bent over a
chronicle of twilight women and the ancient gods.
"Well--gosh--nice kid played that girl--good-looker," said Kennicott.
"Want to stay for the last piece? Heh?"
She shivered. She did not answer.
The curtain was again drawn aside. On the stage they saw nothing but
long green curtains and a leather chair. Two young men in brown robes
like furniture-covers were gesturing vacuously and droning cryptic
sentences full of repetitions.
It was Carol's first hearing of Dunsany. She sympathized with the
restless Kennicott as he felt in his pocket for a cigar and unhappily
put it back.
Without understanding when or how, without a tangible change in the
stilted intoning of the stage-puppets, she was conscious of another time
Stately and aloof among vainglorious tiring-maids, a queen in robes
that murmured on the marble floor, she trod the gallery of a crumbling
palace. In the courtyard, elephants trumpeted, and swart men with beards
dyed crimson stood with blood-stained hands folded upon their hilts,
guarding the caravan from El Sharnak, the camels with Tyrian stuffs
of topaz and cinnabar. Beyond the turrets of the outer wall the jungle
glared and shrieked, and the sun was furious above drenched orchids.
A youth came striding through the steel-bossed doors, the sword-bitten
doors that were higher than ten tall men. He was in flexible mail, and
under the rim of his planished morion were amorous curls. His hand was
out to her; before she touched it she could feel its warmth----
"Gosh all hemlock! What the dickens is all this stuff about, Carrie?"
She was no Syrian queen. She was Mrs. Dr. Kennicott. She fell with a
jolt into a whitewashed hall and sat looking at two scared girls and a
young man in wrinkled tights.
Kennicott fondly rambled as they left the hall:
"What the deuce did that last spiel mean? Couldn't make head or tail of
it. If that's highbrow drama, give me a cow-puncher movie, every time!
Thank God, that's over, and we can get to bed. Wonder if we wouldn't
make time by walking over to Nicollet to take a car? One thing I will
say for that dump: they had it warm enough. Must have a big hot-air
furnace, I guess. Wonder how much coal it takes to run 'em through the
In the car he affectionately patted her knee, and he was for a second
the striding youth in armor; then he was Doc Kennicott of Gopher
Prairie, and she was recaptured by Main Street. Never, not all her life,
would she behold jungles and the tombs of kings. There were strange
things in the world, they really existed; but she would never see them.
She would recreate them in plays!
She would make the dramatic association understand her aspiration. They
would, surely they would----
She looked doubtfully at the impenetrable reality of yawning trolley
conductor and sleepy passengers and placards advertising soap and
SHE hurried to the first meeting of the play-reading committee. Her
jungle romance had faded, but she retained a religious fervor, a surge
of half-formed thought about the creation of beauty by suggestion.
A Dunsany play would be too difficult for the Gopher Prairie
association. She would let them compromise on Shaw--on "Androcles and
the Lion," which had just been published.
The committee was composed of Carol, Vida Sherwin, Guy Pollock, Raymie
Wutherspoon, and Juanita Haydock. They were exalted by the picture of
themselves as being simultaneously business-like and artistic. They
were entertained by Vida in the parlor of Mrs. Elisha Gurrey's
boarding-house, with its steel engraving of Grant at Appomattox, its
basket of stereoscopic views, and its mysterious stains on the gritty
Vida was an advocate of culture-buying and efficiency-systems. She
hinted that they ought to have (as at the committee-meetings of the
Thanatopsis) a "regular order of business," and "the reading of the
minutes," but as there were no minutes to read, and as no one knew
exactly what was the regular order of the business of being literary,
they had to give up efficiency.
Carol, as chairman, said politely, "Have you any ideas about what play
we'd better give first?" She waited for them to look abashed and vacant,
so that she might suggest "Androcles."
Guy Pollock answered with disconcerting readiness, "I'll tell you: since
we're going to try to do something artistic, and not simply fool around,
I believe we ought to give something classic. How about 'The School for
"Why----Don't you think that has been done a good deal?"
"Yes, perhaps it has."
Carol was ready to say, "How about Bernard Shaw?" when he treacherously
went on, "How would it be then to give a Greek drama--say 'Oedipus
"Why, I don't believe----"
Vida Sherwin intruded, "I'm sure that would be too hard for us. Now I've
brought something that I think would be awfully jolly."
She held out, and Carol incredulously took, a thin gray pamphlet
entitled "McGinerty's Mother-in-law." It was the sort of farce which is
advertised in "school entertainment" catalogues as:
Riproaring knock-out, 5 m. 3 f., time 2 hrs., interior set, popular with
churches and all high-class occasions.
Carol glanced from the scabrous object to Vida, and realized that she
was not joking.
"But this is--this is--why, it's just a----Why, Vida, I thought you
Vida snorted, "Oh. Art. Oh yes. I do like art. It's very nice. But after
all, what does it matter what kind of play we give as long as we get the
association started? The thing that matters is something that none of
you have spoken of, that is: what are we going to do with the money, if
we make any? I think it would be awfully nice if we presented the high
school with a full set of Stoddard's travel-lectures!"
Carol moaned, "Oh, but Vida dear, do forgive me but this farce----Now
what I'd like us to give is something distinguished. Say Shaw's
'Androcles.' Have any of you read it?"
"Yes. Good play," said Guy Pollock.
Then Raymie Wutherspoon astoundingly spoke up:
"So have I. I read through all the plays in the public library, so's
to be ready for this meeting. And----But I don't believe you grasp
the irreligious ideas in this 'Androcles,' Mrs. Kennicott. I guess the
feminine mind is too innocent to understand all these immoral writers.
I'm sure I don't want to criticize Bernard Shaw; I understand he is very
popular with the highbrows in Minneapolis; but just the same----As far
as I can make out, he's downright improper! The things he SAYS----Well,
it would be a very risky thing for our young folks to see. It seems to
me that a play that doesn't leave a nice taste in the mouth and that
hasn't any message is nothing but--nothing but----Well, whatever it may
be, it isn't art. So----Now I've found a play that is clean, and there's
some awfully funny scenes in it, too. I laughed out loud, reading it.