a tan person with a wide mouth. "Oh, I know! He's the furniture-store
man!" She was much pleased with herself.
"Yump, and he's the undertaker. You'll like him. Come shake hands with
"Oh no, no! He doesn't--he doesn't do the embalming and all
that--himself? I couldn't shake hands with an undertaker!"
"Why not? You'd be proud to shake hands with a great surgeon, just after
he'd been carving up people's bellies."
She sought to regain her afternoon's calm of maturity. "Yes. You're
right. I want--oh, my dear, do you know how much I want to like the
people you like? I want to see people as they are."
"Well, don't forget to see people as other folks see them as they are!
They have the stuff. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from here?
Born and brought up here!"
"Yes--you know--president of the Velvet Motor Company of Boston,
Mass.--make the Velvet Twelve--biggest automobile factory in New
"I think I've heard of him."
"Sure you have. Why, he's a millionaire several times over! Well, Perce
comes back here for the black-bass fishing almost every summer, and he
says if he could get away from business, he'd rather live here than
in Boston or New York or any of those places. HE doesn't mind Chet's
"Please! I'll--I'll like everybody! I'll be the community sunbeam!"
He led her to the Dawsons.
Luke Dawson, lender of money on mortgages, owner of Northern cut-over
land, was a hesitant man in unpressed soft gray clothes, with bulging
eyes in a milky face. His wife had bleached cheeks, bleached hair,
bleached voice, and a bleached manner. She wore her expensive green
frock, with its passementeried bosom, bead tassels, and gaps between the
buttons down the back, as though she had bought it second-hand and was
afraid of meeting the former owner. They were shy. It was "Professor"
George Edwin Mott, superintendent of schools, a Chinese mandarin turned
brown, who held Carol's hand and made her welcome.
When the Dawsons and Mr. Mott had stated that they were "pleased to meet
her," there seemed to be nothing else to say, but the conversation went
"Do you like Gopher Prairie?" whimpered Mrs. Dawson.
"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to be ever so happy."
"There's so many nice people." Mrs. Dawson looked to Mr. Mott for social
and intellectual aid. He lectured:
"There's a fine class of people. I don't like some of these retired
farmers who come here to spend their last days--especially the Germans.
They hate to pay school-taxes. They hate to spend a cent. But the rest
are a fine class of people. Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from
here? Used to go to school right at the old building!"
"I heard he did."
"Yes. He's a prince. He and I went fishing together, last time he was
The Dawsons and Mr. Mott teetered upon weary feet, and smiled at Carol
with crystallized expressions. She went on:
"Tell me, Mr. Mott: Have you ever tried any experiments with any of the
new educational systems? The modern kindergarten methods or the Gary
"Oh. Those. Most of these would-be reformers are simply
notoriety-seekers. I believe in manual training, but Latin and
mathematics always will be the backbone of sound Americanism, no matter
what these faddists advocate--heaven knows what they do want--knitting,
I suppose, and classes in wiggling the ears!"
The Dawsons smiled their appreciation of listening to a savant. Carol
waited till Kennicott should rescue her. The rest of the party waited
for the miracle of being amused.
Harry and Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons and Dr. Terry Gould--the young
smart set of Gopher Prairie. She was led to them. Juanita Haydock flung
at her in a high, cackling, friendly voice:
"Well, this is SO nice to have you here. We'll have some good
parties--dances and everything. You'll have to join the Jolly Seventeen.
We play bridge and we have a supper once a month. You play, of course?"
"N-no, I don't."
"Really? In St. Paul?"
"I've always been such a book-worm."
"We'll have to teach you. Bridge is half the fun of life." Juanita had
become patronizing, and she glanced disrespectfully at Carol's golden
sash, which she had previously admired.
Harry Haydock said politely, "How do you think you're going to like the
"I'm sure I shall like it tremendously."
"Best people on earth here. Great hustlers, too. Course I've had lots
of chances to go live in Minneapolis, but we like it here. Real he-town.
Did you know that Percy Bresnahan came from here?"
Carol perceived that she had been weakened in the biological struggle
by disclosing her lack of bridge. Roused to nervous desire to regain
her position she turned on Dr. Terry Gould, the young and pool-playing
competitor of her husband. Her eyes coquetted with him while she gushed:
"I'll learn bridge. But what I really love most is the outdoors. Can't
we all get up a boating party, and fish, or whatever you do, and have a
picnic supper afterwards?"
"Now you're talking!" Dr. Gould affirmed. He looked rather too obviously
at the cream-smooth slope of her shoulder. "Like fishing? Fishing is my
middle name. I'll teach you bridge. Like cards at all?"
"I used to be rather good at bezique."
She knew that bezique was a game of cards--or a game of something else.
Roulette, possibly. But her lie was a triumph. Juanita's handsome,
high-colored, horsey face showed doubt. Harry stroked his nose and said
humbly, "Bezique? Used to be great gambling game, wasn't it?"
While others drifted to her group, Carol snatched up the conversation.
She laughed and was frivolous and rather brittle. She could not
distinguish their eyes. They were a blurry theater-audience before which
she self-consciously enacted the comedy of being the Clever Little Bride
of Doc Kennicott:
"These-here celebrated Open Spaces, that's what I'm going out for. I'll
never read anything but the sporting-page again. Will converted me on
our Colorado trip. There were so many mousey tourists who were afraid
to get out of the motor 'bus that I decided to be Annie Oakley, the Wild
Western Wampire, and I bought oh! a vociferous skirt which revealed
my perfectly nice ankles to the Presbyterian glare of all the Ioway
schoolma'ams, and I leaped from peak to peak like the nimble chamoys,
and----You may think that Herr Doctor Kennicott is a Nimrod, but you
ought to have seen me daring him to strip to his B. V. D.'s and go
swimming in an icy mountain brook."
She knew that they were thinking of becoming shocked, but Juanita
Haydock was admiring, at least. She swaggered on:
"I'm sure I'm going to ruin Will as a respectable practitioner----Is he
a good doctor, Dr. Gould?"
Kennicott's rival gasped at this insult to professional ethics, and he
took an appreciable second before he recovered his social manner.
"I'll tell you, Mrs. Kennicott." He smiled at Kennicott, to imply that
whatever he might say in the stress of being witty was not to count
against him in the commercio-medical warfare. "There's some people
in town that say the doc is a fair to middlin' diagnostician and
prescription-writer, but let me whisper this to you--but for heaven's
sake don't tell him I said so--don't you ever go to him for anything
more serious than a pendectomy of the left ear or a strabismus of the
No one save Kennicott knew exactly what this meant, but they laughed,
and Sam Clark's party assumed a glittering lemon-yellow color of brocade
panels and champagne and tulle and crystal chandeliers and sporting
duchesses. Carol saw that George Edwin Mott and the blanched Mr. and
Mrs. Dawson were not yet hypnotized. They looked as though they wondered
whether they ought to look as though they disapproved. She concentrated
"But I know whom I wouldn't have dared to go to Colorado with! Mr.
Dawson there! I'm sure he's a regular heart-breaker. When we were
introduced he held my hand and squeezed it frightfully."
"Haw! Haw! Haw!" The entire company applauded. Mr. Dawson was beatified.
He had been called many things--loan-shark, skinflint, tightwad,
pussyfoot--but he had never before been called a flirt.
"He is wicked, isn't he, Mrs. Dawson? Don't you have to lock him up?"
"Oh no, but maybe I better," attempted Mrs. Dawson, a tint on her pallid
For fifteen minutes Carol kept it up. She asserted that she was going
to stage a musical comedy, that she preferred cafe parfait to beefsteak,
that she hoped Dr. Kennicott would never lose his ability to make love
to charming women, and that she had a pair of gold stockings. They gaped
for more. But she could not keep it up. She retired to a chair behind
Sam Clark's bulk. The smile-wrinkles solemnly flattened out in the faces
of all the other collaborators in having a party, and again they stood
about hoping but not expecting to be amused.
Carol listened. She discovered that conversation did not exist in Gopher
Prairie. Even at this affair, which brought out the young smart set,
the hunting squire set, the respectable intellectual set, and the solid
financial set, they sat up with gaiety as with a corpse.
Juanita Haydock talked a good deal in her rattling voice but it was
invariably of personalities: the rumor that Raymie Wutherspoon was going
to send for a pair of patent leather shoes with gray buttoned tops; the
rheumatism of Champ Perry; the state of Guy Pollock's grippe; and the
dementia of Jim Howland in painting his fence salmon-pink.
Sam Clark had been talking to Carol about motor cars, but he felt
his duties as host. While he droned, his brows popped up and down. He
interrupted himself, "Must stir 'em up." He worried at his wife, "Don't
you think I better stir 'em up?" He shouldered into the center of the
room, and cried:
"Let's have some stunts, folks."
"Yes, let's!" shrieked Juanita Haydock.
"Say, Dave, give us that stunt about the Norwegian catching a hen."
"You bet; that's a slick stunt; do that, Dave!" cheered Chet Dashaway.
Mr. Dave Dyer obliged.
All the guests moved their lips in anticipation of being called on for
their own stunts.
"Ella, come on and recite 'Old Sweetheart of Mine,' for us," demanded
Miss Ella Stowbody, the spinster daughter of the Ionic bank, scratched
her dry palms and blushed. "Oh, you don't want to hear that old thing
"Sure we do! You bet!" asserted Sam.
"My voice is in terrible shape tonight."
"Tut! Come on!"
Sam loudly explained to Carol, "Ella is our shark at elocuting. She's
had professional training. She studied singing and oratory and dramatic
art and shorthand for a year, in Milwaukee."
Miss Stowbody was reciting. As encore to "An Old Sweetheart of Mine,"
she gave a peculiarly optimistic poem regarding the value of smiles.
There were four other stunts: one Jewish, one Irish, one juvenile, and
Nat Hicks's parody of Mark Antony's funeral oration.
During the winter Carol was to hear Dave Dyer's hen-catching
impersonation seven times, "An Old Sweetheart of Mine" nine times, the
Jewish story and the funeral oration twice; but now she was ardent
and, because she did so want to be happy and simple-hearted, she was as
disappointed as the others when the stunts were finished, and the party
instantly sank back into coma.
They gave up trying to be festive; they began to talk naturally, as they
did at their shops and homes.
The men and women divided, as they had been tending to do all evening.
Carol was deserted by the men, left to a group of matrons who steadily
pattered of children, sickness, and cooks--their own shop-talk. She was
piqued. She remembered visions of herself as a smart married woman in
a drawing-room, fencing with clever men. Her dejection was relieved by
speculation as to what the men were discussing, in the corner between
the piano and the phonograph. Did they rise from these housewifely
personalities to a larger world of abstractions and affairs?
She made her best curtsy to Mrs. Dawson; she twittered, "I won't have my
husband leaving me so soon! I'm going over and pull the wretch's
ears." She rose with a jeune fille bow. She was self-absorbed and
self-approving because she had attained that quality of sentimentality.
She proudly dipped across the room and, to the interest and commendation
of all beholders, sat on the arm of Kennicott's chair.
He was gossiping with Sam Clark, Luke Dawson, Jackson Elder of the
planing-mill, Chet Dashaway, Dave Dyer, Harry Haydock, and Ezra
Stowbody, president of the Ionic bank.
Ezra Stowbody was a troglodyte. He had come to Gopher Prairie in 1865.
He was a distinguished bird of prey--swooping thin nose, turtle mouth,
thick brows, port-wine cheeks, floss of white hair, contemptuous eyes.
He was not happy in the social changes of thirty years. Three decades
ago, Dr. Westlake, Julius Flickerbaugh the lawyer, Merriman Peedy the
Congregational pastor and himself had been the arbiters. That was as
it should be; the fine arts--medicine, law, religion, and
finance--recognized as aristocratic; four Yankees democratically
chatting with but ruling the Ohioans and Illini and Swedes and Germans
who had ventured to follow them. But Westlake was old, almost retired;
Julius Flickerbaugh had lost much of his practice to livelier attorneys;
Reverend (not The Reverend) Peedy was dead; and nobody was impressed in
this rotten age of automobiles by the "spanking grays" which Ezra still
drove. The town was as heterogeneous as Chicago. Norwegians and Germans
owned stores. The social leaders were common merchants. Selling nails
was considered as sacred as banking. These upstarts--the Clarks, the
Haydocks--had no dignity. They were sound and conservative in politics,
but they talked about motor cars and pump-guns and heaven only knew
what new-fangled fads. Mr. Stowbody felt out of place with them. But
his brick house with the mansard roof was still the largest residence in
town, and he held his position as squire by occasionally appearing among
the younger men and reminding them by a wintry eye that without the
banker none of them could carry on their vulgar businesses.
As Carol defied decency by sitting down with the men, Mr. Stowbody was
piping to Mr. Dawson, "Say, Luke, when was't Biggins first settled in
Winnebago Township? Wa'n't it in 1879?"
"Why no 'twa'n't!" Mr. Dawson was indignant. "He come out from Vermont
in 1867--no, wait, in 1868, it must have been--and took a claim on the
Rum River, quite a ways above Anoka."
"He did not!" roared Mr. Stowbody. "He settled first in Blue Earth
County, him and his father!"
("What's the point at issue?") Carol whispered to Kennicott.
("Whether this old duck Biggins had an English setter or a Llewellyn.
They've been arguing it all evening!")
Dave Dyer interrupted to give tidings, "D' tell you that Clara Biggins
was in town couple days ago? She bought a hot-water bottle--expensive
one, too--two dollars and thirty cents!"
"Yaaaaaah!" snarled Mr. Stowbody. "Course. She's just like her grandad
was. Never save a cent. Two dollars and twenty--thirty, was it?--two
dollars and thirty cents for a hot-water bottle! Brick wrapped up in a
flannel petticoat just as good, anyway!"
"How's Ella's tonsils, Mr. Stowbody?" yawned Chet Dashaway.
While Mr. Stowbody gave a somatic and psychic study of them, Carol
reflected, "Are they really so terribly interested in Ella's tonsils,
or even in Ella's esophagus? I wonder if I could get them away from
personalities? Let's risk damnation and try."
"There hasn't been much labor trouble around here, has there, Mr.
Stowbody?" she asked innocently.
"No, ma'am, thank God, we've been free from that, except maybe with
hired girls and farm-hands. Trouble enough with these foreign farmers;
if you don't watch these Swedes they turn socialist or populist or some
fool thing on you in a minute. Of course, if they have loans you can
make 'em listen to reason. I just have 'em come into the bank for a
talk, and tell 'em a few things. I don't mind their being democrats,
so much, but I won't stand having socialists around. But thank God, we
ain't got the labor trouble they have in these cities. Even Jack Elder
here gets along pretty well, in the planing-mill, don't you, Jack?"
"Yep. Sure. Don't need so many skilled workmen in my place, and it's
a lot of these cranky, wage-hogging, half-baked skilled mechanics that
start trouble--reading a lot of this anarchist literature and union
papers and all."
"Do you approve of union labor?" Carol inquired of Mr. Elder.
"Me? I should say not! It's like this: I don't mind dealing with my men
if they think they've got any grievances--though Lord knows what's come
over workmen, nowadays--don't appreciate a good job. But still, if they
come to me honestly, as man to man, I'll talk things over with them. But
I'm not going to have any outsider, any of these walking delegates, or
whatever fancy names they call themselves now--bunch of rich grafters,
living on the ignorant workmen! Not going to have any of those fellows
butting in and telling ME how to run MY business!"
Mr. Elder was growing more excited, more belligerent and patriotic. "I
stand for freedom and constitutional rights. If any man don't like my
shop, he can get up and git. Same way, if I don't like him, he gits.
And that's all there is to it. I simply can't understand all these
complications and hoop-te-doodles and government reports and wage-scales
and God knows what all that these fellows are balling up the labor
situation with, when it's all perfectly simple. They like what I pay
'em, or they get out. That's all there is to it!"
"What do you think of profit-sharing?" Carol ventured.
Mr. Elder thundered his answer, while the others nodded, solemnly and
in tune, like a shop-window of flexible toys, comic mandarins and judges
and ducks and clowns, set quivering by a breeze from the open door:
"All this profit-sharing and welfare work and insurance and old-age
pension is simply poppycock. Enfeebles a workman's independence--and
wastes a lot of honest profit. The half-baked thinker that isn't dry
behind the ears yet, and these suffragettes and God knows what all
buttinskis there are that are trying to tell a business man how to run
his business, and some of these college professors are just about as
bad, the whole kit and bilin' of 'em are nothing in God's world but
socialism in disguise! And it's my bounden duty as a producer to resist
every attack on the integrity of American industry to the last ditch.
Mr. Elder wiped his brow.
Dave Dyer added, "Sure! You bet! What they ought to do is simply to
hang every one of these agitators, and that would settle the whole thing
right off. Don't you think so, doc?"
"You bet," agreed Kennicott.
The conversation was at last relieved of the plague of Carol's
intrusions and they settled down to the question of whether the justice
of the peace had sent that hobo drunk to jail for ten days or twelve.
It was a matter not readily determined. Then Dave Dyer communicated his
carefree adventures on the gipsy trail:
"Yep. I get good time out of the flivver. 'Bout a week ago I motored
down to New Wurttemberg. That's forty-three----No, let's see: It's
seventeen miles to Belldale, and 'bout six and three-quarters, call it
seven, to Torgenquist, and it's a good nineteen miles from there to New
Wurttemberg--seventeen and seven and nineteen, that makes, uh, let me
see: seventeen and seven 's twenty-four, plus nineteen, well say plus
twenty, that makes forty-four, well anyway, say about forty-three
or -four miles from here to New Wurttemberg. We got started about
seven-fifteen, prob'ly seven-twenty, because I had to stop and fill the
radiator, and we ran along, just keeping up a good steady gait----"
Mr. Dyer did finally, for reasons and purposes admitted and justified,
attain to New Wurttemberg.
Once--only once--the presence of the alien Carol was recognized. Chet
Dashaway leaned over and said asthmatically, "Say, uh, have you been
reading this serial 'Two Out' in Tingling Tales? Corking yarn! Gosh, the
fellow that wrote it certainly can sling baseball slang!"
The others tried to look literary. Harry Haydock offered, "Juanita is
a great hand for reading high-class stuff, like 'Mid the Magnolias' by
this Sara Hetwiggin Butts, and 'Riders of Ranch Reckless.' Books. But
me," he glanced about importantly, as one convinced that no other hero
had ever been in so strange a plight, "I'm so darn busy I don't have
much time to read."
"I never read anything I can't check against," said Sam Clark.
Thus ended the literary portion of the conversation, and for seven
minutes Jackson Elder outlined reasons for believing that the
pike-fishing was better on the west shore of Lake Minniemashie than on
the east--though it was indeed quite true that on the east shore Nat
Hicks had caught a pike altogether admirable.
The talk went on. It did go on! Their voices were monotonous,
thick, emphatic. They were harshly pompous, like men in the
smoking-compartments of Pullman cars. They did not bore Carol. They
frightened her. She panted, "They will be cordial to me, because my man
belongs to their tribe. God help me if I were an outsider!"
Smiling as changelessly as an ivory figurine she sat quiescent, avoiding
thought, glancing about the living-room and hall, noting their betrayal
of unimaginative commercial prosperity. Kennicott said, "Dandy interior,
eh? My idea of how a place ought to be furnished. Modern." She looked
polite, and observed the oiled floors, hard-wood staircase, unused
fireplace with tiles which resembled brown linoleum, cut-glass vases
standing upon doilies, and the barred, shut, forbidding unit bookcases
that were half filled with swashbuckler novels and unread-looking sets
of Dickens, Kipling, O. Henry, and Elbert Hubbard.
She perceived that even personalities were failing to hold the party.
The room filled with hesitancy as with a fog. People cleared their
throats, tried to choke down yawns. The men shot their cuffs and the
women stuck their combs more firmly into their back hair.
Then a rattle, a daring hope in every eye, the swinging of a door, the
smell of strong coffee, Dave Dyer's mewing voice in a triumphant, "The