Vida was soothing but decisive:
“My dear, you’re all off. I would like to see it: a real gardeny place to shut out the gales. But it can’t be done. What could the clubwomen accomplish?”
“Their husbands are the most important men in town. They are the town!”
“But the town as a separate unit is not the husband of the Thanatopsis. If you knew the trouble we had in getting the city council to spend the money and cover the pumping-station with vines! Whatever you may think of Gopher Prairie women, they’re twice as progressive as the men.”
“But can’t the men see the ugliness?”
“They don’t think it’s ugly. And how can you prove it? Matter of taste. Why should they like what a Boston architect likes?”
“What they like is to sell prunes!”
“Well, why not? Anyway, the point is that you have to work from the inside, with what we have, rather than from the outside, with foreign ideas. The shell ought not to be forced on the spirit. It can’t be! The bright shell has to grow out of the spirit, and express it. That means waiting. If we keep after the city council for another ten years they may vote the bonds for a new school.”
“I refuse to believe that if they saw it the big men would be too tight-fisted to spend a few dollars each for a building—think!—dancing and lectures and plays, all done co-operatively!”
“You mention the word ‘co-operative’ to the merchants and they’ll lynch you! The one thing they fear more than mail-order houses is that farmers’ co-operative movements may get started.”
“The secret trails that lead to scared pocket-books! Always, in everything! And I don’t have any of the fine melodrama of fiction: the dictagraphs and speeches by torchlight. I’m merely blocked by stupidity. Oh, I know I’m a fool. I dream of Venice, and I live in Archangel and scold because the Northern seas aren’t tender-colored. But at least they sha’n’t keep me from loving Venice, and sometime I’ll run away——All right. No more.”
She flung out her hands in a gesture of renunciation.
Early May; wheat springing up in blades like grass; corn and potatoes being planted; the land humming. For two days there had been steady rain. Even in town the roads were a furrowed welter of mud, hideous to view and difficult to cross. Main Street was a black swamp from curb to curb; on residence streets the grass parking beside the walks oozed gray water. It was prickly hot, yet the town was barren under the bleak sky. Softened neither by snow nor by waving boughs the houses squatted and scowled, revealed in their unkempt harshness.
As she dragged homeward Carol looked with distaste at her clay-loaded rubbers, the smeared hem of her skirt. She passed Lyman Cass’s pinnacled, dark-red, hulking house. She waded a streaky yellow pool. This morass was not her home, she insisted. Her home, and her beautiful town, existed in her mind. They had already been created. The task was done. What she really had been questing was some one to share them with her. Vida would not; Kennicott could not.