sneering sound all day--aaaaah!"
Her fingers tightened about his thumb as she perceived the hot low room,
the pounding of pressing-irons, the reek of scorched cloth, and Erik
among giggling gnomes. His fingertip crept through the opening of her
glove and smoothed her palm. She snatched her hand away, stripped off
her glove, tucked her hand back into his.
He was saying something about a "wonderful person." In her tranquillity
she let the words blow by and heeded only the beating wings of his
She was conscious that he was fumbling for impressive speech.
"Say, uh--Carol, I've written a poem about you."
"That's nice. Let's hear it."
"Damn it, don't be so casual about it! Can't you take me seriously?"
"My dear boy, if I took you seriously----! I don't want us to be hurt
more than--more than we will be. Tell me the poem. I've never had a poem
written about me!"
"It isn't really a poem. It's just some words that I love because it
seems to me they catch what you are. Of course probably they won't seem
so to anybody else, but----Well----
Little and tender and merry and wise
With eyes that meet my eyes.
Do you get the idea the way I do?"
"Yes! I'm terribly grateful!" And she was grateful--while she
impersonally noted how bad a verse it was.
She was aware of the haggard beauty in the lowering night. Monstrous
tattered clouds sprawled round a forlorn moon; puddles and rocks
glistened with inner light. They were passing a grove of scrub poplars,
feeble by day but looming now like a menacing wall. She stopped. They
heard the branches dripping, the wet leaves sullenly plumping on the
"Waiting--waiting--everything is waiting," she whispered. She drew her
hand from his, pressed her clenched fingers against her lips. She was
lost in the somberness. "I am happy--so we must go home, before we have
time to become unhappy. But can't we sit on a log for a minute and just
"No. Too wet. But I wish we could build a fire, and you could sit on
my overcoat beside it. I'm a grand fire-builder! My cousin Lars and me
spent a week one time in a cabin way up in the Big Woods, snowed in.
The fireplace was filled with a dome of ice when we got there, but we
chopped it out, and jammed the thing full of pine-boughs. Couldn't we
build a fire back here in the woods and sit by it for a while?"
faintly. She was in abeyance. Everything, the night, his silhouette, the
cautious-treading future, was as undistinguishable as though she were
drifting bodiless in a Fourth Dimension. While her mind groped, the
lights of a motor car swooped round a bend in the road, and they stood
farther apart. "What ought I to do?" she mused. "I think----Oh, I won't
be robbed! I AM good! If I'm so enslaved that I can't sit by the fire
with a man and talk, then I'd better be dead!"
The lights of the thrumming car grew magically; were upon them; abruptly
stopped. From behind the dimness of the windshield a voice, annoyed,
sharp: "Hello there!"
She realized that it was Kennicott.
The irritation in his voice smoothed out. "Having a walk?"
They made schoolboyish sounds of assent.
"Pretty wet, isn't it? Better ride back. Jump up in front here,
His manner of swinging open the door was a command. Carol was conscious
that Erik was climbing in, that she was apparently to sit in the back,
and that she had been left to open the rear door for herself. Instantly
the wonder which had flamed to the gusty skies was quenched, and she was
Mrs. W. P. Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, riding in a squeaking old car,
and likely to be lectured by her husband.
She feared what Kennicott would say to Erik. She bent toward them.
Kennicott was observing, "Going to have some rain before the night 's
over, all right."
"Yes," said Erik.
"Been funny season this year, anyway. Never saw it with such a cold
October and such a nice November. 'Member we had a snow way back on
October ninth! But it certainly was nice up to the twenty-first, this
month--as I remember it, not a flake of snow in November so far, has
there been? But I shouldn't wonder if we'd be having some snow 'most any
"Yes, good chance of it," said Erik.
"Wish I'd had more time to go after the ducks this fall. By golly, what
do you think?" Kennicott sounded appealing. "Fellow wrote me from Man
Trap Lake that he shot seven mallards and couple of canvas-back in one
"That must have been fine," said Erik.
Carol was ignored. But Kennicott was blustrously cheerful. He shouted
to a farmer, as he slowed up to pass the frightened team, "There we
are--schon gut!" She sat back, neglected, frozen, unheroic heroine in
a drama insanely undramatic. She made a decision resolute and enduring.
She would tell Kennicott----What would she tell him? She could not say
that she loved Erik. DID she love him? But she would have it out.
She was not sure whether it was pity for Kennicott's blindness, or
irritation at his assumption that he was enough to fill any woman's
life, which prompted her, but she knew that she was out of the trap,
that she could be frank; and she was exhilarated with the adventure of
it . . . while in front he was entertaining Erik:
"Nothing like an hour on a duck-pass to make you relish your victuals
and----Gosh, this machine hasn't got the power of a fountain pen. Guess
the cylinders are jam-cram-full of carbon again. Don't know but what
maybe I'll have to put in another set of piston-rings."
He stopped on Main Street and clucked hospitably, "There, that'll give
you just a block to walk. G' night."
Carol was in suspense. Would Erik sneak away?
He stolidly moved to the back of the car, thrust in his hand, muttered,
"Good night--Carol. I'm glad we had our walk." She pressed his hand. The
car was flapping on. He was hidden from her--by a corner drug store on
Kennicott did not recognize her till he drew up before the house. Then
he condescended, "Better jump out here and I'll take the boat around
back. Say, see if the back door is unlocked, will you?" She unlatched
the door for him. She realized that she still carried the damp glove she
had stripped off for Erik. She drew it on. She stood in the center of
the living-room, unmoving, in damp coat and muddy rubbers. Kennicott was
as opaque as ever. Her task wouldn't be anything so lively as having
to endure a scolding, but only an exasperating effort to command his
attention so that he would understand the nebulous things she had to
tell him, instead of interrupting her by yawning, winding the clock, and
going up to bed. She heard him shoveling coal into the furnace. He came
through the kitchen energetically, but before he spoke to her he did