When Carol glanced at Erik again she discovered that Mrs. Bogart had an eye on her. It was a shock to know that at last there was something which could make her afraid of Mrs. Bogart's spying.
"What am I doing? Am I in love with Erik? Unfaithful? I? I want youth but I don't want him — I mean, I don't want youth — enough to break up my life. I must get out of this. Quick."
She said to Kennicott on their way home, "Will! I want to run away for a few days. Wouldn't you like to skip down to Chicago?"
"Still be pretty hot there. No fun in a big city till winter. What do you want to go for?"
"People! To occupy my mind. I want stimulus."
"Stimulus?" He spoke good-naturedly. "Who's been feeding you meat? You got that 'stimulus' out of one of these fool stories about wives that don't know when they're well off. Stimulus! Seriously, though, to cut out the jollying, I can't get away."
"Then why don't I run off by myself?"
"Why — — 'Tisn't the money, you understand. But what about Hugh?"
"Leave him with Aunt Bessie. It would be just for a few days."
"I don't think much of this business of leaving kids around. Bad for 'em."
"So you don't think — — "
"I'll tell you: I think we better stay put till after the war. Then we'll have a dandy long trip. No, I don't think you better plan much about going away now."
So she was thrown at Erik.
She awoke at ebb-time, at three of the morning, woke sharply and fully; and sharply and coldly as her father pronouncing sentence on a cruel swindler she gave judgment:
"A pitiful and tawdry love-affair.
"No splendor, no defiance. A self-deceived little woman whispering in corners with a pretentious little man.
"No, he is not. He is fine. Aspiring. It's not his fault. His eyes are sweet when he looks at me. Sweet, so sweet."
She pitied herself that her romance should be pitiful; she sighed that in this colorless hour, to this austere self, it should seem tawdry.
Then, in a very great desire of rebellion and unleashing of all her hatreds, "The pettier and more tawdry it is, the more blame to Main Street. It shows how much I've been longing to escape. Any way out! Any humility so long as I can flee. Main Street has done this to me. I came here eager for nobilities, ready for work, and now — — Any way out.
"I came trusting them. They beat me with rods of dullness. They don't know, they don't understand how agonizing their complacent dullness is. Like ants and August sun on a wound.
"Tawdry! Pitiful! Carol — the clean girl that used to walk so fast! — sneaking and tittering in dark corners, being sentimental and jealous at church suppers!"
At breakfast-time her agonies were night-blurred, and persisted only as a nervous irresolution.
Few of the aristocrats of the Jolly Seventeen attended the humble folk-meets of the Baptist and Methodist church suppers, where the Willis Woodfords, the Dillons, the Champ Perrys, Oleson the butcher, Brad Bemis the tinsmith, and Deacon Pierson found release from loneliness. But all of the smart set went to the lawn-festivals of the Episcopal Church, and were reprovingly polite to outsiders.
The Harry Haydocks gave the last lawn-festival of the season; a splendor of Japanese lanterns and card-tables and chicken patties and Neapolitan ice-cream. Erik was no longer entirely an outsider. He was eating his ice-cream with a group of the people most solidly "in" — the Dyers, Myrtle Cass, Guy Pollock, the Jackson Elders. The Haydocks themselves kept aloof, but the others tolerated him. He would never, Carol fancied, be one of the town pillars, because he was not orthodox in hunting and motoring and poker. But he was winning approbation by his liveliness, his gaiety — the qualities least important in him.
When the group summoned Carol she made several very well-taken points in regard to the weather.
Myrtle cried to Erik, "Come on! We don't belong with these old folks. I want to make you 'quainted with the jolliest girl, she comes from Wakamin, she's staying with Mary Howland."
Carol saw him being profuse to the guest from Wakamin. She saw him confidentially strolling with Myrtle. She burst out to Mrs. Westlake, "Valborg and Myrtle seem to have quite a crush on each other."
Mrs. Westlake glanced at her curiously before she mumbled, "Yes, don't they."
"I'm mad, to talk this way," Carol worried.
She had regained a feeling of social virtue by telling Juanita Haydock "how darling her lawn looked with the Japanese lanterns" when she saw that Erik was stalking her. Though he was merely ambling about with his hands in his pockets, though he did not peep at her, she knew that he was calling her. She sidled away from Juanita. Erik hastened to her. She nodded coolly (she was proud of her coolness).
"Carol! I've got a wonderful chance! Don't know but what some ways it might be better than going East to take art. Myrtle Cass says — — I dropped in to say howdy to Myrtle last evening, and had quite a long talk with her father, and he said he was hunting for a fellow to go to work in the flour mill and learn the whole business, and maybe become general manager. I know something about wheat from my farming, and I worked a couple of months in the flour mill at Curlew when I got sick of tailoring. What do you think? You said any work was artistic if it was done by an artist. And flour is so important. What do you think?"
This sensitive boy would be very skilfully stamped into conformity by Lyman Cass and his sallow daughter; but did she detest the plan for this reason? "I must be honest. I mustn't tamper with his future to please my vanity." But she had no sure vision. She turned on him:
"How can I decide? It's up to you. Do you want to become a person like Lym Cass, or do you want to become a person like — yes, like me! Wait! Don't be flattering. Be honest. This is important."
"I know. I am a person like you now! I mean, I want to rebel."
"Yes. We're alike," gravely.
"Only I'm not sure I can put through my schemes. I really can't draw much. I guess I have pretty fair taste in fabrics, but since I've known you I don't like to think about fussing with dress-designing. But as a miller, I'd have the means — books, piano, travel."
"I'm going to be frank and beastly. Don't you realize that it isn't just because her papa needs a bright young man in the mill that Myrtle is amiable to you? Can't you understand what she'll do to you when she has you, when she sends you to church and makes you become respectable?"
He glared at her. "I don't know. I suppose so."
"You are thoroughly unstable!"
"What if I am? Most fish out of water are! Don't talk like Mrs. Bogart! How can I be anything but 'unstable' — wandering from farm to tailor shop to books, no training, nothing but trying to make books talk to me! Probably I'll fail. Oh, I know it; probably I'm uneven. But I'm not unstable in thinking about this job in the mill — and Myrtle. I know what I want. I want you!"
"Please, please, oh, please!"
"I do. I'm not a schoolboy any more. I want you. If I take Myrtle, it's to forget you."
"It's you that are unstable! You talk at things and play at things, but you're scared. Would I mind it if you and I went off to poverty, and I had to dig ditches? I would not! But you would. I think you would come to like me, but you won't admit it. I wouldn't have said this, but when you sneer at Myrtle and the mill — — If I'm not to have good sensible things like those, d' you think I'll be content with trying to become a damn dressmaker, after YOU? Are you fair? Are you?"
"No, I suppose not."
"Do you like me? Do you?"
"Yes — — No! Please! I can't talk any more."
"Not here. Mrs. Haydock is looking at us."
"No, nor anywhere. O Erik, I am fond of you, but I'm afraid."