People covertly stared at her on the street. Aunt Bessie tried to catechize her about Erik's disappearance, and it was Kennicott who silenced the woman with a savage, "Say, are you hinting that Carrie had anything to do with that fellow's beating it? Then let me tell you, and you can go right out and tell the whole bloomin' town, that Carrie and I took Val — took Erik riding, and he asked me about getting a better job in Minneapolis, and I advised him to go to it. . . . Getting much sugar in at the store now?"
Guy Pollock crossed the street to be pleasant apropos of California and new novels. Vida Sherwin dragged her to the Jolly Seventeen. There, with every one rigidly listening, Maud Dyer shot at Carol, "I hear Erik has left town."
Carol was amiable. "Yes, so I hear. In fact, he called me up — told me he had been offered a lovely job in the city. So sorry he's gone. He would have been valuable if we'd tried to start the dramatic association again. Still, I wouldn't be here for the association myself, because Will is all in from work, and I'm thinking of taking him to California. Juanita — you know the Coast so well — tell me: would you start in at Los Angeles or San Francisco, and what are the best hotels?"
The Jolly Seventeen looked disappointed, but the Jolly Seventeen liked to give advice, the Jolly Seventeen liked to mention the expensive hotels at which they had stayed. (A meal counted as a stay.) Before they could question her again Carol escorted in with drum and fife the topic of Raymie Wutherspoon. Vida had news from her husband. He had been gassed in the trenches, had been in a hospital for two weeks, had been promoted to major, was learning French.
She left Hugh with Aunt Bessie.
But for Kennicott she would have taken him. She hoped that in some miraculous way yet unrevealed she might find it possible to remain in California. She did not want to see Gopher Prairie again.
The Smails were to occupy the Kennicott house, and quite the hardest thing to endure in the month of waiting was the series of conferences between Kennicott and Uncle Whittier in regard to heating the garage and having the furnace flues cleaned.
Did Carol, Kennicott inquired, wish to stop in Minneapolis to buy new clothes?
"No! I want to get as far away as I can as soon as I can. Let's wait till Los Angeles."
"Sure, sure! Just as you like. Cheer up! We're going to have a large wide time, and everything 'll be different when we come back."
Dusk on a snowy December afternoon. The sleeper which would connect at Kansas City with the California train rolled out of St. Paul with a chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick, chick-a-chick as it crossed the other tracks. It bumped through the factory belt, gained speed. Carol could see nothing but gray fields, which had closed in on her all the way from Gopher Prairie. Ahead was darkness.
"For an hour, in Minneapolis, I must have been near Erik. He's still there, somewhere. He'll be gone when I come back. I'll never know where he has gone."
As Kennicott switched on the seat-light she turned drearily to the illustrations in a motion-picture magazine.