between patches of decayed snow on the lawns. The vacant lots were
full of tall dead weeds. Stripped of summer leaves the houses were
painted his garage. And look! Martin Mahoney has put up a new fence
around his chicken yard. Say, that's a good fence, eh? Chicken-tight
and dog-tight. That's certainly a dandy fence. Wonder how much it cost a
yard? Yes, sir, they been building right along, even in winter. Got more
enterprise than these Californians. Pretty good to be home, eh?"
into their back yards, to be cleaned up in spring. The recent thaw had
disclosed heaps of ashes, dog-bones, torn bedding, clotted paint-cans,
all half covered by the icy pools which filled the hollows of the yards.
The refuse had stained the water to vile colors of waste: thin red, sour
yellow, streaky brown.
feed store all fixed up, and a new sign on it, black and gold. That'll
improve the appearance of the block a lot."
She noted that the few people whom they passed wore their raggedest
coats for the evil day. They were scarecrows in a shanty town. . . . "To
think," she marveled, "of coming two thousand miles, past mountains
and cities, to get off here, and to plan to stay here! What conceivable
reason for choosing this particular place?"
She noted a figure in a rusty coat and a cloth cap.
Kennicott chuckled, "Look who's coming! It's Sam Clark! Gosh, all rigged
out for the weather."
bumbled, "Well, well, well, well, you old hell-hound, you old devil,
how are you, anyway? You old horse-thief, maybe it ain't good to see
you again!" While Sam nodded at her over Kennicott's shoulder, she was
"Perhaps I should never have gone away. I'm out of practise in lying. I
wish they would get it over! Just a block more and--my baby!"
by Hugh. As he stammered, "O mummy, mummy, don't go away! Stay with me,
mummy!" she cried, "No, I'll never leave you again!"
He volunteered, "That's daddy."
"By golly, he knows us just as if we'd never been away!" said Kennicott.
"You don't find any of these California kids as bright as he is, at his
When the trunk came they piled about Hugh the bewhiskered little wooden
men fitting one inside another, the miniature junk, and the Oriental
drum, from San Francisco Chinatown; the blocks carved by the old
Frenchman in San Diego; the lariat from San Antonio.
colds? did he still dawdle over his oatmeal? what about unfortunate
morning incidents? she viewed Aunt Bessie only as a source of
information, and was able to ignore her hint, pointed by a coyly shaken
finger, "Now that you've had such a fine long trip and spent so much
money and all, I hope you're going to settle down and be satisfied and
"Does he like carrots yet?" replied Carol.
She was cheerful as the snow began to conceal the slatternly yards. She
assured herself that the streets of New York and Chicago were as ugly as
Gopher Prairie in such weather; she dismissed the thought, "But they
do have charming interiors for refuge." She sang as she energetically
looked over Hugh's clothes.
The afternoon grew old and dark. Aunt Bessie went home. Carol took the
baby into her own room. The maid came in complaining, "I can't get no
extra milk to make chipped beef for supper." Hugh was sleepy, and he had
been spoiled by Aunt Bessie. Even to a returned mother, his whining and
his trick of seven times snatching her silver brush were fatiguing. As a
background, behind the noises of Hugh and the kitchen, the house reeked
with a colorless stillness.
From the window she heard Kennicott greeting the Widow Bogart as he had
always done, always, every snowy evening: "Guess this 'll keep up all
night." She waited. There they were, the furnace sounds, unalterable,
eternal: removing ashes, shoveling coal.
California? Had she seen it? Had she for one minute left this scraping
sound of the small shovel in the ash-pit of the furnace? But Kennicott
preposterously supposed that she had. Never had she been quite so far
from going away as now when he believed she had just come back. She
felt oozing through the walls the spirit of small houses and righteous
people. At that instant she knew that in running away she had merely
hidden her doubts behind the officious stir of travel.
house, he had seen to it that the fundamental cellar should be large
and clean, the square pillars whitewashed, and the bins for coal and
potatoes and trunks convenient. A glow from the drafts fell on the
smooth gray cement floor at his feet. He was whistling tenderly, staring
at the furnace with eyes which saw the black-domed monster as a symbol
of home and of the beloved routine to which he had returned--his
gipsying decently accomplished, his duty of viewing "sights" and
"curios" performed with thoroughness. Unconscious of her, he stooped
and peered in at the blue flames among the coals. He closed the door
briskly, and made a whirling gesture with his right hand, out of pure
He saw her. "Why, hello, old lady! Pretty darn good to be back, eh?"
explaining now. He's been so good. He trusts me. And I'm going to break
She smiled at him. She tidied his sacred cellar by throwing an empty
bluing bottle into the trash bin. She mourned, "It's only the baby that
holds me. If Hugh died----" She fled upstairs in panic and made sure
that nothing had happened to Hugh in these four minutes.
day when she had been planning a picnic for Fern Mullins and Erik. Fern
and she had been hysterical with nonsense, had invented mad parties for
all the coming winter. She glanced across the alley at the room which
Fern had occupied. A rag of a gray curtain masked the still window.
She tried to think of some one to whom she wanted to telephone. There
was no one.
missions. A dozen times they told her how glad they were to have her
"It is good to be wanted," she thought. "It will drug me. But----Oh, is
all life, always, an unresolved But?"
fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater for Hugh.
She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was silent when Vida raved that
though America hated war as much as ever, we must invade Germany and
wipe out every man, because it was now proven that there was no soldier
in the German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off
Carol was volunteer nurse when Mrs. Champ Perry suddenly died of
Army and the Territorial Pioneers, old men and women, very old and weak,
who a few decades ago had been boys and girls of the frontier, riding
broncos through the rank windy grass of this prairie. They hobbled
behind a band made up of business men and high-school boys, who
straggled along without uniforms or ranks or leader, trying to play
Chopin's Funeral March--a shabby group of neighbors with grave eyes,
stumbling through the slush under a solemnity of faltering music.
were silent. He could not do his work as buyer at the elevator. Farmers
coming in with sled-loads of wheat complained that Champ could not read
the scale, that he seemed always to be watching some one back in the
darkness of the bins. He was seen slipping through alleys, talking to
himself, trying to avoid observation, creeping at last to the cemetery.
Once Carol followed him and found the coarse, tobacco-stained,
unimaginative old man lying on the snow of the grave, his thick arms
spread out across the raw mound as if to protect her from the cold, her
whom he had carefully covered up every night for sixty years, who was
alone there now, uncared for.
The elevator company, Ezra Stowbody president, let him go. The company,
Ezra explained to Carol, had no funds for giving pensions.
the work was done by assistants, was the one sinecure in town, the one
reward for political purity. But it proved that Mr. Bert Tybee, the
former bartender, desired the postmastership.
watchman. Small boys played a good many tricks on Champ when he fell
asleep at the mill.
She had vicarious happiness in the return of Major Raymond Wutherspoon.
discharged and he came home as the first of the war veterans. It was
rumored that he surprised Vida by coming unannounced, that Vida fainted
when she saw him, and for a night and day would not share him with the
town. When Carol saw them Vida was hazy about everything except Raymie,
and never went so far from him that she could not slip her hand under
his. Without understanding why Carol was troubled by this intensity. And
Raymie--surely this was not Raymie, but a sterner brother of his, this
man with the tight blouse, the shoulder emblems, the trim legs in boots.
His face seemed different, his lips more tight. He was not Raymie; he
was Major Wutherspoon; and Kennicott and Carol were grateful when he
divulged that Paris wasn't half as pretty as Minneapolis, that all of
the American soldiers had been distinguished by their morality when on
leave. Kennicott was respectful as he inquired whether the Germans had
good aeroplanes, and what a salient was, and a cootie, and Going West.
In a week Major Wutherspoon was made full manager of the Bon Ton. Harry
Haydock was going to devote himself to the half-dozen branch stores
which he was establishing at crossroads hamlets. Harry would be the
town's rich man in the coming generation, and Major Wutherspoon would
rise with him, and Vida was jubilant, though she was regretful at having
to give up most of her Red Cross work. Ray still needed nursing, she
When Carol saw him with his uniform off, in a pepper-and salt suit and
a new gray felt hat, she was disappointed. He was not Major Wutherspoon;
he was Raymie.
For a month small boys followed him down the street, and everybody
called him Major, but that was presently shortened to Maje, and the
small boys did not look up from their marbles as he went by.
existed to take care of all that. Iowa farmers were selling their land
at four hundred dollars an acre and coming into Minnesota. But whoever
bought or sold or mortgaged, the townsmen invited themselves to the
feast--millers, real-estate men, lawyers, merchants, and Dr. Will
Kennicott. They bought land at a hundred and fifty, sold it next day at
a hundred and seventy, and bought again. In three months Kennicott made
seven thousand dollars, which was rather more than four times as much as
society paid him for healing the sick.
In early summer began a "campaign of boosting." The Commercial Club
decided that Gopher Prairie was not only a wheat-center but also the
perfect site for factories, summer cottages, and state institutions. In
charge of the campaign was Mr. James Blausser, who had recently come to
town to speculate in land. Mr. Blausser was known as a Hustler. He liked
to be called Honest Jim. He was a bulky, gauche, noisy, humorous man,
with narrow eyes, a rustic complexion, large red hands, and brilliant
clothes. He was attentive to all women. He was the first man in town who
had not been sensitive enough to feel Carol's aloofness. He put his arm
about her shoulder while he condescended to Kennicott, "Nice lil wifey,
I'll say, doc," and when she answered, not warmly, "Thank you very much
for the imprimatur," he blew on her neck, and did not know that he had
He was a layer-on of hands. He never came to the house without trying to
paw her. He touched her arm, let his fist brush her side. She hated the
man, and she was afraid of him. She wondered if he had heard of Erik,
and was taking advantage. She spoke ill of him at home and in public
places, but Kennicott and the other powers insisted, "Maybe he is
kind of a roughneck, but you got to hand it to him; he's got more
git-up-and-git than any fellow that ever hit this burg. And he's pretty
cute, too. Hear what he said to old Ezra? Chucked him in the ribs and
said, 'Say, boy, what do you want to go to Denver for? Wait 'll I get
time and I'll move the mountains here. Any mountain will be tickled to
death to locate here once we get the White Way in!'"
The town welcomed Mr. Blausser as fully as Carol snubbed him. He was the
guest of honor at the Commercial Club Banquet at the Minniemashie House,
an occasion for menus printed in gold (but injudiciously proof-read),
for free cigars, soft damp slabs of Lake Superior whitefish served as
fillet of sole, drenched cigar-ashes gradually filling the saucers
of coffee cups, and oratorical references to Pep, Punch, Go, Vigor,
Enterprise, Red Blood, He-Men, Fair Women, God's Country, James J.
Hill, the Blue Sky, the Green Fields, the Bountiful Harvest, Increasing
Population, Fair Return on Investments, Alien Agitators Who Threaten
the Security of Our Institutions, the Hearthstone the Foundation of
the State, Senator Knute Nelson, One Hundred Per Cent. Americanism, and
Pointing with Pride.
am proud to say, my fellow citizens, that in his brief stay here
Mr. Blausser has become my warm personal friend as well as my fellow
booster, and I advise you all to very carefully attend to the hints of a
man who knows how to achieve."
Mr. Blausser reared up like an elephant with a camel's neck--red faced,
red eyed, heavy fisted, slightly belching--a born leader, divinely
intended to be a congressman but deflected to the more lucrative honors
of real-estate. He smiled on his warm personal friends and fellow
boosters, and boomed:
"I certainly was astonished in the streets of our lovely little
city, the other day. I met the meanest kind of critter that God ever
made--meaner than the horned toad or the Texas lallapaluza! (Laughter.)
And do you know what the animile was? He was a knocker! (Laughter and
"I want to tell you good people, and it's just as sure as God made
little apples, the thing that distinguishes our American commonwealth
from the pikers and tin-horns in other countries is our Punch. You take
a genuwine, honest-to-God homo Americanibus and there ain't anything
he's afraid to tackle. Snap and speed are his middle name! He'll put
her across if he has to ride from hell to breakfast, and believe me, I'm
mighty good and sorry for the boob that's so unlucky as to get in his
way, because that poor slob is going to wonder where he was at when Old
Mr. Cyclone hit town! (Laughter.)
"Now, frien's, there's some folks so yellow and small and so few in the
pod that they go to work and claim that those of us that have the big
vision are off our trolleys. They say we can't make Gopher Prairie, God
bless her! just as big as Minneapolis or St. Paul or Duluth. But lemme
tell you right here and now that there ain't a town under the blue
canopy of heaven that's got a better chance to take a running jump and
go scooting right up into the two-hundred-thousand class than little
old G. P.! And if there's anybody that's got such cold kismets that he's
afraid to tag after Jim Blausser on the Big Going Up, then we don't want
him here! Way I figger it, you folks are just patriotic enough so that
you ain't going to stand for any guy sneering and knocking his own town,
no matter how much of a smart Aleck he is--and just on the side I want
to add that this Farmers' Nonpartisan League and the whole bunch of
socialists are right in the same category, or, as the fellow says,
in the same scategory, meaning This Way Out, Exit, Beat It While the
Going's Good, This Means You, for all knockers of prosperity and the
rights of property!
"Fellow citizens, there's a lot of folks, even right here in this fair
state, fairest and richest of all the glorious union, that stand up on
their hind legs and claim that the East and Europe put it all over
the golden Northwestland. Now let me nail that lie right here and now.
'Ah-ha,' says they, 'so Jim Blausser is claiming that Gopher Prairie is
as good a place to live in as London and Rome and--and all the rest of
the Big Burgs, is he? How does the poor fish know?' says they. Well I'll
tell you how I know! I've seen 'em! I've done Europe from soup to nuts!
They can't spring that stuff on Jim Blausser and get away with it! And
let me tell you that the only live thing in Europe is our boys that are
fighting there now! London--I spent three days, sixteen straight hours a
day, giving London the once-over, and let me tell you that it's nothing
but a bunch of fog and out-of-date buildings that no live American burg
would stand for one minute. You may not believe it, but there ain't one
first-class skyscraper in the whole works. And the same thing goes for
that crowd of crabs and snobs Down East, and next time you hear some zob
from Yahooville-on-the-Hudson chewing the rag and bulling and trying to
get your goat, you tell him that no two-fisted enterprising Westerner
would have New York for a gift!
"Now the point of this is: I'm not only insisting that Gopher Prairie
is going to be Minnesota's pride, the brightest ray in the glory of the
North Star State, but also and furthermore that it is right now, and
still more shall be, as good a place to live in, and love in, and bring
up the Little Ones in, and it's got as much refinement and culture, as
any burg on the whole bloomin' expanse of God's Green Footstool, and
that goes, get me, that goes!"
Half an hour later Chairman Haydock moved a vote of thanks to Mr.
as "publicity." The band was reorganized, and provided by the Commercial
Club with uniforms of purple and gold. The amateur baseball-team hired a
semi-professional pitcher from Des Moines, and made a schedule of games
with every town for fifty miles about. The citizens accompanied it as
"rooters," in a special car, with banners lettered "Watch Gopher Prairie
Grow," and with the band playing "Smile, Smile, Smile." Whether the
team won or lost the Dauntless loyally shrieked, "Boost, Boys, and
Boost Together--Put Gopher Prairie on the Map--Brilliant Record of Our
fashion in the Middlewest. They were composed of ornamented posts with
clusters of high-powered electric lights along two or three blocks on
Main Street. The Dauntless confessed: "White Way Is Installed--Town
Lit Up Like Broadway--Speech by Hon. James Blausser--Come On You Twin
Cities--Our Hat Is In the Ring."
literary person from a Minneapolis advertising agency, a red-headed
young man who smoked cigarettes in a long amber holder. Carol read the
booklet with a certain wonder. She learned that Plover and Minniemashie
Lakes were world-famed for their beauteous wooded shores and gamey pike
and bass not to be equalled elsewhere in the entire country; that
the residences of Gopher Prairie were models of dignity, comfort, and
culture, with lawns and gardens known far and wide; that the Gopher
Prairie schools and public library, in its neat and commodious building,
were celebrated throughout the state; that the Gopher Prairie mills
made the best flour in the country; that the surrounding farm lands were
renowned, where'er men ate bread and butter, for their incomparable No. 1
Hard Wheat and Holstein-Friesian cattle; and that the stores in
Gopher Prairie compared favorably with Minneapolis and Chicago in their
abundance of luxuries and necessities and the ever-courteous attention
of the skilled clerks. She learned, in brief, that this was the one
Logical Location for factories and wholesale houses.
"THERE'S where I want to go; to that model town Gopher Prairie," said
Kennicott was triumphant when the Commercial Club did capture one small
shy factory which planned to make wooden automobile-wheels, but
when Carol saw the promoter she could not feel that his coming much
mattered--and a year after, when he failed, she could not be very
a third. But Carol could discover no more pictures nor interesting food
nor gracious voices nor amusing conversation nor questing minds. She
could, she asserted, endure a shabby but modest town; the town shabby
and egomaniac she could not endure. She could nurse Champ Perry,
and warm to the neighborliness of Sam Clark, but she could not sit
applauding Honest Jim Blausser. Kennicott had begged her, in courtship
days, to convert the town to beauty. If it was now as beautiful as Mr.
Blausser and the Dauntless said, then her work was over, and she could