been clearing--if we'll listen--if we don't lynch you first!"
He looked at her reverently. She could hear him saying,
"I've always wanted to know a woman who would talk to me like that."
Her hearing was faulty. He was saying nothing of the sort. He was
"Why aren't you happy with your husband?"
"He doesn't care for the 'blessed innocent' part of you, does he!"
"Erik, you mustn't----"
"First you tell me to go and be free, and then you say that I
"I know. But you mustn't----You must be more impersonal!"
He glowered at her like a downy young owl. She wasn't sure but she
thought that he muttered, "I'm damned if I will." She considered with
wholesome fear the perils of meddling with other people's destinies, and
she said timidly, "Hadn't we better start back now?"
He mused, "You're younger than I am. Your lips are for songs about
rivers in the morning and lakes at twilight. I don't see how anybody
could ever hurt you. . . . Yes. We better go."
He trudged beside her, his eyes averted. Hugh experimentally took his
thumb. He looked down at the baby seriously. He burst out, "All right.
I'll do it. I'll stay here one year. Save. Not spend so much money on
clothes. And then I'll go East, to art-school. Work on the side-tailor
shop, dressmaker's. I'll learn what I'm good for: designing clothes,
stage-settings, illustrating, or selling collars to fat men. All
settled." He peered at her, unsmiling.
"Can you stand it here in town for a year?"
"With you to look at?"
"Please! I mean: Don't the people here think you're an odd bird? (They
do me, I assure you!)"
"I don't know. I never notice much. Oh, they do kid me about not being
in the army--especially the old warhorses, the old men that aren't going
themselves. And this Bogart boy. And Mr. Hicks's son--he's a horrible
brat. But probably he's licensed to say what he thinks about his
father's hired man!"
They were in town. They passed Aunt Bessie's house. Aunt Bessie and
Mrs. Bogart were at the window, and Carol saw that they were staring so
intently that they answered her wave only with the stiffly raised hands
of automatons. In the next block Mrs. Dr. Westlake was gaping from her
porch. Carol said with an embarrassed quaver:
"I want to run in and see Mrs. Westlake. I'll say good-by here."
She avoided his eyes.
Mrs. Westlake was affable. Carol felt that she was expected to explain;
and while she was mentally asserting that she'd be hanged if she'd
explain, she was explaining:
"Hugh captured that Valborg boy up the track. They became such good
friends. And I talked to him for a while. I'd heard he was eccentric,
but really, I found him quite intelligent. Crude, but he reads--reads
almost the way Dr. Westlake does."
"That's fine. Why does he stick here in town? What's this I hear about
his being interested in Myrtle Cass?"
"I don't know. Is he? I'm sure he isn't! He said he was quite lonely!
Besides, Myrtle is a babe in arms!"
"Twenty-one if she's a day!"
"Well----Is the doctor going to do any hunting this fall?"
The need of explaining Erik dragged her back into doubting. For all his
ardent reading, and his ardent life, was he anything but a small-town
youth bred on an illiberal farm and in cheap tailor shops? He had rough
like those of her father. Delicate hands and resolute purpose. But this
boy--powerful seamed hands and flabby will.
"It's not appealing weakness like his, but sane strength that will
animate the Gopher Prairies. Only----Does that mean anything? Or am
I echoing Vida? The world has always let 'strong' statesmen and
soldiers--the men with strong voices--take control, and what have the
thundering boobies done? What is 'strength'?
"This classifying of people! I suppose tailors differ as much as
burglars or kings.
"Erik frightened me when he turned on me. Of course he didn't mean
anything, but I mustn't let him be so personal.
"But he didn't mean to be.
"His hands are FIRM. I wonder if sculptors don't have thick hands, too?
"Of course if there really is anything I can do to HELP the boy----
"Though I despise these people who interfere. He must be independent."
She wasn't altogether pleased, the week after, when Erik was independent
and, without asking for her inspiration, planned the tennis tournament.
It proved that he had learned to play in Minneapolis; that, next to
Juanita Haydock, he had the best serve in town. Tennis was well spoken
of in Gopher Prairie and almost never played. There were three courts:
one belonging to Harry Haydock, one to the cottages at the lake, and
one, a rough field on the outskirts, laid out by a defunct tennis
Erik had been seen in flannels and an imitation panama hat, playing on
the abandoned court with Willis Woodford, the clerk in Stowbody's bank.
Suddenly he was going about proposing the reorganization of the tennis
association, and writing names in a fifteen-cent note-book bought for
the purpose at Dyer's. When he came to Carol he was so excited over
being an organizer that he did not stop to talk of himself and Aubrey
Beardsley for more than ten minutes. He begged, "Will you get some of
the folks to come in?" and she nodded agreeably.
He proposed an informal exhibition match to advertise the association;
he suggested that Carol and himself, the Haydocks, the Woodfords, and
the Dillons play doubles, and that the association be formed from
the gathered enthusiasts. He had asked Harry Haydock to be tentative
president. Harry, he reported, had promised, "All right. You bet. But
you go ahead and arrange things, and I'll O.K. 'em." Erik planned that
the match should be held Saturday afternoon, on the old public court
at the edge of town. He was happy in being, for the first time, part of
Through the week Carol heard how select an attendance there was to be.
Kennicott growled that he didn't care to go.
Had he any objections to her playing with Erik?
No; sure not; she needed the exercise. Carol went to the match early.
The court was in a meadow out on the New Antonia road. Only Erik was
there. He was dashing about with a rake, trying to make the court
somewhat less like a plowed field. He admitted that he had stage fright
at the thought of the coming horde. Willis and Mrs. Woodford arrived,
Willis in home-made knickers and black sneakers through at the toe;
then Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Dillon, people as harmless and grateful as the
Carol was embarrassed and excessively agreeable, like the bishop's lady
trying not to feel out of place at a Baptist bazaar.
The match was scheduled for three. As spectators there assembled one
youthful grocery clerk, stopping his Ford delivery wagon to stare from
the seat, and one solemn small boy, tugging a smaller sister who had a
"I wonder where the Haydocks are? They ought to show up, at least," said
Carol smiled confidently at him, and peered down the empty road toward
town. Only heat-waves and dust and dusty weeds.
At half-past three no one had come, and the grocery boy reluctantly got
out, cranked his Ford, glared at them in a disillusioned manner, and
rattled away. The small boy and his sister ate grass and sighed.
The players pretended to be exhilarated by practising service, but they
startled at each dust-cloud from a motor car. None of the cars turned
into the meadow-none till a quarter to four, when Kennicott drove in.
Carol's heart swelled. "How loyal he is! Depend on him! He'd come,
if nobody else did. Even though he doesn't care for the game. The old
Kennicott did not alight. He called out, "Carrie! Harry Haydock 'phoned
neat. She probably would not have ventured on it had she not spied Nat
Hicks in the pool-parlor, being witty over bottle-pool. Erik was alone!
She fluttered toward the tailor shop, dashed into its slovenly heat
with the comic fastidiousness of a humming bird dipping into a dry
tiger-lily. It was after she had entered that she found an excuse.
Erik was in the back room, cross-legged on a long table, sewing a vest.
But he looked as though he were doing this eccentric thing to amuse
"Hello. I wonder if you couldn't plan a sports-suit for me?" she said
He stared at her; he protested, "No, I won't! God! I'm not going to be a
tailor with you!"
"Why, Erik!" she said, like a mildly shocked mother.
It occurred to her that she did not need a suit, and that the order
might have been hard to explain to Kennicott.
He swung down from the table. "I want to show you something." He
rummaged in the roll-top desk on which Nat Hicks kept bills, buttons,
calendars, buckles, thread-channeled wax, shotgun shells, samples of
brocade for "fancy vests," fishing-reels, pornographic post-cards,
shreds of buckram lining. He pulled out a blurred sheet of Bristol board
and anxiously gave it to her. It was a sketch for a frock. It was not
well drawn; it was too finicking; the pillars in the background were
grotesquely squat. But the frock had an original back, very low, with
a central triangular section from the waist to a string of jet beads at
"It's stunning. But how it would shock Mrs. Clark!"
"Yes, wouldn't it!"
"You must let yourself go more when you're drawing."
"Don't know if I can. I've started kind of late. But listen! What do you
think I've done this two weeks? I've read almost clear through a Latin
grammar, and about twenty pages of Caesar."
"Splendid! You are lucky. You haven't a teacher to make you artificial."
"You're my teacher!"
There was a dangerous edge of personality to his voice. She was offended
and agitated. She turned her shoulder on him, stared through the back
window, studying this typical center of a typical Main Street block,
a vista hidden from casual strollers. The backs of the chief
establishments in town surrounded a quadrangle neglected, dirty, and
incomparably dismal. From the front, Howland & Gould's grocery was smug
enough, but attached to the rear was a lean-to of storm streaked pine
lumber with a sanded tar roof--a staggering doubtful shed behind which
was a heap of ashes, splintered packing-boxes, shreds of excelsior,
crumpled straw-board, broken olive-bottles, rotten fruit, and utterly
disintegrated vegetables: orange carrots turning black, and potatoes
with ulcers. The rear of the Bon Ton Store was grim with blistered
black-painted iron shutters, under them a pile of once glossy red
shirt-boxes, now a pulp from recent rain.
As seen from Main Street, Oleson & McGuire's Meat Market had a sanitary
and virtuous expression with its new tile counter, fresh sawdust on the
floor, and a hanging veal cut in rosettes. But she now viewed a back
room with a homemade refrigerator of yellow smeared with black grease.
A man in an apron spotted with dry blood was hoisting out a hard slab of
Behind Billy's Lunch, the cook, in an apron which must long ago have
been white, smoked a pipe and spat at the pest of sticky flies. In the
center of the block, by itself, was the stable for the three horses of
the drayman, and beside it a pile of manure.
The rear of Ezra Stowbody's bank was whitewashed, and back of it was
a concrete walk and a three-foot square of grass, but the window was
barred, and behind the bars she saw Willis Woodford cramped over figures
in pompous books. He raised his head, jerkily rubbed his eyes, and went
back to the eternity of figures.
The backs of the other shops were an impressionistic picture of dirty
grays, drained browns, writhing heaps of refuse.
"Mine is a back-yard romance--with a journeyman tailor!"
She was saved from self-pity as she began to think through Erik's mind.