|Miles had sold his dairy. He had several thousand dollars. To Carol he
said good-by with a mumbled word, a harsh hand-shake, "Going to buy a
farm in northern Alberta--far off from folks as I can get." He turned
sharply away, but he did not walk with his former spring. His shoulders
It was said that before he went he cursed the town. There was talk
of arresting him, of riding him on a rail. It was rumored that at the
station old Champ Perry rebuked him, "You better not come back here.
We've got respect for your dead, but we haven't got any for a blasphemer
and a traitor that won't do anything for his country and only bought one
Some of the people who had been at the station declared that Miles made
some dreadful seditious retort: something about loving German workmen
more than American bankers; but others asserted that he couldn't find
one word with which to answer the veteran; that he merely sneaked up on
the platform of the train. He must have felt guilty, everybody agreed,
for as the train left town, a farmer saw him standing in the vestibule
and looking out.
His house--with the addition which he had built four months ago--was
very near the track on which his train passed.
When Carol went there, for the last time, she found Olaf's chariot with
its red spool wheels standing in the sunny corner beside the stable. She
wondered if a quick eye could have noticed it from a train.
That day and that week she went reluctantly to Red Cross work; she
stitched and packed silently, while Vida read the war bulletins. And she
said nothing at all when Kennicott commented, "From what Champ says,
I guess Bjornstam was a bad egg, after all. In spite of Bea, don't
know but what the citizens' committee ought to have forced him to
be patriotic--let on like they could send him to jail if he didn't
volunteer and come through for bonds and the Y. M. C. A. They've worked
that stunt fine with all these German farmers."
She found no inspiration but she did find a dependable kindness in Mrs.
Westlake, and at last she yielded to the old woman's receptivity and had
relief in sobbing the story of Bea.
Guy Pollock she often met on the street, but he was merely a pleasant
voice which said things about Charles Lamb and sunsets.
Her most positive experience was the revelation of Mrs. Flickerbaugh,
the tall, thin, twitchy wife of the attorney. Carol encountered her at
the drug store.
"Walking?" snapped Mrs. Flickerbaugh.
"Humph. Guess you're the only female in this town that retains the use
of her legs. Come home and have a cup o' tea with me."
Because she had nothing else to do, Carol went. But she was
uncomfortable in the presence of the amused stares which Mrs.
Flickerbaugh's raiment drew. Today, in reeking early August, she wore a
man's cap, a skinny fur like a dead cat, a necklace of imitation pearls,
a scabrous satin blouse, and a thick cloth skirt hiked up in front.
"Come in. Sit down. Stick the baby in that rocker. Hope you don't mind
the house looking like a rat's nest. You don't like this town. Neither
do I," said Mrs. Flickerbaugh.
"Course you don't!"
"Well then, I don't! But I'm sure that some day I'll find some solution.
Probably I'm a hexagonal peg. Solution: find the hexagonal hole." Carol
was very brisk.
"How do you know you ever will find it?"
"There's Mrs. Westlake. She's naturally a big-city woman--she ought to
have a lovely old house in Philadelphia or Boston--but she escapes by
being absorbed in reading."
"You be satisfied to never do anything but read?"
"No, but Heavens, one can't go on hating a town always!"
"Why not? I can! I've hated it for thirty-two years. I'll die here--and
I'll hate it till I die. I ought to have been a business woman. I had
a good deal of talent for tending to figures. All gone now. Some folks
think I'm crazy. Guess I am. Sit and grouch. Go to church and sing
hymns. Folks think I'm religious. Tut! Trying to forget washing and
ironing and mending socks. Want an office of my own, and sell things.
Julius never hear of it. Too late."
Carol sat on the gritty couch, and sank into fear. Could this drabness
of life keep up forever, then? Would she some day so despise herself
and her neighbors that she too would walk Main Street an old skinny
eccentric woman in a mangy cat's-fur? As she crept home she felt that
the trap had finally closed. She went into the house, a frail small
woman, still winsome but hopeless of eye as she staggered with the
weight of the drowsy boy in her arms.
She sat alone on the porch, that evening. It seemed that Kennicott had
to make a professional call on Mrs. Dave Dyer.
Under the stilly boughs and the black gauze of dusk the street was
meshed in silence. There was but the hum of motor tires crunching the
road, the creak of a rocker on the Howlands' porch, the slap of a hand
attacking a mosquito, a heat-weary conversation starting and dying, the
precise rhythm of crickets, the thud of moths against the screen--sounds
that were a distilled silence. It was a street beyond the end of
the world, beyond the boundaries of hope. Though she should sit here
forever, no brave procession, no one who was interesting, would be
coming by. It was tediousness made tangible, a street builded of
lassitude and of futility.
Myrtle Cass appeared, with Cy Bogart. She giggled and bounced when Cy
tickled her ear in village love. They strolled with the half-dancing
gait of lovers, kicking their feet out sideways or shuffling a dragging
jig, and the concrete walk sounded to the broken two-four rhythm. Their
voices had a dusky turbulence. Suddenly, to the woman rocking on the
porch of the doctor's house, the night came alive, and she felt that
everywhere in the darkness panted an ardent quest which she was missing
as she sank back to wait for----There must be something.
IT WAS at a supper of the Jolly Seventeen in August that Carol heard of
"Elizabeth," from Mrs. Dave Dyer.
Carol was fond of Maud Dyer, because she had been particularly agreeable
lately; had obviously repented of the nervous distaste which she had
once shown. Maud patted her hand when they met, and asked about Hugh.
Kennicott said that he was "kind of sorry for the girl, some ways; she's
too darn emotional, but still, Dave is sort of mean to her." He was
polite to poor Maud when they all went down to the cottages for a swim.
Carol was proud of that sympathy in him, and now she took pains to sit
with their new friend.
Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, "Oh, have you folks heard about this young
fellow that's just come to town that the boys call 'Elizabeth'? He's
working in Nat Hicks's tailor shop. I bet he doesn't make eighteen a
week, but my! isn't he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and
oh, the lugs he puts on--belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin,
and socks to match his necktie, and honest--you won't believe this, but
I got it straight--this fellow, you know he's staying at Mrs. Gurrey's
punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought
to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that? And him
nothing but a Swede tailor--Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be
in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he's a smart needle-pusher,
at that) and he tries to let on that he's a regular city fellow. They
say he tries to make people think he's a poet--carries books around and
pretends to read 'em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he
was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like
flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a
regular United States Senator; and Myrtle--she's a devil, that girl,
ha! ha!--she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d'you
think he said? He said he didn't find any intellectual companionship
in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And
they say he's the most awful mollycoddle--looks just like a girl. The
boys call him 'Elizabeth,' and they stop him and ask about the books he
lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it
all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they're
kidding him. Oh, I think it's just TOO funny!"
The Jolly Seventeen laughed, and Carol laughed with them. Mrs. Jack
Elder added that this Erik Valborg had confided to Mrs. Gurrey that he
would "love to design clothes for women." Imagine! Mrs. Harvey Dillon
had had a glimpse of him, but honestly, she'd thought he was awfully
handsome. This was instantly controverted by Mrs. B. J. Gougerling, wife
of the banker. Mrs. Gougerling had had, she reported, a good look
at this Valborg fellow. She and B. J. had been motoring, and passed
"Elizabeth" out by McGruder's Bridge. He was wearing the awfullest
clothes, with the waist pinched in like a girl's. He was sitting on
a rock doing nothing, but when he heard the Gougerling car coming he
snatched a book out of his pocket, and as they went by he pretended to
be reading it, to show off. And he wasn't really good-looking--just kind
of soft, as B. J. had pointed out.
When the husbands came they joined in the expose. "My name is Elizabeth.
I'm the celebrated musical tailor. The skirts fall for me by the thou.
Do I get some more veal loaf?" merrily shrieked Dave Dyer. He had some
admirable stories about the tricks the town youngsters had played on
Valborg. They had dropped a decaying perch into his pocket. They had
pinned on his back a sign, "I'm the prize boob, kick me."
Glad of any laughter, Carol joined the frolic, and surprised them by
crying, "Dave, I do think you're the dearest thing since you got your
hair cut!" That was an excellent sally. Everybody applauded. Kennicott
She decided that sometime she really must go out of her way to pass
Hicks's shop and see this freak.
She was at Sunday morning service at the Baptist Church, in a solemn row
with her husband, Hugh, Uncle Whittier, Aunt Bessie.
Despite Aunt Bessie's nagging the Kennicotts rarely attended church. The
doctor asserted, "Sure, religion is a fine influence--got to have it to
keep the lower classes in order--fact, it's the only thing that appeals
to a lot of those fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property.
And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it
all out, and they knew more about it than we do." He believed in the
Christian religion, and never thought about it, he believed in the
church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of
faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she
Carol herself was an uneasy and dodging agnostic.
When she ventured to Sunday School and heard the teachers droning that
the genealogy of Shamsherai was a valuable ethical problem for children
to think about; when she experimented with Wednesday prayer-meeting and
listened to store-keeping elders giving their unvarying weekly testimony
in primitive erotic symbols and such gory Chaldean phrases as "washed
in the blood of the lamb" and "a vengeful God"; when Mrs. Bogart boasted
that through his boyhood she had made Cy confess nightly upon the basis
of the Ten Commandments; then Carol was dismayed to find the Christian
religion, in America, in the twentieth century, as abnormal as
Zoroastrianism--without the splendor. But when she went to church
suppers and felt the friendliness, saw the gaiety with which the sisters
served cold ham and scalloped potatoes; when Mrs. Champ Perry cried to
her, on an afternoon call, "My dear, if you just knew how happy it makes
you to come into abiding grace," then Carol found the humanness behind
the sanguinary and alien theology. Always she perceived that the
churches--Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Catholic, all of
them--which had seemed so unimportant to the judge's home in her
childhood, so isolated from the city struggle in St. Paul, were
still, in Gopher Prairie, the strongest of the forces compelling
This August Sunday she had been tempted by the announcement that the
Reverend Edmund Zitterel would preach on the topic "America, Face Your
Problems!" With the great war, workmen in every nation showing a desire
to control industries, Russia hinting a leftward revolution against
Kerensky, woman suffrage coming, there seemed to be plenty of problems
for the Reverend Mr. Zitterel to call on America to face. Carol gathered
her family and trotted off behind Uncle Whittier.
The congregation faced the heat with informality. Men with highly
plastered hair, so painfully shaved that their faces looked sore,
removed their coats, sighed, and unbuttoned two buttons of their
uncreased Sunday vests. Large-bosomed, white-bloused, hot-necked,
spectacled matrons--the Mothers in Israel, pioneers and friends of Mrs.
Champ Perry--waved their palm-leaf fans in a steady rhythm. Abashed boys
slunk into the rear pews and giggled, while milky little girls, up front
with their mothers, self-consciously kept from turning around.
The church was half barn and half Gopher Prairie parlor. The streaky
brown wallpaper was broken in its dismal sweep only by framed texts,
"Come unto Me" and "The Lord is My Shepherd," by a list of hymns, and by
a crimson and green diagram, staggeringly drawn upon hemp-colored paper,
indicating the alarming ease with which a young man may descend from
Palaces of Pleasure and the House of Pride to Eternal Damnation. But the
varnished oak pews and the new red carpet and the three large chairs on
the platform, behind the bare reading-stand, were all of a rocking-chair
Carol was civic and neighborly and commendable today. She beamed and
bowed. She trolled out with the others the hymn:
How pleasant 'tis on Sabbath morn
To gather in the church
And there I'll have no carnal thoughts,
Nor sin shall me besmirch.
With a rustle of starched linen skirts and stiff shirt-fronts, the
congregation sat down, and gave heed to the Reverend Mr. Zitterel. The
priest was a thin, swart, intense young man with a bang. He wore a
black sack suit and a lilac tie. He smote the enormous Bible on the
reading-stand, vociferated, "Come, let us reason together," delivered a
prayer informing Almighty God of the news of the past week, and began to
It proved that the only problems which America had to face were
Mormonism and Prohibition:
"Don't let any of these self-conceited fellows that are always trying to
stir up trouble deceive you with the belief that there's anything to
all these smart-aleck movements to let the unions and the Farmers'
Nonpartisan League kill all our initiative and enterprise by fixing
wages and prices. There isn't any movement that amounts to a whoop
without it's got a moral background. And let me tell you that while
folks are fussing about what they call 'economics' and 'socialism'
and 'science' and a lot of things that are nothing in the world but a
disguise for atheism, the Old Satan is busy spreading his secret net
and tentacles out there in Utah, under his guise of Joe Smith or Brigham
Young or whoever their leaders happen to be today, it doesn't make any
difference, and they're making game of the Old Bible that has led this
American people through its manifold trials and tribulations to its firm
position as the fulfilment of the prophecies and the recognized leader
of all nations. 'Sit thou on my right hand till I make thine enemies
the footstool of my feet,' said the Lord of Hosts, Acts II, the
thirty-fourth verse--and let me tell you right now, you got to get up a
good deal earlier in the morning than you get up even when you're going
fishing, if you want to be smarter than the Lord, who has shown us the
straight and narrow way, and he that passeth therefrom is in
eternal peril and, to return to this vital and terrible subject of
Mormonism--and as I say, it is terrible to realize how little attention
is given to this evil right here in our midst and on our very doorstep,
as it were--it's a shame and a disgrace that the Congress of these
United States spends all its time talking about inconsequential
financial matters that ought to be left to the Treasury Department, as I
understand it, instead of arising in their might and passing a law that
any one admitting he is a Mormon shall simply be deported and as it were
kicked out of this free country in which we haven't got any room for
polygamy and the tyrannies of Satan.
"And, to digress for a moment, especially as there are more of them in
this state than there are Mormons, though you never can tell what will
happen with this vain generation of young girls, that think more about
wearing silk stockings than about minding their mothers and learning to
bake a good loaf of bread, and many of them listening to these sneaking
Mormon missionaries--and I actually heard one of them talking right out
on a street-corner in Duluth, a few years ago, and the officers of the
law not protesting--but still, as they are a smaller but more immediate
problem, let me stop for just a moment to pay my respects to these
Seventh-Day Adventists. Not that they are immoral, I don't mean, but
when a body of men go on insisting that Saturday is the Sabbath, after
Christ himself has clearly indicated the new dispensation, then I think
the legislature ought to step in----"
At this point Carol awoke.
She got through three more minutes by studying the face of a girl in
the pew across: a sensitive unhappy girl whose longing poured out
with intimidating self-revelation as she worshiped Mr. Zitterel. Carol
wondered who the girl was. She had seen her at church suppers. She
considered how many of the three thousand people in the town she did not
know; to how many of them the Thanatopsis and the Jolly Seventeen were
icy social peaks; how many of them might be toiling through boredom
thicker than her own--with greater courage.
She examined her nails. She read two hymns. She got some satisfaction
out of rubbing an itching knuckle. She pillowed on her shoulder the head
of the baby who, after killing time in the same manner as his mother,
was so fortunate as to fall asleep. She read the introduction,
title-page, and acknowledgment of copyrights, in the hymnal. She tried
to evolve a philosophy which would explain why Kennicott could never
tie his scarf so that it would reach the top of the gap in his turn-down
There were no other diversions to be found in the pew. She glanced back
at the congregation. She thought that it would be amiable to bow to Mrs.
Her slow turning head stopped, galvanized.
Across the aisle, two rows back, was a strange young man who shone among
the cud-chewing citizens like a visitant from the sun-amber curls, low
forehead, fine nose, chin smooth but not raw from Sabbath shaving. His
lips startled her. The lips of men in Gopher Prairie are flat in the
face, straight and grudging. The stranger's mouth was arched, the upper
lip short. He wore a brown jersey coat, a delft-blue bow, a white silk
shirt, white flannel trousers. He suggested the ocean beach, a tennis
court, anything but the sun-blistered utility of Main Street.
A visitor from Minneapolis, here for business? No. He wasn't a business
man. He was a poet. Keats was in his face, and Shelley, and Arthur
Upson, whom she had once seen in Minneapolis. He was at once too
sensitive and too sophisticated to touch business as she knew it in
With restrained amusement he was analyzing the noisy Mr. Zitterel. Carol
was ashamed to have this spy from the Great World hear the pastor's
maundering. She felt responsible for the town. She resented his gaping
at their private rites. She flushed, turned away. But she continued to
feel his presence.
How could she meet him? She must! For an hour of talk. He was all that
she was hungry for. She could not let him get away without a word--and
she would have to. She pictured, and ridiculed, herself as walking up
to him and remarking, "I am sick with the Village Virus. Will you please
tell me what people are saying and playing in New York?" She pictured,
and groaned over, the expression of Kennicott if she should say,
"Why wouldn't it be reasonable for you, my soul, to ask that complete
stranger in the brown jersey coat to come to supper tonight?"
She brooded, not looking back. She warned herself that she was probably
exaggerating; that no young man could have all these exalted qualities.
Wasn't he too obviously smart, too glossy-new? Like a movie actor.
Probably he was a traveling salesman who sang tenor and fancied himself
in imitations of Newport clothes and spoke of "the swellest business
proposition that ever came down the pike." In a panic she peered at him.
No! This was no hustling salesman, this boy with the curving Grecian
lips and the serious eyes.
She rose after the service, carefully taking Kennicott's arm and smiling
at him in a mute assertion that she was devoted to him no matter what
happened. She followed the Mystery's soft brown jersey shoulders out of
Fatty Hicks, the shrill and puffy son of Nat, flapped his hand at the
beautiful stranger and jeered, "How's the kid? All dolled up like a
plush horse today, ain't we!"
Carol was exceeding sick. Her herald from the outside was Erik Valborg,
"Elizabeth." Apprentice tailor! Gasoline and hot goose! Mending dirty
jackets! Respectfully holding a tape-measure about a paunch!
And yet, she insisted, this boy was also himself.
They had Sunday dinner with the Smails, in a dining-room which centered
about a fruit and flower piece and a crayon-enlargement of Uncle
Whittier. Carol did not heed Aunt Bessie's fussing in regard to Mrs.
Robert B. Schminke's bead necklace and Whittier's error in putting on
the striped pants, day like this. She did not taste the shreds of roast
pork. She said vacuously:
"Uh--Will, I wonder if that young man in the white flannel trousers, at
church this morning, was this Valborg person that they're all talking