Kennicott first came to see her in November, thirteen months after her arrival in Washington. When he announced that he was coming she was not at all sure that she wished to see him. She was glad that he had made the decision himself.
She had leave from the office for two days.
She watched him marching from the train, solid, assured, carrying his heavy suit-case, and she was diffident — he was such a bulky person to handle. They kissed each other questioningly, and said at the same time, "You're looking fine; how's the baby?" and "You're looking awfully well, dear; how is everything?"
He grumbled, "I don't want to butt in on any plans you've made or your friends or anything, but if you've got time for it, I'd like to chase around Washington, and take in some restaurants and shows and stuff, and forget work for a while."
She realized, in the taxicab, that he was wearing a soft gray suit, a soft easy hat, a flippant tie.
"Like the new outfit? Got 'em in Chicago. Gosh, I hope they're the kind you like."
They spent half an hour at the flat, with Hugh. She was flustered, but he gave no sign of kissing her again.
As he moved about the small rooms she realized that he had had his new tan shoes polished to a brassy luster. There was a recent cut on his chin. He must have shaved on the train just before coming into Washington.
It was pleasant to feel how important she was, how many people she recognized, as she took him to the Capitol, as she told him (he asked and she obligingly guessed) how many feet it was to the top of the dome, as she pointed out Senator LaFollette and the vice-president, and at lunch-time showed herself an habitue by leading him through the catacombs to the senate restaurant.
She realized that he was slightly more bald. The familiar way in which his hair was parted on the left side agitated her. She looked down at his hands, and the fact that his nails were as ill-treated as ever touched her more than his pleading shoe-shine.
"You'd like to motor down to Mount Vernon this afternoon, wouldn't you?" she said.
It was the one thing he had planned. He was delighted that it seemed to be a perfectly well bred and Washingtonian thing to do.
He shyly held her hand on the way, and told her the news: they were excavating the basement for the new schoolbuilding, Vida "made him tired the way she always looked at the Maje," poor Chet Dashaway had been killed in a motor accident out on the Coast. He did not coax her to like him. At Mount Vernon he admired the paneled library and Washington's dental tools.
She knew that he would want oysters, that he would have heard of Harvey's apropos of Grant and Blaine, and she took him there. At dinner his hearty voice, his holiday enjoyment of everything, turned into nervousness in his desire to know a number of interesting matters, such as whether they still were married. But he did not ask questions, and he said nothing about her returning. He cleared his throat and observed, "Oh say, been trying out the old camera. Don't you think these are pretty good?"
He tossed over to her thirty prints of Gopher Prairie and the country about. Without defense, she was thrown into it. She remembered that he had lured her with photographs in courtship days; she made a note of his sameness, his satisfaction with the tactics which had proved good before; but she forgot it in the familiar places. She was seeing the sun-speckled ferns among birches on the shore of Minniemashie, wind-rippled miles of wheat, the porch of their own house where Hugh had played, Main Street where she knew every window and every face.
She handed them back, with praise for his photography, and he talked of lenses and time-exposures.
Dinner was over and they were gossiping of her friends at the flat, but an intruder was with them, sitting back, persistent, inescapable. She could not endure it. She stammered:
"I had you check your bag at the station because I wasn't quite sure where you'd stay. I'm dreadfully sorry we haven't room to put you up at the flat. We ought to have seen about a room for you before. Don't you think you better call up the Willard or the Washington now?"
He peered at her cloudily. Without words he asked, without speech she answered, whether she was also going to the Willard or the Washington. But she tried to look as though she did not know that they were debating anything of the sort. She would have hated him had he been meek about it. But he was neither meek nor angry. However impatient he may have been with her blandness he said readily:
"Yes, guess I better do that. Excuse me a second. Then how about grabbing a taxi (Gosh, isn't it the limit the way these taxi shuffers skin around a corner? Got more nerve driving than I have!) and going up to your flat for a while? Like to meet your friends — must be fine women — and I might take a look and see how Hugh sleeps. Like to know how he breathes. Don't think he has adenoids, but I better make sure, eh?" He patted her shoulder.
At the flat they found her two housemates and a girl who had been to jail for suffrage. Kennicott fitted in surprisingly. He laughed at the girl's story of the humors of a hunger-strike; he told the secretary what to do when her eyes were tired from typing; and the teacher asked him — not as the husband of a friend but as a physician — whether there was "anything to this inoculation for colds."
His colloquialisms seemed to Carol no more lax than their habitual slang.
Like an older brother he kissed her good-night in the midst of the company.
"He's terribly nice," said her housemates, and waited for confidences. They got none, nor did her own heart. She could find nothing definite to agonize about. She felt that she was no longer analyzing and controlling forces, but swept on by them.
He came to the flat for breakfast, and washed the dishes. That was her only occasion for spite. Back home he never thought of washing dishes!
She took him to the obvious "sights" — the Treasury, the Monument, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pan-American Building, the Lincoln Memorial, with the Potomac beyond it and the Arlington hills and the columns of the Lee Mansion. For all his willingness to play there was over him a melancholy which piqued her. His normally expressionless eyes had depths to them now, and strangeness. As they walked through Lafayette Square, looking past the Jackson statue at the lovely tranquil facade of the White House, he sighed, "I wish I'd had a shot at places like this. When I was in the U., I had to earn part of my way, and when I wasn't doing that or studying, I guess I was roughhousing. My gang were a great bunch for bumming around and raising Cain. Maybe if I'd been caught early and sent to concerts and all that — — Would I have been what you call intelligent?"
"Oh, my dear, don't be humble! You are intelligent! For instance, you're the most thorough doctor — — "
He was edging about something he wished to say. He pounced on it:
"You did like those pictures of G. P. pretty well, after all, didn't you!"
"Yes, of course."
"Wouldn't be so bad to have a glimpse of the old town, would it!"
"No, it wouldn't. Just as I was terribly glad to see the Haydocks. But please understand me! That doesn't mean that I withdraw all my criticisms. The fact that I might like a glimpse of old friends hasn't any particular relation to the question of whether Gopher Prairie oughtn't to have festivals and lamb chops."
Hastily, "No, no! Sure not. I und'stand."
"But I know it must have been pretty tiresome to have to live with anybody as perfect as I was."
He grinned. She liked his grin.
He was thrilled by old negro coachmen, admirals, aeroplanes, the building to which his income tax would eventually go, a Rolls-Royce, Lynnhaven oysters, the Supreme Court Room, a New York theatrical manager down for the try-out of a play, the house where Lincoln died, the cloaks of Italian officers, the barrows at which clerks buy their box-lunches at noon, the barges on the Chesapeake Canal, and the fact that District of Columbia cars had both District and Maryland licenses.
She resolutely took him to her favorite white and green cottages and Georgian houses. He admitted that fanlights, and white shutters against rosy brick, were more homelike than a painty wooden box. He volunteered, "I see how you mean. They make me think of these pictures of an old-fashioned Christmas. Oh, if you keep at it long enough you'll have Sam and me reading poetry and everything. Oh say, d' I tell you about this fierce green Jack Elder's had his machine painted?"
They were at dinner.
He hinted, "Before you showed me those places today, I'd already made up my mind that when I built the new house we used to talk about, I'd fix it the way you wanted it. I'm pretty practical about foundations and radiation and stuff like that, but I guess I don't know a whole lot about architecture."
"My dear, it occurs to me with a sudden shock that I don't either!"
"Well — anyway — you let me plan the garage and the plumbing, and you do the rest, if you ever — I mean — if you ever want to."