them in imaginary conversations with Kennicott, who grunted (she could
hear his voice), "They're simply a bunch of wild impractical theorists
sittin' round chewing the rag," and "I haven't got the time to chase
after a lot of these fool fads; I'm too busy putting aside a stake for
our old age."
Most of the men who came to the flat, whether they were army officers or
radicals who hated the army, had the easy gentleness, the acceptance
of women without embarrassed banter, for which she had longed in Gopher
Prairie. Yet they seemed to be as efficient as the Sam Clarks. She
concluded that it was because they were of secure reputation, not hemmed
in by the fire of provincial jealousies. Kennicott had asserted that the
villager's lack of courtesy is due to his poverty. "We're no millionaire
dudes," he boasted. Yet these army and navy men, these bureau experts,
and organizers of multitudinous leagues, were cheerful on three or four
thousand a year, while Kennicott had, outside of his land speculations,
six thousand or more, and Sam had eight.
Nor could she upon inquiry learn that many of this reckless race died in
the poorhouse. That institution is reserved for men like Kennicott who,
after devoting fifty years to "putting aside a stake," incontinently
invest the stake in spurious oil-stocks.
She was encouraged to believe that she had not been abnormal in viewing
Gopher Prairie as unduly tedious and slatternly. She found the same
faith not only in girls escaped from domesticity but also in demure
old ladies who, tragically deprived of esteemed husbands and huge old
houses, yet managed to make a very comfortable thing of it by living in
small flats and having time to read.
But she also learned that by comparison Gopher Prairie was a model of
daring color, clever planning, and frenzied intellectuality. From her
teacher-housemate she had a sardonic description of a Middlewestern
railroad-division town, of the same size as Gopher Prairie but devoid
of lawns and trees, a town where the tracks sprawled along the
cinder-scabbed Main Street, and the railroad shops, dripping soot from
eaves and doorway, rolled out smoke in greasy coils.
Other towns she came to know by anecdote: a prairie village where the
wind blew all day long, and the mud was two feet thick in spring, and in
summer the flying sand scarred new-painted houses and dust covered
the few flowers set out in pots. New England mill-towns with the hands
living in rows of cottages like blocks of lava. A rich farming-center
in New Jersey, off the railroad, furiously pious, ruled by old men,
unbelievably ignorant old men, sitting about the grocery talking of
James G. Blaine. A Southern town, full of the magnolias and white
columns which Carol had accepted as proof of romance, but hating the
negroes, obsequious to the Old Families. A Western mining-settlement
like a tumor. A booming semi-city with parks and clever architects,
visited by famous pianists and unctuous lecturers, but irritable from a
struggle between union labor and the manufacturers' association, so
that in even the gayest of the new houses there was a ceaseless and
The chart which plots Carol's progress is not easy to read. The lines
are broken and uncertain of direction; often instead of rising they sink
in wavering scrawls; and the colors are watery blue and pink and the dim
gray of rubbed pencil marks. A few lines are traceable.
Unhappy women are given to protecting their sensitiveness by cynical
gossip, by whining, by high-church and new-thought religions, or by
a fog of vagueness. Carol had hidden in none of these refuges from
reality, but she, who was tender and merry, had been made timorous by
Gopher Prairie. Even her flight had been but the temporary courage of
panic. The thing she gained in Washington was not information about
office-systems and labor unions but renewed courage, that amiable
contempt called poise. Her glimpse of tasks involving millions of people
and a score of nations reduced Main Street from bloated importance to
its actual pettiness. She could never again be quite so awed by the
power with which she herself had endowed the Vidas and Blaussers and
From her work and from her association with women who had organized
suffrage associations in hostile cities, or had defended political
prisoners, she caught something of an impersonal attitude; saw that she
had been as touchily personal as Maud Dyer.
And why, she began to ask, did she rage at individuals? Not individuals
but institutions are the enemies, and they most afflict the disciples
who the most generously serve them. They insinuate their tyranny under
a hundred guises and pompous names, such as Polite Society, the Family,
the Church, Sound Business, the Party, the Country, the Superior White
Race; and the only defense against them, Carol beheld, is unembittered
SHE had lived in Washington for a year. She was tired of the office.
It was tolerable, far more tolerable than housework, but it was not
She was having tea and cinnamon toast, alone at a small round table on
the balcony of Rauscher's Confiserie. Four debutantes clattered in. She
had felt young and dissipated, had thought rather well of her black and
leaf-green suit, but as she watched them, thin of ankle, soft under the
chin, seventeen or eighteen at most, smoking cigarettes with the correct
ennui and talking of "bedroom farces" and their desire to "run up to New
York and see something racy," she became old and rustic and plain, and
desirous of retreating from these hard brilliant children to a life
easier and more sympathetic. When they flickered out and one child gave
orders to a chauffeur, Carol was not a defiant philosopher but a faded
government clerk from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.
She started dejectedly up Connecticut Avenue. She stopped, her heart
stopped. Coming toward her were Harry and Juanita Haydock. She ran to
them, she kissed Juanita, while Harry confided, "Hadn't expected to come
to Washington--had to go to New York for some buying--didn't have your
address along--just got in this morning--wondered how in the world we
could get hold of you."
She was definitely sorry to hear that they were to leave at nine that
evening, and she clung to them as long as she could. She took them to
St. Mark's for dinner. Stooped, her elbows on the table, she heard
with excitement that "Cy Bogart had the 'flu, but of course he was too
gol-darn mean to die of it."
"Will wrote me that Mr. Blausser has gone away. How did he get on?"
"Fine! Fine! Great loss to the town. There was a real public-spirited
fellow, all right!"
She discovered that she now had no opinions whatever about Mr. Blausser,
and she said sympathetically, "Will you keep up the town-boosting
Harry fumbled, "Well, we've dropped it just temporarily, but--sure you
bet! Say, did the doc write you about the luck B. J. Gougerling had
hunting ducks down in Texas?"
When the news had been told and their enthusiasm had slackened she
looked about and was proud to be able to point out a senator, to explain
the cleverness of the canopied garden. She fancied that a man with
dinner-coat and waxed mustache glanced superciliously at Harry's highly
form-fitting bright-brown suit and Juanita's tan silk frock, which was
doubtful at the seams. She glared back, defending her own, daring the
world not to appreciate them.
Then, waving to them, she lost them down the long train shed. She stood
reading the list of stations: Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Chicago. Beyond
Chicago----? She saw the lakes and stubble fields, heard the rhythm
of insects and the creak of a buggy, was greeted by Sam Clark's "Well,
well, how's the little lady?"
Nobody in Washington cared enough for her to fret about her sins as Sam
But that night they had at the flat a man just back from Finland.
She was on the Powhatan roof with the captain. At a table, somewhat
vociferously buying improbable "soft drinks" for two fluffy girls, was a
man with a large familiar back.
"Oh! I think I know him," she murmured.
"Who? There? Oh, Bresnahan, Percy Bresnahan."
"Yes. You've met him? What sort of a man is he?"
"He's a good-hearted idiot. I rather like him, and I believe that as a
salesman of motors he's a wonder. But he's a nuisance in the aeronautic
section. Tries so hard to be useful but he doesn't know anything--he
doesn't know anything. Rather pathetic: rich man poking around and
trying to be useful. Do you want to speak to him?"
"No--no--I don't think so."
She was at a motion-picture show. The film was a highly advertised
and abysmal thing smacking of simpering hair-dressers, cheap perfume,
red-plush suites on the back streets of tenderloins, and complacent fat
women chewing gum. It pretended to deal with the life of studios. The
leading man did a portrait which was a masterpiece. He also saw visions
in pipe-smoke, and was very brave and poor and pure. He had ringlets,
and his masterpiece was strangely like an enlarged photograph.
Carol prepared to leave.
On the screen, in the role of a composer, appeared an actor called Eric
She was startled, incredulous, then wretched. Looking straight out at
her, wearing a beret and a velvet jacket, was Erik Valborg.
He had a pale part, which he played neither well nor badly. She
speculated, "I could have made so much of him----" She did not finish
She went home and read Kennicott's letters. They had seemed stiff and
undetailed, but now there strode from them a personality, a personality
unlike that of the languishing young man in the velvet jacket playing a
dummy piano in a canvas room.
Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months after her
arrival in Washington. When he announced that he was coming she was not
at all sure that she wished to see him. She was glad that he had made
the decision himself.
She had leave from the office for two days.
She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured, carrying his
heavy suit-case, and she was diffident--he was such a bulky person to
handle. They kissed each other questioningly, and said at the same time,
"You're looking fine; how's the baby?" and "You're looking awfully well,
dear; how is everything?"
He grumbled, "I don't want to butt in on any plans you've made or your
friends or anything, but if you've got time for it, I'd like to chase
around Washington, and take in some restaurants and shows and stuff, and
forget work for a while."
She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft gray suit, a
soft easy hat, a flippant tie.
"Like the new outfit? Got 'em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope they're the kind
They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was flustered, but
he gave no sign of kissing her again.
As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he had had his new
tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There was a recent cut on
his chin. He must have shaved on the train just before coming into
It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many people she
recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she told him (he asked
and she obligingly guessed) how many feet it was to the top of the dome,
as she pointed out Senator LaFollette and the vice-president, and
at lunch-time showed herself an habitue by leading him through the
catacombs to the senate restaurant.
She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar way in which
his hair was parted on the left side agitated her. She looked down
at his hands, and the fact that his nails were as ill-treated as ever
touched her more than his pleading shoe-shine.
"You'd like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon, wouldn't you?"
It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that it seemed to
be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing to do.
He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news: they were
excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding, Vida "made him tired
the way she always looked at the Maje," poor Chet Dashaway had been
killed in a motor accident out on the Coast. He did not coax her to like
him. At Mount Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington's
She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have heard of
Harvey's apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took him there. At dinner
his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment of everything, turned into
nervousness in his desire to know a number of interesting matters, such
as whether they still were married. But he did not ask questions, and
he said nothing about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed,
"Oh say, been trying out the old camera. Don't you think these are
He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and the country
about. Without defense, she was thrown into it. She remembered that he
had lured her with photographs in courtship days; she made a note of
his sameness, his satisfaction with the tactics which had proved good
before; but she forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing
the sun-speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie,
wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where Hugh had
played, Main Street where she knew every window and every face.
She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and he talked of
lenses and time-exposures.
Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at the flat, but
an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent, inescapable. She
could not endure it. She stammered:
"I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn't quite sure
where you'd stay. I'm dreadfully sorry we haven't room to put you up at
the flat. We ought to have seen about a room for you before. Don't you
think you better call up the Willard or the Washington now?"
He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked, without speech she
answered, whether she was also going to the Willard or the Washington.
But she tried to look as though she did not know that they were debating
anything of the sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about
it. But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he may have
been with her blandness he said readily:
"Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then how about
grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn't it the limit the way these taxi shuffers
skin around a corner? Got more nerve driving than I have!) and going
up to your flat for a while? Like to meet your friends--must be fine
women--and I might take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how
he breathes. Don't think he has adenoids, but I better make sure, eh?"
He patted her shoulder.
At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who had been to
jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly. He laughed at the
girl's story of the humors of a hunger-strike; he told the secretary
what to do when her eyes were tired from typing; and the teacher asked
him--not as the husband of a friend but as a physician--whether there
was "anything to this inoculation for colds."
His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their habitual
Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst of the
"He's terribly nice," said her housemates, and waited for confidences.
They got none, nor did her own heart. She could find nothing definite to
agonize about. She felt that she was no longer analyzing and controlling
forces, but swept on by them.
He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes. That was her
only occasion for spite. Back home he never thought of washing dishes!
She took him to the obvious "sights"--the Treasury, the Monument, the
Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building, the Lincoln Memorial, with
the Potomac beyond it and the Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee
Mansion. For all his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy
which piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to them
now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette Square, looking
past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil facade of the White
House, he sighed, "I wish I'd had a shot at places like this. When I was
in the U., I had to earn part of my way, and when I wasn't doing that
or studying, I guess I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for
bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I'd been caught early and
sent to concerts and all that----Would I have been what you call
"Oh, my dear, don't be humble! You are intelligent! For instance, you're
the most thorough doctor----"
He was edging about something he wished to say. He pounced on it:
"You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all, didn't
"Yes, of course."
"Wouldn't be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town, would it!"
"No, it wouldn't. Just as I was terribly glad to see the Haydocks.
But please understand me! That doesn't mean that I withdraw all my
criticisms. The fact that I might like a glimpse of old friends hasn't
any particular relation to the question of whether Gopher Prairie
oughtn't to have festivals and lamb chops."
Hastily, "No, no! Sure not. I und'stand."
"But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to live with
anybody as perfect as I was."
He grinned. She liked his grin.
He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes, the
building to which his income tax would eventually go, a Rolls-Royce,
Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room, a New York theatrical manager
down for the try-out of a play, the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks
of Italian officers, the barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches
at noon, the barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District
of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.
She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green cottages and
Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and white shutters against
rosy brick, were more homelike than a painty wooden box. He volunteered,
"I see how you mean. They make me think of these pictures of an
old-fashioned Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you'll have
Sam and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d' I tell you about
this fierce green Jack Elder's had his machine painted?"
They were at dinner.
He hinted, "Before you showed me those places today, I'd already made up
my mind that when I built the new house we used to talk about, I'd fix
it the way you wanted it. I'm pretty practical about foundations and
radiation and stuff like that, but I guess I don't know a whole lot
"My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don't either!"
"Well--anyway--you let me plan the garage and the plumbing, and you do
the rest, if you ever--I mean--if you ever want to."
Doubtfully, "That's sweet of you."
"Look here, Carrie; you think I'm going to ask you to love me. I'm not.
And I'm not going to ask you to come back to Gopher Prairie!"
"It's been a whale of a fight. But I guess I've got myself to see that
you won't ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to come back to it. I needn't
say I'm crazy to have you. But I won't ask you. I just want you to know
how I wait for you. Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one
I'm kind of scared to open it, I'm hoping so much that you're coming
back. Evenings----You know I didn't open the cottage down at the lake at
all, this past summer. Simply couldn't stand all the others laughing and
swimming, and you not there. I used to sit on the porch, in town, and
I--I couldn't get over the feeling that you'd simply run up to the drug
store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I'd catch
myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the
house was so empty and still that I didn't like to go in. And sometimes
I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn't wake up till after
midnight, and the house----Oh, the devil! Please get me, Carrie. I just
want you to know how welcome you'll be if you ever do come. But I'm not
asking you to."
"'Nother thing. I'm going to be frank. I haven't always been absolutely,
uh, absolutely, proper. I've always loved you more than anything else in
the world, you and the kid. But sometimes when you were chilly to me I'd
get lonely and sore, and pike out and----Never intended----"
She rescued him with a pitying, "It's all right. Let's forget it."
"But before we were married you said if your husband ever did anything
wrong, you'd want him to tell you."
"Did I? I can't remember. And I can't seem to think. Oh, my dear, I
do know how generously you're trying to make me happy. The only thing
is----I can't think. I don't know what I think."
"Then listen! Don't think! Here's what I want you to do! Get a two-weeks
leave from your office. Weather's beginning to get chilly here. Let's
run down to Charleston and Savannah and maybe Florida.
"A second honeymoon?" indecisively.
"No. Don't even call it that. Call it a second wooing. I won't ask
anything. I just want the chance to chase around with you. I guess I
never appreciated how lucky I was to have a girl with imagination and
lively feet to play with. So----Could you maybe run away and see the
South with me? If you wanted to, you could just--you could just pretend
you were my sister and----I'll get an extra nurse for Hugh! I'll get the
best dog-gone nurse in Washington!"
It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the Charleston Battery
and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness melted.
When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the moon glitter, she
cried, "Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie with you? Decide for me. I'm
tired of deciding and undeciding."
"No. You've got to do your own deciding. As a matter of fact, in spite
of this honeymoon, I don't think I want you to come home. Not yet."