SHE was marching home.
"No. I couldn't fall in love with him. I like him, very much. But he's too much of a recluse. Could I kiss him? No! No! Guy Pollock at twenty-six I could have kissed him then, maybe, even if I were married to some one else, and probably I'd have been glib in persuading myself that 'it wasn't really wrong.'
"The amazing thing is that I'm not more amazed at myself. I, the virtuous young matron. Am I to be trusted? If the Prince Charming came — —
"A Gopher Prairie housewife, married a year, and yearning for a 'Prince Charming' like a bachfisch of sixteen! They say that marriage is a magic change. But I'm not changed. But — —
"No! I wouldn't want to fall in love, even if the Prince did come. I wouldn't want to hurt Will. I am fond of Will. I am! He doesn't stir me, not any longer. But I depend on him. He is home and children.
"I wonder when we will begin to have children? I do want them.
"I wonder whether I remembered to tell Bea to have hominy tomorrow, instead of oatmeal? She will have gone to bed by now. Perhaps I'll be up early enough — —
"Ever so fond of Will. I wouldn't hurt him, even if I had to lose the mad love. If the Prince came I'd look once at him, and run. Darn fast! Oh, Carol, you are not heroic nor fine. You are the immutable vulgar young female.
"But I'm not the faithless wife who enjoys confiding that she's 'misunderstood.' Oh, I'm not, I'm not!
"At least I didn't whisper to Guy about Will's faults and his blindness to my remarkable soul. I didn't! Matter of fact, Will probably understands me perfectly! If only — if he would just back me up in rousing the town.
"How many, how incredibly many wives there must be who tingle over the first Guy Pollock who smiles at them. No! I will not be one of that herd of yearners! The coy virgin brides. Yet probably if the Prince were young and dared to face life — —
"I'm not half as well oriented as that Mrs. Dillon. So obviously adoring her dentist! And seeing Guy only as an eccentric fogy.
"They weren't silk, Mrs. Dillon's stockings. They were lisle. Her legs are nice and slim. But no nicer than mine. I hate cotton tops on silk stockings. . . . Are my ankles getting fat? I will NOT have fat ankles!
"No. I am fond of Will. His work — one farmer he pulls through diphtheria is worth all my yammering for a castle in Spain. A castle with baths.
"This hat is so tight. I must stretch it. Guy liked it.
"There's the house. I'm awfully chilly. Time to get out the fur coat. I wonder if I'll ever have a beaver coat? Nutria is NOT the same thing! Beaver-glossy. Like to run my fingers over it. Guy's mustache like beaver. How utterly absurd!
"I am, I AM fond of Will, and — — Can't I ever find another word than 'fond'?
"He's home. He'll think I was out late.
"Why can't he ever remember to pull down the shades? Cy Bogart and all the beastly boys peeping in. But the poor dear, he's absent-minded about minute — minush — whatever the word is. He has so much worry and work, while I do nothing but jabber to Bea.
"I MUSTN'T forget the hominy — — "
She was flying into the hall. Kennicott looked up from the Journal of the American Medical Society.
"Hello! What time did you get back?" she cried.
"About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven!" Good-natured yet not quite approving.
"Did it feel neglected?"
"Well, you didn't remember to close the lower draft in the furnace."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. But I don't often forget things like that, do I?"
She dropped into his lap and (after he had jerked back his head to save his eye-glasses, and removed the glasses, and settled her in a position less cramping to his legs, and casually cleared his throat) he kissed her amiably, and remarked:
"Nope, I must say you're fairly good about things like that. I wasn't kicking. I just meant I wouldn't want the fire to go out on us. Leave that draft open and the fire might burn up and go out on us. And the nights are beginning to get pretty cold again. Pretty cold on my drive. I put the side-curtains up, it was so chilly. But the generator is working all right now."
"Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk."
"I went up to see the Perrys." By a definite act of will she added the truth: "They weren't in. And I saw Guy Pollock. Dropped into his office."
"Why, you haven't been sitting and chinning with him till eleven o'clock?"
"Of course there were some other people there and — — Will! What do you think of Dr. Westlake?"
"I noticed him on the street today."
"Was he limping? If the poor fish would have his teeth X-rayed, I'll bet nine and a half cents he'd find an abscess there. 'Rheumatism' he calls it. Rheumatism, hell! He's behind the times. Wonder he doesn't bleed himself! Wellllllll — — " A profound and serious yawn. "I hate to break up the party, but it's getting late, and a doctor never knows when he'll get routed out before morning." (She remembered that he had given this explanation, in these words, not less than thirty times in the year.) "I guess we better be trotting up to bed. I've wound the clock and looked at the furnace. Did you lock the front door when you came in?"
They trailed up-stairs, after he had turned out the lights and twice tested the front door to make sure it was fast. While they talked they were preparing for bed. Carol still sought to maintain privacy by undressing behind the screen of the closet door. Kennicott was not so reticent. Tonight, as every night, she was irritated by having to push the old plush chair out of the way before she could open the closet door. Every time she opened the door she shoved the chair. Ten times an hour. But Kennicott liked to have the chair in the room, and there was no place for it except in front of the closet.
She pushed it, felt angry, hid her anger. Kennicott was yawning, more portentously. The room smelled stale. She shrugged and became chatty:
"You were speaking of Dr. Westlake. Tell me — you've never summed him up: Is he really a good doctor?"
"Oh yes, he's a wise old coot."
("There! You see there is no medical rivalry. Not in my house!" she said triumphantly to Guy Pollock.)
She hung her silk petticoat on a closet hook, and went on, "Dr. Westlake is so gentle and scholarly — — "
"Well, I don't know as I'd say he was such a whale of a scholar. I've always had a suspicion he did a good deal of four-flushing about that. He likes to have people think he keeps up his French and Greek and Lord knows what all; and he's always got an old Dago book lying around the sitting-room, but I've got a hunch he reads detective stories 'bout like the rest of us. And I don't know where he'd ever learn so dog-gone many languages anyway! He kind of lets people assume he went to Harvard or Berlin or Oxford or somewhere, but I looked him up in the medical register, and he graduated from a hick college in Pennsylvania, 'way back in 1861!"