During her first call half of her wanted to welcome a fellow reader of books; the other half itched to find out whether Carol knew anything about Kennicott's former interest in herself. She discovered that Carol was not aware that he had ever touched another woman's hand. Carol was an amusing, naive, curiously learned child. While Vida was most actively describing the glories of the Thanatopsis, and complimenting this librarian on her training as a worker, she was fancying that this girl was the child born of herself and Kennicott; and out of that symbolizing she had a comfort she had not known for months.
When she came home, after supper with the Kennicotts and Guy Pollock, she had a sudden and rather pleasant backsliding from devotion. She bustled into her room, she slammed her hat on the bed, and chattered, "I don't CARE! I'm a lot like her — except a few years older. I'm light and quick, too, and I can talk just as well as she can, and I'm sure — — Men are such fools. I'd be ten times as sweet to make love to as that dreamy baby. And I AM as good-looking!"
But as she sat on the bed and stared at her thin thighs, defiance oozed away. She mourned:
"No. I'm not. Dear God, how we fool ourselves! I pretend I'm 'spiritual.' I pretend my legs are graceful. They aren't. They're skinny. Old-maidish. I hate it! I hate that impertinent young woman! A selfish cat, taking his love for granted. . . . No, she's adorable. . . . I don't think she ought to be so friendly with Guy Pollock."
For a year Vida loved Carol, longed to and did not pry into the details of her relations with Kennicott, enjoyed her spirit of play as expressed in childish tea-parties, and, with the mystic bond between them forgotten, was healthily vexed by Carol's assumption that she was a sociological messiah come to save Gopher Prairie. This last facet of Vida's thought was the one which, after a year, was most often turned to the light. In a testy way she brooded, "These people that want to change everything all of a sudden without doing any work, make me tired! Here I have to go and work for four years, picking out the pupils for debates, and drilling them, and nagging at them to get them to look up references, and begging them to choose their own subjects — four years, to get up a couple of good debates! And she comes rushing in, and expects in one year to change the whole town into a lollypop paradise with everybody stopping everything else to grow tulips and drink tea. And it's a comfy homey old town, too!"
She had such an outburst after each of Carol's campaigns — for better Thanatopsis programs, for Shavian plays, for more human schools — but she never betrayed herself, and always she was penitent.
Vida was, and always would be, a reformer, a liberal. She believed that details could excitingly be altered, but that things-in-general were comely and kind and immutable. Carol was, without understanding or accepting it, a revolutionist, a radical, and therefore possessed of "constructive ideas," which only the destroyer can have, since the reformer believes that all the essential constructing has already been done. After years of intimacy it was this unexpressed opposition more than the fancied loss of Kennicott's love which held Vida irritably fascinated.
But the birth of Hugh revived the transcendental emotion. She was indignant that Carol should not be utterly fulfilled in having borne Kennicott's child. She admitted that Carol seemed to have affection and immaculate care for the baby, but she began to identify herself now with Kennicott, and in this phase to feel that she had endured quite too much from Carol's instability.
She recalled certain other women who had come from the Outside and had not appreciated Gopher Prairie. She remembered the rector's wife who had been chilly to callers and who was rumored throughout the town to have said, "Re-ah-ly I cawn't endure this bucolic heartiness in the responses." The woman was positively known to have worn handkerchiefs in her bodice as padding — oh, the town had simply roared at her. Of course the rector and she were got rid of in a few months.
Then there was the mysterious woman with the dyed hair and penciled eyebrows, who wore tight English dresses, like basques, who smelled of stale musk, who flirted with the men and got them to advance money for her expenses in a lawsuit, who laughed at Vida's reading at a school-entertainment, and went off owing a hotel-bill and the three hundred dollars she had borrowed.
Vida insisted that she loved Carol, but with some satisfaction she compared her to these traducers of the town.
Vida had enjoyed Raymie Wutherspoon's singing in the Episcopal choir; she had thoroughly reviewed the weather with him at Methodist sociables and in the Bon Ton. But she did not really know him till she moved to Mrs. Gurrey's boarding-house. It was five years after her affair with Kennicott. She was thirty-nine, Raymie perhaps a year younger.
She said to him, and sincerely, "My! You can do anything, with your brains and tact and that heavenly voice. You were so good in 'The Girl from Kankakee.' You made me feel terribly stupid. If you'd gone on the stage, I believe you'd be just as good as anybody in Minneapolis. But still, I'm not sorry you stuck to business. It's such a constructive career."
"Do you really think so?" yearned Raymie, across the apple-sauce.
It was the first time that either of them had found a dependable intellectual companionship. They looked down on Willis Woodford the bank-clerk, and his anxious babycentric wife, the silent Lyman Casses, the slangy traveling man, and the rest of Mrs. Gurrey's unenlightened guests. They sat opposite, and they sat late. They were exhilarated to find that they agreed in confession of faith:
"People like Sam Clark and Harry Haydock aren't earnest about music and pictures and eloquent sermons and really refined movies, but then, on the other hand, people like Carol Kennicott put too much stress on all this art. Folks ought to appreciate lovely things, but just the same, they got to be practical and — they got to look at things in a practical way."
Smiling, passing each other the pressed-glass pickle-dish, seeing Mrs. Gurrey's linty supper-cloth irradiated by the light of intimacy, Vida and Raymie talked about Carol's rose-colored turban, Carol's sweetness, Carol's new low shoes, Carol's erroneous theory that there was no need of strict discipline in school, Carol's amiability in the Bon Ton, Carol's flow of wild ideas, which, honestly, just simply made you nervous trying to keep track of them.
About the lovely display of gents' shirts in the Bon Ton window as dressed by Raymie, about Raymie's offertory last Sunday, the fact that there weren't any of these new solos as nice as "Jerusalem the Golden," and the way Raymie stood up to Juanita Haydock when she came into the store and tried to run things and he as much as told her that she was so anxious to have folks think she was smart and bright that she said things she didn't mean, and anyway, Raymie was running the shoe-department, and if Juanita, or Harry either, didn't like the way he ran things, they could go get another man.
About Vida's new jabot which made her look thirty-two (Vida's estimate) or twenty-two (Raymie's estimate), Vida's plan to have the high-school Debating Society give a playlet, and the difficulty of keeping the younger boys well behaved on the playground when a big lubber like Cy Bogart acted up so.
About the picture post-card which Mrs. Dawson had sent to Mrs. Cass from Pasadena, showing roses growing right outdoors in February, the change in time on No. 4, the reckless way Dr. Gould always drove his auto, the reckless way almost all these people drove their autos, the fallacy of supposing that these socialists could carry on a government for as much as six months if they ever did have a chance to try out their theories, and the crazy way in which Carol jumped from subject to subject.
Vida had once beheld Raymie as a thin man with spectacles, mournful drawn-out face, and colorless stiff hair. Now she noted that his jaw was square, that his long hands moved quickly and were bleached in a refined manner, and that his trusting eyes indicated that he had "led a clean life." She began to call him "Ray," and to bounce in defense of his unselfishness and thoughtfulness every time Juanita Haydock or Rita Gould giggled about him at the Jolly Seventeen.
On a Sunday afternoon of late autumn they walked down to Lake Minniemashie. Ray said that he would like to see the ocean; it must be a grand sight; it must be much grander than a lake, even a great big lake. Vida had seen it, she stated modestly; she had seen it on a summer trip to Cape Cod.
"Have you been clear to Cape Cod? Massachusetts? I knew you'd traveled, but I never realized you'd been that far!"