Patiently — more or less — Carol awaited the exquisite day when they would announce departure. After three weeks Uncle Whittier remarked, "We kinda like Gopher Prairie. Guess maybe we'll stay here. We'd been wondering what we'd do, now we've sold the creamery and my farms. So I had a talk with Ole Jenson about his grocery, and I guess I'll buy him out and storekeep for a while."
Carol rebelled. Kennicott soothed her: "Oh, we won't see much of them. They'll have their own house."
She resolved to be so chilly that they would stay away. But she had no talent for conscious insolence. They found a house, but Carol was never safe from their appearance with a hearty, "Thought we'd drop in this evening and keep you from being lonely. Why, you ain't had them curtains washed yet!" Invariably, whenever she was touched by the realization that it was they who were lonely, they wrecked her pitying affection by comments — questions — comments — advice.
They immediately became friendly with all of their own race, with the Luke Dawsons, the Deacon Piersons, and Mrs. Bogart; and brought them along in the evening. Aunt Bessie was a bridge over whom the older women, bearing gifts of counsel and the ignorance of experience, poured into Carol's island of reserve. Aunt Bessie urged the good Widow Bogart, "Drop in and see Carrie real often. Young folks today don't understand housekeeping like we do."
Mrs. Bogart showed herself perfectly willing to be an associate relative.
Carol was thinking up protective insults when Kennicott's mother came down to stay with Brother Whittier for two months. Carol was fond of Mrs. Kennicott. She could not carry out her insults.
She felt trapped.
She had been kidnaped by the town. She was Aunt Bessie's niece, and she was to be a mother. She was expected, she almost expected herself, to sit forever talking of babies, cooks, embroidery stitches, the price of potatoes, and the tastes of husbands in the matter of spinach.
She found a refuge in the Jolly Seventeen. She suddenly understood that they could be depended upon to laugh with her at Mrs. Bogart, and she now saw Juanita Haydock's gossip not as vulgarity but as gaiety and remarkable analysis.
Her life had changed, even before Hugh appeared. She looked forward to the next bridge of the Jolly Seventeen, and the security of whispering with her dear friends Maud Dyer and Juanita and Mrs. McGanum.
She was part of the town. Its philosophy and its feuds dominated her.
She was no longer irritated by the cooing of the matrons, nor by their opinion that diet didn't matter so long as the Little Ones had plenty of lace and moist kisses, but she concluded that in the care of babies as in politics, intelligence was superior to quotations about pansies. She liked best to talk about Hugh to Kennicott, Vida, and the Bjornstams. She was happily domestic when Kennicott sat by her on the floor, to watch baby make faces. She was delighted when Miles, speaking as one man to another, admonished Hugh, "I wouldn't stand them skirts if I was you. Come on. Join the union and strike. Make 'em give you pants."
As a parent, Kennicott was moved to establish the first child-welfare week held in Gopher Prairie. Carol helped him weigh babies and examine their throats, and she wrote out the diets for mute German and Scandinavian mothers.
The aristocracy of Gopher Prairie, even the wives of the rival doctors, took part, and for several days there was community spirit and much uplift. But this reign of love was overthrown when the prize for Best Baby was awarded not to decent parents but to Bea and Miles Bjornstam! The good matrons glared at Olaf Bjornstam, with his blue eyes, his honey-colored hair, and magnificent back, and they remarked, "Well, Mrs. Kennicott, maybe that Swede brat is as healthy as your husband says he is, but let me tell you I hate to think of the future that awaits any boy with a hired girl for a mother and an awful irreligious socialist for a pa!"
She raged, but so violent was the current of their respectability, so persistent was Aunt Bessie in running to her with their blabber, that she was embarrassed when she took Hugh to play with Olaf. She hated herself for it, but she hoped that no one saw her go into the Bjornstam shanty. She hated herself and the town's indifferent cruelty when she saw Bea's radiant devotion to both babies alike; when she saw Miles staring at them wistfully.
He had saved money, had quit Elder's planing-mill and started a dairy on a vacant lot near his shack. He was proud of his three cows and sixty chickens, and got up nights to nurse them.
"I'll be a big farmer before you can bat an eye! I tell you that young fellow Olaf is going to go East to college along with the Haydock kids. Uh — — Lots of folks dropping in to chin with Bea and me now. Say! Ma Bogart come in one day! She was — — I liked the old lady fine. And the mill foreman comes in right along. Oh, we got lots of friends. You bet!"
Though the town seemed to Carol to change no more than the surrounding fields, there was a constant shifting, these three years. The citizen of the prairie drifts always westward. It may be because he is the heir of ancient migrations — and it may be because he finds within his own spirit so little adventure that he is driven to seek it by changing his horizon. The towns remain unvaried, yet the individual faces alter like classes in college. The Gopher Prairie jeweler sells out, for no discernible reason, and moves on to Alberta or the state of Washington, to open a shop precisely like his former one, in a town precisely like the one he has left. There is, except among professional men and the wealthy, small permanence either of residence or occupation. A man becomes farmer, grocer, town policeman, garageman, restaurant-owner, postmaster, insurance-agent, and farmer all over again, and the community more or less patiently suffers from his lack of knowledge in each of his experiments.
Ole Jenson the grocer and Dahl the butcher moved on to South Dakota and Idaho. Luke and Mrs. Dawson picked up ten thousand acres of prairie soil, in the magic portable form of a small check book, and went to Pasadena, to a bungalow and sunshine and cafeterias. Chet Dashaway sold his furniture and undertaking business and wandered to Los Angeles, where, the Dauntless reported, "Our good friend Chester has accepted a fine position with a real-estate firm, and his wife has in the charming social circles of the Queen City of the Southwestland that same popularity which she enjoyed in our own society sets."
Rita Simons was married to Terry Gould, and rivaled Juanita Haydock as the gayest of the Young Married Set. But Juanita also acquired merit. Harry's father died, Harry became senior partner in the Bon Ton Store, and Juanita was more acidulous and shrewd and cackling than ever. She bought an evening frock, and exposed her collar-bone to the wonder of the Jolly Seventeen, and talked of moving to Minneapolis.
To defend her position against the new Mrs. Terry Gould she sought to attach Carol to her faction by giggling that "SOME folks might call Rita innocent, but I've got a hunch that she isn't half as ignorant of things as brides are supposed to be — and of course Terry isn't one-two-three as a doctor alongside of your husband."