Doubtfully, "That's sweet of you."
"Look here, Carrie; you think I'm going to ask you to love me. I'm not. And I'm not going to ask you to come back to Gopher Prairie!"
"It's been a whale of a fight. But I guess I've got myself to see that you won't ever stand G. P. unless you WANT to come back to it. I needn't say I'm crazy to have you. But I won't ask you. I just want you to know how I wait for you. Every mail I look for a letter, and when I get one I'm kind of scared to open it, I'm hoping so much that you're coming back. Evenings — — You know I didn't open the cottage down at the lake at all, this past summer. Simply couldn't stand all the others laughing and swimming, and you not there. I used to sit on the porch, in town, and I — I couldn't get over the feeling that you'd simply run up to the drug store and would be right back, and till after it got dark I'd catch myself watching, looking up the street, and you never came, and the house was so empty and still that I didn't like to go in. And sometimes I fell asleep there, in my chair, and didn't wake up till after midnight, and the house — — Oh, the devil! Please get me, Carrie. I just want you to know how welcome you'll be if you ever do come. But I'm not asking you to."
"You're — — It's awfully — — "
"'Nother thing. I'm going to be frank. I haven't always been absolutely, uh, absolutely, proper. I've always loved you more than anything else in the world, you and the kid. But sometimes when you were chilly to me I'd get lonely and sore, and pike out and — — Never intended — — "
She rescued him with a pitying, "It's all right. Let's forget it."
"But before we were married you said if your husband ever did anything wrong, you'd want him to tell you."
"Did I? I can't remember. And I can't seem to think. Oh, my dear, I do know how generously you're trying to make me happy. The only thing is — — I can't think. I don't know what I think."
"Then listen! Don't think! Here's what I want you to do! Get a two-weeks leave from your office. Weather's beginning to get chilly here. Let's run down to Charleston and Savannah and maybe Florida.
"A second honeymoon?" indecisively.
"No. Don't even call it that. Call it a second wooing. I won't ask anything. I just want the chance to chase around with you. I guess I never appreciated how lucky I was to have a girl with imagination and lively feet to play with. So — — Could you maybe run away and see the South with me? If you wanted to, you could just — you could just pretend you were my sister and — — I'll get an extra nurse for Hugh! I'll get the best dog-gone nurse in Washington!"
It was in the Villa Margherita, by the palms of the Charleston Battery and the metallic harbor, that her aloofness melted.
When they sat on the upper balcony, enchanted by the moon glitter, she cried, "Shall I go back to Gopher Prairie with you? Decide for me. I'm tired of deciding and undeciding."
"No. You've got to do your own deciding. As a matter of fact, in spite of this honeymoon, I don't think I want you to come home. Not yet."
She could only stare.
"I want you to be satisfied when you get there. I'll do everything I can to keep you happy, but I'll make lots of breaks, so I want you to take time and think it over."
She was relieved. She still had a chance to seize splendid indefinite freedoms. She might go — oh, she'd see Europe, somehow, before she was recaptured. But she also had a firmer respect for Kennicott. She had fancied that her life might make a story. She knew that there was nothing heroic or obviously dramatic in it, no magic of rare hours, nor valiant challenge, but it seemed to her that she was of some significance because she was commonplaceness, the ordinary life of the age, made articulate and protesting. It had not occurred to her that there was also a story of Will Kennicott, into which she entered only so much as he entered into hers; that he had bewilderments and concealments as intricate as her own, and soft treacherous desires for sympathy.
Thus she brooded, looking at the amazing sea, holding his hand.
She was in Washington; Kennicott was in Gopher Prairie, writing as dryly as ever about water-pipes and goose-hunting and Mrs. Fageros's mastoid.
She was talking at dinner to a generalissima of suffrage. Should she return?
The leader spoke wearily:
"My dear, I'm perfectly selfish. I can't quite visualize the needs of your husband, and it seems to me that your baby will do quite as well in the schools here as in your barracks at home."
"Then you think I'd better not go back?" Carol sounded disappointed.
"It's more difficult than that. When I say that I'm selfish I mean that the only thing I consider about women is whether they're likely to prove useful in building up real political power for women. And you? Shall I be frank? Remember when I say 'you' I don't mean you alone. I'm thinking of thousands of women who come to Washington and New York and Chicago every year, dissatisfied at home and seeking a sign in the heavens — women of all sorts, from timid mothers of fifty in cotton gloves, to girls just out of Vassar who organize strikes in their own fathers' factories! All of you are more or less useful to me, but only a few of you can take my place, because I have one virtue (only one): I have given up father and mother and children for the love of God.
"Here's the test for you: Do you come to 'conquer the East,' as people say, or do you come to conquer yourself?
"It's so much more complicated than any of you know — so much more complicated than I knew when I put on Ground Grippers and started out to reform the world. The final complication in 'conquering Washington' or 'conquering New York' is that the conquerors must beyond all things not conquer! It must have been so easy in the good old days when authors dreamed only of selling a hundred thousand volumes, and sculptors of being feted in big houses, and even the Uplifters like me had a simple-hearted ambition to be elected to important offices and invited to go round lecturing. But we meddlers have upset everything. Now the one thing that is disgraceful to any of us is obvious success. The Uplifter who is very popular with wealthy patrons can be pretty sure that he has softened his philosophy to please them, and the author who is making lots of money — poor things, I've heard 'em apologizing for it to the shabby bitter-enders; I've seen 'em ashamed of the sleek luggage they got from movie rights.
"Do you want to sacrifice yourself in such a topsy-turvy world, where popularity makes you unpopular with the people you love, and the only failure is cheap success, and the only individualist is the person who gives up all his individualism to serve a jolly ungrateful proletariat which thumbs its nose at him?"
Carol smiled ingratiatingly, to indicate that she was indeed one who desired to sacrifice, but she sighed, "I don't know; I'm afraid I'm not heroic. I certainly wasn't out home. Why didn't I do big effective — — "
"Not a matter of heroism. Matter of endurance. Your Middlewest is double-Puritan — prairie Puritan on top of New England Puritan; bluff frontiersman on the surface, but in its heart it still has the ideal of Plymouth Rock in a sleet-storm. There's one attack you can make on it, perhaps the only kind that accomplishes much anywhere: you can keep on looking at one thing after another in your home and church and bank, and ask why it is, and who first laid down the law that it had to be that way. If enough of us do this impolitely enough, then we'll become civilized in merely twenty thousand years or so, instead of having to wait the two hundred thousand years that my cynical anthropologist friends allow. . . . Easy, pleasant, lucrative home-work for wives: asking people to define their jobs. That's the most dangerous doctrine I know!"
Carol was mediating, "I will go back! I will go on asking questions. I've always done it, and always failed at it, and it's all I can do. I'm going to ask Ezra Stowbody why he's opposed to the nationalization of railroads, and ask Dave Dyer why a druggist always is pleased when he's called 'doctor,' and maybe ask Mrs. Bogart why she wears a widow's veil that looks like a dead crow."
The woman leader straightened. "And you have one thing. You have a baby to hug. That's my temptation. I dream of babies — of a baby — and I sneak around parks to see them playing. (The children in Dupont Circle are like a poppy-garden.) And the antis call me 'unsexed'!"
Carol was thinking, in panic, "Oughtn't Hugh to have country air? I won't let him become a yokel. I can guide him away from street-corner loafing. . . . I think I can."
On her way home: "Now that I've made a precedent, joined the union and gone out on one strike and learned personal solidarity, I won't be so afraid. Will won't always be resisting my running away. Some day I really will go to Europe with him . . . or without him.
"I've lived with people who are not afraid to go to jail. I could invite a Miles Bjornstam to dinner without being afraid of the Haydocks . . . I think I could.