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Marching Men

CHAPTER II.2
The street in which McGregor lived in Chicago was called Wycliff Place, after a
family of that name that had once owned the land thereabout. The street was
complete in its hideousness. Nothing more unlovely could be imagined. Given a
free hand an indiscriminate lot of badly trained carpenters and bricklayers had
builded houses beside the cobblestone road that touched the fantastic in their
unsightliness and inconvenience.
The great west side of Chicago has hundreds of such streets and the coal mining
town out of which McGregor had come was more inspiring as a place in which to
live. As an unemployed young man, not much given to chance companionships,
Beaut had spent many long evenings wandering alone on the hillsides above his
home town. There was a kind of dreadful loveliness about the place at night. The
long black valley with its dense shroud of smoke that rose and fell and formed
itself into fantastic shapes in the moonlight, the poor little houses clinging to the
hillside, the occasional cry of a woman being beaten by a drunken husband, the
glare of the coke fires and the rumble of coal cars being pushed along the
railroad tracks, all of these made a grim and rather inspiring impression on the
young man's mind so that although he hated the mines and the miners he
sometimes paused in his night wanderings and stood with his great shoulders
lifted, breathing deeply and feeling things he had no words in him to express.
In Wycliff Place McGregor got no such reactions. Foul dust filled the air. All day
the street rumbled and roared under the wheels of trucks and light hurrying
delivery wagons. Soot from the factory chimneys was caught up by the wind and
having been mixed with powdered horse manure from the roadway flew into the
eyes and the nostrils of pedestrians. Always a babble of voices went on. At a
corner saloon teamsters stopped to have their drinking cans filled with beer and
stood about swearing and shouting. In the evening women and children went
back and forth from their houses carrying beer in pitchers from the same saloon.
Dogs howled and fought, drunken men reeled along the sidewalk and the women
of the town appeared in their cheap finery and paraded before the idlers about
the saloon door.
The woman who rented the room to McGregor boasted to him of Wycliff blood. It
was that she told him that had brought her to Chicago from her home at Cairo,
Illinois. "The place was left to me and not knowing what else to do with it I came
here to live," she said. She explained to him that the Wycliffs had been people of
note in the early history of Chicago. The huge old house with the cracked stone
steps and the ROOMS TO RENT sign in the window had once been their family
seat.
The history of this woman was characteristic of the miss-fire quality of much of
American life. She was at bottom a wholesome creature who should have lived in
 
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