much evil in the world that folks simply won't see or appreciate your
trying to safeguard them----And forcing herself in here to get in with
you and Carrie, many 's the time I've seen her doing it, and, thank
heaven, she was found out in time before she could do any more harm, it
simply breaks my heart and prostrates me to think what she may have done
already, even if some of us that understand and know about things----"
"Whoa-up! Who are you talking about?"
"She's talking about Fern Mullins," Carol put in, not pleasantly.
Kennicott was incredulous.
"I certainly am!" flourished Mrs. Bogart, "and good and thankful you
may be that I found her out in time, before she could get YOU into
something, Carol, because even if you are my neighbor and Will's wife
and a cultured lady, let me tell you right now, Carol Kennicott, that
you ain't always as respectful to--you ain't as reverent--you don't
stick by the good old ways like they was laid down for us by God in the
Bible, and while of course there ain't a bit of harm in having a good
laugh, and I know there ain't any real wickedness in you, yet just the
same you don't fear God and hate the transgressors of his commandments
like you ought to, and you may be thankful I found out this serpent I
nourished in my bosom--and oh yes! oh yes indeed! my lady must have
two eggs every morning for breakfast, and eggs sixty cents a dozen, and
wa'n't satisfied with one, like most folks--what did she care how much
they cost or if a person couldn't make hardly nothing on her board and
room, in fact I just took her in out of charity and I might have known
from the kind of stockings and clothes that she sneaked into my house in
Before they got her story she had five more minutes of obscene
wallowing. The gutter comedy turned into high tragedy, with Nemesis
in black kid gloves. The actual story was simple, depressing, and
unimportant. As to details Mrs. Bogart was indefinite, and angry that
every soul of them, gleeful at new details, panting to win importance by
having details of their own to add. How well they would make up for what
they had been afraid to do by imagining it in another! They who had
not been entirely afraid (but merely careful and sneaky), all the
barber-shop roues and millinery-parlor mondaines, how archly they
were giggling (this second--she could hear them at it); with what
self-commendation they were cackling their suavest wit: "You can't tell
ME she ain't a gay bird; I'm wise!"
And not one man in town to carry out their pioneer tradition of superb
and contemptuous cursing, not one to verify the myth that their "rough
chivalry" and "rugged virtues" were more generous than the petty
scandal-picking of older lands, not one dramatic frontiersman to
thunder, with fantastic and fictional oaths, "What are you hinting
at? What are you snickering at? What facts have you? What are these
unheard-of sins you condemn so much--and like so well?"
No one to say it. Not Kennicott nor Guy Pollock nor Champ Perry.
Erik? Possibly. He would sputter uneasy protest.
She suddenly wondered what subterranean connection her interest in Erik
had with this affair. Wasn't it because they had been prevented by her
caste from bounding on her own trail that they were howling at Fern?
Before supper she found, by half a dozen telephone calls, that Fern had
fled to the Minniemashie House. She hastened there, trying not to be
self-conscious about the people who looked at her on the street. The
clerk said indifferently that he "guessed" Miss Mullins was up in Room
37, and left Carol to find the way. She hunted along the stale-smelling
corridors with their wallpaper of cerise daisies and poison-green
rosettes, streaked in white spots from spilled water, their frayed red
and yellow matting, and rows of pine doors painted a sickly blue. She
could not find the number. In the darkness at the end of a corridor she
had to feel the aluminum figures on the door-panels. She was startled
once by a man's voice: "Yep? Whadyuh want?" and fled. When she reached
the right door she stood listening. She made out a long sobbing. There
was no answer till her third knock; then an alarmed "Who is it? Go
Her hatred of the town turned resolute as she pushed open the door.
Yesterday she had seen Fern Mullins in boots and tweed skirt and
canary-yellow sweater, fleet and self-possessed. Now she lay across
the bed, in crumpled lavender cotton and shabby pumps, very feminine,
When Carol had finished, Mrs. Clark breathed, "Poor girl; I don't doubt
her story a bit," and Sam rumbled, "Yuh, sure. Miss Mullins is young and
reckless, but everybody in town, except Ma Bogart, knows what Cy is. But
Miss Mullins was a fool to go with him."
"But not wicked enough to pay for it with disgrace?"
"N-no, but----" Sam avoided verdicts, clung to the entrancing horrors
of the story. "Ma Bogart cussed her out all morning, did she? Jumped her
neck, eh? Ma certainly is one hell-cat."
"Yes, you know how she is; so vicious."
"Oh no, her best style ain't her viciousness. What she pulls in our
store is to come in smiling with Christian Fortitude and keep a clerk
busy for one hour while she picks out half a dozen fourpenny nails. I
remember one time----"
"Sam!" Carol was uneasy. "You'll fight for Fern, won't you? When Mrs.
Bogart came to see you did she make definite charges?"
"Well, yes, you might say she did."
"But the school-board won't act on them?"
"Guess we'll more or less have to."
"But you'll exonerate Fern?"
"I'll do what I can for the girl personally, but you know what the board
is. There's Reverend Zitterel; Sister Bogart about half runs his church,
so of course he'll take her say-so; and Ezra Stowbody, as a banker he
has to be all hell for morality and purity. Might 's well admit it,
Carrie; I'm afraid there'll be a majority of the board against her. Not
that any of us would believe a word Cy said, not if he swore it on a
stack of Bibles, but still, after all this gossip, Miss Mullins wouldn't
hardly be the party to chaperon our basket-ball team when it went out of