bed he sat on the front steps. Nat Hicks, tailor and roue, came to sit
beside him. Between waves of his hand as he drove off mosquitos, Nat
whispered, "Say, doc, you don't feel like imagining you're a bacheldore
again, and coming out for a Time tonight, do you?"
"You know this new dressmaker, Mrs. Swiftwaite?--swell dame with
blondine hair? Well, she's a pretty good goer. Me and Harry Haydock are
going to take her and that fat wren that works in the Bon Ton--nice kid,
too--on an auto ride tonight. Maybe we'll drive down to that farm Harry
bought. We're taking some beer, and some of the smoothest rye you ever
laid tongue to. I'm not predicting none, but if we don't have a picnic,
I'll miss my guess."
"Go to it. No skin off my ear, Nat. Think I want to be fifth wheel in
Winona, dandy looker and some gay bird, and Harry and me thought maybe
you'd like to sneak off for one evening."
"Rats now, doc, forget your everlasting dignity. You used to be a pretty
good sport yourself, when you were foot-free."
Kennicott an ill-told rumor, it may have been Carol's voice, wistful
in the pallid evening as she sang to Hugh, it may have been natural and
commendable virtue, but certainly he was positive:
get out and raise Cain and shoot a few drinks. But a fellow owes a
duty----Straight now, won't you feel like a sneak when you come back to
the missus after your jamboree?"
The way to handle wives, like the fellow says, is to catch 'em early,
treat 'em rough, and tell 'em nothing!"
"Well, that's your business, I suppose. But I can't get away with it.
Besides that--way I figure it, this illicit love-making is the one game
that you always lose at. If you do lose, you feel foolish; and if you
win, as soon as you find out how little it is that you've been scheming
for, why then you lose worse than ever. Nature stinging us, as usual.
But at that, I guess a lot of wives in this burg would be surprised if
they knew everything that goes on behind their backs, eh, Nattie?"
"WOULD they! Say, boy! If the good wives knew what some of the boys get
away with when they go down to the Cities, why, they'd throw a fit!
Sure you won't come, doc? Think of getting all cooled off by a good long
drive, and then the lov-e-ly Swiftwaite's white hand mixing you a good
"Nope. Nope. Sorry. Guess I won't," grumbled Kennicott.
He was glad that Nat showed signs of going. But he was restless. He
heard Carol on the stairs. "Come have a seat--have the whole earth!" he
She did not answer his joviality. She sat on the porch, rocked silently,
then sighed, "So many mosquitos out here. You haven't had the screen
As though he was testing her he said quietly, "Head aching again?"
"Oh, not much, but----This maid is SO slow to learn. I have to show her
everything. I had to clean most of the silver myself. And Hugh was so
bad all afternoon. He whined so. Poor soul, he was hot, but he did wear
"Uh----You usually want to get out. Like to walk down to the lake shore?
(The girl can stay home.) Or go to the movies? Come on, let's go to the
movies! Or shall we jump in the car and run out to Sam's, for a swim?"
going to bring down my mattress. Come on! Keep the old man company.
Can't tell--I might get scared of burglars. Lettin' little fellow like
me stay all alone by himself!"
you go ahead and do it, dear. Why don't you sleep on the couch, instead
of putting your mattress on the floor? Well I believe I'll run in and
read for just a second--want to look at the last Vogue--and then perhaps
I'll go by-by. Unless you want me, dear? Of course if there's anything
you really WANT me for?"
Champ Perry. She's ailing. So you skip in and----May drop in at the drug
store. If I'm not home when you get sleepy, don't wait up for me."
He kissed her, rambled off, nodded to Jim Howland, stopped indifferently
to speak to Mrs. Terry Gould. But his heart was racing, his stomach
was constricted. He walked more slowly. He reached Dave Dyer's yard. He
glanced in. On the porch, sheltered by a wild-grape vine, was the
figure of a woman in white. He heard the swing-couch creak as she sat up
abruptly, peered, then leaned back and pretended to relax.
insisted, as he opened the Dyer gate.
Mrs. Bogart was calling upon Carol, protected by Aunt Bessie Smail.
to do dressmaking--a Mrs. Swiftwaite--awful peroxide blonde?" moaned
Mrs. Bogart. "They say there's some of the awfullest goings-on at her
house--mere boys and old gray-headed rips sneaking in there evenings
and drinking licker and every kind of goings-on. We women can't never
realize the carnal thoughts in the hearts of men. I tell you, even
though I been acquainted with Will Kennicott almost since he was a mere
boy, seems like, I wouldn't trust even him! Who knows what designin'
women might tempt him! Especially a doctor, with women rushin' in to see
him at his office and all! You know I never hint around, but haven't you
Carol was furious. "I don't pretend that Will has no faults. But one
thing I do know: He's as simple-hearted about what you call 'goings-on'
as a babe. And if he ever were such a sad dog as to look at another
woman, I certainly hope he'd have spirit enough to do the tempting, and
not be coaxed into it, as in your depressing picture!"
"Why, what a wicked thing to say, Carrie!" from Aunt Bessie.
"No, I mean it! Oh, of course, I don't mean it! But----I know every
thought in his head so well that he couldn't hide anything even if he
wanted to. Now this morning----He was out late, last night; he had to
go see Mrs. Perry, who is ailing, and then fix a man's hand, and this
morning he was so quiet and thoughtful at breakfast and----" She leaned
forward, breathed dramatically to the two perched harpies, "What do you
suppose he was thinking of?"
"What?" trembled Mrs. Bogart.
"Whether the grass needs cutting, probably! There, there! Don't mind my
naughtiness. I have some fresh-made raisin cookies for you."
to know what the box-elder tree said, and what the Ford garage said, and
what the big cloud said, and she told him, with a feeling that she was
not in the least making up stories, but discovering the souls of things.
They had an especial fondness for the hitching-post in front of the
mill. It was a brown post, stout and agreeable; the smooth leg of it
held the sunlight, while its neck, grooved by hitching-straps, tickled
one's fingers. Carol had never been awake to the earth except as a show
of changing color and great satisfying masses; she had lived in people
and in ideas about having ideas; but Hugh's questions made her attentive
to the comedies of sparrows, robins, blue jays, yellowhammers; she
regained her pleasure in the arching flight of swallows, and added to it
a solicitude about their nests and family squabbles.
She forgot her seasons of boredom. She said to Hugh, "We're two fat
disreputable old minstrels roaming round the world," and he echoed her,
"Roamin' round--roamin' round."
The high adventure, the secret place to which they both fled joyously,
was the house of Miles and Bea and Olaf Bjornstam.
do you want to talk to that crank for?" He hinted that a former "Swede
hired girl" was low company for the son of Dr. Will Kennicott. She did
not explain. She did not quite understand it herself; did not know that
in the Bjornstams she found her friends, her club, her sympathy and her
ration of blessed cynicism. For a time the gossip of Juanita Haydock and
the Jolly Seventeen had been a refuge from the droning of Aunt Bessie,
but the relief had not continued. The young matrons made her nervous.
They talked so loud, always so loud. They filled a room with
clashing cackle; their jests and gags they repeated nine times over.
Unconsciously, she had discarded the Jolly Seventeen, Guy Pollock, Vida,
and every one save Mrs. Dr. Westlake and the friends whom she did not
clearly know as friends--the Bjornstams.
To Hugh, the Red Swede was the most heroic and powerful person in the
world. With unrestrained adoration he trotted after while Miles fed the
cows, chased his one pig--an animal of lax and migratory instincts--or
dramatically slaughtered a chicken. And to Hugh, Olaf was lord among
mortal men, less stalwart than the old monarch, King Miles, but more
understanding of the relations and values of things, of small sticks,
lone playing-cards, and irretrievably injured hoops.
Carol saw, though she did not admit, that Olaf was not only more
beautiful than her own dark child, but more gracious. Olaf was a Norse
chieftain: straight, sunny-haired, large-limbed, resplendently amiable
to his subjects. Hugh was a vulgarian; a bustling business man. It was
Hugh that bounced and said "Let's play"; Olaf that opened luminous blue
eyes and agreed "All right," in condescending gentleness. If Hugh batted
him--and Hugh did bat him--Olaf was unafraid but shocked. In magnificent
solitude he marched toward the house, while Hugh bewailed his sin and
the overclouding of august favor.
The two friends played with an imperial chariot which Miles had made out
of a starch-box and four red spools; together they stuck switches into
a mouse-hole, with vast satisfaction though entirely without known
Bea, the chubby and humming Bea, impartially gave cookies and scoldings
to both children, and if Carol refused a cup of coffee and a wafer of
buttered knackebrod, she was desolated.
chickens, a cream separator, a Ford truck. In the spring he had built a
two-room addition to his shack. That illustrious building was to Hugh a
carnival. Uncle Miles did the most spectacular, unexpected things: ran
up the ladder; stood on the ridge-pole, waving a hammer and singing
something about "To arms, my citizens"; nailed shingles faster than
Aunt Bessie could iron handkerchiefs; and lifted a two-by-six with Hugh
riding on one end and Olaf on the other. Uncle Miles's most ecstatic
trick was to make figures not on paper but right on a new pine board,
with the broadest softest pencil in the world. There was a thing worth
The tools! In his office Father had tools fascinating in their shininess
and curious shapes, but they were sharp, they were something called
sterized, and they distinctly were not for boys to touch. In fact it
was a good dodge to volunteer "I must not touch," when you looked at the
tools on the glass shelves in Father's office. But Uncle Miles, who
was a person altogether superior to Father, let you handle all his kit
except the saws. There was a hammer with a silver head; there was a
metal thing like a big L; there was a magic instrument, very precious,
made out of costly red wood and gold, with a tube which contained a
drop--no, it wasn't a drop, it was a nothing, which lived in the water,
but the nothing LOOKED like a drop, and it ran in a frightened way
up and down the tube, no matter how cautiously you tilted the magic
instrument. And there were nails, very different and clever--big
valiant spikes, middle-sized ones which were not very interesting, and
shingle-nails much jollier than the fussed-up fairies in the yellow
While he had worked on the addition Miles had talked frankly to Carol.
He admitted now that so long as he stayed in Gopher Prairie he would
remain a pariah. Bea's Lutheran friends were as much offended by his
agnostic gibes as the merchants by his radicalism. "And I can't seem to
keep my mouth shut. I think I'm being a baa-lamb, and not springing any
theories wilder than 'c-a-t spells cat,' but when folks have gone, I
re'lize I've been stepping on their pet religious corns. Oh, the mill
foreman keeps dropping in, and that Danish shoemaker, and one fellow
from Elder's factory, and a few Svenskas, but you know Bea: big
good-hearted wench like her wants a lot of folks around--likes to fuss
over 'em--never satisfied unless she tiring herself out making coffee
"Once she kidnapped me and drug me to the Methodist Church. I goes in,
pious as Widow Bogart, and sits still and never cracks a smile while
the preacher is favoring us with his misinformation on evolution. But
afterwards, when the old stalwarts were pumphandling everybody at the
door and calling 'em 'Brother' and 'Sister,' they let me sail right by
with nary a clinch. They figure I'm the town badman. Always will be, I
guess. It'll have to be Olaf who goes on. 'And sometimes----Blamed if I
don't feel like coming out and saying, 'I've been conservative. Nothing
to it. Now I'm going to start something in these rotten one-horse
lumber-camps west of town.' But Bea's got me hypnotized. Lord, Mrs.
Kennicott, do you re'lize what a jolly, square, faithful woman she is?
And I love Olaf----Oh well, I won't go and get sentimental on you.
if they didn't know it beforehand, they wouldn't find out I'd ever been
guilty of trying to think for myself. But--oh, I've worked hard, and
built up this dairy business, and I hate to start all over again, and
move Bea and the kid into another one-room shack. That's how they get
us! Encourage us to be thrifty and own our own houses, and then, by
golly, they've got us; they know we won't dare risk everything by
committing lez--what is it? lez majesty?--I mean they know we won't be
hinting around that if we had a co-operative bank, we could get along
without Stowbody. Well----As long as I can sit and play pinochle with
Bea, and tell whoppers to Olaf about his daddy's adventures in the
woods, and how he snared a wapaloosie and knew Paul Bunyan, why, I
don't mind being a bum. It's just for them that I mind. Say! Say! Don't
whisper a word to Bea, but when I get this addition done, I'm going to
buy her a phonograph!"
While she was busy with the activities her work-hungry muscles
found--washing, ironing, mending, baking, dusting, preserving, plucking
a chicken, painting the sink; tasks which, because she was Miles's full
partner, were exciting and creative--Bea listened to the phonograph
records with rapture like that of cattle in a warm stable. The addition
gave her a kitchen with a bedroom above. The original one-room shack was
now a living-room, with the phonograph, a genuine leather-upholstered
golden-oak rocker, and a picture of Governor John Johnson.
express her opinion of Beavers and Calibrees and Joralemons. She found
Olaf abed, restless from a slight fever, and Bea flushed and dizzy but
trying to keep up her work. She lured Miles aside and worried:
Bea thinks the doc doesn't like us--she thinks maybe he's sore because
you come down here. But I'm getting worried."
"I'm going to call the doctor at once."
She yearned over Olaf. His lambent eyes were stupid, he moaned, he
rubbed his forehead.
fluttered to Miles.
Eklund's place, over across the street, but Oscar kept dinging at me,
and hinting I was a tightwad not to dig a well of my own. One time
he said, 'Sure, you socialists are great on divvying up other folks'
money--and water!' I knew if he kept it up there'd be a fuss, and I
ain't safe to have around, once a fuss starts; I'm likely to forget
myself and let loose with a punch in the snoot. I offered to pay Oscar
but he refused--he'd rather have the chance to kid me. So I starts
getting water down at Mrs. Fageros's, in the hollow there, and I don't
believe it's real good. Figuring to dig my own well this fall."
Kennicott's office. He gravely heard her out; nodded, said, "Be right
He examined Bea and Olaf. He shook his head. "Yes. Looks to me like
strength dripping out of him. "Have they got it very bad?"
time in their acquaintance he smiled on Miles and clapped his shoulder.
"She's down at the old folks', in the country."
them, and isn't it good to give them sponge baths, in typhoid?"
physician. "I guess probably it would be hard to get a nurse here in
town just now. Mrs. Stiver is busy with an obstetrical case, and that
town nurse of yours is off on vacation, ain't she? All right, Bjornstam
can spell you at night."
All week, from eight each morning till midnight, Carol fed them, bathed
them, smoothed sheets, took temperatures. Miles refused to let her cook.
Terrified, pallid, noiseless in stocking feet, he did the kitchen work
and the sweeping, his big red hands awkwardly careful. Kennicott came
in three times a day, unchangingly tender and hopeful in the sick-room,
evenly polite to Miles.
her through; it made her arm steady and tireless to bathe them.
What exhausted her was the sight of Bea and Olaf turned into flaccid
invalids, uncomfortably flushed after taking food, begging for the
healing of sleep at night.
During the second week Olaf's powerful legs were flabby. Spots of a
viciously delicate pink came out on his chest and back. His cheeks sank.
He looked frightened. His tongue was brown and revolting. His confident
voice dwindled to a bewildered murmur, ceaseless and racking.
Kennicott had ordered her to bed she had begun to collapse. One early
evening she startled them by screaming, in an intense abdominal pain,
and within half an hour she was in a delirium. Till dawn Carol was
with her, and not all of Bea's groping through the blackness of
half-delirious pain was so pitiful to Carol as the way in which Miles
silently peered into the room from the top of the narrow stairs.
Carol slept three hours next morning, and ran back. Bea was altogether
delirious but she muttered nothing save, "Olaf--ve have such a good
answered a knock. At the front door she saw Vida Sherwin, Maud Dyer, and
Mrs. Zitterel, wife of the Baptist pastor. They were carrying grapes,
and women's-magazines, magazines with high-colored pictures and
"We just heard your wife was sick. We've come to see if there isn't
something we can do," chirruped Vida.
do nothing now. Bea's always kind of hoped that you folks would come see
her. She wanted to have a chance and be friends. She used to sit waiting
for somebody to knock. I've seen her sitting here, waiting. Now----Oh,
you ain't worth God-damning." He shut the door.
All day Carol watched Olaf's strength oozing. He was emaciated. His ribs
were grim clear lines, his skin was clammy, his pulse was feeble but
terrifyingly rapid. It beat--beat--beat in a drum-roll of death. Late
that afternoon he sobbed, and died.
she did not know that Olaf would no longer swing his lath sword on the
door-step, no longer rule his subjects of the cattle-yard; that Miles's
son would not go East to college.
their eyes veiled.
for what you done," Miles whispered to Carol.
assumed that neighbors would go. They had not told her that word of
Miles's rebuff to Vida had spread through town, a cyclonic fury.
It was only by chance that, leaning on her elbow in bed, she glanced
through the window and saw the funeral of Bea and Olaf. There was
no music, no carriages. There was only Miles Bjornstam, in his black
wedding-suit, walking quite alone, head down, behind the shabby hearse
that bore the bodies of his wife and baby.
An hour after, Hugh came into her room crying, and when she said as
cheerily as she could, "What is it, dear?" he besought, "Mummy, I want
to go play with Olaf."
That afternoon Juanita Haydock dropped in to brighten Carol. She said,
"Too bad about this Bea that was your hired girl. But I don't waste
any sympathy on that man of hers. Everybody says he drank too much, and
treated his family awful, and that's how they got sick."
to the front, been slightly wounded, been made a captain. From Vida's
pride Carol sought to draw a stimulant to rouse her from depression.