"Say Earl, ma says if you chew tobacco you get consumption."
"Aw rats, your old lady is a crank."
"Yuh, that's so." Pause. "But she says she knows a fella that did."
"Aw, gee whiz, didn't Doc Kennicott used to chew tobacco all the time
before he married this-here girl from the Cities? He used to spit---Gee!
Some shot! He could hit a tree ten feet off."
This was news to the girl from the Cities.
"Say, how is she?" continued Earl.
"Huh? How's who?"
"You know who I mean, smarty."
A tussle, a thumping of loose boards, silence, weary narration from Cy:
"Mrs. Kennicott? Oh, she's all right, I guess." Relief to Carol, below.
"She gimme a hunk o' cake, one time. But Ma says she's stuck-up as hell.
Ma's always talking about her. Ma says if Mrs. Kennicott thought as much
about the doc as she does about her clothes, the doc wouldn't look so
"Yuh. Juanita's always talking about her, too," from Earl. "She says
Mrs. Kennicott thinks she knows it all. Juanita says she has to laugh
till she almost busts every time she sees Mrs. Kennicott peerading along
the street with that 'take a look--I'm a swell skirt' way she's got. But
gosh, I don't pay no attention to Juanita. She's meaner 'n a crab."
"Ma was telling somebody that she heard that Mrs. Kennicott claimed she
made forty dollars a week when she was on some job in the Cities, and
Ma says she knows posolutely that she never made but eighteen a week--Ma
says that when she's lived here a while she won't go round making a fool
of herself, pulling that bighead stuff on folks that know a whole lot
more than she does. They're all laughing up their sleeves at her."
"Say, jever notice how Mrs. Kennicott fusses around the house? Other
evening when I was coming over here, she'd forgot to pull down the
curtain, and I watched her for ten minutes. Jeeze, you'd 'a' died
laughing. She was there all alone, and she must 'a' spent five minutes
getting a picture straight. It was funny as hell the way she'd stick out
her finger to straighten the picture--deedle-dee, see my tunnin' 'ittle
finger, oh my, ain't I cute, what a fine long tail my cat's got!"
"But say, Earl, she's some good-looker, just the same, and O Ignatz! the
glad rags she must of bought for her wedding. Jever notice these low-cut
dresses and these thin shimmy-shirts she wears? I had a good squint at
'em when they were out on the line with the wash. And some ankles she's
Then Carol fled.
In her innocence she had not known that the whole town could discuss
even her garments, her body. She felt that she was being dragged naked
down Main Street.
The moment it was dusk she pulled down the window-shades, all the shades
flush with the sill, but beyond them she felt moist fleering eyes.
She remembered, and tried to forget, and remembered more sharply the
vulgar detail of her husband's having observed the ancient customs
In Vida's demands Carol felt a compulsion, but she was too listless to
It was Bea Sorenson who was really her confidante.
However charitable toward the Lower Classes she may have thought
herself, Carol had been reared to assume that servants belong to
a distinct and inferior species. But she discovered that Bea was
extraordinarily like girls she had loved in college, and as a companion
altogether superior to the young matrons of the Jolly Seventeen. Daily
they became more frankly two girls playing at housework. Bea artlessly
considered Carol the most beautiful and accomplished lady in the
country; she was always shrieking, "My, dot's a swell hat!" or, "Ay
t'ink all dese ladies yoost die when dey see how elegant you do your
hair!" But it was not the humbleness of a servant, nor the hypocrisy of
a slave; it was the admiration of Freshman for Junior.
They made out the day's menus together. Though they began with
propriety, Carol sitting by the kitchen table and Bea at the sink or
blacking the stove, the conference was likely to end with both of them
by the table, while Bea gurgled over the ice-man's attempt to kiss her,
or Carol admitted, "Everybody knows that the doctor is lots more clever
than Dr. McGanum." When Carol came in from marketing, Bea plunged into
the hall to take off her coat, rub her frostied hands, and ask, "Vos
dere lots of folks up-town today?"
This was the welcome upon which Carol depended.
Through her weeks of cowering there was no change in her surface life.
No one save Vida was aware of her agonizing. On her most despairing
days she chatted to women on the street, in stores. But without
the protection of Kennicott's presence she did not go to the Jolly
Seventeen; she delivered herself to the judgment of the town only when
she went shopping and on the ritualistic occasions of formal afternoon
calls, when Mrs. Lyman Cass or Mrs. George Edwin Mott, with clean gloves
and minute handkerchiefs and sealskin card-cases and countenances of
frozen approbation, sat on the edges of chairs and inquired, "Do you
find Gopher Prairie pleasing?" When they spent evenings of social
profit-and-loss at the Haydocks' or the Dyers' she hid behind Kennicott,
playing the simple bride.
Now she was unprotected. Kennicott had taken a patient to Rochester
for an operation. He would be away for two or three days. She had not
minded; she would loosen the matrimonial tension and be a fanciful girl
for a time. But now that he was gone the house was listeningly empty.
Bea was out this afternoon--presumably drinking coffee and talking about
"fellows" with her cousin Tina. It was the day for the monthly supper
and evening-bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, but Carol dared not go.
She sat alone.
THE house was haunted, long before evening. Shadows slipped down the
walls and waited behind every chair.
Did that door move?
No. She wouldn't go to the Jolly Seventeen. She hadn't energy enough to
caper before them, to smile blandly at Juanita's rudeness. Not today.
But she did want a party. Now! If some one would come in this afternoon,
some one who liked her--Vida or Mrs. Sam Clark or old Mrs. Champ Perry
or gentle Mrs. Dr. Westlake. Or Guy Pollock! She'd telephone----
No. That wouldn't be it. They must come of themselves.
Perhaps they would.
She'd have tea ready, anyway. If they came--splendid. If not--what did
she care? She wasn't going to yield to the village and let down; she was
going to keep up a belief in the rite of tea, to which she had always
looked forward as the symbol of a leisurely fine existence. And it would
be just as much fun, even if it was so babyish, to have tea by herself
and pretend that she was entertaining clever men. It would!
She turned the shining thought into action. She bustled to the kitchen,
stoked the wood-range, sang Schumann while she boiled the kettle, warmed
up raisin cookies on a newspaper spread on the rack in the oven. She
scampered up-stairs to bring down her filmiest tea-cloth. She arranged
a silver tray. She proudly carried it into the living-room and set it on
the long cherrywood table, pushing aside a hoop of embroidery, a volume
of Conrad from the library, copies of the Saturday Evening Post, the
Literary Digest, and Kennicott's National Geographic Magazine.
She moved the tray back and forth and regarded the effect. She shook
her head. She busily unfolded the sewing-table set it in the bay-window,
patted the tea-cloth to smoothness, moved the tray. "Some time I'll have
a mahogany tea-table," she said happily.
She had brought in two cups, two plates. For herself, a straight chair,
but for the guest the big wing-chair, which she pantingly tugged to the
She had finished all the preparations she could think of. She sat and
waited. She listened for the door-bell, the telephone. Her eagerness was
stilled. Her hands drooped.
Surely Vida Sherwin would hear the summons.
She glanced through the bay-window. Snow was sifting over the ridge
of the Howland house like sprays of water from a hose. The wide
yards across the street were gray with moving eddies. The black trees
shivered. The roadway was gashed with ruts of ice.
She looked at the extra cup and plate. She looked at the wing-chair. It
was so empty.
The tea was cold in the pot. With wearily dipping fingertip she tested
it. Yes. Quite cold. She couldn't wait any longer.
The cup across from her was icily clean, glisteningly empty.
Simply absurd to wait. She poured her own cup of tea. She sat and stared
at it. What was it she was going to do now? Oh yes; how idiotic; take a
lump of sugar.
She didn't want the beastly tea.
She was springing up. She was on the couch, sobbing.
She was thinking more sharply than she had for weeks.
She reverted to her resolution to change the town--awaken it, prod it,
"reform" it. What if they were wolves instead of lambs? They'd eat her
all the sooner if she was meek to them. Fight or be eaten. It was easier
to change the town completely than to conciliate it! She could not take
their point of view; it was a negative thing; an intellectual squalor;
a swamp of prejudices and fears. She would have to make them take hers.
She was not a Vincent de Paul, to govern and mold a people. What of
that? The tiniest change in their distrust of beauty would be the
beginning of the end; a seed to sprout and some day with thickening
roots to crack their wall of mediocrity. If she could not, as she
desired, do a great thing nobly and with laughter, yet she need not be
content with village nothingness. She would plant one seed in the blank