none of our business. Folks out here are too busy growing corn to monkey
with any fool war that those foreigners want to get themselves into."
It was Miles Bjornstam who said, "I can't figure it out. I'm opposed to
wars, but still, seems like Germany has got to be licked because them
Junkers stands in the way of progress."
She was calling on Miles and Bea, early in autumn. They had received
her with cries, with dusting of chairs, and a running to fetch water for
coffee. Miles stood and beamed at her. He fell often and joyously into
his old irreverence about the lords of Gopher Prairie, but always--with
a certain difficulty--he added something decorous and appreciative.
"Lots of people have come to see you, haven't they?" Carol hinted.
"Why, Bea's cousin Tina comes in right along, and the foreman at the
mill, and----Oh, we have good times. Say, take a look at that Bea!
Wouldn't you think she was a canary-bird, to listen to her, and to see
that Scandahoofian tow-head of hers? But say, know what she is? She's
a mother hen! Way she fusses over me--way she makes old Miles wear a
necktie! Hate to spoil her by letting her hear it, but she's one pretty
darn nice--nice----Hell! What do we care if none of the dirty snobs come
and call? We've got each other."
Carol worried about their struggle, but she forgot it in the stress of
sickness and fear. For that autumn she knew that a baby was coming,
that at last life promised to be interesting in the peril of the great
THE baby was coming. Each morning she was nauseated, chilly, bedraggled,
and certain that she would never again be attractive; each twilight
she was afraid. She did not feel exalted, but unkempt and furious. The
period of daily sickness crawled into an endless time of boredom. It
became difficult for her to move about, and she raged that she, who
had been slim and light-footed, should have to lean on a stick, and be
heartily commented upon by street gossips. She was encircled by greasy
eyes. Every matron hinted, "Now that you're going to be a mother,
dearie, you'll get over all these ideas of yours and settle down."
She felt that willy-nilly she was being initiated into the assembly
of housekeepers; with the baby for hostage, she would never escape;
presently she would be drinking coffee and rocking and talking about
"I could stand fighting them. I'm used to that. But this being taken in,
being taken as a matter of course, I can't stand it--and I must stand
She alternately detested herself for not appreciating the kindly women,
and detested them for their advice: lugubrious hints as to how much she
would suffer in labor, details of baby-hygiene based on long experience
and total misunderstanding, superstitious cautions about the things she
must eat and read and look at in prenatal care for the baby's soul, and
always a pest of simpering baby-talk. Mrs. Champ Perry bustled in to
lend "Ben Hur," as a preventive of future infant immorality. The Widow
Bogart appeared trailing pinkish exclamations, "And how is our lovely
'ittle muzzy today! My, ain't it just like they always say: being in
a Family Way does make the girlie so lovely, just like a Madonna. Tell
me--" Her whisper was tinged with salaciousness--"does oo feel the dear
itsy one stirring, the pledge of love? I remember with Cy, of course he
was so big----"
"I do not look lovely, Mrs. Bogart. My complexion is rotten, and my hair
is coming out, and I look like a potato-bag, and I think my arches are
falling, and he isn't a pledge of love, and I'm afraid he WILL look like
us, and I don't believe in mother-devotion, and the whole business is a
confounded nuisance of a biological process," remarked Carol.
Then the baby was born, without unusual difficulty: a boy with straight
back and strong legs. The first day she hated him for the tides of pain
and hopeless fear he had caused; she resented his raw ugliness. After
that she loved him with all the devotion and instinct at which she
had scoffed. She marveled at the perfection of the miniature hands as
noisily as did Kennicott, she was overwhelmed by the trust with
which the baby turned to her; passion for him grew with each unpoetic
irritating thing she had to do for him.
He was named Hugh, for her father.
Hugh developed into a thin healthy child with a large head and straight
delicate hair of a faint brown. He was thoughtful and casual--a
For two years nothing else existed. She did not, as the cynical matrons
had prophesied, "give up worrying about the world and other folks'
babies soon as she got one of her own to fight for." The barbarity of
that willingness to sacrifice other children so that one child might
have too much was impossible to her. But she would sacrifice herself.
She understood consecration--she who answered Kennicott's hints about
having Hugh christened: "I refuse to insult my baby and myself by asking
an ignorant young man in a frock coat to sanction him, to permit me
to have him! I refuse to subject him to any devil-chasing rites! If I
didn't give my baby--MY BABY--enough sanctification in those nine hours
of hell, then he can't get any more out of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel!"
"Well, Baptists hardly ever christen kids. I was kind of thinking more
about Reverend Warren," said Kennicott.
Hugh was her reason for living, promise of accomplishment in the future,
shrine of adoration--and a diverting toy. "I thought I'd be a dilettante
mother, but I'm as dismayingly natural as Mrs. Bogart," she boasted.
For two--years Carol was a part of the town; as much one of Our Young
Mothers as Mrs. McGanum. Her opinionation seemed dead; she had no
apparent desire for escape; her brooding centered on Hugh. While she
wondered at the pearl texture of his ear she exulted, "I feel like an
old woman, with a skin like sandpaper, beside him, and I'm glad of it!
He is perfect. He shall have everything. He sha'n't always stay here in
Gopher Prairie. . . . I wonder which is really the best, Harvard or Yale
The people who hemmed her in had been brilliantly reinforced by Mr. and
Mrs. Whittier N. Smail--Kennicott's Uncle Whittier and Aunt Bessie.
The true Main Streetite defines a relative as a person to whose house
you go uninvited, to stay as long as you like. If you hear that Lym Cass
on his journey East has spent all his time "visiting" in Oyster Center,
it does not mean that he prefers that village to the rest of New
England, but that he has relatives there. It does not mean that he has
written to the relatives these many years, nor that they have ever given
signs of a desire to look upon him. But "you wouldn't expect a man to
go and spend good money at a hotel in Boston, when his own third cousins
live right in the same state, would you?"
When the Smails sold their creamery in North Dakota they visited Mr.
Smail's sister, Kennicott's mother, at Lac-qui-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
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
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 and 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!
"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."
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
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
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
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.
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
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!"
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