familiarity of married life was not dreary vulgarity but a wholesome
frankness; that artificial reticences might merely be irritating. She
was not much disturbed when for hours he sat about the living-room in
his honest socks. But she would not listen to his theory that "all this
romance stuff is simply moonshine--elegant when you're courting, but no
use busting yourself keeping it up all your life."
She thought of surprises, games, to vary the days. She knitted an
astounding purple scarf, which she hid under his supper plate. (When
he discovered it he looked embarrassed, and gasped, "Is today an
anniversary or something? Gosh, I'd forgotten it!")
Once she filled a thermos bottle with hot coffee a corn-flakes box with
cookies just baked by Bea, and bustled to his office at three in the
afternoon. She hid her bundles in the hall and peeped in.
The office was shabby. Kennicott had inherited it from a medical
predecessor, and changed it only by adding a white enameled
operating-table, a sterilizer, a Roentgen-ray apparatus, and a small
portable typewriter. It was a suite of two rooms: a waiting-room with
straight chairs, shaky pine table, and those coverless and unknown
magazines which are found only in the offices of dentists and
doctors. The room beyond, looking on Main Street, was business-office,
consulting-room, operating-room, and, in an alcove, bacteriological
and chemical laboratory. The wooden floors of both rooms were bare; the
furniture was brown and scaly.
Waiting for the doctor were two women, as still as though they were
paralyzed, and a man in a railroad brakeman's uniform, holding his
bandaged right hand with his tanned left. They stared at Carol. She sat
modestly in a stiff chair, feeling frivolous and out of place.
Kennicott appeared at the inner door, ushering out a bleached man with
a trickle of wan beard, and consoling him, "All right, Dad. Be careful
about the sugar, and mind the diet I gave you. Gut the prescription
filled, and come in and see me next week. Say, uh, better, uh, better
not drink too much beer. All right, Dad."
His voice was artificially hearty. He looked absently at Carol. He was
a medical machine now, not a domestic machine. "What is it, Carrie?" he
"No hurry. Just wanted to say hello."
Self-pity because he did not divine that this was a surprise party
rendered her sad and interesting to herself, and she had the pleasure of
the martyrs in saying bravely to him, "It's nothing special. If you're
busy long I'll trot home."
While she waited she ceased to pity and began to mock herself. For the
first time she observed the waiting-room. Oh yes, the doctor's family
had to have obi panels and a wide couch and an electric percolator, but
any hole was good enough for sick tired common people who were nothing
but the one means and excuse for the doctor's existing! No. She couldn't
blame Kennicott. He was satisfied by the shabby chairs. He put up with
them as his patients did. It was her neglected province--she who had
been going about talking of rebuilding the whole town!
When the patients were gone she brought in her bundles.
"What's those?" wondered Kennicott.
"Turn your back! Look out of the window!"
He obeyed--not very much bored. When she cried "Now!" a feast of cookies
and small hard candies and hot coffee was spread on the roll-top desk in
the inner room.
His broad face lightened. "That's a new one on me! Never was more
surprised in my life! And, by golly, I believe I am hungry. Say, this is
When the first exhilaration of the surprise had declined she demanded,
"Will! I'm going to refurnish your waiting-room!"
"What's the matter with it? It's all right."
"It is not! It's hideous. We can afford to give your patients a better
place. And it would be good business." She felt tremendously politic.
"Rats! I don't worry about the business. You look here now: As I told
you----Just because I like to tuck a few dollars away, I'll be switched
if I'll stand for your thinking I'm nothing but a dollar-chasing----"
"Stop it! Quick! I'm not hurting your feelings! I'm not criticizing! I'm
the adoring least one of thy harem. I just mean----"
Two days later, with pictures, wicker chairs, a rug, she had made the
waiting-room habitable; and Kennicott admitted, "Does look a lot better.
Never thought much about it. Guess I need being bullied."
She was convinced that she was gloriously content in her career as
She tried to free herself from the speculation and disillusionment which
had been twitching at her; sought to dismiss all the opinionation of an
insurgent era. She wanted to shine upon the veal-faced bristly-bearded
Lyman Cass as much as upon Miles Bjornstam or Guy Pollock. She gave a
reception for the Thanatopsis Club. But her real acquiring of merit
was in calling upon that Mrs. Bogart whose gossipy good opinion was so
valuable to a doctor.
Though the Bogart house was next door she had entered it but three
times. Now she put on her new moleskin cap, which made her face small
and innocent, she rubbed off the traces of a lip-stick--and fled across
the alley before her admirable resolution should sneak away.
The age of houses, like the age of men, has small relation to their
years. The dull-green cottage of the good Widow Bogart was twenty years
old, but it had the antiquity of Cheops, and the smell of mummy-dust.
Its neatness rebuked the street. The two stones by the path were painted
yellow; the outhouse was so overmodestly masked with vines and lattice
that it was not concealed at all; the last iron dog remaining in Gopher
Prairie stood among whitewashed conch-shells upon the lawn. The hallway
was dismayingly scrubbed; the kitchen was an exercise in mathematics,
with problems worked out in equidistant chairs.
The parlor was kept for visitors. Carol suggested, "Let's sit in the
kitchen. Please don't trouble to light the parlor stove."
"No trouble at all! My gracious, and you coming so seldom and all, and
the kitchen is a perfect sight, I try to keep it clean, but Cy will
track mud all over it, I've spoken to him about it a hundred times if
I've spoken once, no, you sit right there, dearie, and I'll make a fire,
no trouble at all, practically no trouble at all."
Mrs. Bogart groaned, rubbed her joints, and repeatedly dusted her hands
while she made the fire, and when Carol tried to help she lamented,
"Oh, it doesn't matter; guess I ain't good for much but toil and workin'
anyway; seems as though that's what a lot of folks think."
The parlor was distinguished by an expanse of rag carpet from which, as
they entered, Mrs. Bogart hastily picked one sad dead fly. In the center
of the carpet was a rug depicting a red Newfoundland dog, reclining in a
green and yellow daisy field and labeled "Our Friend." The parlor organ,
tall and thin, was adorned with a mirror partly circular, partly square,
and partly diamond-shaped, and with brackets holding a pot of geraniums,
a mouth-organ, and a copy of "The Oldtime Hymnal." On the center
table was a Sears-Roebuck mail-order catalogue, a silver frame with
photographs of the Baptist Church and of an elderly clergyman, and
an aluminum tray containing a rattlesnake's rattle and a broken
Mrs. Bogart spoke of the eloquence of the Reverend Mr. Zitterel,
the coldness of cold days, the price of poplar wood, Dave Dyer's new
hair-cut, and Cy Bogart's essential piety. "As I said to his Sunday
School teacher, Cy may be a little wild, but that's because he's got so
much better brains than a lot of these boys, and this farmer that claims
he caught Cy stealing 'beggies, is a liar, and I ought to have the law
Mrs. Bogart went thoroughly into the rumor that the girl waiter at
Billy's Lunch was not all she might be--or, rather, was quite all she
"My lands, what can you expect when everybody knows what her mother was?
And if these traveling salesmen would let her alone she would be all
right, though I certainly don't believe she ought to be allowed to think
she can pull the wool over our eyes. The sooner she's sent to the
school for incorrigible girls down at Sauk Centre, the better for all
and----Won't you just have a cup of coffee, Carol dearie, I'm sure you
won't mind old Aunty Bogart calling you by your first name when you
think how long I've known Will, and I was such a friend of his dear
lovely mother when she lived here and--was that fur cap expensive?
But----Don't you think it's awful, the way folks talk in this town?"
Mrs. Bogart hitched her chair nearer. Her large face, with its
disturbing collection of moles and lone black hairs, wrinkled
cunningly. She showed her decayed teeth in a reproving smile, and in the
confidential voice of one who scents stale bedroom scandal she breathed:
"I just don't see how folks can talk and act like they do. You don't
know the things that go on under cover. This town--why it's only the
religious training I've given Cy that's kept him so innocent of--things.