but one thing you can put down as settled is that Germany will be a
Hohenzollern empire for the next forty years. At that, I don't know as
it's so bad. The Kaiser and the Junkers keep a firm hand on a lot
of these red agitators who'd be worse than a king if they could get
"I'm terribly interested in this uprising that overthrew the Czar in
Russia," suggested Carol. She had finally been conquered by the man's
wizard knowledge of affairs.
Kennicott apologized for her: "Carrie's nuts about this Russian
revolution. Is there much to it, Perce?"
"There is not!" Bresnahan said flatly. "I can speak by the book there.
Carol, honey, I'm surprised to find you talking like a New York Russian
Jew, or one of these long-hairs! I can tell you, only you don't need to
let every one in on it, this is confidential, I got it from a man who's
close to the State Department, but as a matter of fact the Czar will
be back in power before the end of the year. You read a lot about his
retiring and about his being killed, but I know he's got a big army back
of him, and he'll show these damn agitators, lazy beggars hunting for
a soft berth bossing the poor goats that fall for 'em, he'll show 'em
where they get off!"
Carol was sorry to hear that the Czar was coming back, but she said
nothing. The others had looked vacant at the mention of a country so far
away as Russia. Now they edged in and asked Bresnahan what he thought
about the Packard car, investments in Texas oil-wells, the comparative
merits of young men born in Minnesota and in Massachusetts, the question
of prohibition, the future cost of motor tires, and wasn't it true that
American aviators put it all over these Frenchmen?
They were glad to find that he agreed with them on every point.
As she heard Bresnahan announce, "We're perfectly willing to talk to
any committee the men may choose, but we're not going to stand for some
outside agitator butting in and telling us how we're going to run our
plant!" Carol remembered that Jackson Elder (now meekly receiving New
Ideas) had said the same thing in the same words.
While Sam Clark was digging up from his memory a long and immensely
detailed story of the crushing things he had said to a Pullman porter,
named George, Bresnahan hugged his knees and rocked and watched Carol.
She wondered if he did not understand the laboriousness of the smile
with which she listened to Kennicott's account of the "good one he had
on Carrie," that marital, coyly improper, ten-times-told tale of how she
had forgotten to attend to Hugh because she was "all het up pounding the
box"--which may be translated as "eagerly playing the piano." She was
certain that Bresnahan saw through her when she pretended not to hear
Kennicott's invitation to join a game of cribbage. She feared the
comments he might make; she was irritated by her fear.
She was equally irritated, when the motor returned through Gopher
Prairie, to find that she was proud of sharing in Bresnahan's kudos
as people waved, and Juanita Haydock leaned from a window. She said to
herself, "As though I cared whether I'm seen with this fat phonograph!"
and simultaneously, "Everybody has noticed how much Will and I are
playing with Mr. Bresnahan."
The town was full of his stories, his friendliness, his memory for
names, his clothes, his trout-flies, his generosity. He had given
a hundred dollars to Father Klubok the priest, and a hundred to the
Reverend Mr. Zitterel the Baptist minister, for Americanization work.
At the Bon Ton, Carol heard Nat Hicks the tailor exulting:
"Old Perce certainly pulled a good one on this fellow Bjornstam that
always is shooting off his mouth. He's supposed to of settled down since
he got married, but Lord, those fellows that think they know it all,
they never change. Well, the Red Swede got the grand razz handed to him,
all right. He had the nerve to breeze up to Perce, at Dave Dyer's, and
he said, he said to Perce, 'I've always wanted to look at a man that was
so useful that folks would pay him a million dollars for existing,' and
Perce gave him the once-over and come right back, 'Have, eh?' he says.
'Well,' he says, 'I've been looking for a man so useful sweeping floors
that I could pay him four dollars a day. Want the job, my friend?' Ha,
ha, ha! Say, you know how lippy Bjornstam is? Well for once he didn't
have a thing to say. He tried to get fresh, and tell what a rotten
town this is, and Perce come right back at him, 'If you don't like this
country, you better get out of it and go back to Germany, where you
belong!' Say, maybe us fellows didn't give Bjornstam the horse-laugh
though! Oh, Perce is the white-haired boy in this burg, all rightee!"
Bresnahan had borrowed Jackson Elder's motor; he stopped at the
Kennicotts'; he bawled at Carol, rocking with Hugh on the porch, "Better
come for a ride."
She wanted to snub him. "Thanks so much, but I'm being maternal."
"Bring him along! Bring him along!" Bresnahan was out of the seat,
stalking up the sidewalk, and the rest of her protests and dignities
She did not bring Hugh along.
Bresnahan was silent for a mile, in words, But he looked at her as
though he meant her to know that he understood everything she thought.
She observed how deep was his chest.
"Lovely fields over there," he said.
"You really like them? There's no profit in them."
He chuckled. "Sister, you can't get away with it. I'm onto you. You
consider me a big bluff. Well, maybe I am. But so are you, my dear--and
pretty enough so that I'd try to make love to you, if I weren't afraid
you'd slap me."
"Mr. Bresnahan, do you talk that way to your wife's friends? And do you
call them 'sister'?"
"As a matter of fact, I do! And I make 'em like it. Score two!" But his
chuckle was not so rotund, and he was very attentive to the ammeter.
In a moment he was cautiously attacking: "That's a wonderful boy, Will
Kennicott. Great work these country practitioners are doing. The other
day, in Washington, I was talking to a big scientific shark, a professor
in Johns Hopkins medical school, and he was saying that no one has ever
sufficiently appreciated the general practitioner and the sympathy
and help he gives folks. These crack specialists, the young scientific
fellows, they're so cocksure and so wrapped up in their laboratories
that they miss the human element. Except in the case of a few freak
diseases that no respectable human being would waste his time having,
it's the old doc that keeps a community well, mind and body. And
strikes me that Will is one of the steadiest and clearest-headed counter
practitioners I've ever met. Eh?"
"I'm sure he is. He's a servant of reality."
"Come again? Um. Yes. All of that, whatever that is. . . . Say, child,
you don't care a whole lot for Gopher Prairie, if I'm not mistaken."
"There's where you're missing a big chance. There's nothing to these
cities. Believe me, I KNOW! This is a good town, as they go. You're
lucky to be here. I wish I could shy on!"
"Very well, why don't you?"
"Huh? Why--Lord--can't get away fr----"
"You don't have to stay. I do! So I want to change it. Do you know that
men like you, prominent men, do quite a reasonable amount of harm by
insisting that your native towns and native states are perfect? It's
you who encourage the denizens not to change. They quote you, and go on
believing that they live in paradise, and----" She clenched her fist.
"The incredible dullness of it!"
"Suppose you were right. Even so, don't you think you waste a lot of
thundering on one poor scared little town? Kind of mean!"
"I tell you it's dull. DULL!"
"The folks don't find it dull. These couples like the Haydocks have a
high old time; dances and cards----"
"They don't. They're bored. Almost every one here is. Vacuousness and
bad manners and spiteful gossip--that's what I hate."
"Those things--course they're here. So are they in Boston! And every
place else! Why, the faults you find in this town are simply human
nature, and never will be changed."
"Perhaps. But in a Boston all the good Carols (I'll admit I have no
faults) can find one another and play. But here--I'm alone, in a stale
pool--except as it's stirred by the great Mr. Bresnahan!"
"My Lord, to hear you tell it, a fellow 'd think that all the denizens,
as you impolitely call 'em, are so confoundedly unhappy that it's a
wonder they don't all up and commit suicide. But they seem to struggle
"They don't know what they miss. And anybody can endure anything. Look
at men in mines and in prisons."
He drew up on the south shore of Lake Minniemashie. He glanced across
the reeds reflected on the water, the quiver of wavelets like crumpled
tinfoil, the distant shores patched with dark woods, silvery oats and
deep yellow wheat. He patted her hand. "Sis----Carol, you're a darling
girl, but you're difficult. Know what I think?"
"Humph. Maybe you do, but----My humble (not too humble!) opinion is that
you like to be different. You like to think you're peculiar. Why, if you
knew how many tens of thousands of women, especially in New York, say
just what you do, you'd lose all the fun of thinking you're a lone
genius and you'd be on the band-wagon whooping it up for Gopher Prairie
and a good decent family life. There's always about a million young
women just out of college who want to teach their grandmothers how to
"How proud you are of that homely rustic metaphor! You use it at
'banquets' and directors' meetings, and boast of your climb from a
"Huh! You may have my number. I'm not telling. But look here: You're
so prejudiced against Gopher Prairie that you overshoot the mark;
you antagonize those who might be inclined to agree with you in some
particulars but----Great guns, the town can't be all wrong!"
"No, it isn't. But it could be. Let me tell you a fable. Imagine a
cavewoman complaining to her mate. She doesn't like one single thing;
she hates the damp cave, the rats running over her bare legs, the stiff
skin garments, the eating of half-raw meat, her husband's bushy face,
the constant battles, and the worship of the spirits who will hoodoo her
unless she gives the priests her best claw necklace. Her man protests,
'But it can't all be wrong!' and he thinks he has reduced her to
absurdity. Now you assume that a world which produces a Percy Bresnahan
and a Velvet Motor Company must be civilized. It is? Aren't we only
about half-way along in barbarism? I suggest Mrs. Bogart as a test. And
we'll continue in barbarism just as long as people as nearly intelligent
as you continue to defend things as they are because they are."
"You're a fair spieler, child. But, by golly, I'd like to see you try
to design a new manifold, or run a factory and keep a lot of your fellow
reds from Czech-slovenski-magyar-godknowswheria on the job! You'd drop
your theories so darn quick! I'm not any defender of things as they are.
Sure. They're rotten. Only I'm sensible."
He preached his gospel: love of outdoors, Playing the Game, loyalty
to friends. She had the neophyte's shock of discovery that, outside
of tracts, conservatives do not tremble and find no answer when
an iconoclast turns on them, but retort with agility and confusing
He was so much the man, the worker, the friend, that she liked him when
she most tried to stand out against him; he was so much the successful
executive that she did not want him to despise her. His manner of
sneering at what he called "parlor socialists" (though the phrase was
not overwhelmingly new) had a power which made her wish to placate his
company of well-fed, speed-loving administrators. When he demanded,
"Would you like to associate with nothing but a lot of turkey-necked,
horn-spectacled nuts that have adenoids and need a hair-cut, and that
spend all their time kicking about 'conditions' and never do a lick of
work?" she said, "No, but just the same----" When he asserted, "Even
if your cavewoman was right in knocking the whole works, I bet some
red-blooded Regular Fellow, some real He-man, found her a nice dry cave,
and not any whining criticizing radical," she wriggled her head feebly,
between a nod and a shake.
His large hands, sensual lips, easy voice supported his self-confidence.
He made her feel young and soft--as Kennicott had once made her feel.
She had nothing to say when he bent his powerful head and experimented,
"My dear, I'm sorry I'm going away from this town. You'd be a darling
child to play with. You ARE pretty! Some day in Boston I'll show you how
we buy a lunch. Well, hang it, got to be starting back."
The only answer to his gospel of beef which she could find, when she was
home, was a wail of "But just the same----"
She did not see him again before he departed for Washington.
His eyes remained. His glances at her lips and hair and shoulders had
revealed to her that she was not a wife-and-mother alone, but a girl;
that there still were men in the world, as there had been in college
That admiration led her to study Kennicott, to tear at the shroud of
intimacy, to perceive the strangeness of the most familiar.
ALL that midsummer month Carol was sensitive to Kennicott. She recalled
a hundred grotesqueries: her comic dismay at his having chewed tobacco,
the evening when she had tried to read poetry to him; matters which had
seemed to vanish with no trace or sequence. Always she repeated that
he had been heroically patient in his desire to join the army. She made
much of her consoling affection for him in little things. She liked the
homeliness of his tinkering about the house; his strength and handiness
as he tightened the hinges of a shutter; his boyishness when he ran
to her to be comforted because he had found rust in the barrel of his
pump-gun. But at the highest he was to her another Hugh, without the
glamor of Hugh's unknown future.
There was, late in June, a day of heat-lightning.
Because of the work imposed by the absence of the other doctors the
Kennicotts had not moved to the lake cottage but remained in town, dusty
and irritable. In the afternoon, when she went to Oleson & McGuire's
(formerly Dahl & Oleson's), Carol was vexed by the assumption of
the youthful clerk, recently come from the farm, that he had to be
neighborly and rude. He was no more brusquely familiar than a dozen
other clerks of the town, but her nerves were heat-scorched.
When she asked for codfish, for supper, he grunted, "What d'you want
that darned old dry stuff for?"
"I like it!"
"Punk! Guess the doc can afford something better than that. Try some of
the new wienies we got in. Swell. The Haydocks use 'em."
She exploded. "My dear young man, it is not your duty to instruct me in
housekeeping, and it doesn't particularly concern me what the Haydocks
condescend to approve!"
He was hurt. He hastily wrapped up the leprous fragment of fish; he
gaped as she trailed out. She lamented, "I shouldn't have spoken so. He
didn't mean anything. He doesn't know when he is being rude."
Her repentance was not proof against Uncle Whittier when she stopped in
at his grocery for salt and a package of safety matches. Uncle Whittier,
in a shirt collarless and soaked with sweat in a brown streak down his
back, was whining at a clerk, "Come on now, get a hustle on and lug
that pound cake up to Mis' Cass's. Some folks in this town think a
storekeeper ain't got nothing to do but chase out 'phone-orders. . . .
Hello, Carrie. That dress you got on looks kind of low in the neck to
me. May be decent and modest--I suppose I'm old-fashioned--but I never
thought much of showing the whole town a woman's bust! Hee, hee, hee!
. . . Afternoon, Mrs. Hicks. Sage? Just out of it. Lemme sell you some
other spices. Heh?" Uncle Whittier was nasally indignant "CERTAINLY! Got
PLENTY other spices jus' good as sage for any purp'se whatever! What's
the matter with--well, with allspice?" When Mrs. Hicks had gone, he
raged, "Some folks don't know what they want!"
"Sweating sanctimonious bully--my husband's uncle!" thought Carol.
She crept into Dave Dyer's. Dave held up his arms with, "Don't shoot!
I surrender!" She smiled, but it occurred to her that for nearly five
years Dave had kept up this game of pretending that she threatened his
As she went dragging through the prickly-hot street she reflected that a
citizen of Gopher Prairie does not have jests--he has a jest. Every
cold morning for five winters Lyman Cass had remarked, "Fair to middlin'
chilly--get worse before it gets better." Fifty times had Ezra Stowbody
informed the public that Carol had once asked, "Shall I indorse this
check on the back?" Fifty times had Sam Clark called to her, "Where'd
you steal that hat?" Fifty times had the mention of Barney Cahoon,
the town drayman, like a nickel in a slot produced from Kennicott the
apocryphal story of Barney's directing a minister, "Come down to the
depot and get your case of religious books--they're leaking!"
She came home by the unvarying route. She knew every house-front, every
street-crossing, every billboard, every tree, every dog. She knew every
blackened banana-skin and empty cigarette-box in the gutters. She knew
every greeting. When Jim Howland stopped and gaped at her there was
no possibility that he was about to confide anything but his grudging,
"Well, haryuh t'day?"
All her future life, this same red-labeled bread-crate in front of the
bakery, this same thimble-shaped crack in the sidewalk a quarter of a
block beyond Stowbody's granite hitching-post----
She silently handed her purchases to the silent Oscarina. She sat on the
porch, rocking, fanning, twitchy with Hugh's whining.
Kennicott came home, grumbled, "What the devil is the kid yapping
"I guess you can stand it ten minutes if I can stand it all day!"
He came to supper in his shirt sleeves, his vest partly open, revealing
"Why don't you put on your nice Palm Beach suit, and take off that
hideous vest?" she complained.
"Too much trouble. Too hot to go up-stairs."
She realized that for perhaps a year she had not definitely looked
at her husband. She regarded his table-manners. He violently chased
fragments of fish about his plate with a knife and licked the knife
after gobbling them. She was slightly sick. She asserted, "I'm
ridiculous. What do these things matter! Don't be so simple!" But she
knew that to her they did matter, these solecisms and mixed tenses of
She realized that they found little to say; that, incredibly, they were
like the talked-out couples whom she had pitied at restaurants.
Bresnahan would have spouted in a lively, exciting, unreliable manner.
She realized that Kennicott's clothes were seldom pressed. His coat was
wrinkled; his trousers would flap at the knees when he arose. His shoes
were unblacked, and they were of an elderly shapelessness. He refused
to wear soft hats; cleaved to a hard derby, as a symbol of virility and
prosperity; and sometimes he forgot to take it off in the house. She
peeped at his cuffs. They were frayed in prickles of starched linen.
She had turned them once; she clipped them every week; but when she had
begged him to throw the shirt away, last Sunday morning at the crisis
of the weekly bath, he had uneasily protested, "Oh, it'll wear quite a
He was shaved (by himself or more socially by Del Snafflin) only three
times a week. This morning had not been one of the three times.
Yet he was vain of his new turn-down collars and sleek ties; he often
spoke of the "sloppy dressing" of Dr. McGanum; and he laughed at old men
who wore detachable cuffs or Gladstone collars.
Carol did not care much for the creamed codfish that evening.
She noted that his nails were jagged and ill-shaped from his habit of
cutting them with a pocket-knife and despising a nail-file as effeminate
and urban. That they were invariably clean, that his were the scoured
fingers of the surgeon, made his stubborn untidiness the more jarring.
They were wise hands, kind hands, but they were not the hands of love.
She remembered him in the days of courtship. He had tried to please her,
then, had touched her by sheepishly wearing a colored band on his straw
hat. Was it possible that those days of fumbling for each other were
gone so completely? He had read books, to impress her; had said (she
recalled it ironically) that she was to point out his every fault; had
insisted once, as they sat in the secret place beneath the walls of Fort
She shut the door on her thoughts. That was sacred ground. But it WAS a
She nervously pushed away her cake and stewed apricots.
After supper, when they had been driven in from the porch by mosquitos,
when Kennicott had for the two-hundredth time in five years commented,
"We must have a new screen on the porch--lets all the bugs in," they sat
reading, and she noted, and detested herself for noting, and noted again
his habitual awkwardness. He slumped down in one chair, his legs up on
another, and he explored the recesses of his left ear with the end of
his little finger--she could hear the faint smack--he kept it up--he
kept it up----
He blurted, "Oh. Forgot tell you. Some of the fellows coming in to play
poker this evening. Suppose we could have some crackers and cheese and
"He might have mentioned it before. Oh well, it's his house."
The poker-party straggled in: Sam Clark, Jack Elder, Dave Dyer, Jim
Howland. To her they mechanically said, "'Devenin'," but to Kennicott,
in a heroic male manner, "Well, well, shall we start playing? Got a
hunch I'm going to lick somebody real bad." No one suggested that she
join them. She told herself that it was her own fault, because she was
not more friendly; but she remembered that they never asked Mrs. Sam
Clark to play.
Bresnahan would have asked her.
She sat in the living-room, glancing across the hall at the men as they
humped over the dining table.