She could not escape asking (in the exact words and mental intonations which a thousand million women, dairy wenches and mischief-making queens, had used before her, and which a million million women will know hereafter), “Was it all a horrible mistake, my marrying him?” She quieted the doubt—without answering it.
Kennicott had taken her north to Lac-qui-Meurt, in the Big Woods. It was the entrance to a Chippewa Indian reservation, a sandy settlement among Norway pines on the shore of a huge snow-glaring lake. She had her first sight of his mother, except the glimpse at the wedding. Mrs. Kennicott had a hushed and delicate breeding which dignified her woodeny over-scrubbed cottage with its worn hard cushions in heavy rockers. She had never lost the child’s miraculous power of wonder. She asked questions about books and cities. She murmured:
“Will is a dear hard-working boy but he’s inclined to be too serious, and you’ve taught him how to play. Last night I heard you both laughing about the old Indian basket-seller, and I just lay in bed and enjoyed your happiness.”
Carol forgot her misery-hunting in this solidarity of family life. She could depend upon them; she was not battling alone. Watching Mrs. Kennicott flit about the kitchen she was better able to translate Kennicott himself. He was matter-of-fact, yes, and incurably mature. He didn’t really play; he let Carol play with him. But he had his mother’s genius for trusting, her disdain for prying, her sure integrity.
From the two days at Lac-qui-Meurt Carol drew confidence in herself, and she returned to Gopher Prairie in a throbbing calm like those golden drugged seconds when, because he is for an instant free from pain, a sick man revels in living.
A bright hard winter day, the wind shrill, black and silver clouds booming across the sky, everything in panicky motion during the brief light. They struggled against the surf of wind, through deep snow. Kennicott was cheerful. He hailed Loren Wheeler, “Behave yourself while I been away?” The editor bellowed, “B’ gosh you stayed so long that all your patients have got well!” and importantly took notes for the Dauntless about their journey. Jackson Elder cried, “Hey, folks! How’s tricks up North?” Mrs. McGanum waved to them from her porch.
“They’re glad to see us. We mean something here. These people are satisfied. Why can’t I be? But can I sit back all my life and be satisfied with ‘Hey, folks’? They want shouts on Main Street, and I want violins in a paneled room. Why——?”
Vida Sherwin ran in after school a dozen times. She was tactful, torrentially anecdotal. She had scuttled about town and plucked compliments: Mrs. Dr. Westlake had pronounced Carol a “very sweet, bright, cultured young woman,” and Brad Bemis, the tinsmith at Clark’s Hardware Store, had declared that she was “easy to work for and awful easy to look at.”