peasantry, and she sought now to defend her faith by seeing imagination
and enterprise in the young Swedish farmers, and in a traveling man
working over his order-blanks. But the older people, Yankees as well
as Norwegians, Germans, Finns, Canucks, had settled into submission to
poverty. They were peasants, she groaned.
"Isn't there any way of waking them up? What would happen if they
understood scientific agriculture?" she begged of Kennicott, her hand
groping for his.
It had been a transforming honeymoon. She had been frightened to
discover how tumultuous a feeling could be roused in her. Will had been
lordly--stalwart, jolly, impressively competent in making camp, tender
and understanding through the hours when they had lain side by side in a
tent pitched among pines high up on a lonely mountain spur.
His hand swallowed hers as he started from thoughts of the practise to
which he was returning. "These people? Wake 'em up? What for? They're
"But they're so provincial. No, that isn't what I mean. They're--oh, so
sunk in the mud."
"Look here, Carrie. You want to get over your city idea that because a
man's pants aren't pressed, he's a fool. These farmers are mighty keen
"I know! That's what hurts. Life seems so hard for them--these lonely
farms and this gritty train."
"Oh, they don't mind it. Besides, things are changing. The auto, the
telephone, rural free delivery; they're bringing the farmers in closer
touch with the town. Takes time, you know, to change a wilderness like
this was fifty years ago. But already, why, they can hop into the Ford
or the Overland and get in to the movies on Saturday evening quicker
than you could get down to 'em by trolley in St. Paul."
"But if it's these towns we've been passing that the farmers run to for
relief from their bleakness----Can't you understand? Just LOOK at them!"
Kennicott was amazed. Ever since childhood he had seen these towns from
trains on this same line. He grumbled, "Why, what's the matter with 'em?
Good hustling burgs. It would astonish you to know how much wheat and
rye and corn and potatoes they ship in a year."
"But they're so ugly."
"I'll admit they aren't comfy like Gopher Prairie. But give 'em time."
"What's the use of giving them time unless some one has desire and
training enough to plan them? Hundreds of factories trying to make
attractive motor cars, but these towns--left to chance. No! That can't
be true. It must have taken genius to make them so scrawny!"
"Oh, they're not so bad," was all he answered. He pretended that his
hand was the cat and hers the mouse. For the first time she tolerated
him rather than encouraged him. She was staring out at Schoenstrom, a
hamlet of perhaps a hundred and fifty inhabitants, at which the train
A bearded German and his pucker-mouthed wife tugged their enormous
imitation-leather satchel from under a seat and waddled out. The station
agent hoisted a dead calf aboard the baggage-car. There were no other
visible activities in Schoenstrom. In the quiet of the halt, Carol could
hear a horse kicking his stall, a carpenter shingling a roof.
The business-center of Schoenstrom took up one side of one block, facing
the railroad. It was a row of one-story shops covered with galvanized
iron, or with clapboards painted red and bilious yellow. The buildings
were as ill-assorted, as temporary-looking, as a mining-camp street in
the motion-pictures. The railroad station was a one-room frame box, a
mirey cattle-pen on one side and a crimson wheat-elevator on the other.
The elevator, with its cupola on the ridge of a shingled roof, resembled
a broad-shouldered man with a small, vicious, pointed head. The only
habitable structures to be seen were the florid red-brick Catholic
church and rectory at the end of Main Street.
Carol picked at Kennicott's sleeve. "You wouldn't call this a not-so-bad
town, would you?"
"These Dutch burgs ARE kind of slow. Still, at that----See that fellow
coming out of the general store there, getting into the big car? I met
him once. He owns about half the town, besides the store. Rauskukle, his
name is. He owns a lot of mortgages, and he gambles in farm-lands. Good
nut on him, that fellow. Why, they say he's worth three or four hundred
thousand dollars! Got a dandy great big yellow brick house with tiled
walks and a garden and everything, other end of town--can't see it from
here--I've gone past it when I've driven through here. Yes sir!"
"Then, if he has all that, there's no excuse whatever for this place!
If his three hundred thousand went back into the town, where it belongs,
they could burn up these shacks, and build a dream-village, a jewel! Why
do the farmers and the town-people let the Baron keep it?"
"I must say I don't quite get you sometimes, Carrie. Let him? They can't
help themselves! He's a dumm old Dutchman, and probably the priest can
twist him around his finger, but when it comes to picking good farming
land, he's a regular wiz!"
"I see. He's their symbol of beauty. The town erects him, instead of
"Honestly, don't know what you're driving at. You're kind of played out,
after this long trip. You'll feel better when you get home and have a
good bath, and put on the blue negligee. That's some vampire costume,
He squeezed her arm, looked at her knowingly.
They moved on from the desert stillness of the Schoenstrom station. The
train creaked, banged, swayed. The air was nauseatingly thick. Kennicott
turned her face from the window, rested her head on his shoulder. She
was coaxed from her unhappy mood. But she came out of it unwillingly,
and when Kennicott was satisfied that he had corrected all her worries
and had opened a magazine of saffron detective stories, she sat upright.
Here--she meditated--is the newest empire of the world; the Northern
Middlewest; a land of dairy herds and exquisite lakes, of new
automobiles and tar-paper shanties and silos like red towers, of clumsy
speech and a hope that is boundless. An empire which feeds a quarter of
the world--yet its work is merely begun. They are pioneers, these sweaty
wayfarers, for all their telephones and bank-accounts and automatic
pianos and co-operative leagues. And for all its fat richness, theirs is
a pioneer land. What is its future? she wondered. A future of cities
and factory smut where now are loping empty fields? Homes universal and
secure? Or placid chateaux ringed with sullen huts? Youth free to find
knowledge and laughter? Willingness to sift the sanctified lies? Or
creamy-skinned fat women, smeared with grease and chalk, gorgeous in the
skins of beasts and the bloody feathers of slain birds, playing bridge
with puffy pink-nailed jeweled fingers, women who after much expenditure
of labor and bad temper still grotesquely resemble their own flatulent
lap-dogs? The ancient stale inequalities, or something different in
history, unlike the tedious maturity of other empires? What future and
Carol's head ached with the riddle.
She saw the prairie, flat in giant patches or rolling in long hummocks.
The width and bigness of it, which had expanded her spirit an hour ago,
began to frighten her. It spread out so; it went on so uncontrollably;
she could never know it. Kennicott was closeted in his detective story.
With the loneliness which comes most depressingly in the midst of many
people she tried to forget problems, to look at the prairie objectively.
The grass beside the railroad had been burnt over; it was a smudge
prickly with charred stalks of weeds. Beyond the undeviating barbed-wire
fences were clumps of golden rod. Only this thin hedge shut them off
from the plains-shorn wheat-lands of autumn, a hundred acres to a field,
prickly and gray near-by but in the blurred distance like tawny velvet
stretched over dipping hillocks. The long rows of wheat-shocks marched
like soldiers in worn yellow tabards. The newly plowed fields were
black banners fallen on the distant slope. It was a martial immensity,
vigorous, a little harsh, unsoftened by kindly gardens.
The expanse was relieved by clumps of oaks with patches of short wild
grass; and every mile or two was a chain of cobalt slews, with the
flicker of blackbirds' wings across them.
All this working land was turned into exuberance by the light. The
sunshine was dizzy on open stubble; shadows from immense cumulus clouds
were forever sliding across low mounds; and the sky was wider and
loftier and more resolutely blue than the sky of cities . . . she
"It's a glorious country; a land to be big in," she crooned.
Then Kennicott startled her by chuckling, "D' you realize the town after
the next is Gopher Prairie? Home!"
That one word--home--it terrified her. Had she really bound herself to
live, inescapably, in this town called Gopher Prairie? And this thick
man beside her, who dared to define her future, he was a stranger! She
turned in her seat, stared at him. Who was he? Why was he sitting with
her? He wasn't of her kind! His neck was heavy; his speech was heavy; he
was twelve or thirteen years older than she; and about him was none of
the magic of shared adventures and eagerness. She could not believe that
she had ever slept in his arms. That was one of the dreams which you had
but did not officially admit.
She told herself how good he was, how dependable and understanding. She
touched his ear, smoothed the plane of his solid jaw, and, turning away
again, concentrated upon liking his town. It wouldn't be like these
barren settlements. It couldn't be! Why, it had three thousand
population. That was a great many people. There would be six hundred
houses or more. And----The lakes near it would be so lovely. She'd seen
them in the photographs. They had looked charming . . . hadn't they?
As the train left Wahkeenyan she began nervously to watch for the
lakes--the entrance to all her future life. But when she discovered
them, to the left of the track, her only impression of them was that
they resembled the photographs.
A mile from Gopher Prairie the track mounts a curving low ridge, and she
could see the town as a whole. With a passionate jerk she pushed up the
window, looked out, the arched fingers of her left hand trembling on the
sill, her right hand at her breast.
And she saw that Gopher Prairie was merely an enlargement of all the
hamlets which they had been passing. Only to the eyes of a Kennicott was
it exceptional. The huddled low wooden houses broke the plains scarcely
more than would a hazel thicket. The fields swept up to it, past it.
It was unprotected and unprotecting; there was no dignity in it nor
any hope of greatness. Only the tall red grain-elevator and a few tinny
church-steeples rose from the mass. It was a frontier camp. It was not a
place to live in, not possibly, not conceivably.
The people--they'd be as drab as their houses, as flat as their fields.
She couldn't stay here. She would have to wrench loose from this man,
She peeped at him. She was at once helpless before his mature fixity,
and touched by his excitement as he sent his magazine skittering along
the aisle, stooped for their bags, came up with flushed face, and
gloated, "Here we are!"
She smiled loyally, and looked away. The train was entering town. The
houses on the outskirts were dusky old red mansions with wooden frills,
or gaunt frame shelters like grocery boxes, or new bungalows with
concrete foundations imitating stone.
Now the train was passing the elevator, the grim storage-tanks for oil,
a creamery, a lumber-yard, a stock-yard muddy and trampled and stinking.
Now they were stopping at a squat red frame station, the platform
crowded with unshaven farmers and with loafers--unadventurous people
with dead eyes. She was here. She could not go on. It was the end--the
end of the world. She sat with closed eyes, longing to push past
Kennicott, hide somewhere in the train, flee on toward the Pacific.
Something large arose in her soul and commanded, "Stop it! Stop being a
whining baby!" She stood up quickly; she said, "Isn't it wonderful to be
here at last!"
He trusted her so. She would make herself like the place. And she was
going to do tremendous things----
She followed Kennicott and the bobbing ends of the two bags which
he carried. They were held back by the slow line of disembarking
passengers. She reminded herself that she was actually at the dramatic
moment of the bride's home-coming. She ought to feel exalted. She felt
nothing at all except irritation at their slow progress toward the door.
Kennicott stooped to peer through the windows. He shyly exulted:
"Look! Look! There's a bunch come down to welcome us! Sam Clark and the
missus and Dave Dyer and Jack Elder, and, yes sir, Harry Haydock and
Juanita, and a whole crowd! I guess they see us now. Yuh, yuh sure, they
see us! See 'em waving!"
She obediently bent her head to look out at them. She had hold of
herself. She was ready to love them. But she was embarrassed by the
heartiness of the cheering group. From the vestibule she waved to them,
but she clung a second to the sleeve of the brakeman who helped her down
before she had the courage to dive into the cataract of hand-shaking
people, people whom she could not tell apart. She had the impression
that all the men had coarse voices, large damp hands, tooth-brush
mustaches, bald spots, and Masonic watch-charms.
She knew that they were welcoming her. Their hands, their smiles, their
shouts, their affectionate eyes overcame her. She stammered, "Thank you,
oh, thank you!"
One of the men was clamoring at Kennicott, "I brought my machine down to
take you home, doc."
"Fine business, Sam!" cried Kennicott; and, to Carol, "Let's jump in.
That big Paige over there. Some boat, too, believe me! Sam can show
speed to any of these Marmons from Minneapolis!"
Only when she was in the motor car did she distinguish the three people
who were to accompany them. The owner, now at the wheel, was the essence
of decent self-satisfaction; a baldish, largish, level-eyed man, rugged
of neck but sleek and round of face--face like the back of a spoon bowl.
He was chuckling at her, "Have you got us all straight yet?"
"Course she has! Trust Carrie to get things straight and get 'em darn
quick! I bet she could tell you every date in history!" boasted her
But the man looked at her reassuringly and with a certainty that he
was a person whom she could trust she confessed, "As a matter of fact I
haven't got anybody straight."
"Course you haven't, child. Well, I'm Sam Clark, dealer in hardware,
sporting goods, cream separators, and almost any kind of heavy junk you
can think of. You can call me Sam--anyway, I'm going to call you Carrie,
seein' 's you've been and gone and married this poor fish of a bum medic
that we keep round here." Carol smiled lavishly, and wished that she
called people by their given names more easily. "The fat cranky lady
back there beside you, who is pretending that she can't hear me giving
her away, is Mrs. Sam'l Clark; and this hungry-looking squirt up here
beside me is Dave Dyer, who keeps his drug store running by not filling
your hubby's prescriptions right--fact you might say he's the guy that
put the 'shun' in 'prescription.' So! Well, leave us take the bonny
bride home. Say, doc, I'll sell you the Candersen place for three
thousand plunks. Better be thinking about building a new home for
Carrie. Prettiest Frau in G. P., if you asks me!"
Contentedly Sam Clark drove off, in the heavy traffic of three Fords and
the Minniemashie House Free 'Bus.
"I shall like Mr. Clark . . . I CAN'T call him 'Sam'! They're all so
friendly." She glanced at the houses; tried not to see what she saw;
gave way in: "Why do these stories lie so? They always make the bride's
home-coming a bower of roses. Complete trust in noble spouse. Lies about
marriage. I'm NOT changed. And this town--O my God! I can't go through
with it. This junk-heap!"
Her husband bent over her. "You look like you were in a brown study.
Scared? I don't expect you to think Gopher Prairie is a paradise, after
St. Paul. I don't expect you to be crazy about it, at first. But you'll
come to like it so much--life's so free here and best people on earth."
She whispered to him (while Mrs. Clark considerately turned away), "I
love you for understanding. I'm just--I'm beastly over-sensitive. Too
many books. It's my lack of shoulder-muscles and sense. Give me time,
"You bet! All the time you want!"
She laid the back of his hand against her cheek, snuggled near him. She
was ready for her new home.
Kennicott had told her that, with his widowed mother as housekeeper, he
had occupied an old house, "but nice and roomy, and well-heated, best
furnace I could find on the market." His mother had left Carol her love,
and gone back to Lac-qui-Meurt.
It would be wonderful, she exulted, not to have to live in Other
People's Houses, but to make her own shrine. She held his hand tightly
and stared ahead as the car swung round a corner and stopped in the
street before a prosaic frame house in a small parched lawn.
A concrete sidewalk with a "parking" of grass and mud. A square smug
brown house, rather damp. A narrow concrete walk up to it. Sickly yellow
leaves in a windrow with dried wings of box-elder seeds and snags
of wool from the cotton-woods. A screened porch with pillars of thin
painted pine surmounted by scrolls and brackets and bumps of jigsawed
wood. No shrubbery to shut off the public gaze. A lugubrious bay-window
to the right of the porch. Window curtains of starched cheap lace
revealing a pink marble table with a conch shell and a Family Bible.
"You'll find it old-fashioned--what do you call it?--Mid-Victorian. I
left it as is, so you could make any changes you felt were necessary."
Kennicott sounded doubtful for the first time since he had come back to
"It's a real home!" She was moved by his humility. She gaily motioned
good-by to the Clarks. He unlocked the door--he was leaving the choice
of a maid to her, and there was no one in the house. She jiggled while
he turned the key, and scampered in. . . . It was next day before either
of them remembered that in their honeymoon camp they had planned that he
should carry her over the sill.
In hallway and front parlor she was conscious of dinginess and
lugubriousness and airlessness, but she insisted, "I'll make it all
jolly." As she followed Kennicott and the bags up to their bedroom she
quavered to herself the song of the fat little-gods of the hearth:
I have my own home,
To do what I please with,
To do what I please with,
My den for me and my mate and my cubs,
She was close in her husband's arms; she clung to him; whatever of
strangeness and slowness and insularity she might find in him, none of
that mattered so long as she could slip her hands beneath his coat, run
her fingers over the warm smoothness of the satin back of his waistcoat,
seem almost to creep into his body, find in him strength, find in the
courage and kindness of her man a shelter from the perplexing world.
"Sweet, so sweet," she whispered.
"THE Clarks have invited some folks to their house to meet us, tonight,"
said Kennicott, as he unpacked his suit-case.
"Oh, that is nice of them!"
"You bet. I told you you'd like 'em. Squarest people on earth. Uh,
Carrie----Would you mind if I sneaked down to the office for an hour,
just to see how things are?"
"Why, no. Of course not. I know you're keen to get back to work."
"Sure you don't mind?"
"Not a bit. Out of my way. Let me unpack."
But the advocate of freedom in marriage was as much disappointed as
a drooping bride at the alacrity with which he took that freedom and
escaped to the world of men's affairs. She gazed about their bedroom,
and its full dismalness crawled over her: the awkward knuckly L-shape
of it; the black walnut bed with apples and spotty pears carved on the
headboard; the imitation maple bureau, with pink-daubed scent-bottles
and a petticoated pin-cushion on a marble slab uncomfortably like a
gravestone; the plain pine washstand and the garlanded water-pitcher and
bowl. The scent was of horsehair and plush and Florida Water.
"How could people ever live with things like this?" she shuddered. She
saw the furniture as a circle of elderly judges, condemning her to death
by smothering. The tottering brocade chair squeaked, "Choke her--choke
her--smother her." The old linen smelled of the tomb. She was alone in
this house, this strange still house, among the shadows of dead thoughts
and haunting repressions. "I hate it! I hate it!" she panted. "Why did I
She remembered that Kennicott's mother had brought these family
relics from the old home in Lac-qui-Meurt. "Stop it! They're perfectly
comfortable things. They're--comfortable. Besides----Oh, they're
horrible! We'll change them, right away."
Then, "But of course he HAS to see how things are at the office----"
She made a pretense of busying herself with unpacking. The chintz-lined,
silver-fitted bag which had seemed so desirable a luxury in St. Paul was
an extravagant vanity here. The daring black chemise of frail chiffon
and lace was a hussy at which the deep-bosomed bed stiffened in disgust,
and she hurled it into a bureau drawer, hid it beneath a sensible linen
She gave up unpacking. She went to the window, with a purely literary
thought of village charm--hollyhocks and lanes and apple-cheeked
cottagers. What she saw was the side of the Seventh-Day Adventist
Church--a plain clapboard wall of a sour liver color; the ash-pile
back of the church; an unpainted stable; and an alley in which a Ford
delivery-wagon had been stranded. This was the terraced garden below her
boudoir; this was to be her scenery for----
"I mustn't! I mustn't! I'm nervous this afternoon. Am I sick? . . . Good
Lord, I hope it isn't that! Not now! How people lie! How these stories