Ludelmeyer and Howland & Gould, the meat markets, the notions
shop--they expanded, and hid all other structures. When she entered Mr.
Ludelmeyer's store and he wheezed, "Goot mornin', Mrs. Kennicott. Vell,
dis iss a fine day," she did not notice the dustiness of the shelves
nor the stupidity of the girl clerk; and she did not remember the mute
colloquy with him on her first view of Main Street.
She could not find half the kinds of food she wanted, but that made
shopping more of an adventure. When she did contrive to get sweetbreads
at Dahl & Oleson's Meat Market the triumph was so vast that she buzzed
with excitement and admired the strong wise butcher, Mr. Dahl.
She appreciated the homely ease of village life. She liked the old men,
farmers, G.A.R. veterans, who when they gossiped sometimes squatted on
their heels on the sidewalk, like resting Indians, and reflectively spat
over the curb.
She found beauty in the children.
She had suspected that her married friends exaggerated their passion
for children. But in her work in the library, children had become
individuals to her, citizens of the State with their own rights and
their own senses of humor. In the library she had not had much time
to give them, but now she knew the luxury of stopping, gravely asking
Bessie Clark whether her doll had yet recovered from its rheumatism, and
agreeing with Oscar Martinsen that it would be Good Fun to go trapping
She touched the thought, "It would be sweet to have a baby of my own. I
do want one. Tiny----No! Not yet! There's so much to do. And I'm still
tired from the job. It's in my bones."
She rested at home. She listened to the village noises common to all
the world, jungle or prairie; sounds simple and charged with magic--dogs
barking, chickens making a gurgling sound of content, children at play,
a man beating a rug, wind in the cottonwood trees, a locust fiddling,
a footstep on the walk, jaunty voices of Bea and a grocer's boy in the
kitchen, a clinking anvil, a piano--not too near.
Twice a week, at least, she drove into the country with Kennicott, to
hunt ducks in lakes enameled with sunset, or to call on patients who
looked up to her as the squire's lady and thanked her for toys and
magazines. Evenings she went with her husband to the motion pictures and
was boisterously greeted by every other couple; or, till it became too
cold, they sat on the porch, bawling to passers-by in motors, or to
neighbors who were raking the leaves. The dust became golden in the low
sun; the street was filled with the fragrance of burning leaves.
But she hazily wanted some one to whom she could say what she thought.
On a slow afternoon when she fidgeted over sewing and wished that the
telephone would ring, Bea announced Miss Vida Sherwin.
Despite Vida Sherwin's lively blue eyes, if you had looked at her in
detail you would have found her face slightly lined, and not so much
sallow as with the bloom rubbed off; you would have found her chest
flat, and her fingers rough from needle and chalk and penholder; her
blouses and plain cloth skirts undistinguished; and her hat worn too far
back, betraying a dry forehead. But you never did look at Vida Sherwin
in detail. You couldn't. Her electric activity veiled her. She was as
energetic as a chipmunk. Her fingers fluttered; her sympathy came out
in spurts; she sat on the edge of a chair in eagerness to be near her
auditor, to send her enthusiasms and optimism across.
She rushed into the room pouring out: "I'm afraid you'll think the
teachers have been shabby in not coming near you, but we wanted to
give you a chance to get settled. I am Vida Sherwin, and I try to teach
French and English and a few other things in the high school."
"I've been hoping to know the teachers. You see, I was a librarian----"
"Oh, you needn't tell me. I know all about you! Awful how much I
know--this gossipy village. We need you so much here. It's a dear loyal
town (and isn't loyalty the finest thing in the world!) but it's a
rough diamond, and we need you for the polishing, and we're ever so
humble----" She stopped for breath and finished her compliment with a
"If I COULD help you in any way----Would I be committing the
unpardonable sin if I whispered that I think Gopher Prairie is a tiny
"Of course it's ugly. Dreadfully! Though I'm probably the only person in
town to whom you could safely say that. (Except perhaps Guy Pollock
the lawyer--have you met him?--oh, you MUST!--he's simply a
darling--intelligence and culture and so gentle.) But I don't care so
much about the ugliness. That will change. It's the spirit that gives
me hope. It's sound. Wholesome. But afraid. It needs live creatures like
you to awaken it. I shall slave-drive you!"
"Splendid. What shall I do? I've been wondering if it would be possible
to have a good architect come here to lecture."
"Ye-es, but don't you think it would be better to work with existing
agencies? Perhaps it will sound slow to you, but I was thinking----It
would be lovely if we could get you to teach Sunday School."
Carol had the empty expression of one who finds that she has been
affectionately bowing to a complete stranger. "Oh yes. But I'm afraid I
wouldn't be much good at that. My religion is so foggy."
"I know. So is mine. I don't care a bit for dogma. Though I do stick
firmly to the belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man
and the leadership of Jesus. As you do, of course."
Carol looked respectable and thought about having tea.
"And that's all you need teach in Sunday School. It's the personal
influence. Then there's the library-board. You'd be so useful on that.
And of course there's our women's study club--the Thanatopsis Club."
"Are they doing anything? Or do they read papers made out of the
Miss Sherwin shrugged. "Perhaps. But still, they are so earnest. They
will respond to your fresher interest. And the Thanatopsis does do a
good social work--they've made the city plant ever so many trees, and
they run the rest-room for farmers' wives. And they do take such an
interest in refinement and culture. So--in fact, so very unique."
Carol was disappointed--by nothing very tangible. She said politely,
"I'll think them all over. I must have a while to look around first."
Miss Sherwin darted to her, smoothed her hair, peered at her. "Oh,
my dear, don't you suppose I know? These first tender days of
marriage--they're sacred to me. Home, and children that need you, and
depend on you to keep them alive, and turn to you with their wrinkly
little smiles. And the hearth and----" She hid her face from Carol as
she made an activity of patting the cushion of her chair, but she went
on with her former briskness:
"I mean, you must help us when you're ready. . . . I'm afraid you'll
think I'm conservative. I am! So much to conserve. All this treasure of
American ideals. Sturdiness and democracy and opportunity. Maybe not at
Palm Beach. But, thank heaven, we're free from such social distinctions
in Gopher Prairie. I have only one good quality--overwhelming belief in
the brains and hearts of our nation, our state, our town. It's so strong
that sometimes I do have a tiny effect on the haughty ten-thousandaires.
I shake 'em up and make 'em believe in ideals--yes, in themselves. But
I get into a rut of teaching. I need young critical things like you to
punch me up. Tell me, what are you reading?"
"I've been re-reading 'The Damnation of Theron Ware.' Do you know it?"
"Yes. It was clever. But hard. Man wanted to tear down, not build up.
Cynical. Oh, I do hope I'm not a sentimentalist. But I can't see any use
in this high-art stuff that doesn't encourage us day-laborers to plod
Ensued a fifteen-minute argument about the oldest topic in the world:
It's art but is it pretty? Carol tried to be eloquent regarding honesty
of observation. Miss Sherwin stood out for sweetness and a cautious use
of the uncomfortable properties of light. At the end Carol cried:
"I don't care how much we disagree. It's a relief to have somebody
talk something besides crops. Let's make Gopher Prairie rock to its
foundations: let's have afternoon tea instead of afternoon coffee."
The delighted Bea helped her bring out the ancestral folding
sewing-table, whose yellow and black top was scarred with dotted lines
from a dressmaker's tracing-wheel, and to set it with an embroidered
lunch-cloth, and the mauve-glazed Japanese tea-set which she had brought
from St. Paul. Miss Sherwin confided her latest scheme--moral motion
pictures for country districts, with light from a portable dynamo
hitched to a Ford engine. Bea was twice called to fill the hot-water
pitcher and to make cinnamon toast.
When Kennicott came home at five he tried to be courtly, as befits the
husband of one who has afternoon tea. Carol suggested that Miss Sherwin
stay for supper, and that Kennicott invite Guy Pollock, the much-praised
lawyer, the poetic bachelor.
Yes, Pollock could come. Yes, he was over the grippe which had prevented
his going to Sam Clark's party.
Carol regretted her impulse. The man would be an opinionated politician,
heavily jocular about The Bride. But at the entrance of Guy Pollock she
discovered a personality. Pollock was a man of perhaps thirty-eight,
slender, still, deferential. His voice was low. "It was very good of you
to want me," he said, and he offered no humorous remarks, and did not
ask her if she didn't think Gopher Prairie was "the livest little burg
in the state."
She fancied that his even grayness might reveal a thousand tints of
lavender and blue and silver.
At supper he hinted his love for Sir Thomas Browne, Thoreau, Agnes
Repplier, Arthur Symons, Claude Washburn, Charles Flandrau. He presented
his idols diffidently, but he expanded in Carol's bookishness, in Miss
Sherwin's voluminous praise, in Kennicott's tolerance of any one who
amused his wife.
Carol wondered why Guy Pollock went on digging at routine law-cases;
why he remained in Gopher Prairie. She had no one whom she could ask.
Neither Kennicott nor Vida Sherwin would understand that there might be
reasons why a Pollock should not remain in Gopher Prairie. She enjoyed
the faint mystery. She felt triumphant and rather literary. She already
had a Group. It would be only a while now before she provided the town
with fanlights and a knowledge of Galsworthy. She was doing things! As
she served the emergency dessert of cocoanut and sliced oranges, she
cried to Pollock, "Don't you think we ought to get up a dramatic club?"
WHEN the first dubious November snow had filtered down, shading with
white the bare clods in the plowed fields, when the first small fire
had been started in the furnace, which is the shrine of a Gopher Prairie
home, Carol began to make the house her own. She dismissed the parlor
furniture--the golden oak table with brass knobs, the moldy brocade
chairs, the picture of "The Doctor." She went to Minneapolis, to scamper
through department stores and small Tenth Street shops devoted to
ceramics and high thought. She had to ship her treasures, but she wanted
to bring them back in her arms.
Carpenters had torn out the partition between front parlor and back
parlor, thrown it into a long room on which she lavished yellow and
deep blue; a Japanese obi with an intricacy of gold thread on stiff
ultramarine tissue, which she hung as a panel against the maize wall; a
couch with pillows of sapphire velvet and gold bands; chairs which, in
Gopher Prairie, seemed flippant. She hid the sacred family phonograph in
the dining-room, and replaced its stand with a square cabinet on which
was a squat blue jar between yellow candles.
Kennicott decided against a fireplace. "We'll have a new house in a
couple of years, anyway."
She decorated only one room. The rest, Kennicott hinted, she'd better
leave till he "made a ten-strike."
The brown cube of a house stirred and awakened; it seemed to be in
motion; it welcomed her back from shopping; it lost its mildewed
The supreme verdict was Kennicott's "Well, by golly, I was afraid the
new junk wouldn't be so comfortable, but I must say this divan, or
whatever you call it, is a lot better than that bumpy old sofa we had,
and when I look around----Well, it's worth all it cost, I guess."
Every one in town took an interest in the refurnishing. The carpenters
and painters who did not actually assist crossed the lawn to peer
through the windows and exclaim, "Fine! Looks swell!" Dave Dyer at
the drug store, Harry Haydock and Raymie Wutherspoon at the Bon Ton,
repeated daily, "How's the good work coming? I hear the house is getting
to be real classy."
Even Mrs. Bogart.
Mrs. Bogart lived across the alley from the rear of Carol's house. She
was a widow, and a Prominent Baptist, and a Good Influence. She had so
painfully reared three sons to be Christian gentlemen that one of them
had become an Omaha bartender, one a professor of Greek, and one, Cyrus
N. Bogart, a boy of fourteen who was still at home, the most brazen
member of the toughest gang in Boytown.
Mrs. Bogart was not the acid type of Good Influence. She was the soft,
damp, fat, sighing, indigestive, clinging, melancholy, depressingly
hopeful kind. There are in every large chicken-yard a number of old and
indignant hens who resemble Mrs. Bogart, and when they are served at
Sunday noon dinner, as fricasseed chicken with thick dumplings, they
keep up the resemblance.
Carol had noted that Mrs. Bogart from her side window kept an eye upon
the house. The Kennicotts and Mrs. Bogart did not move in the same
sets--which meant precisely the same in Gopher Prairie as it did on
Fifth Avenue or in Mayfair. But the good widow came calling.
She wheezed in, sighed, gave Carol a pulpy hand, sighed, glanced sharply
at the revelation of ankles as Carol crossed her legs, sighed, inspected
the new blue chairs, smiled with a coy sighing sound, and gave voice:
"I've wanted to call on you so long, dearie, you know we're neighbors,
but I thought I'd wait till you got settled, you must run in and see me,
how much did that big chair cost?"
"Sev----Sakes alive! Well, I suppose it's all right for them that can
afford it, though I do sometimes think----Of course as our pastor said
once, at Baptist Church----By the way, we haven't seen you there yet,
and of course your husband was raised up a Baptist, and I do hope
he won't drift away from the fold, of course we all know there isn't
anything, not cleverness or gifts of gold or anything, that can make
up for humility and the inward grace and they can say what they want to
about the P. E. church, but of course there's no church that has more
history or has stayed by the true principles of Christianity better
than the Baptist Church and----In what church were you raised, Mrs.
"W-why, I went to Congregational, as a girl in Mankato, but my college
"Well----But of course as the Bible says, is it the Bible, at least I
know I have heard it in church and everybody admits it, it's proper for
the little bride to take her husband's vessel of faith, so we all hope
we shall see you at the Baptist Church and----As I was saying, of course
I agree with Reverend Zitterel in thinking that the great trouble with
this nation today is lack of spiritual faith--so few going to church,
and people automobiling on Sunday and heaven knows what all. But still
I do think that one trouble is this terrible waste of money, people
feeling that they've got to have bath-tubs and telephones in their
houses----I heard you were selling the old furniture cheap."
"Well--of course you know your own mind, but I can't help thinking, when
Will's ma was down here keeping house for him--SHE used to run in to SEE
me, real OFTEN!--it was good enough furniture for her. But there, there,
I mustn't croak, I just wanted to let you know that when you find you
can't depend on a lot of these gadding young folks like the Haydocks and
the Dyers--and heaven only knows how much money Juanita Haydock blows in
in a year--why then you may be glad to know that slow old Aunty Bogart
is always right there, and heaven knows----" A portentous sigh. "--I
HOPE you and your husband won't have any of the troubles, with sickness
and quarreling and wasting money and all that so many of these young
couples do have and----But I must be running along now, dearie. It's
been such a pleasure and----Just run in and see me any time. I hope Will
is well? I thought he looked a wee mite peaked."
It was twenty minutes later when Mrs. Bogart finally oozed out of the
front door. Carol ran back into the living-room and jerked open the
windows. "That woman has left damp finger-prints in the air," she said.
Carol was extravagant, but at least she did not try to clear herself of
blame by going about whimpering, "I know I'm terribly extravagant but I
don't seem to be able to help it."
Kennicott had never thought of giving her an allowance. His mother had
never had one! As a wage-earning spinster Carol had asserted to her
fellow librarians that when she was married, she was going to have an
allowance and be business-like and modern. But it was too much trouble
to explain to Kennicott's kindly stubbornness that she was a practical
housekeeper as well as a flighty playmate. She bought a budget-plan
account book and made her budgets as exact as budgets are likely to be
when they lack budgets.
For the first month it was a honeymoon jest to beg prettily, to confess,
"I haven't a cent in the house, dear," and to be told, "You're an
extravagant little rabbit." But the budget book made her realize how
inexact were her finances. She became self-conscious; occasionally she
was indignant that she should always have to petition him for the money
with which to buy his food. She caught herself criticizing his belief
that, since his joke about trying to keep her out of the poorhouse had
once been accepted as admirable humor, it should continue to be his
daily bon mot. It was a nuisance to have to run down the street after
him because she had forgotten to ask him for money at breakfast.
But she couldn't "hurt his feelings," she reflected. He liked the
lordliness of giving largess.
She tried to reduce the frequency of begging by opening accounts and
having the bills sent to him. She had found that staple groceries,
sugar, flour, could be most cheaply purchased at Axel Egge's rustic
general store. She said sweetly to Axel:
"I think I'd better open a charge account here."
"I don't do no business except for cash," grunted Axel.
She flared, "Do you know who I am?"
"Yuh, sure, I know. The doc is good for it. But that's yoost a rule I
made. I make low prices. I do business for cash."
She stared at his red impassive face, and her fingers had the
undignified desire to slap him, but her reason agreed with him. "You're
quite right. You shouldn't break your rule for me."
Her rage had not been lost. It had been transferred to her husband. She
wanted ten pounds of sugar in a hurry, but she had no money. She ran up
the stairs to Kennicott's office. On the door was a sign advertising a
headache cure and stating, "The doctor is out, back at----" Naturally,
the blank space was not filled out. She stamped her foot. She ran down
to the drug store--the doctor's club.
As she entered she heard Mrs. Dyer demanding, "Dave, I've got to have
Carol saw that her husband was there, and two other men, all listening
Dave Dyer snapped, "How much do you want? Dollar be enough?"
"No, it won't! I've got to get some underclothes for the kids."
"Why, good Lord, they got enough now to fill the closet so I couldn't
find my hunting boots, last time I wanted them."
"I don't care. They're all in rags. You got to give me ten dollars----"
Carol perceived that Mrs. Dyer was accustomed to this indignity. She
perceived that the men, particularly Dave, regarded it as an excellent
jest. She waited--she knew what would come--it did. Dave yelped,
"Where's that ten dollars I gave you last year?" and he looked to the
other men to laugh. They laughed.
Cold and still, Carol walked up to Kennicott and commanded, "I want to
see you upstairs."
"Why--something the matter?"
He clumped after her, up the stairs, into his barren office. Before he
could get out a query she stated:
"Yesterday, in front of a saloon, I heard a German farm-wife beg her
husband for a quarter, to get a toy for the baby--and he refused. Just
now I've heard Mrs. Dyer going through the same humiliation. And I--I'm
in the same position! I have to beg you for money. Daily! I have just
been informed that I couldn't have any sugar because I hadn't the money
to pay for it!"
"Who said that? By God, I'll kill any----"
"Tut. It wasn't his fault. It was yours. And mine. I now humbly beg
you to give me the money with which to buy meals for you to eat. And
hereafter to remember it. The next time, I sha'n't beg. I shall simply
starve. Do you understand? I can't go on being a slave----"
Her defiance, her enjoyment of the role, ran out. She was sobbing
against his overcoat, "How can you shame me so?" and he was blubbering,
"Dog-gone it, I meant to give you some, and I forgot it. I swear I won't
again. By golly I won't!"
He pressed fifty dollars upon her, and after that he remembered to give
her money regularly . . . sometimes.
Daily she determined, "But I must have a stated amount--be
business-like. System. I must do something about it." And daily she
didn't do anything about it.
Mrs. Bogart had, by the simpering viciousness of her comments on the new
furniture, stirred Carol to economy. She spoke judiciously to Bea
about left-overs. She read the cookbook again and, like a child with
a picture-book, she studied the diagram of the beef which gallantly
continues to browse though it is divided into cuts.
But she was a deliberate and joyous spendthrift in her preparations for