Lym Cass, or do you want to become a person like--yes, like me! Wait!
Don't be flattering. Be honest. This is important."
"I know. I am a person like you now! I mean, I want to rebel."
"Yes. We're alike," gravely.
"Only I'm not sure I can put through my schemes. I really can't draw
much. I guess I have pretty fair taste in fabrics, but since I've known
you I don't like to think about fussing with dress-designing. But as a
miller, I'd have the means--books, piano, travel."
"I'm going to be frank and beastly. Don't you realize that it isn't just
because her papa needs a bright young man in the mill that Myrtle is
amiable to you? Can't you understand what she'll do to you when she has
you, when she sends you to church and makes you become respectable?"
He glared at her. "I don't know. I suppose so."
"You are thoroughly unstable!"
"What if I am? Most fish out of water are! Don't talk like Mrs. Bogart!
How can I be anything but 'unstable'--wandering from farm to tailor
shop to books, no training, nothing but trying to make books talk to
me! Probably I'll fail. Oh, I know it; probably I'm uneven. But I'm not
unstable in thinking about this job in the mill--and Myrtle. I know what
I want. I want you!"
"Please, please, oh, please!"
"I do. I'm not a schoolboy any more. I want you. If I take Myrtle, it's
to forget you."
"It's you that are unstable! You talk at things and play at things, but
you're scared. Would I mind it if you and I went off to poverty, and I
had to dig ditches? I would not! But you would. I think you would come
to like me, but you won't admit it. I wouldn't have said this, but when
you sneer at Myrtle and the mill----If I'm not to have good sensible
things like those, d' you think I'll be content with trying to become a
damn dressmaker, after YOU? Are you fair? Are you?"
"No, I suppose not."
"Do you like me? Do you?"
"Yes----No! Please! I can't talk any more."
"Not here. Mrs. Haydock is looking at us."
"No, nor anywhere. O Erik, I am fond of you, but I'm afraid."
"Of Them! Of my rulers--Gopher Prairie. . . . My dear boy, we are
talking very foolishly. I am a normal wife and a good mother, and you
are--oh, a college freshman."
"You do like me! I'm going to make you love me!"
She looked at him once, recklessly, and walked away with a serene gait
that was a disordered flight.
Kennicott grumbled on their way home, "You and this Valborg fellow seem
"Oh, we are. He's interested in Myrtle Cass, and I was telling him how
nice she is."
In her room she marveled, "I have become a liar. I'm snarled with lies
and foggy analyses and desires--I who was clear and sure."
She hurried into Kennicott's room, sat on the edge of his bed. He
flapped a drowsy welcoming hand at her from the expanse of quilt and
"I thought we settled all that, few nights ago! Wait till we can have a
real trip." He shook himself out of his drowsiness. "You might give me a
She did--dutifully. He held her lips against his for an intolerable
time. "Don't you like the old man any more?" he coaxed. He sat up and
shyly fitted his palm about the slimness of her waist.
"Of course. I like you very much indeed." Even to herself it sounded
flat. She longed to be able to throw into her voice the facile passion
of a light woman. She patted his cheek.
He sighed, "I'm sorry you're so tired. Seems like----But of course you
aren't very strong."
"Yes. . . . Then you don't think--you're quite sure I ought to stay here
"I told you so! I certainly do!"
She crept back to her room, a small timorous figure in white.
"I can't face Will down--demand the right. He'd be obstinate. And I
can't even go off and earn my living again. Out of the habit of it. He's
driving me----I'm afraid of what he's driving me to. Afraid.
"That man in there, snoring in stale air, my husband? Could any ceremony
make him my husband?
"No. I don't want to hurt him. I want to love him. I can't, when I'm
thinking of Erik. Am I too honest--a funny topsy-turvy honesty--the
faithfulness of unfaith? I wish I had a more compartmental mind, like
men. I'm too monogamous--toward Erik!--my child Erik, who needs me.
"Is an illicit affair like a gambling debt--demands stricter honor than
the legitimate debt of matrimony, because it's not legally enforced?
"That's nonsense! I don't care in the least for Erik! Not for any man. I
want to be let alone, in a woman world--a world without Main Street,
or politicians, or business men, or men with that sudden beastly hungry
look, that glistening unfrank expression that wives know----
"If Erik were here, if he would just sit quiet and kind and talk, I
could be still, I could go to sleep.
"I am so tired. If I could sleep----"
THEIR night came unheralded.
Kennicott was on a country call. It was cool but Carol huddled on the
porch, rocking, meditating, rocking. The house was lonely and repellent,
and though she sighed, "I ought to go in and read--so many things to
read--ought to go in," she remained. Suddenly Erik was coming, turning
in, swinging open the screen door, touching her hand.
"Saw your husband driving out of town. Couldn't stand it."
"Well----You mustn't stay more than five minutes."
"Couldn't stand not seeing you. Every day, towards evening, felt I had
to see you--pictured you so clear. I've been good though, staying away,
"And you must go on being good."
"Why must I?"
"We better not stay here on the porch. The Howlands across the street
are such window-peepers, and Mrs. Bogart----"
She did not look at him but she could divine his tremulousness as he
stumbled indoors. A moment ago the night had been coldly empty; now it
was incalculable, hot, treacherous. But it is women who are the calm
realists once they discard the fetishes of the premarital hunt. Carol
was serene as she murmured, "Hungry? I have some little honey-colored
cakes. You may have two, and then you must skip home."
"Take me up and let me see Hugh asleep."
"I don't believe----"
"Just a glimpse!"
She doubtfully led the way to the hallroom-nursery. Their heads close,
Erik's curls pleasant as they touched her cheek, they looked in at the
baby. Hugh was pink with slumber. He had burrowed into his pillow with
such energy that it was almost smothering him. Beside it was a celluloid
rhinoceros; tight in his hand a torn picture of Old King Cole.
"Shhh!" said Carol, quite automatically. She tiptoed in to pat the
pillow. As she returned to Erik she had a friendly sense of his waiting
for her. They smiled at each other. She did not think of Kennicott, the
baby's father. What she did think was that some one rather like Erik, an
older and surer Erik, ought to be Hugh's father. The three of them would
play--incredible imaginative games.
"Carol! You've told me about your own room. Let me peep in at it."
"But you mustn't stay, not a second. We must go downstairs."
"Will you be good?"
"R-reasonably!" He was pale, large-eyed, serious.
"You've got to be more than reasonably good!" She felt sensible and
superior; she was energetic about pushing open the door.
Kennicott had always seemed out of place there but Erik surprisingly
harmonized with the spirit of the room as he stroked the books, glanced
at the prints. He held out his hands. He came toward her. She was weak,
betrayed to a warm softness. Her head was tilted back. Her eyes were
closed. Her thoughts were formless but many-colored. She felt his kiss,
diffident and reverent, on her eyelid.
Then she knew that it was impossible.
She shook herself. She sprang from him. "Please!" she said sharply.
He looked at her unyielding.
"I am fond of you," she said. "Don't spoil everything. Be my friend."
"How many thousands and millions of women must have said that! And now
you! And it doesn't spoil everything. It glorifies everything."
with it. Perhaps I'd have loved that once. But I won't. It's too late.
But I'll keep a fondness for you. Impersonal--I will be impersonal! It
needn't be just a thin talky fondness. You do need me, don't you? Only
you and my son need me. I've wanted so to be wanted! Once I wanted
love to be given to me. Now I'll be content if I can give. . . . Almost
"We women, we like to do things for men. Poor men! We swoop on you when
you're defenseless and fuss over you and insist on reforming you. But
it's so pitifully deep in us. You'll be the one thing in which I haven't
failed. Do something definite! Even if it's just selling cottons. Sell
beautiful cottons--caravans from China----"
"Carol! Stop! You do love me!"
"I do not! It's just----Can't you understand? Everything crushes in on
me so, all the gaping dull people, and I look for a way out----Please
go. I can't stand any more. Please!"
He was gone. And she was not relieved by the quiet of the house. She was
empty and the house was empty and she needed him. She wanted to go
on talking, to get this threshed out, to build a sane friendship. She
wavered down to the living-room, looked out of the bay-window. He was
not to be seen. But Mrs. Westlake was. She was walking past, and in
the light from the corner arc-lamp she quickly inspected the porch, the
windows. Carol dropped the curtain, stood with movement and reflection
paralyzed. Automatically, without reasoning, she mumbled, "I will see
him again soon and make him understand we must be friends. But----The
house is so empty. It echoes so."
Kennicott had seemed nervous and absent-minded through that supper-hour,
two evenings after. He prowled about the living-room, then growled:
"What the dickens have you been saying to Ma Westlake?"
Carol's book rattled. "What do you mean?"
"I told you that Westlake and his wife were jealous of us, and here you
been chumming up to them and----From what Dave tells me, Ma Westlake has
been going around town saying you told her that you hate Aunt Bessie,
and that you fixed up your own room because I snore, and you said
Bjornstam was too good for Bea, and then, just recent, that you were
sore on the town because we don't all go down on our knees and beg this
Valborg fellow to come take supper with us. God only knows what else she
says you said."
"It's not true, any of it! I did like Mrs. Westlake, and I've called on
her, and apparently she's gone and twisted everything I've said----"
"Sure. Of course she would. Didn't I tell you she would? She's an old
cat, like her pussyfooting, hand-holding husband. Lord, if I was sick,
I'd rather have a faith-healer than Westlake, and she's another slice
off the same bacon. What I can't understand though----"
She waited, taut.
"----is whatever possessed you to let her pump you, bright a girl as
you are. I don't care what you told her--we all get peeved sometimes
and want to blow off steam, that's natural--but if you wanted to keep it
dark, why didn't you advertise it in the Dauntless, or get a megaphone
and stand on top of the hotel and holler, or do anything besides spill
it to her!"
"I know. You told me. But she was so motherly. And I didn't have any
woman----Vida 's become so married and proprietary."
"Well, next time you'll have better sense."
He patted her head, flumped down behind his newspaper, said nothing
Enemies leered through the windows, stole on her from the hall. She had
no one save Erik. This kind good man Kennicott--he was an elder
brother. It was Erik, her fellow outcast, to whom she wanted to run for
sanctuary. Through her storm she was, to the eye, sitting quietly with
her fingers between the pages of a baby-blue book on home-dressmaking.
But her dismay at Mrs. Westlake's treachery had risen to active dread.
What had the woman said of her and Erik? What did she know? What had she
seen? Who else would join in the baying hunt? Who else had seen her
with Erik? What had she to fear from the Dyers, Cy Bogart, Juanita, Aunt
Bessie? What precisely had she answered to Mrs. Bogart's questioning?
All next day she was too restless to stay home, yet as she walked the
streets on fictitious errands she was afraid of every person she met.
She waited for them to speak; waited with foreboding. She repeated, "I
mustn't ever see Erik again." But the words did not register. She had no