"Oh! I think I know him," she murmured.
"Who? There? Oh, Bresnahan, Percy Bresnahan."
"Yes. You've met him? What sort of a man is he?"
"He's a good-hearted idiot. I rather like him, and I believe that as a salesman of motors he's a wonder. But he's a nuisance in the aeronautic section. Tries so hard to be useful but he doesn't know anything—he doesn't know anything. Rather pathetic: rich man poking around and trying to be useful. Do you want to speak to him?"
"No—no—I don't think so."
She was at a motion-picture show. The film was a highly advertised and abysmal thing smacking of simpering hair-dressers, cheap perfume, red-plush suites on the back streets of tenderloins, and complacent fat women chewing gum. It pretended to deal with the life of studios. The leading man did a portrait which was a masterpiece. He also saw visions in pipe-smoke, and was very brave and poor and pure. He had ringlets, and his masterpiece was strangely like an enlarged photograph.
Carol prepared to leave.
On the screen, in the role of a composer, appeared an actor called Eric Valour.
She was startled, incredulous, then wretched. Looking straight out at her, wearing a beret and a velvet jacket, was Erik Valborg.
He had a pale part, which he played neither well nor badly. She speculated, "I could have made so much of him——" She did not finish her speculation.
She went home and read Kennicott's letters. They had seemed stiff and undetailed, but now there strode from them a personality, a personality unlike that of the languishing young man in the velvet jacket playing a dummy piano in a canvas room.
Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months after her arrival in Washington. When he announced that he was coming she was not at all sure that she wished to see him. She was glad that he had made the decision himself.
She had leave from the office for two days.
She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured, carrying his heavy suit-case, and she was diffident—he was such a bulky person to handle. They kissed each other questioningly, and said at the same time, "You're looking fine; how's the baby?" and "You're looking awfully well, dear; how is everything?"
He grumbled, "I don't want to butt in on any plans you've made or your friends or anything, but if you've got time for it, I'd like to chase around Washington, and take in some restaurants and shows and stuff, and forget work for a while."
She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft gray suit, a soft easy hat, a flippant tie.
"Like the new outfit? Got 'em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope they're the kind you like."
They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was flustered, but he gave no sign of kissing her again.
As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he had had his new tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There was a recent cut on his chin. He must have shaved on the train just before coming into Washington.
It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many people she recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she told him (he asked and she obligingly guessed) how many feet it was to the top of the dome, as she pointed out Senator LaFollette and the vice-president, and at lunch-time showed herself an habitue by leading him through the catacombs to the senate restaurant.
She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar way in which his hair was parted on the left side agitated her. She looked down at his hands, and the fact that his nails were as ill-treated as ever touched her more than his pleading shoe-shine.
"You'd like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon, wouldn't you?" she said.
It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that it seemed to be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing to do.
He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news: they were excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding, Vida "made him tired the way she always looked at the Maje," poor Chet Dashaway had been killed in a motor accident out on the Coast. He did not coax her to like him. At Mount Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington's dental tools.
She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have heard of Harvey's apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took him there. At dinner his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment of everything, turned into nervousness in his desire to know a number of interesting matters, such as whether they still were married. But he did not ask questions, and he said nothing about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed, "Oh say, been trying out the old camera. Don't you think these are pretty good?"
He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and the country about. Without defense, she was thrown into it. She remembered that he had lured her with photographs in courtship days; she made a note of his sameness, his satisfaction with the tactics which had proved good before; but she forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing the sun-speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie, wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where Hugh had played, Main Street where she knew every window and every face.
She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and he talked of lenses and time-exposures.
Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at the flat, but an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent, inescapable. She could not endure it. She stammered:
"I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn't quite sure where you'd stay. I'm dreadfully sorry we haven't room to put you up at the flat. We ought to have seen about a room for you before. Don't you think you better call up the Willard or the Washington now?"
He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked, without speech she answered, whether she was also going to the Willard or the Washington. But she tried to look as though she did not know that they were debating anything of the sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about it. But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he may have been with her blandness he said readily:
"Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then how about grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn't it the limit the way these taxi shuffers skin around a corner? Got more nerve driving than I have!) and going up to your flat for a while? Like to meet your friends—must be fine women—and I might take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how he breathes. Don't think he has adenoids, but I better make sure, eh?" He patted her shoulder.
At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who had been to jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly. He laughed at the girl's story of the humors of a hunger-strike; he told the secretary what to do when her eyes were tired from typing; and the teacher asked him—not as the husband of a friend but as a physician—whether there was "anything to this inoculation for colds."
His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their habitual slang.
Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst of the company.
"He's terribly nice," said her housemates, and waited for confidences. They got none, nor did her own heart. She could find nothing definite to agonize about. She felt that she was no longer analyzing and controlling forces, but swept on by them.
He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes. That was her only occasion for spite. Back home he never thought of washing dishes!
She took him to the obvious "sights"—the Treasury, the Monument, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building, the Lincoln Memorial, with the Potomac beyond it and the Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee Mansion. For all his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy which piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to them now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette Square, looking past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil facade of the White House, he sighed, "I wish I'd had a shot at places like this. When I was in the U., I had to earn part of my way, and when I wasn't doing that or studying, I guess I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I'd been caught early and sent to concerts and all that——Would I have been what you call intelligent?"
"Oh, my dear, don't be humble! You are intelligent! For instance, you're the most thorough doctor——"
He was edging about something he wished to say. He pounced on it:
"You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all, didn't you!"
"Yes, of course."
"Wouldn't be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town, would it!"
"No, it wouldn't. Just as I was terribly glad to see the Haydocks. But please understand me! That doesn't mean that I withdraw all my criticisms. The fact that I might like a glimpse of old friends hasn't any particular relation to the question of whether Gopher Prairie oughtn't to have festivals and lamb chops."
Hastily, "No, no! Sure not. I und'stand."
"But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to live with anybody as perfect as I was."
He grinned. She liked his grin.
He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes, the building to which his income tax would eventually go, a Rolls-Royce, Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room, a New York theatrical manager down for the try-out of a play, the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks of Italian officers, the barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches at noon, the barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.
She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green cottages and Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and white shutters against rosy brick, were more homelike than a painty wooden box. He volunteered, "I see how you mean. They make me think of these pictures of an old-fashioned Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you'll have Sam and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d' I tell you about this fierce green Jack Elder's had his machine painted?"
They were at dinner.
He hinted, "Before you showed me those places today, I'd already made up my mind that when I built the new house we used to talk about, I'd fix it the way you wanted it. I'm pretty practical about foundations and radiation and stuff like that, but I guess I don't know a whole lot about architecture."
"My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don't either!"
"Well—anyway—you let me plan the garage and the plumbing, and you do the rest, if you ever—I mean—if you ever want to."
Doubtfully, "That's sweet of you."
"Look here, Carrie; you think I'm going to ask you to love me. I'm not. And I'm not going to ask you to come back to Gopher Prairie!"
"It's been a whale of a fight. But I guess I've got myself to see that you won't ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to come back to it. I needn't say I'm crazy to have you. But I won't ask you. I just want you to know how I wait for you. Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one I'm kind of scared to open it, I'm hoping so much that you're coming back. Evenings——You know I didn't open the cottage down at the lake at all, this past summer. Simply couldn't stand all the others laughing and swimming, and you not there. I used to sit on the porch, in town, and I—I couldn't get over the feeling that you'd simply run up to the drug store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I'd catch myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the house was so empty and still that I didn't like to go in. And sometimes I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn't wake up till after midnight, and the house——Oh, the devil! Please get me, Carrie. I just want you to know how welcome you'll be if you ever do come. But I'm not asking you to."
"'Nother thing. I'm going to be frank. I haven't always been absolutely, uh, absolutely, proper. I've always loved you more than anything else in the world, you and the kid. But sometimes when you were chilly to me I'd get lonely and sore, and pike out and——Never intended——"
She rescued him with a pitying, "It's all right. Let's forget it."
"But before we were married you said if your husband ever did anything wrong, you'd want him to tell you."
"Did I? I can't remember. And I can't seem to think. Oh, my dear, I do know how generously you're trying to make me happy. The only thing is——I can't think. I don't know what I think."
"Then listen! Don't think! Here's what I want you to do! Get a two-weeks leave from your office. Weather's beginning to get chilly here. Let's run down to Charleston and Savannah and maybe Florida.
"A second honeymoon?" indecisively.
"No. Don't even call it that. Call it a second wooing. I won't ask anything. I just want the chance to chase around with you. I guess I never appreciated how lucky I was to have a girl with imagination and lively feet to play with. So——Could you maybe run away and see the South with me? If you wanted to, you could just—you could just pretend you were my sister and——I'll get an extra nurse for Hugh! I'll get the best dog-gone nurse in Washington!"
It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the Charleston Battery and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness melted.
When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the moon glitter, she cried, "Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie with you? Decide for me. I'm tired of deciding and undeciding."
"No. You've got to do your own deciding. As a matter of fact, in spite of this honeymoon, I don't think I want you to come home. Not yet."
She could only stare.
"I want you to be satisfied when you get there. I'll do everything I can to keep you happy, but I'll make lots of breaks, so I want you to take time and think it over."
She was relieved. She still had a chance to seize splendid indefinite freedoms. She might go—oh, she'd see Europe, somehow, before she was recaptured. But she also had a firmer respect for Kennicott. She had fancied that her life might make a story. She knew that there was nothing heroic or obviously dramatic in it, no magic of rare hours, nor valiant challenge, but it seemed to her that she was of some significance because she was commonplaceness, the ordinary life of the age, made articulate and protesting. It had not occurred to her that there was also a story of Will Kennicott, into which she entered only so much as he entered into hers; that he had bewilderments and concealments as intricate as her own, and soft treacherous desires for sympathy.
Thus she brooded, looking at the amazing sea, holding his hand.
She was in Washington; Kennicott was in Gopher Prairie, writing as dryly as ever about water-pipes and goose-hunting and Mrs. Fageros's mastoid.
She was talking at dinner to a generalissima of suffrage. Should she return?
The leader spoke wearily:
"My dear, I'm perfectly selfish. I can't quite visualize the needs of your husband, and it seems to me that your baby will do quite as well in the schools here as in your barracks at home."
"Then you think I'd better not go back?" Carol sounded disappointed.
"It's more difficult than that. When I say that I'm selfish I mean that the only thing I consider about women is whether they're likely to prove useful in building up real political power for women. And you? Shall I be frank? Remember when I say 'you' I don't mean you alone. I'm thinking of thousands of women who come to Washington and New York and Chicago every year, dissatisfied at home and seeking a sign in the heavens—women of all sorts, from timid mothers of fifty in cotton gloves, to girls just out of Vassar who organize strikes in their own fathers' factories! All of you are more or less useful to me, but only a few of you can take my place, because I have one virtue (only one): I have given up father and mother and children for the love of God.
"Here's the test for you: Do you come to 'conquer the East,' as people say, or do you come to conquer yourself?
"It's so much more complicated than any of you know—so much more complicated than I knew when I put on Ground Grippers and started out to reform the world. The final complication in 'conquering Washington' or 'conquering New York' is that the conquerors must beyond all things not conquer! It must have been so easy in the good old days when authors dreamed only of selling a hundred thousand volumes, and sculptors of being feted in big houses, and even the Uplifters like me had a simple-hearted ambition to be elected to important offices and invited to go round lecturing. But we meddlers have upset everything. Now the one thing that is disgraceful to any of us is obvious success. The Uplifter who is very popular with wealthy patrons can be pretty sure that he has softened his philosophy to please them, and the author who is making lots of money—poor things, I've heard 'em apologizing for it to the shabby bitter-enders; I've seen 'em ashamed of the sleek luggage they got from movie rights.
"Do you want to sacrifice yourself in such a topsy-turvy world, where popularity makes you unpopular with the people you love, and the only failure is cheap success, and the only individualist is the person who gives up all his individualism to serve a jolly ungrateful proletariat which thumbs its nose at him?"
Carol smiled ingratiatingly, to indicate that she was indeed one who desired to sacrifice, but she sighed, "I don't know; I'm afraid I'm not heroic. I certainly wasn't out home. Why didn't I do big effective——"
"Not a matter of heroism. Matter of endurance. Your Middlewest is double-Puritan—prairie Puritan on top of New England Puritan; bluff frontiersman on the surface, but in its heart it still has the ideal of Plymouth Rock in a sleet-storm. There's one attack you can make on it, perhaps the only kind that accomplishes much anywhere: you can keep on looking at one thing after another in your home and church and bank, and ask why it is, and who first laid down the law that it had to be that way. If enough of us do this impolitely enough, then we'll become civilized in merely twenty thousand years or so, instead of having to wait the two hundred thousand years that my cynical anthropologist friends allow. . . . Easy, pleasant, lucrative home-work for wives: asking people to define their jobs. That's the most dangerous doctrine I know!"
Carol was mediating, "I will go back! I will go on asking questions. I've always done it, and always failed at it, and it's all I can do. I'm going to ask Ezra Stowbody why he's opposed to the nationalization of railroads, and ask Dave Dyer why a druggist always is pleased when he's called 'doctor,' and maybe ask Mrs. Bogart why she wears a widow's veil that looks like a dead crow."
The woman leader straightened. "And you have one thing. You have a baby to hug. That's my temptation. I dream of babies—of a baby—and I sneak around parks to see them playing. (The children in Dupont Circle are like a poppy-garden.) And the antis call me 'unsexed'!"
Carol was thinking, in panic, "Oughtn't Hugh to have country air? I won't let him become a yokel. I can guide him away from street-corner loafing. . . . I think I can."
On her way home: "Now that I've made a precedent, joined the union and gone out on one strike and learned personal solidarity, I won't be so afraid. Will won't always be resisting my running away. Some day I really will go to Europe with him . . . or without him.
"I've lived with people who are not afraid to go to jail. I could invite a Miles Bjornstam to dinner without being afraid of the Haydocks . . . I think I could.
"I'll take back the sound of Yvette Guilbert's songs and Elman's violin. They'll be only the lovelier against the thrumming of crickets in the stubble on an autumn day.
"I can laugh now and be serene . . . I think I can."
Though she should return, she said, she would not be utterly defeated. She was glad of her rebellion. The prairie was no longer empty land in the sun-glare; it was the living tawny beast which she had fought and made beautiful by fighting; and in the village streets were shadows of her desires and the sound of her marching and the seeds of mystery and greatness.
Her active hatred of Gopher Prairie had run out. She saw it now as a toiling new settlement. With sympathy she remembered Kennicott's defense of its citizens as "a lot of pretty good folks, working hard and trying to bring up their families the best they can." She recalled tenderly the young awkwardness of Main Street and the makeshifts of the little brown cottages; she pitied their shabbiness and isolation; had compassion for their assertion of culture, even as expressed in Thanatopsis papers, for their pretense of greatness, even as trumpeted in "boosting." She saw Main Street in the dusty prairie sunset, a line of frontier shanties with solemn lonely people waiting for her, solemn and lonely as an old man who has outlived his friends. She remembered that Kennicott and Sam Clark had listened to her songs, and she wanted to run to them and sing.
"At last," she rejoiced, "I've come to a fairer attitude toward the town. I can love it, now."
She was, perhaps, rather proud of herself for having acquired so much tolerance.
She awoke at three in the morning, after a dream of being tortured by Ella Stowbody and the Widow Bogart.
"I've been making the town a myth. This is how people keep up the tradition of the perfect home-town, the happy boyhood, the brilliant college friends. We forget so. I've been forgetting that Main Street doesn't think it's in the least lonely and pitiful. It thinks it's God's Own Country. It isn't waiting for me. It doesn't care."
But the next evening she again saw Gopher Prairie as her home, waiting for her in the sunset, rimmed round with splendor.
She did not return for five months more; five months crammed with greedy accumulation of sounds and colors to take back for the long still days.
She had spent nearly two years in Washington.
When she departed for Gopher Prairie, in June, her second baby was stirring within her.
SHE wondered all the way home what her sensations would be. She wondered about it so much that she had every sensation she had imagined. She was excited by each familiar porch, each hearty "Well, well!" and flattered to be, for a day, the most important news of the community. She bustled about, making calls. Juanita Haydock bubbled over their Washington encounter, and took Carol to her social bosom. This ancient opponent seemed likely to be her most intimate friend, for Vida Sherwin, though she was cordial, stood back and watched for imported heresies.
In the evening Carol went to the mill. The mystical Om-Om-Om of the dynamos in the electric-light plant behind the mill was louder in the darkness. Outside sat the night watchman, Champ Perry. He held up his stringy hands and squeaked, "We've all missed you terrible."
Who in Washington would miss her?
Who in Washington could be depended upon like Guy Pollock? When she saw him on the street, smiling as always, he seemed an eternal thing, a part of her own self.
After a week she decided that she was neither glad nor sorry to be back. She entered each day with the matter-of-fact attitude with which she had gone to her office in Washington. It was her task; there would be mechanical details and meaningless talk; what of it?
The only problem which she had approached with emotion proved insignificant. She had, on the train, worked herself up to such devotion that she was willing to give up her own room, to try to share all of her life with Kennicott.
He mumbled, ten minutes after she had entered the house, "Say, I've kept your room for you like it was. I've kind of come round to your way of thinking. Don't see why folks need to get on each other's nerves just because they're friendly. Darned if I haven't got so I like a little privacy and mulling things over by myself."
She had left a city which sat up nights to talk of universal transition; of European revolution, guild socialism, free verse. She had fancied that all the world was changing.
She found that it was not.
In Gopher Prairie the only ardent new topics were prohibition, the place in Minneapolis where you could get whisky at thirteen dollars a quart, recipes for home-made beer, the "high cost of living," the presidential election, Clark's new car, and not very novel foibles of Cy Bogart. Their problems were exactly what they had been two years ago, what they had been twenty years ago, and what they would be for twenty years to come. With the world a possible volcano, the husbandmen were plowing at the base of the mountain. A volcano does occasionally drop a river of lava on even the best of agriculturists, to their astonishment and considerable injury, but their cousins inherit the farms and a year or two later go back to the plowing.
She was unable to rhapsodize much over the seven new bungalows and the two garages which Kennicott had made to seem so important. Her intensest thought about them was, "Oh yes, they're all right I suppose." The change which she did heed was the erection of the schoolbuilding, with its cheerful brick walls, broad windows, gymnasium, classrooms for agriculture and cooking. It indicated Vida's triumph, and it stirred her to activity—any activity. She went to Vida with a jaunty, "I think I shall work for you. And I'll begin at the bottom."
She did. She relieved the attendant at the rest-room for an hour a day. Her only innovation was painting the pine table a black and orange rather shocking to the Thanatopsis. She talked to the farmwives and soothed their babies and was happy.
Thinking of them she did not think of the ugliness of Main Street as she hurried along it to the chatter of the Jolly Seventeen.
She wore her eye-glasses on the street now. She was beginning to ask Kennicott and Juanita if she didn't look young, much younger than thirty-three. The eye-glasses pinched her nose. She considered spectacles. They would make her seem older, and hopelessly settled. No! She would not wear spectacles yet. But she tried on a pair at Kennicott's office. They really were much more comfortable.
Dr. Westlake, Sam Clark, Nat Hicks, and Del Snafflin were talking in Del's barber shop.
"Well, I see Kennicott's wife is taking a whirl at the rest-room, now," said Dr. Westlake. He emphasized the "now."
Del interrupted the shaving of Sam and, with his brush dripping lather, he observed jocularly:
"What'll she be up to next? They say she used to claim this burg wasn't swell enough for a city girl like her, and would we please tax ourselves about thirty-seven point nine and fix it all up pretty, with tidies on the hydrants and statoos on the lawns——"
Sam irritably blew the lather from his lips, with milky small bubbles, and snorted, "Be a good thing for most of us roughnecks if we did have a smart woman to tell us how to fix up the town. Just as much to her kicking as there was to Jim Blausser's gassing about factories. And you can bet Mrs. Kennicott is smart, even if she is skittish. Glad to see her back."
Dr. Westlake hastened to play safe. "So was I! So was I! She's got a nice way about her, and she knows a good deal about books, or fiction anyway. Of course she's like all the rest of these women—not solidly founded—not scholarly—doesn't know anything about political economy—falls for every new idea that some windjamming crank puts out. But she's a nice woman. She'll probably fix up the rest-room, and the rest-room is a fine thing, brings a lot of business to town. And now that Mrs. Kennicott's been away, maybe she's got over some of her fool ideas. Maybe she realizes that folks simply laugh at her when she tries to tell us how to run everything."
"Sure. She'll take a tumble to herself," said Nat Hicks, sucking in his lips judicially. "As far as I'm concerned, I'll say she's as nice a looking skirt as there is in town. But yow!" His tone electrified them. "Guess she'll miss that Swede Valborg that used to work for me! They was a pair! Talking poetry and moonshine! If they could of got away with it, they'd of been so darn lovey-dovey——"
Sam Clark interrupted, "Rats, they never even thought about making love, Just talking books and all that junk. I tell you, Carrie Kennicott's a smart woman, and these smart educated women all get funny ideas, but they get over 'em after they've had three or four kids. You'll see her settled down one of these days, and teaching Sunday School and helping at sociables and behaving herself, and not trying to butt into business and politics. Sure!"
After only fifteen minutes of conference on her stockings, her son, her separate bedroom, her music, her ancient interest in Guy Pollock, her probable salary in Washington, and every remark which she was known to have made since her return, the supreme council decided that they would permit Carol Kennicott to live, and they passed on to a consideration of Nat Hicks's New One about the traveling salesman and the old maid.
For some reason which was totally mysterious to Carol, Maud Dyer seemed to resent her return. At the Jolly Seventeen Maud giggled nervously, "Well, I suppose you found war-work a good excuse to stay away and have a swell time. Juanita! Don't you think we ought to make Carrie tell us about the officers she met in Washington?"
They rustled and stared. Carol looked at them. Their curiosity seemed natural and unimportant.
"Oh yes, yes indeed, have to do that some day," she yawned.
She no longer took Aunt Bessie Smail seriously enough to struggle for independence. She saw that Aunt Bessie did not mean to intrude; that she wanted to do things for all the Kennicotts. Thus Carol hit upon the tragedy of old age, which is not that it is less vigorous than youth, but that it is not needed by youth; that its love and prosy sageness, so important a few years ago, so gladly offered now, are rejected with laughter. She divined that when Aunt Bessie came in with a jar of wild-grape jelly she was waiting in hope of being asked for the recipe. After that she could be irritated but she could not be depressed by Aunt Bessie's simoom of questioning.
She wasn't depressed even when she heard Mrs. Bogart observe, "Now we've got prohibition it seems to me that the next problem of the country ain't so much abolishing cigarettes as it is to make folks observe the Sabbath and arrest these law-breakers that play baseball and go to the movies and all on the Lord's Day."
Only one thing bruised Carol's vanity. Few people asked her about Washington. They who had most admiringly begged Percy Bresnahan for his opinions were least interested in her facts. She laughed at herself when she saw that she had expected to be at once a heretic and a returned hero; she was very reasonable and merry about it; and it hurt just as much as ever.
Her baby, born in August, was a girl. Carol could not decide whether she was to become a feminist leader or marry a scientist or both, but did settle on Vassar and a tricolette suit with a small black hat for her Freshman year.
Hugh was loquacious at breakfast. He desired to give his impressions of owls and F Street.
"Don't make so much noise. You talk too much," growled Kennicott.
Carol flared. "Don't speak to him that way! Why don't you listen to him? He has some very interesting things to tell."
"What's the idea? Mean to say you expect me to spend all my time listening to his chatter?"
"For one thing, he's got to learn a little discipline. Time for him to start getting educated."
"I've learned much more discipline, I've had much more education, from him than he has from me."
"What's this? Some new-fangled idea of raising kids you got in Washington?"
"Perhaps. Did you ever realize that children are people?"
"That's all right. I'm not going to have him monopolizing the conversation."
"No, of course. We have our rights, too. But I'm going to bring him up as a human being. He has just as many thoughts as we have, and I want him to develop them, not take Gopher Prairie's version of them. That's my biggest work now—keeping myself, keeping you, from 'educating' him."
"Well, let's not scrap about it. But I'm not going to have him spoiled."
Kennicott had forgotten it in ten minutes; and she forgot it—this time.
The Kennicotts and the Sam Clarks had driven north to a duck-pass between two lakes, on an autumn day of blue and copper.
Kennicott had given her a light twenty-gauge shotgun. She had a first lesson in shooting, in keeping her eyes open, not wincing, understanding that the bead at the end of the barrel really had something to do with pointing the gun. She was radiant; she almost believed Sam when he insisted that it was she who had shot the mallard at which they had fired together.
She sat on the bank of the reedy lake and found rest in Mrs. Clark's drawling comments on nothing. The brown dusk was still. Behind them were dark marshes. The plowed acres smelled fresh. The lake was garnet and silver. The voices of the men, waiting for the last flight, were clear in the cool air.
"Mark left!" sang Kennicott, in a long-drawn call.
Three ducks were swooping down in a swift line. The guns banged, and a duck fluttered. The men pushed their light boat out on the burnished lake, disappeared beyond the reeds. Their cheerful voices and the slow splash and clank of oars came back to Carol from the dimness. In the sky a fiery plain sloped down to a serene harbor. It dissolved; the lake was white marble; and Kennicott was crying, "Well, old lady, how about hiking out for home? Supper taste pretty good, eh?"
"I'll sit back with Ethel," she said, at the car.
It was the first time she had called Mrs. Clark by her given name; the first time she had willingly sat back, a woman of Main Street.
"I'm hungry. It's good to be hungry," she reflected, as they drove away.
She looked across the silent fields to the west. She was conscious of an unbroken sweep of land to the Rockies, to Alaska, a dominion which will rise to unexampled greatness when other empires have grown senile. Before that time, she knew, a hundred generations of Carols will aspire and go down in tragedy devoid of palls and solemn chanting, the humdrum inevitable tragedy of struggle against inertia.
"Let's all go to the movies tomorrow night. Awfully exciting film," said Ethel Clark.
"Well, I was going to read a new book but——All right, let's go," said Carol.
"They're too much for me," Carol sighed to Kennicott. "I've been thinking about getting up an annual Community Day, when the whole town would forget feuds and go out and have sports and a picnic and a dance. But Bert Tybee (why did you ever elect him mayor?)—he's kidnapped my idea. He wants the Community Day, but he wants to have some politician 'give an address.' That's just the stilted sort of thing I've tried to avoid. He asked Vida, and of course she agreed with him."
Kennicott considered the matter while he wound the clock and they tramped up-stairs.
"Yes, it would jar you to have Bert butting in," he said amiably. "Are you going to do much fussing over this Community stunt? Don't you ever get tired of fretting and stewing and experimenting?"
"I haven't even started. Look!" She led him to the nursery door, pointed at the fuzzy brown head of her daughter. "Do you see that object on the pillow? Do you know what it is? It's a bomb to blow up smugness. If you Tories were wise, you wouldn't arrest anarchists; you'd arrest all these children while they're asleep in their cribs. Think what that baby will see and meddle with before she dies in the year 2000! She may see an industrial union of the whole world, she may see aeroplanes going to Mars."
"Yump, probably be changes all right," yawned Kennicott.
She sat on the edge of his bed while he hunted through his bureau for a collar which ought to be there and persistently wasn't.
"I'll go on, always. And I am happy. But this Community Day makes me see how thoroughly I'm beaten."
"That darn collar certainly is gone for keeps," muttered Kennicott and, louder, "Yes, I guess you——I didn't quite catch what you said, dear."
She patted his pillows, turned down his sheets, as she reflected:
"But I have won in this: I've never excused my failures by sneering at my aspirations, by pretending to have gone beyond them. I do not admit that Main Street is as beautiful as it should be! I do not admit that Gopher Prairie is greater or more generous than Europe! I do not admit that dish-washing is enough to satisfy all women! I may not have fought the good fight, but I have kept the faith."
"Sure. You bet you have," said Kennicott. "Well, good night. Sort of feels to me like it might snow tomorrow. Have to be thinking about putting up the storm-windows pretty soon. Say, did you notice whether the girl put that screwdriver back?"