She found pictures of New England streets: the dignity of Falmouth, the charm of Concord, Stockbridge and Farmington and Hillhouse Avenue. The fairy-book suburb of Forest Hills on Long Island. Devonshire cottages and Essex manors and a Yorkshire High Street and Port Sunlight. The Arab village of Djeddah — an intricately chased jewel-box. A town in California which had changed itself from the barren brick fronts and slatternly frame sheds of a Main Street to a way which led the eye down a vista of arcades and gardens.
Assured that she was not quite mad in her belief that a small American town might be lovely, as well as useful in buying wheat and selling plows, she sat brooding, her thin fingers playing a tattoo on her cheeks. She saw in Gopher Prairie a Georgian city hall: warm brick walls with white shutters, a fanlight, a wide hall and curving stair. She saw it the common home and inspiration not only of the town but of the country about. It should contain the court-room (she couldn't get herself to put in a jail), public library, a collection of excellent prints, rest-room and model kitchen for farmwives, theater, lecture room, free community ballroom, farm-bureau, gymnasium. Forming about it and influenced by it, as mediaeval villages gathered about the castle, she saw a new Georgian town as graceful and beloved as Annapolis or that bowery Alexandria to which Washington rode.
All this the Thanatopsis Club was to accomplish with no difficulty whatever, since its several husbands were the controllers of business and politics. She was proud of herself for this practical view.
She had taken only half an hour to change a wire-fenced potato-plot into a walled rose-garden. She hurried out to apprize Mrs. Leonard Warren, as president of the Thanatopsis, of the miracle which had been worked.
At a quarter to three Carol had left home; at half-past four she had created the Georgian town; at a quarter to five she was in the dignified poverty of the Congregational parsonage, her enthusiasm pattering upon Mrs. Leonard Warren like summer rain upon an old gray roof; at two minutes to five a town of demure courtyards and welcoming dormer windows had been erected, and at two minutes past five the entire town was as flat as Babylon.
Erect in a black William and Mary chair against gray and speckly-brown volumes of sermons and Biblical commentaries and Palestine geographies upon long pine shelves, her neat black shoes firm on a rag-rug, herself as correct and low-toned as her background, Mrs. Warren listened without comment till Carol was quite through, then answered delicately:
"Yes, I think you draw a very nice picture of what might easily come to pass — some day. I have no doubt that such villages will be found on the prairie — some day. But if I might make just the least little criticism: it seems to me that you are wrong in supposing either that the city hall would be the proper start, or that the Thanatopsis would be the right instrument. After all, it's the churches, isn't it, that are the real heart of the community. As you may possibly know, my husband is prominent in Congregational circles all through the state for his advocacy of church-union. He hopes to see all the evangelical denominations joined in one strong body, opposing Catholicism and Christian Science, and properly guiding all movements that make for morality and prohibition. Here, the combined churches could afford a splendid club-house, maybe a stucco and half-timber building with gargoyles and all sorts of pleasing decorations on it, which, it seems to me, would be lots better to impress the ordinary class of people than just a plain old-fashioned colonial house, such as you describe. And that would be the proper center for all educational and pleasurable activities, instead of letting them fall into the hands of the politicians."
"I don't suppose it will take more than thirty or forty years for the churches to get together?" Carol said innocently.
"Hardly that long even; things are moving so rapidly. So it would be a mistake to make any other plans."
Carol did not recover her zeal till two days after, when she tried Mrs. George Edwin Mott, wife of the superintendent of schools.
Mrs. Mott commented, "Personally, I am terribly busy with dressmaking and having the seamstress in the house and all, but it would be splendid to have the other members of the Thanatopsis take up the question. Except for one thing: First and foremost, we must have a new schoolbuilding. Mr. Mott says they are terribly cramped."
Carol went to view the old building. The grades and the high school were combined in a damp yellow-brick structure with the narrow windows of an antiquated jail — a hulk which expressed hatred and compulsory training. She conceded Mrs. Mott's demand so violently that for two days she dropped her own campaign. Then she built the school and city hall together, as the center of the reborn town.
She ventured to the lead-colored dwelling of Mrs. Dave Dyer. Behind the mask of winter-stripped vines and a wide porch only a foot above the ground, the cottage was so impersonal that Carol could never visualize it. Nor could she remember anything that was inside it. But Mrs. Dyer was personal enough. With Carol, Mrs. Howland, Mrs. McGanum, and Vida Sherwin she was a link between the Jolly Seventeen and the serious Thanatopsis (in contrast to Juanita Haydock, who unnecessarily boasted of being a "lowbrow" and publicly stated that she would "see herself in jail before she'd write any darned old club papers"). Mrs. Dyer was superfeminine in the kimono in which she received Carol. Her skin was fine, pale, soft, suggesting a weak voluptuousness. At afternoon-coffees she had been rude but now she addressed Carol as "dear," and insisted on being called Maud. Carol did not quite know why she was uncomfortable in this talcum-powder atmosphere, but she hastened to get into the fresh air of her plans.
Maud Dyer granted that the city hall wasn't "so very nice," yet, as Dave said, there was no use doing anything about it till they received an appropriation from the state and combined a new city hall with a national guard armory. Dave had given verdict, "What these mouthy youngsters that hang around the pool-room need is universal military training. Make men of 'em."
Mrs. Dyer removed the new schoolbuilding from the city hall:
"Oh, so Mrs. Mott has got you going on her school craze! She's been dinging at that till everybody's sick and tired. What she really wants is a big office for her dear bald-headed Gawge to sit around and look important in. Of course I admire Mrs. Mott, and I'm very fond of her, she's so brainy, even if she does try to butt in and run the Thanatopsis, but I must say we're sick of her nagging. The old building was good enough for us when we were kids! I hate these would-be women politicians, don't you?"
The first week of March had given promise of spring and stirred Carol with a thousand desires for lakes and fields and roads. The snow was gone except for filthy woolly patches under trees, the thermometer leaped in a day from wind-bitten chill to itchy warmth. As soon as Carol was convinced that even in this imprisoned North, spring could exist again, the snow came down as abruptly as a paper storm in a theater; the northwest gale flung it up in a half blizzard; and with her hope of a glorified town went hope of summer meadows.
But a week later, though the snow was everywhere in slushy heaps, the promise was unmistakable. By the invisible hints in air and sky and earth which had aroused her every year through ten thousand generations she knew that spring was coming. It was not a scorching, hard, dusty day like the treacherous intruder of a week before, but soaked with languor, softened with a milky light. Rivulets were hurrying in each alley; a calling robin appeared by magic on the crab-apple tree in the Howlands' yard. Everybody chuckled, "Looks like winter is going," and "This 'll bring the frost out of the roads — have the autos out pretty soon now — wonder what kind of bass-fishing we'll get this summer — ought to be good crops this year."
Each evening Kennicott repeated, "We better not take off our Heavy Underwear or the storm windows too soon — might be 'nother spell of cold — got to be careful 'bout catching cold — wonder if the coal will last through?"
The expanding forces of life within her choked the desire for reforming. She trotted through the house, planning the spring cleaning with Bea. When she attended her second meeting of the Thanatopsis she said nothing about remaking the town. She listened respectably to statistics on Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Scott, Hardy, Lamb, De Quincey, and Mrs. Humphry Ward, who, it seemed, constituted the writers of English Fiction and Essays.
Not till she inspected the rest-room did she again become a fanatic. She had often glanced at the store-building which had been turned into a refuge in which farmwives could wait while their husbands transacted business. She had heard Vida Sherwin and Mrs. Warren caress the virtue of the Thanatopsis in establishing the rest-room and in sharing with the city council the expense of maintaining it. But she had never entered it till this March day.
She went in impulsively; nodded at the matron, a plump worthy widow named Nodelquist, and at a couple of farm-women who were meekly rocking. The rest-room resembled a second-hand store. It was furnished with discarded patent rockers, lopsided reed chairs, a scratched pine table, a gritty straw mat, old steel engravings of milkmaids being morally amorous under willow-trees, faded chromos of roses and fish, and a kerosene stove for warming lunches. The front window was darkened by torn net curtains and by a mound of geraniums and rubber-plants.