"No, REALLY! And when you say the wives of the doctors share these jealousies — — Mrs. McGanum and I haven't any particular crush on each other; she's so stolid. But her mother, Mrs. Westlake — nobody could be sweeter."
"Yes, I'm sure she's very bland. But I wouldn't tell her my heart's secrets if I were you, my dear. I insist that there's only one professional-man's wife in this town who doesn't plot, and that is you, you blessed, credulous outsider!"
"I won't be cajoled! I won't believe that medicine, the priesthood of healing, can be turned into a penny-picking business."
"See here: Hasn't Kennicott ever hinted to you that you'd better be nice to some old woman because she tells her friends which doctor to call in? But I oughtn't to — — "
She remembered certain remarks which Kennicott had offered regarding the Widow Bogart. She flinched, looked at Guy beseechingly.
He sprang up, strode to her with a nervous step, smoothed her hand. She wondered if she ought to be offended by his caress. Then she wondered if he liked her hat, the new Oriental turban of rose and silver brocade.
He dropped her hand. His elbow brushed her shoulder. He flitted over to the desk-chair, his thin back stooped. He picked up the cloisonne vase. Across it he peered at her with such loneliness that she was startled. But his eyes faded into impersonality as he talked of the jealousies of Gopher Prairie. He stopped himself with a sharp, "Good Lord, Carol, you're not a jury. You are within your legal rights in refusing to be subjected to this summing-up. I'm a tedious old fool analyzing the obvious, while you're the spirit of rebellion. Tell me your side. What is Gopher Prairie to you?"
"Can I help?"
"How could you?"
"I don't know. Perhaps by listening. I haven't done that tonight. But normally — — Can't I be the confidant of the old French plays, the tiring-maid with the mirror and the loyal ears?"
"Oh, what is there to confide? The people are savorless and proud of it. And even if I liked you tremendously, I couldn't talk to you without twenty old hexes watching, whispering."
"But you will come talk to me, once in a while?"
"I'm not sure that I shall. I'm trying to develop my own large capacity for dullness and contentment. I've failed at every positive thing I've tried. I'd better 'settle down,' as they call it, and be satisfied to be — nothing."
"Don't be cynical. It hurts me, in you. It's like blood on the wing of a humming-bird."
"I'm not a humming-bird. I'm a hawk; a tiny leashed hawk, pecked to death by these large, white, flabby, wormy hens. But I am grateful to you for confirming me in the faith. And I'm going home!"
"Please stay and have some coffee with me."
"I'd like to. But they've succeeded in terrorizing me. I'm afraid of what people might say."
"I'm not afraid of that. I'm only afraid of what you might say!" He stalked to her; took her unresponsive hand. "Carol! You have been happy here tonight? (Yes. I'm begging!)"
She squeezed his hand quickly, then snatched hers away. She had but little of the curiosity of the flirt, and none of the intrigante's joy in furtiveness. If she was the naive girl, Guy Pollock was the clumsy boy. He raced about the office; he rammed his fists into his pockets. He stammered, "I — I — I — — Oh, the devil! Why do I awaken from smooth dustiness to this jagged rawness? I'll make I'm going to trot down the hall and bring in the Dillons, and we'll all have coffee or something."
"Yes. Really quite a decent young pair — Harvey Dillon and his wife. He's a dentist, just come to town. They live in a room behind his office, same as I do here. They don't know much of anybody — — "
"I've heard of them. And I've never thought to call. I'm horribly ashamed. Do bring them — — "
She stopped, for no very clear reason, but his expression said, her faltering admitted, that they wished they had never mentioned the Dillons. With spurious enthusiasm he said, "Splendid! I will." From the door he glanced at her, curled in the peeled leather chair. He slipped out, came back with Dr. and Mrs. Dillon.
The four of them drank rather bad coffee which Pollock made on a kerosene burner. They laughed, and spoke of Minneapolis, and were tremendously tactful; and Carol started for home, through the November wind.