"DON'T I, in looking for things to do, show that I'm not attentive enough to Will? Am I impressed enough by his work? I will be. Oh, I will be. If I can't be one of the town, if I must be an outcast — — "
When Kennicott came home she bustled, "Dear, you must tell me a lot more about your cases. I want to know. I want to understand."
"Sure. You bet." And he went down to fix the furnace.
At supper she asked, "For instance, what did you do today?"
"Do today? How do you mean?"
"Medically. I want to understand — — "
"Today? Oh, there wasn't much of anything: couple chumps with bellyaches, and a sprained wrist, and a fool woman that thinks she wants to kill herself because her husband doesn't like her and — — Just routine work."
"But the unhappy woman doesn't sound routine!"
"Her? Just case of nerves. You can't do much with these marriage mix-ups."
"But dear, PLEASE, will you tell me about the next case that you do think is interesting?"
"Sure. You bet. Tell you about anything that — — Say that's pretty good salmon. Get it at Howland's?"
Four days after the Jolly Seventeen debacle Vida Sherwin called and casually blew Carol's world to pieces.
"May I come in and gossip a while?" she said, with such excess of bright innocence that Carol was uneasy. Vida took off her furs with a bounce, she sat down as though it were a gymnasium exercise, she flung out:
"Feel disgracefully good, this weather! Raymond Wutherspoon says if he had my energy he'd be a grand opera singer. I always think this climate is the finest in the world, and my friends are the dearest people in the world, and my work is the most essential thing in the world. Probably I fool myself. But I know one thing for certain: You're the pluckiest little idiot in the world."
"And so you are about to flay me alive." Carol was cheerful about it.
"Am I? Perhaps. I've been wondering — I know that the third party to a squabble is often the most to blame: the one who runs between A and B having a beautiful time telling each of them what the other has said. But I want you to take a big part in vitalizing Gopher Prairie and so — — Such a very unique opportunity and — — Am I silly?"
"I know what you mean. I was too abrupt at the Jolly Seventeen."
"It isn't that. Matter of fact, I'm glad you told them some wholesome truths about servants. (Though perhaps you were just a bit tactless.) It's bigger than that. I wonder if you understand that in a secluded community like this every newcomer is on test? People cordial to her but watching her all the time. I remember when a Latin teacher came here from Wellesley, they resented her broad A. Were sure it was affected. Of course they have discussed you — — "
"Have they talked about me much?"
"I always feel as though I walked around in a cloud, looking out at others but not being seen. I feel so inconspicuous and so normal — so normal that there's nothing about me to discuss. I can't realize that Mr. and Mrs. Haydock must gossip about me." Carol was working up a small passion of distaste. "And I don't like it. It makes me crawly to think of their daring to talk over all I do and say. Pawing me over! I resent it. I hate — — "
"Wait, child! Perhaps they resent some things in you. I want you to try and be impersonal. They'd paw over anybody who came in new. Didn't you, with newcomers in College?"
"Well then! Will you be impersonal? I'm paying you the compliment of supposing that you can be. I want you to be big enough to help me make this town worth while."
"I'll be as impersonal as cold boiled potatoes. (Not that I shall ever be able to help you 'make the town worth while.') What do they say about me? Really. I want to know."
"Of course the illiterate ones resent your references to anything farther away than Minneapolis. They're so suspicious — that's it, suspicious. And some think you dress too well."
"Oh, they do, do they! Shall I dress in gunny-sacking to suit them?"
"Please! Are you going to be a baby?"
"I'll be good," sulkily.
"You certainly will, or I won't tell you one single thing. You must understand this: I'm not asking you to change yourself. Just want you to know what they think. You must do that, no matter how absurd their prejudices are, if you're going to handle them. Is it your ambition to make this a better town, or isn't it?"
"I don't know whether it is or not!"
"Why — why — — Tut, tut, now, of course it is! Why, I depend on you. You're a born reformer."
"I am not — not any more!"
"Of course you are."
"Oh, if I really could help — — So they think I'm affected?"
"My lamb, they do! Now don't say they're nervy. After all, Gopher Prairie standards are as reasonable to Gopher Prairie as Lake Shore Drive standards are to Chicago. And there's more Gopher Prairies than there are Chicagos. Or Londons. And — — I'll tell you the whole story: They think you're showing off when you say 'American' instead of 'Ammurrican.' They think you're too frivolous. Life's so serious to them that they can't imagine any kind of laughter except Juanita's snortling. Ethel Villets was sure you were patronizing her when — — "
"Oh, I was not!"
" — — you talked about encouraging reading; and Mrs. Elder thought you were patronizing when you said she had 'such a pretty little car.' She thinks it's an enormous car! And some of the merchants say you're too flip when you talk to them in the store and — — "
"Poor me, when I was trying to be friendly!"
" — — every housewife in town is doubtful about your being so chummy with your Bea. All right to be kind, but they say you act as though she were your cousin. (Wait now! There's plenty more.) And they think you were eccentric in furnishing this room — they think the broad couch and that Japanese dingus are absurd. (Wait! I know they're silly.) And I guess I've heard a dozen criticize you because you don't go to church oftener and — — "