been clearing--if we'll listen--if we don't lynch you first!"
He looked at her reverently. She could hear him saying,
"I've always wanted to know a woman who would talk to me like that."
Her hearing was faulty. He was saying nothing of the sort. He was
"Why aren't you happy with your husband?"
"He doesn't care for the 'blessed innocent' part of you, does he!"
"Erik, you mustn't----"
"First you tell me to go and be free, and then you say that I
"I know. But you mustn't----You must be more impersonal!"
He glowered at her like a downy young owl. She wasn't sure but she
thought that he muttered, "I'm damned if I will." She considered with
wholesome fear the perils of meddling with other people's destinies, and
she said timidly, "Hadn't we better start back now?"
He mused, "You're younger than I am. Your lips are for songs about
rivers in the morning and lakes at twilight. I don't see how anybody
could ever hurt you. . . . Yes. We better go."
He trudged beside her, his eyes averted. Hugh experimentally took his
thumb. He looked down at the baby seriously. He burst out, "All right.
I'll do it. I'll stay here one year. Save. Not spend so much money on
clothes. And then I'll go East, to art-school. Work on the side-tailor
shop, dressmaker's. I'll learn what I'm good for: designing clothes,
stage-settings, illustrating, or selling collars to fat men. All
settled." He peered at her, unsmiling.
"Can you stand it here in town for a year?"
"With you to look at?"
"Please! I mean: Don't the people here think you're an odd bird? (They
do me, I assure you!)"
"I don't know. I never notice much. Oh, they do kid me about not being
in the army--especially the old warhorses, the old men that aren't going
themselves. And this Bogart boy. And Mr. Hicks's son--he's a horrible
brat. But probably he's licensed to say what he thinks about his
father's hired man!"
They were in town. They passed Aunt Bessie's house. Aunt Bessie and
Mrs. Bogart were at the window, and Carol saw that they were staring so
intently that they answered her wave only with the stiffly raised hands
of automatons. In the next block Mrs. Dr. Westlake was gaping from her
porch. Carol said with an embarrassed quaver:
"I want to run in and see Mrs. Westlake. I'll say good-by here."
She avoided his eyes.
Mrs. Westlake was affable. Carol felt that she was expected to explain;
and while she was mentally asserting that she'd be hanged if she'd
explain, she was explaining:
"Hugh captured that Valborg boy up the track. They became such good
friends. And I talked to him for a while. I'd heard he was eccentric,
but really, I found him quite intelligent. Crude, but he reads--reads
almost the way Dr. Westlake does."
"That's fine. Why does he stick here in town? What's this I hear about
his being interested in Myrtle Cass?"
"I don't know. Is he? I'm sure he isn't! He said he was quite lonely!
Besides, Myrtle is a babe in arms!"
"Twenty-one if she's a day!"
"Well----Is the doctor going to do any hunting this fall?"
The need of explaining Erik dragged her back into doubting. For all his
ardent reading, and his ardent life, was he anything but a small-town
youth bred on an illiberal farm and in cheap tailor shops? He had rough
hands. She had been attracted only by hands that were fine and suave,
like those of her father. Delicate hands and resolute purpose. But this
boy--powerful seamed hands and flabby will.
"It's not appealing weakness like his, but sane strength that will
animate the Gopher Prairies. Only----Does that mean anything? Or am
I echoing Vida? The world has always let 'strong' statesmen and
soldiers--the men with strong voices--take control, and what have the
thundering boobies done? What is 'strength'?
"This classifying of people! I suppose tailors differ as much as
burglars or kings.
"Erik frightened me when he turned on me. Of course he didn't mean
anything, but I mustn't let him be so personal.
"But he didn't mean to be.
"His hands are FIRM. I wonder if sculptors don't have thick hands, too?
"Of course if there really is anything I can do to HELP the boy----
"Though I despise these people who interfere. He must be independent."
She wasn't altogether pleased, the week after, when Erik was independent
and, without asking for her inspiration, planned the tennis tournament.
It proved that he had learned to play in Minneapolis; that, next to
Juanita Haydock, he had the best serve in town. Tennis was well spoken
of in Gopher Prairie and almost never played. There were three courts:
one belonging to Harry Haydock, one to the cottages at the lake, and
one, a rough field on the outskirts, laid out by a defunct tennis
Erik had been seen in flannels and an imitation panama hat, playing on
the abandoned court with Willis Woodford, the clerk in Stowbody's bank.
Suddenly he was going about proposing the reorganization of the tennis
association, and writing names in a fifteen-cent note-book bought for
the purpose at Dyer's. When he came to Carol he was so excited over
being an organizer that he did not stop to talk of himself and Aubrey
Beardsley for more than ten minutes. He begged, "Will you get some of
the folks to come in?" and she nodded agreeably.
He proposed an informal exhibition match to advertise the association;
he suggested that Carol and himself, the Haydocks, the Woodfords, and
the Dillons play doubles, and that the association be formed from
the gathered enthusiasts. He had asked Harry Haydock to be tentative
president. Harry, he reported, had promised, "All right. You bet. But
you go ahead and arrange things, and I'll O.K. 'em." Erik planned that
the match should be held Saturday afternoon, on the old public court
at the edge of town. He was happy in being, for the first time, part of
Through the week Carol heard how select an attendance there was to be.
Kennicott growled that he didn't care to go.
Had he any objections to her playing with Erik?
No; sure not; she needed the exercise. Carol went to the match early.
The court was in a meadow out on the New Antonia road. Only Erik was
there. He was dashing about with a rake, trying to make the court
somewhat less like a plowed field. He admitted that he had stage fright
at the thought of the coming horde. Willis and Mrs. Woodford arrived,
Willis in home-made knickers and black sneakers through at the toe;
then Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon, people as harmless and grateful as the
Carol was embarrassed and excessively agreeable, like the bishop's lady
trying not to feel out of place at a Baptist bazaar.
The match was scheduled for three. As spectators there assembled one
youthful grocery clerk, stopping his Ford delivery wagon to stare from
the seat, and one solemn small boy, tugging a smaller sister who had a
"I wonder where the Haydocks are? They ought to show up, at least," said
Carol smiled confidently at him, and peered down the empty road toward
town. Only heat-waves and dust and dusty weeds.
At half-past three no one had come, and the grocery boy reluctantly got
out, cranked his Ford, glared at them in a disillusioned manner, and
rattled away. The small boy and his sister ate grass and sighed.
The players pretended to be exhilarated by practising service, but they
startled at each dust-cloud from a motor car. None of the cars turned
into the meadow-none till a quarter to four, when Kennicott drove in.
Carol's heart swelled. "How loyal he is! Depend on him! He'd come,
if nobody else did. Even though he doesn't care for the game. The old
Kennicott did not alight. He called out, "Carrie! Harry Haydock 'phoned
me that they've decided to hold the tennis matches, or whatever you call
'em, down at the cottages at the lake, instead of here. The bunch are
down there now: Haydocks and Dyers and Clarks and everybody. Harry
wanted to know if I'd bring you down. I guess I can take the time--come
right back after supper."
Before Carol could sum it all up, Erik stammered, "Why, Haydock didn't
say anything to me about the change. Of course he's the president,
Kennicott looked at him heavily, and grunted, "I don't know a thing
about it. . . . Coming, Carrie?"
"I am not! The match was to be here, and it will be here! You can tell
Harry Haydock that he's beastly rude!" She rallied the five who had
been left out, who would always be left out. "Come on! We'll toss to
see which four of us play the Only and Original First Annual Tennis
Tournament of Forest Hills, Del Monte, and Gopher Prairie!"
"Don't know as I blame you," said Kennicott. "Well have supper at home
then?" He drove off.
She hated him for his composure. He had ruined her defiance. She felt
much less like Susan B. Anthony as she turned to her huddled followers.
Mrs. Dillon and Willis Woodford lost the toss. The others played out
the game, slowly, painfully, stumbling on the rough earth, muffing the
easiest shots, watched only by the small boy and his sniveling sister.
Beyond the court stretched the eternal stubble-fields. The four
marionettes, awkwardly going through exercises, insignificant in the hot
sweep of contemptuous land, were not heroic; their voices did not ring
out in the score, but sounded apologetic; and when the game was over
they glanced about as though they were waiting to be laughed at.
They walked home. Carol took Erik's arm. Through her thin linen sleeve
she could feel the crumply warmth of his familiar brown jersey coat. She
observed that there were purple and red gold threads interwoven with the
brown. She remembered the first time she had seen it.
Their talk was nothing but improvisations on the theme: "I never did
like this Haydock. He just considers his own convenience." Ahead
of them, the Dillons and Woodfords spoke of the weather and B. J.
Gougerling's new bungalow. No one referred to their tennis tournament.
At her gate Carol shook hands firmly with Erik and smiled at him.
Next morning, Sunday morning, when Carol was on the porch, the Haydocks
"We didn't mean to be rude to you, dearie!" implored Juanita. "I
wouldn't have you think that for anything. We planned that Will and you
should come down and have supper at our cottage."
"No. I'm sure you didn't mean to be." Carol was super-neighborly. "But
I do think you ought to apologize to poor Erik Valborg. He was terribly
"Oh. Valborg. I don't care so much what he thinks," objected Harry.
"He's nothing but a conceited buttinsky. Juanita and I kind of figured
he was trying to run this tennis thing too darn much anyway."
"But you asked him to make arrangements."
"I know, but I don't like him. Good Lord, you couldn't hurt his
feelings! He dresses up like a chorus man--and, by golly, he looks like
one!--but he's nothing but a Swede farm boy, and these foreigners, they
all got hides like a covey of rhinoceroses ."
"But he IS hurt!"
"Well----I don't suppose I ought to have gone off half-cocked, and not
jollied him along. I'll give him a cigar. He'll----"
Juanita had been licking her lips and staring at Carol. She interrupted
her husband, "Yes, I do think Harry ought to fix it up with him. You
LIKE him, DON'T you, Carol??"
Over and through Carol ran a frightened cautiousness. "Like him? I
haven't an í-dea. He seems to be a very decent young man. I just felt
that when he'd worked so hard on the plans for the match, it was a shame
not to be nice to him."
"Maybe there's something to that," mumbled Harry; then, at sight of
Kennicott coming round the corner tugging the red garden hose by its
brass nozzle, he roared in relief, "What d' you think you're trying to
While Kennicott explained in detail all that he thought he was trying
to do, while he rubbed his chin and gravely stated, "Struck me the grass
was looking kind of brown in patches--didn't know but what I'd give it
a sprinkling," and while Harry agreed that this was an excellent
idea, Juanita made friendly noises and, behind the gilt screen of an
affectionate smile, watched Carol's face.
She wanted to see Erik. She wanted some one to play with! There wasn't
even so dignified and sound an excuse as having Kennicott's trousers
pressed; when she inspected them, all three pairs looked discouragingly
neat. She probably would not have ventured on it had she not spied Nat
Hicks in the pool-parlor, being witty over bottle-pool. Erik was alone!
She fluttered toward the tailor shop, dashed into its slovenly heat
with the comic fastidiousness of a humming bird dipping into a dry
tiger-lily. It was after she had entered that she found an excuse.
Erik was in the back room, cross-legged on a long table, sewing a vest.
But he looked as though he were doing this eccentric thing to amuse
"Hello. I wonder if you couldn't plan a sports-suit for me?" she said
He stared at her; he protested, "No, I won't! God! I'm not going to be a
tailor with you!"
"Why, Erik!" she said, like a mildly shocked mother.
It occurred to her that she did not need a suit, and that the order
might have been hard to explain to Kennicott.
He swung down from the table. "I want to show you something." He
rummaged in the roll-top desk on which Nat Hicks kept bills, buttons,
calendars, buckles, thread-channeled wax, shotgun shells, samples of
brocade for "fancy vests," fishing-reels, pornographic post-cards,
shreds of buckram lining. He pulled out a blurred sheet of Bristol board
and anxiously gave it to her. It was a sketch for a frock. It was not
well drawn; it was too finicking; the pillars in the background were
grotesquely squat. But the frock had an original back, very low, with
a central triangular section from the waist to a string of jet beads at
"It's stunning. But how it would shock Mrs. Clark!"
"Yes, wouldn't it!"
"You must let yourself go more when you're drawing."
"Don't know if I can. I've started kind of late. But listen! What do you
think I've done this two weeks? I've read almost clear through a Latin
grammar, and about twenty pages of Caesar."
"Splendid! You are lucky. You haven't a teacher to make you artificial."
"You're my teacher!"
There was a dangerous edge of personality to his voice. She was offended
and agitated. She turned her shoulder on him, stared through the back
window, studying this typical center of a typical Main Street block,
a vista hidden from casual strollers. The backs of the chief
establishments in town surrounded a quadrangle neglected, dirty, and
incomparably dismal. From the front, Howland & Gould's grocery was smug
enough, but attached to the rear was a lean-to of storm streaked pine
lumber with a sanded tar roof--a staggering doubtful shed behind which
was a heap of ashes, splintered packing-boxes, shreds of excelsior,
crumpled straw-board, broken olive-bottles, rotten fruit, and utterly
disintegrated vegetables: orange carrots turning black, and potatoes
with ulcers. The rear of the Bon Ton Store was grim with blistered
black-painted iron shutters, under them a pile of once glossy red
shirt-boxes, now a pulp from recent rain.
As seen from Main Street, Oleson & McGuire's Meat Market had a sanitary
and virtuous expression with its new tile counter, fresh sawdust on the
floor, and a hanging veal cut in rosettes. But she now viewed a back
room with a homemade refrigerator of yellow smeared with black grease.
A man in an apron spotted with dry blood was hoisting out a hard slab of
Behind Billy's Lunch, the cook, in an apron which must long ago have
been white, smoked a pipe and spat at the pest of sticky flies. In the
center of the block, by itself, was the stable for the three horses of
the drayman, and beside it a pile of manure.
The rear of Ezra Stowbody's bank was whitewashed, and back of it was
a concrete walk and a three-foot square of grass, but the window was
barred, and behind the bars she saw Willis Woodford cramped over figures
in pompous books. He raised his head, jerkily rubbed his eyes, and went
back to the eternity of figures.
The backs of the other shops were an impressionistic picture of dirty
grays, drained browns, writhing heaps of refuse.
"Mine is a back-yard romance--with a journeyman tailor!"
She was saved from self-pity as she began to think through Erik's mind.
She turned to him with an indignant, "It's disgusting that this is all
you have to look at."
He considered it. "Outside there? I don't notice much. I'm learning to
look inside. Not awful easy!"
"Yes. . . . I must be hurrying."
As she walked home--without hurrying--she remembered her father saying
to a serious ten-year-old Carol, "Lady, only a fool thinks he's superior
to beautiful bindings, but only a double-distilled fool reads nothing
She was startled by the return of her father, startled by a sudden
conviction that in this flaxen boy she had found the gray reticent judge
who was divine love, perfect under-standing. She debated it, furiously
denied it, reaffirmed it, ridiculed it. Of one thing she was unhappily
certain: there was nothing of the beloved father image in Will
She wondered why she sang so often, and why she found so many pleasant
things--lamplight seen though trees on a cool evening, sunshine on brown
wood, morning sparrows, black sloping roofs turned to plates of silver
by moonlight. Pleasant things, small friendly things, and pleasant
places--a field of goldenrod, a pasture by the creek--and suddenly
a wealth of pleasant people. Vida was lenient to Carol at the
surgical-dressing class; Mrs. Dave Dyer flattered her with questions
about her health, baby, cook, and opinions on the war.
Mrs. Dyer seemed not to share the town's prejudice against Erik. "He's
a nice-looking fellow; we must have him go on one of our picnics some
time." Unexpectedly, Dave Dyer also liked him. The tight-fisted little
farceur had a confused reverence for anything that seemed to him refined
or clever. He answered Harry Haydock's sneers, "That's all right now!
Elizabeth may doll himself up too much, but he's smart, and don't you
forget it! I was asking round trying to find out where this Ukraine is,
and darn if he didn't tell me. What's the matter with his talking so
polite? Hell's bells, Harry, no harm in being polite. There's some
regular he-men that are just as polite as women, prett' near."
Carol found herself going about rejoicing, "How neighborly the town is!"
She drew up with a dismayed "Am I falling in love with this boy? That's
ridiculous! I'm merely interested in him. I like to think of helping him
But as she dusted the living-room, mended a collar-band, bathed Hugh,
she was picturing herself and a young artistan Apollo nameless and
evasive--building a house in the Berkshires or in Virginia; exuberantly
buying a chair with his first check; reading poetry together, and
frequently being earnest over valuable statistics about labor; tumbling
out of bed early for a Sunday walk, and chattering (where Kennicott
would have yawned) over bread and butter by a lake. Hugh was in her
pictures, and he adored the young artist, who made castles of chairs and
rugs for him. Beyond these playtimes she saw the "things I could do for
Erik"--and she admitted that Erik did partly make up the image of her
altogether perfect artist.
In panic she insisted on being attentive to Kennicott, when he wanted to
be left alone to read the newspaper.
She needed new clothes. Kennicott had promised, "We'll have a good trip
down to the Cities in the fall, and take plenty of time for it, and you
can get your new glad-rags then." But as she examined her wardrobe she
flung her ancient black velvet frock on the floor and raged, "They're
disgraceful. Everything I have is falling to pieces."
There was a new dressmaker and milliner, a Mrs. Swiftwaite. It was
said that she was not altogether an elevating influence in the way she
glanced at men; that she would as soon take away a legally appropriated
husband as not; that if there WAS any Mr. Swiftwaite, "it certainly was
strange that nobody seemed to know anything about him!" But she had made
for Rita Gould an organdy frock and hat to match universally admitted
to be "too cunning for words," and the matrons went cautiously,
with darting eyes and excessive politeness, to the rooms which Mrs.
Swiftwaite had taken in the old Luke Dawson house, on Floral Avenue.
With none of the spiritual preparation which normally precedes the
buying of new clothes in Gopher Prairie, Carol marched into Mrs.
Swiftwaite's, and demanded, "I want to see a hat, and possibly a
In the dingy old front parlor which she had tried to make smart with a
pier glass, covers from fashion magazines, anemic French prints, Mrs.
Swiftwaite moved smoothly among the dress-dummies and hat-rests, spoke
smoothly as she took up a small black and red turban. "I am sure the
lady will find this extremely attractive."
"It's dreadfully tabby and small-towny," thought Carol, while she
soothed, "I don't believe it quite goes with me."
"It's the choicest thing I have, and I'm sure you'll find it suits you
beautifully. It has a great deal of chic. Please try it on," said Mrs.
Swiftwaite, more smoothly than ever.
Carol studied the woman. She was as imitative as a glass diamond. She
was the more rustic in her effort to appear urban. She wore a severe
high-collared blouse with a row of small black buttons, which
was becoming to her low-breasted slim neatness, but her skirt was
hysterically checkered, her cheeks were too highly rouged, her lips too
sharply penciled. She was magnificently a specimen of the illiterate
divorcee of forty made up to look thirty, clever, and alluring.
While she was trying on the hat Carol felt very condescending. She took
it off, shook her head, explained with the kind smile for inferiors,
"I'm afraid it won't do, though it's unusually nice for so small a town