They ate their sandwiches by a prairie slew: long grass reaching up out of clear water, mossy bogs, red-winged black-birds, the scum a splash of gold-green. Kennicott smoked a pipe while she leaned back in the buggy and let her tired spirit be absorbed in the Nirvana of the incomparable sky.
They lurched to the highroad and awoke from their sun-soaked drowse at the sound of the clopping hoofs. They paused to look for partridges in a rim of woods, little woods, very clean and shiny and gay, silver birches and poplars with immaculate green trunks, encircling a lake of sandy bottom, a splashing seclusion demure in the welter of hot prairie.
Kennicott brought down a fat red squirrel and at dusk he had a dramatic shot at a flight of ducks whirling down from the upper air, skimming the lake, instantly vanishing.
They drove home under the sunset. Mounds of straw, and wheat-stacks like bee-hives, stood out in startling rose and gold, and the green-tufted stubble glistened. As the vast girdle of crimson darkened, the fulfilled land became autumnal in deep reds and browns. The black road before the buggy turned to a faint lavender, then was blotted to uncertain grayness. Cattle came in a long line up to the barred gates of the farmyards, and over the resting land was a dark glow.
Carol had found the dignity and greatness which had failed her in Main Street.
Till they had a maid they took noon dinner and six o'clock supper at Mrs. Gurrey's boarding-house.
Mrs. Elisha Gurrey, relict of Deacon Gurrey the dealer in hay and grain, was a pointed-nosed, simpering woman with iron-gray hair drawn so tight that it resembled a soiled handkerchief covering her head. But she was unexpectedly cheerful, and her dining-room, with its thin tablecloth on a long pine table, had the decency of clean bareness.
In the line of unsmiling, methodically chewing guests, like horses at a manger, Carol came to distinguish one countenance: the pale, long, spectacled face and sandy pompadour hair of Mr. Raymond P. Wutherspoon, known as "Raymie," professional bachelor, manager and one half the sales-force in the shoe-department of the Bon Ton Store.
"You will enjoy Gopher Prairie very much, Mrs. Kennicott," petitioned Raymie. His eyes were like those of a dog waiting to be let in out of the cold. He passed the stewed apricots effusively. "There are a great many bright cultured people here. Mrs. Wilks, the Christian Science reader, is a very bright woman — though I am not a Scientist myself, in fact I sing in the Episcopal choir. And Miss Sherwin of the high school — she is such a pleasing, bright girl — I was fitting her to a pair of tan gaiters yesterday, I declare, it really was a pleasure."
"Gimme the butter, Carrie," was Kennicott's comment. She defied him by encouraging Raymie:
"Do you have amateur dramatics and so on here?"
"Oh yes! The town's just full of talent. The Knights of Pythias put on a dandy minstrel show last year."
"It's nice you're so enthusiastic."
"Oh, do you really think so? Lots of folks jolly me for trying to get up shows and so on. I tell them they have more artistic gifts than they know. Just yesterday I was saying to Harry Haydock: if he would read poetry, like Longfellow, or if he would join the band — I get so much pleasure out of playing the cornet, and our band-leader, Del Snafflin, is such a good musician, I often say he ought to give up his barbering and become a professional musician, he could play the clarinet in Minneapolis or New York or anywhere, but — but I couldn't get Harry to see it at all and — I hear you and the doctor went out hunting yesterday. Lovely country, isn't it. And did you make some calls? The mercantile life isn't inspiring like medicine. It must be wonderful to see how patients trust you, doctor."
"Huh. It's me that's got to do all the trusting. Be damn sight more wonderful 'f they'd pay their bills," grumbled Kennicott and, to Carol, he whispered something which sounded like "gentleman hen."
But Raymie's pale eyes were watering at her. She helped him with, "So you like to read poetry?"
"Oh yes, so much — though to tell the truth, I don't get much time for reading, we're always so busy at the store and — — But we had the dandiest professional reciter at the Pythian Sisters sociable last winter."
Carol thought she heard a grunt from the traveling salesman at the end of the table, and Kennicott's jerking elbow was a grunt embodied. She persisted:
"Do you get to see many plays, Mr. Wutherspoon?"
He shone at her like a dim blue March moon, and sighed, "No, but I do love the movies. I'm a real fan. One trouble with books is that they're not so thoroughly safeguarded by intelligent censors as the movies are, and when you drop into the library and take out a book you never know what you're wasting your time on. What I like in books is a wholesome, really improving story, and sometimes — — Why, once I started a novel by this fellow Balzac that you read about, and it told how a lady wasn't living with her husband, I mean she wasn't his wife. It went into details, disgustingly! And the English was real poor. I spoke to the library about it, and they took it off the shelves. I'm not narrow, but I must say I don't see any use in this deliberately dragging in immorality! Life itself is so full of temptations that in literature one wants only that which is pure and uplifting."
"What's the name of that Balzac yarn? Where can I get hold of it?" giggled the traveling salesman.
Raymie ignored him. "But the movies, they are mostly clean, and their humor — — Don't you think that the most essential quality for a person to have is a sense of humor?"
"I don't know. I really haven't much," said Carol.
He shook his finger at her. "Now, now, you're too modest. I'm sure we can all see that you have a perfectly corking sense of humor. Besides, Dr. Kennicott wouldn't marry a lady that didn't have. We all know how he loves his fun!"
"You bet. I'm a jokey old bird. Come on, Carrie; let's beat it," remarked Kennicott.
Raymie implored, "And what is your chief artistic interest, Mrs. Kennicott?"
"Oh — — " Aware that the traveling salesman had murmured, "Dentistry," she desperately hazarded, "Architecture."
"That's a real nice art. I've always said — when Haydock & Simons were finishing the new front on the Bon Ton building, the old man came to me, you know, Harry's father, 'D. H.,' I always call him, and he asked me how I liked it, and I said to him, 'Look here, D. H.,' I said — you see, he was going to leave the front plain, and I said to him, 'It's all very well to have modern lighting and a big display-space,' I said, 'but when you get that in, you want to have some architecture, too,' I said, and he laughed and said he guessed maybe I was right, and so he had 'em put on a cornice."
"Tin!" observed the traveling salesman.
Raymie bared his teeth like a belligerent mouse. "Well, what if it is tin? That's not my fault. I told D. H. to make it polished granite. You make me tired!"
"Leave us go! Come on, Carrie, leave us go!" from Kennicott.
Raymie waylaid them in the hall and secretly informed Carol that she musn't mind the traveling salesman's coarseness — he belonged to the hwa pollwa.
Kennicott chuckled, "Well, child, how about it? Do you prefer an artistic guy like Raymie to stupid boobs like Sam Clark and me?"
"My dear! Let's go home, and play pinochle, and laugh, and be foolish, and slip up to bed, and sleep without dreaming. It's beautiful to be just a solid citizeness!"