"Ya," said Bea.
So it chanced that Carol Kennicott and Bea Sorenson were viewing Main Street at the same time.
Bea had never before been in a town larger than Scandia Crossing, which has sixty-seven inhabitants.
As she marched up the street she was meditating that it didn't hardly seem like it was possible there could be so many folks all in one place at the same time. My! It would take years to get acquainted with them all. And swell people, too! A fine big gentleman in a new pink shirt with a diamond, and not no washed-out blue denim working-shirt. A lovely lady in a longery dress (but it must be an awful hard dress to wash). And the stores!
Not just three of them, like there were at Scandia Crossing, but more than four whole blocks!
The Bon Ton Store — big as four barns — my! it would simply scare a person to go in there, with seven or eight clerks all looking at you. And the men's suits, on figures just like human. And Axel Egge's, like home, lots of Swedes and Norskes in there, and a card of dandy buttons, like rubies.
A drug store with a soda fountain that was just huge, awful long, and all lovely marble; and on it there was a great big lamp with the biggest shade you ever saw — all different kinds colored glass stuck together; and the soda spouts, they were silver, and they came right out of the bottom of the lamp-stand! Behind the fountain there were glass shelves, and bottles of new kinds of soft drinks, that nobody ever heard of. Suppose a fella took you THERE!
A hotel, awful high, higher than Oscar Tollefson's new red barn; three stories, one right on top of another; you had to stick your head back to look clear up to the top. There was a swell traveling man in there — probably been to Chicago, lots of times.
Oh, the dandiest people to know here! There was a lady going by, you wouldn't hardly say she was any older than Bea herself; she wore a dandy new gray suit and black pumps. She almost looked like she was looking over the town, too. But you couldn't tell what she thought. Bea would like to be that way — kind of quiet, so nobody would get fresh. Kind of — oh, elegant.
A Lutheran Church. Here in the city there'd be lovely sermons, and church twice on Sunday, EVERY Sunday!
And a movie show!
A regular theater, just for movies. With the sign "Change of bill every evening." Pictures every evening!
There were movies in Scandia Crossing, but only once every two weeks, and it took the Sorensons an hour to drive in — papa was such a tightwad he wouldn't get a Ford. But here she could put on her hat any evening, and in three minutes' walk be to the movies, and see lovely fellows in dress-suits and Bill Hart and everything!
How could they have so many stores? Why! There was one just for tobacco alone, and one (a lovely one — the Art Shoppy it was) for pictures and vases and stuff, with oh, the dandiest vase made so it looked just like a tree trunk!
Bea stood on the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue. The roar of the city began to frighten her. There were five automobiles on the street all at the same time — and one of 'em was a great big car that must of cost two thousand dollars — and the 'bus was starting for a train with five elegant-dressed fellows, and a man was pasting up red bills with lovely pictures of washing-machines on them, and the jeweler was laying out bracelets and wrist-watches and EVERYTHING on real velvet.
What did she care if she got six dollars a week? Or two! It was worth while working for nothing, to be allowed to stay here. And think how it would be in the evening, all lighted up — and not with no lamps, but with electrics! And maybe a gentleman friend taking you to the movies and buying you a strawberry ice cream soda!
Bea trudged back.
"Vell? You lak it?" said Tina.
"Ya. Ay lak it. Ay t'ink maybe Ay stay here," said Bea.
The recently built house of Sam Clark, in which was given the party to welcome Carol, was one of the largest in Gopher Prairie. It had a clean sweep of clapboards, a solid squareness, a small tower, and a large screened porch. Inside, it was as shiny, as hard, and as cheerful as a new oak upright piano.
Carol looked imploringly at Sam Clark as he rolled to the door and shouted, "Welcome, little lady! The keys of the city are yourn!"
Beyond him, in the hallway and the living-room, sitting in a vast prim circle as though they were attending a funeral, she saw the guests. They were WAITING so! They were waiting for her! The determination to be all one pretty flowerlet of appreciation leaked away. She begged of Sam, "I don't dare face them! They expect so much. They'll swallow me in one mouthful — glump! — like that!"
"Why, sister, they're going to love you — same as I would if I didn't think the doc here would beat me up!"
"B-but — — I don't dare! Faces to the right of me, faces in front of me, volley and wonder!"
She sounded hysterical to herself; she fancied that to Sam Clark she sounded insane. But he chuckled, "Now you just cuddle under Sam's wing, and if anybody rubbers at you too long, I'll shoo 'em off. Here we go! Watch my smoke — Sam'l, the ladies' delight and the bridegrooms' terror!"
His arm about her, he led her in and bawled, "Ladies and worser halves, the bride! We won't introduce her round yet, because she'll never get your bum names straight anyway. Now bust up this star-chamber!"
They tittered politely, but they did not move from the social security of their circle, and they did not cease staring.
Carol had given creative energy to dressing for the event. Her hair was demure, low on her forehead with a parting and a coiled braid. Now she wished that she had piled it high. Her frock was an ingenue slip of lawn, with a wide gold sash and a low square neck, which gave a suggestion of throat and molded shoulders. But as they looked her over she was certain that it was all wrong. She wished alternately that she had worn a spinsterish high-necked dress, and that she had dared to shock them with a violent brick-red scarf which she had bought in Chicago.
She was led about the circle. Her voice mechanically produced safe remarks:
"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to like it here ever so much," and "Yes, we did have the best time in Colorado — mountains," and "Yes, I lived in St. Paul several years. Euclid P. Tinker? No, I don't REMEMBER meeting him, but I'm pretty sure I've heard of him."
Kennicott took her aside and whispered, "Now I'll introduce you to them, one at a time."
"Tell me about them first."
"Well, the nice-looking couple over there are Harry Haydock and his wife, Juanita. Harry's dad owns most of the Bon Ton, but it's Harry who runs it and gives it the pep. He's a hustler. Next to him is Dave Dyer the druggist — you met him this afternoon — mighty good duck-shot. The tall husk beyond him is Jack Elder — Jackson Elder — owns the planing-mill, and the Minniemashie House, and quite a share in the Farmers' National Bank. Him and his wife are good sports — him and Sam and I go hunting together a lot. The old cheese there is Luke Dawson, the richest man in town. Next to him is Nat Hicks, the tailor."
"Really? A tailor?"
"Sure. Why not? Maybe we're slow, but we are democratic. I go hunting with Nat same as I do with Jack Elder."
"I'm glad. I've never met a tailor socially. It must be charming to meet one and not have to think about what you owe him. And do you — — Would you go hunting with your barber, too?"
"No but — — No use running this democracy thing into the ground. Besides, I've known Nat for years, and besides, he's a mighty good shot and — — That's the way it is, see? Next to Nat is Chet Dashaway. Great fellow for chinning. He'll talk your arm off, about religion or politics or books or anything."
Carol gazed with a polite approximation to interest at Mr. Dashaway, a tan person with a wide mouth. "Oh, I know! He's the furniture-store man!" She was much pleased with herself.
"Yump, and he's the undertaker. You'll like him. Come shake hands with him."
"Oh no, no! He doesn't — he doesn't do the embalming and all that — himself? I couldn't shake hands with an undertaker!"