Flappers and Philosophers/The Ice Palace/Chapter 3
All night in the Pullman it was very cold. She rang for the porter to ask for another blanket, and when he couldn't give her one she tried vainly, by squeezing down into the bottom of her berth and doubling back the bedclothes, to snatch a few hours' sleep. She wanted to look her best in the morning.
She rose at six and sliding uncomfortably into her clothes stumbled up to the diner for a cup of coffee. The snow had filtered into the vestibules and covered the door with a slippery coating. It was intriguing this cold, it crept in everywhere. Her breath was quite visible and she blew into the air with a naïve enjoyment. Seated in the diner she stared out the window at white hills and valleys and scattered pines whose every branch was a green platter for a cold feast of snow. Sometimes a solitary farmhouse would fly by, ugly and bleak and lone on the white waste; and with each one she had an instant of chill compassion for the souls shut in there waiting for spring.
As she left the diner and swayed back into the Pullman she experienced a surging rush of energy and wondered if she was feeling the bracing air of which Harry had spoken. This was the North, the North—her land now!
"Then blow, ye winds, heighho! A-roving I will go,"
she chanted exultantly to herself.
"What's 'at?" inquired the porter politely.
"I said: 'Brush me off.'"
The long wires of the telegraph poles doubled, two tracks ran up beside the train—three—four; came a succession of white-roofed houses, a glimpse of a trolley-car with frosted windows, streets—more streets—the city.
She stood for a dazed moment in the frosty station before she saw three fur-bundled figures descending upon her.
"There she is!"
"Oh, Sally Carrol!"
Sally Carrol dropped her bag.
A faintly familiar icy-cold face kissed her, and then she was in a group of faces all apparently emitting great clouds of heavy smoke; she was shaking hands. There were Gordon, a short, eager man of thirty who looked like an amateur knocked-about model for Harry, and his wife, Myra, a listless lady with flaxen hair under a fur automobile cap. Almost immediately Sally Carrol thought of her as vaguely Scandinavian. A cheerful chauffeur adopted her bag, and amid ricochets of half-phrases, exclamations and perfunctory listless "my dears" from Myra, they swept each other from the station.
Then they were in a sedan bound through a crooked succession of snowy streets where dozens of little boys were hitching sleds behind grocery wagons and automobiles.
"Oh," cried Sally Carrol, "I want to do that! Can we Harry?"
"That's for kids. But we might—"
"It looks like such a circus!" she said regretfully. Home was a rambling frame house set on a white lap of snow, and there she met a big, gray-haired man of whom she approved, and a lady who was like an egg, and who kissed her—these were Harry's parents. There was a breathless indescribable hour crammed full of self-sentences, hot water, bacon and eggs and confusion; and after that she was alone with Harry in the library, asking him if she dared smoke.
It was a large room with a Madonna over the fireplace and rows upon rows of books in covers of light gold and dark gold and shiny red. All the chairs had little lace squares where one's head should rest, the couch was just comfortable, the books looked as if they had been read—some—and Sally Carrol had an instantaneous vision of the battered old library at home, with her father's huge medical books, and the oil-paintings of her three great-uncles, and the old couch that had been mended up for forty-five years and was still luxurious to dream in. This room struck her as being neither attractive nor particularly otherwise. It was simply a room with a lot of fairly expensive things in it that all looked about fifteen years old.
"What do you think of it up here?" demanded Harry eagerly. "Does it surprise you? Is it what you expected I mean?"
"You are, Harry," she said quietly, and reached out her arms to him.
But after a brief kiss he seemed to extort enthusiasm from her.
"The town, I mean. Do you like it? Can you feel the pep in the air?"
"Oh, Harry," she laughed, "you'll have to give me time. You can't just fling questions at me."
She puffed at her cigarette with a sigh of contentment.
"One thing I want to ask you," he began rather apologetically; "you Southerners put quite an emphasis on family, and all that—not that it isn't quite all right, but you'll find it a little different here. I mean—you'll notice a lot of things that'll seem to you sort of vulgar display at first, Sally Carrol; but just remember that this is a three-generation town. Everybody has a father, and about half of us have grandfathers. Back of that we don't go."
"Of course," she murmured.
"Our grandfathers, you see, founded the place, and a lot of them had to take some pretty queer jobs while they were doing the founding. For instance there's one woman who at present is about the social model for the town; well, her father was the first public ash man—things like that."
"Why," said Sally Carol, puzzled, "did you s'pose I was goin' to make remarks about people?"
"Not at all," interrupted Harry, "and I'm not apologizing for any one either. It's just that—well, a Southern girl came up here' last summer and said some unfortunate things, and—oh, I just thought I'd tell you."
Sally Carrol felt suddenly indignant—as though she had been unjustly spanked—but Harry evidently considered the subject closed, for he went on with a great surge of enthusiasm.
"It's carnival time, you know. First in ten years. And there's an ice palace they're building new that's the first they've had since eighty-five. Built out of blocks of the clearest ice they could find—on a tremendous scale."
She rose and walking to the window pushed aside the heavy Turkish portières and looked out.
"Oh!" she cried suddenly. "There's two little boys makin' a snow man! Harry, do you reckon I can go out an' help 'em?"
"You dream! Come here and kiss me."
She left the window rather reluctantly.
"I don't guess this is a very kissable climate, is it? I mean, it makes you so you don't want to sit round, doesn't it?"
"We're not going to. I've got a vacation for the first week you're here, and there's a dinner-dance to-night."
"Oh, Harry," she confessed, subsiding in a heap, half in his lap, half in the pillows, "I sure do feel confused. I haven't got an idea whether I'll like it or not, an' I don't know what people expect, or anythin'. You'll have to tell me, honey."
"I'll tell you," he said softly, "if you'll just tell me you're glad to be here."
"Glad—just awful glad!" she whispered, insinuating herself into his arms in her own peculiar way. "Where you are is home for me, Harry."
And as she said this she had the feeling for almost the first time in her life that she was acting a part.
That night, amid the gleaming candles of a dinner-party, where the men seemed to do most of the talking while the girls sat in a haughty and expensive aloofness, even Harry's presence on her left failed to make her feel at home.
"They're a good-looking crowd, don't you think?" he demanded. "Just look round. There's Spud Hubbard, tackle at Princeton last year, and Junie Morton—he and the red-haired fellow next to him were both Yale hockey captains; Junie was in my class. Why, the best athletes in the world come from these States round here. This is a man's country, I tell you. Look at John J. Fishburn!"
"Who's he?" asked Sally Carrol innocently.
"Don't you know?"
"I've heard the name."
"Greatest wheat man in the Northwest, and one of the greatest financiers in the country."
She turned suddenly to a voice on her right.
"I guess they forget to introduce us. My name's Roger Patton."
"My name is Sally Carrol Happer," she said graciously.
"Yes, I know. Harry told me you were coming."
"You a relative?"
"No, I'm a professor."
"Oh," she laughed.
"At the university. You're from the South, aren't you?"
"Yes; Tarleton, Georgia."
She liked him immediately—a reddish-brown mustache under watery blue eyes that had something in them that these other eyes lacked, some quality of appreciation. They exchanged stray sentences through dinner, and she made up her mind to see him again.
After coffee she was introduced to numerous good-looking young men who danced with conscious precision and seemed to take it for granted that she wanted to talk about nothing except Harry.
"Heavens," she thought, "They talk as if my being engaged made me older than they are—as if I'd tell their mothers on them!"
In the South an engaged girl, even a young married woman, expected the same amount of half-affectionate badinage and flattery that would be accorded a débutante, but here all that seemed banned. One young man after getting well started on the subject of Sally Carrol's eyes and, how they had allured him ever since she entered the room, went into a violent convulsion when he found she was visiting the Bellamys—was Harry's fiancée. He seemed to feel as though he had made some risqué and inexcusable blunder, became immediately formal and left her at the first opportunity.
She was rather glad when Roger Patton cut in on her and suggested that they sit out a while.
"Well," he inquired, blinking cheerily, "how's Carmen from the South?"
"Mighty fine. How's—how's Dangerous Dan McGrew? Sorry, but he's the only Northerner I know much about."
He seemed to enjoy that.
"Of course," he confessed, "as a professor of literature I'm not supposed to have read Dangerous Dan McGrew."
"Are you a native?"
"No, I'm a Philadelphian. Imported from Harvard to teach French. But I've been here ten years."
"Nine years, three hundred an' sixty-four days longer than me."
"Like it here?"
"Uh-huh. Sure do!"
"Well, why not? Don't I look as if I were havin' a good time?"
"I saw you look out the window a minute ago— and shiver."
"Just my imagination," laughed Sally Carroll "I'm used to havin' everythin' quiet outside an' sometimes I look out an' see a flurry of snow an' it's just as if somethin' dead was movin'"
He nodded appreciatively.
"Ever been North before?"
"Spent two Julys in Asheville, North Carolina."
"Nice-looking crowd aren't they?" suggested Patton, indicating the swirling floor.
Sally Carrol started. This had been Harry's remark.
"Sure are! They're—canine."
"I'm sorry; that sounded worse than I meant it. You see I always think of people as feline or canine, irrespective of sex."
"Which are you?"
"I'm feline. So are you. So are most Southern men an' most of these girls here."
"Harry's canine distinctly. All the men I've met to-night seem to be canine."
"What does canine imply? A certain conscious masculinity as opposed to subtlety?"
"Reckon so. I never analyzed it—only I just look at people an' say 'canine' or 'feline' right off. It's right absurd I guess."
"Not at all. I'm interested. I used to leave a theory about these people. I think they're freezing up."
"Well, they're growing' like Swedes—Ibsenesque, you know. Very gradually getting gloomy and melancholy. It's these long winters. Ever read Ibsen?"
She shook her head.
"Well, you find in his characters a certain brooding rigidity. They're righteous, narrow, and cheerless, without infinite possibilities for great sorrow or joy."
"Without smiles or tears?"
"Exactly. That's my theory. You see there are thousands of Swedes up here. They come, I imagine, because the climate is very much like their own, and there's been a gradual mingling. There're probably not half a dozen here to-night, but—we've had four Swedish governors. Am I boring you?"
"I'm mighty interested."
"Your future sister-in-law is half Swedish. Personally I like her, but my theory is that Swedes react rather badly on us as a whole. Scandinavians, you know, have the largest suicide rate in the world."
"Why do you live here if it's so depressing?"
"Oh, it doesn't get me. I'm pretty well cloistered, and I suppose books mean more than people to me anyway."
"But writers all speak about the South being tragic. You know—Spanish señoritas, black hair and daggers an' haunting music."
He shook his head.
"No, the Northern races are the tragic races—they don't indulge in the cheering luxury of tears."
Sally Carrol thought of her graveyard. She supposed that that was vaguely what she had meant when she said it didn't depress her.
"The Italians are about the gayest people in the world—but it's a dull subject," he broke off. "Anyway, I want to tell you you're marrying a pretty fine man."
Sally Carrol was moved by an impulse of confidence.
"I know. I'm the sort of person who wants to be taken care of after a certain point, and I feel sure I will be."
"Shall we dance? You know," he continued as they rose, "it's encouraging to find a girl who knows what she's marrying for. Nine-tenths of them think of it as a sort of walking into a moving-picture sunset."
She laughed and liked him immensely.
Two hours later on the way home she nestled near Harry in the back seat.
"Oh, Harry," she whispered "it's so co-old!"
"But it's warm in here, darling girl."
"But outside it's cold; and oh, that howling wind!"
She buried her face deep in his fur coat and trembled involuntarily as his cold lips kissed the tip of her ear.