tight skirts like now. You could take three or four steps inside our
skirts and then not reach the edge. One of the boys would fiddle a while
and then some one would spell him and he could get a dance. Sometimes
they would dance and fiddle too."
She reflected that if she could not have ballrooms of gray and rose
and crystal, she wanted to be swinging across a puncheon-floor with a
dancing fiddler. This smug in-between town, which had exchanged "Money
Musk" for phonographs grinding out ragtime, it was neither the heroic
old nor the sophisticated new. Couldn't she somehow, some yet unimagined
how, turn it back to simplicity?
She herself knew two of the pioneers: the Perrys. Champ Perry was the
buyer at the grain-elevator. He weighed wagons of wheat on a rough
platform-scale, in the cracks of which the kernels sprouted every
spring. Between times he napped in the dusty peace of his office.
She called on the Perrys at their rooms above Howland & Gould's grocery.
When they were already old they had lost the money, which they had
invested in an elevator. They had given up their beloved yellow brick
house and moved into these rooms over a store, which were the Gopher
Prairie equivalent of a flat. A broad stairway led from the street
to the upper hall, along which were the doors of a lawyer's office, a
dentist's, a photographer's "studio," the lodge-rooms of the Affiliated
Order of Spartans and, at the back, the Perrys' apartment.
They received her (their first caller in a month) with aged fluttering
tenderness. Mrs. Perry confided, "My, it's a shame we got to entertain
you in such a cramped place. And there ain't any water except that ole
iron sink outside in the hall, but still, as I say to Champ, beggars
can't be choosers. 'Sides, the brick house was too big for me to sweep,
and it was way out, and it's nice to be living down here among folks.
Yes, we're glad to be here. But----Some day, maybe we can have a house
of our own again. We're saving up----Oh, dear, if we could have our own
home! But these rooms are real nice, ain't they!"
As old people will, the world over, they had moved as much as possible
of their familiar furniture into this small space. Carol had none of the
superiority she felt toward Mrs. Lyman Cass's plutocratic parlor. She
was at home here. She noted with tenderness all the makeshifts: the
darned chair-arms, the patent rocker covered with sleazy cretonne, the
pasted strips of paper mending the birch-bark napkin-rings labeled "Papa"
She hinted of her new enthusiasm. To find one of the "young folks" who
took them seriously, heartened the Perrys, and she easily drew from
them the principles by which Gopher Prairie should be born again--should
again become amusing to live in.
This was their philosophy complete . . . in the era of aeroplanes and
The Baptist Church (and, somewhat less, the Methodist, Congregational,
and Presbyterian Churches) is the perfect, the divinely ordained
standard in music, oratory, philanthropy, and ethics. "We don't need
all this new-fangled science, or this terrible Higher Criticism that's
ruining our young men in colleges. What we need is to get back to the
true Word of God, and a good sound belief in hell, like we used to have
it preached to us."
The Republican Party, the Grand Old Party of Blaine and McKinley, is the
agent of the Lord and of the Baptist Church in temporal affairs.
All socialists ought to be hanged.
"Harold Bell Wright is a lovely writer, and he teaches such good morals
in his novels, and folks say he's made prett' near a million dollars out
People who make more than ten thousand a year or less than eight hundred
Europeans are still wickeder.
It doesn't hurt any to drink a glass of beer on a warm day, but anybody
who touches wine is headed straight for hell.
Virgins are not so virginal as they used to be.
Nobody needs drug-store ice cream; pie is good enough for anybody.
The farmers want too much for their wheat.
The owners of the elevator-company expect too much for the salaries they
There would be no more trouble or discontent in the world if everybody
worked as hard as Pa did when he cleared our first farm.
Carol's hero-worship dwindled to polite nodding, and the nodding
dwindled to a desire to escape, and she went home with a headache.
Next day she saw Miles Bjornstam on the street.
"Just back from Montana. Great summer. Pumped my lungs chuck-full of
Rocky Mountain air. Now for another whirl at sassing the bosses of
Gopher Prairie." She smiled at him, and the Perrys faded, the pioneers
faded, till they were but daguerreotypes in a black walnut cupboard.
SHE tried, more from loyalty than from desire, to call upon the Perrys
on a November evening when Kennicott was away. They were not at home.
Like a child who has no one to play with she loitered through the dark
hall. She saw a light under an office door. She knocked. To the person
who opened she murmured, "Do you happen to know where the Perrys are?"
She realized that it was Guy Pollock.
"I'm awfully sorry, Mrs. Kennicott, but I don't know. Won't you come in
and wait for them?"
"W-why----" she observed, as she reflected that in Gopher Prairie it
is not decent to call on a man; as she decided that no, really, she
wouldn't go in; and as she went in.
"I didn't know your office was up here."
"Yes, office, town-house, and chateau in Picardy. But you can't see
the chateau and town-house (next to the Duke of Sutherland's). They're
beyond that inner door. They are a cot and a wash-stand and my other
suit and the blue crepe tie you said you liked."
"You remember my saying that?"
"Of course. I always shall. Please try this chair."
She glanced about the rusty office--gaunt stove, shelves of tan
law-books, desk-chair filled with newspapers so long sat upon that they
were in holes and smudged to grayness. There were only two things which
suggested Guy Pollock. On the green felt of the table-desk, between
legal blanks and a clotted inkwell, was a cloissone vase. On a swing
shelf was a row of books unfamiliar to Gopher Prairie: Mosher editions
of the poets, black and red German novels, a Charles Lamb in crushed
Guy did not sit down. He quartered the office, a grayhound on the scent;
a grayhound with glasses tilted forward on his thin nose, and a silky
indecisive brown mustache. He had a golf jacket of jersey, worn through
at the creases in the sleeves. She noted that he did not apologize for
it, as Kennicott would have done.
He made conversation: "I didn't know you were a bosom friend of the
Perrys. Champ is the salt of the earth but somehow I can't imagine him
joining you in symbolic dancing, or making improvements on the Diesel
"No. He's a dear soul, bless him, but he belongs in the National Museum,
along with General Grant's sword, and I'm----Oh, I suppose I'm seeking
for a gospel that will evangelize Gopher Prairie."
"Really? Evangelize it to what?"
"To anything that's definite. Seriousness or frivolousness or both. I
wouldn't care whether it was a laboratory or a carnival. But it's merely
safe. Tell me, Mr. Pollock, what is the matter with Gopher Prairie?"
"Is anything the matter with it? Isn't there perhaps something the
matter with you and me? (May I join you in the honor of having something
"(Yes, thanks.) No, I think it's the town."
"Because they enjoy skating more than biology?"
"But I'm not only more interested in biology than the Jolly Seventeen,
but also in skating! I'll skate with them, or slide, or throw snowballs,
just as gladly as talk with you."
("Yes!) But they want to stay home and embroider."
"Perhaps. I'm not defending the town. It's merely----I'm a confirmed
doubter of myself. (Probably I'm conceited about my lack of conceit!)
Anyway, Gopher Prairie isn't particularly bad. It's like all villages in
all countries. Most places that have lost the smell of earth but not
yet acquired the smell of patchouli--or of factory-smoke--are just as
suspicious and righteous. I wonder if the small town isn't, with some
lovely exceptions, a social appendix? Some day these dull market-towns
may be as obsolete as monasteries. I can imagine the farmer and his
local store-manager going by monorail, at the end of the day, into a
city more charming than any William Morris Utopia--music, a university,
clubs for loafers like me. (Lord, how I'd like to have a real club!)"
She asked impulsively, "You, why do you stay here?"
"I have the Village Virus."
"It sounds dangerous."
"It is. More dangerous than the cancer that will certainly get me
at fifty unless I stop this smoking. The Village Virus is the germ
which--it's extraordinarily like the hook-worm--it infects ambitious
people who stay too long in the provinces. You'll find it epidemic among
lawyers and doctors and ministers and college-bred merchants--all these
people who have had a glimpse of the world that thinks and laughs,