Windy McPherson's Son
John Telfer's friendship was a formative influence upon Sam McPherson. His father's
worthlessness and the growing realisation of the hardship of his mother's position had
given life a bitter taste in his mouth, and Telfer sweetened it. He entered with zeal into
Sam's thoughts and dreams, and tried valiantly to arouse in the quiet, industrious, money-
making boy some of his own love of life and beauty. At night, as the two walked down
country roads, the man would stop and, waving his arms about, quote Poe or Browning
or, in another mood, would compel Sam's attention to the rare smell of a hayfield or to a
moonlit stretch of meadow.
Before people gathered on the streets he teased the boy, calling him a little money
grubber and saying, "He is like a little mole that works underground. As the mole goes
for a worm so this boy goes for a five-cent piece. I have watched him. A travelling man
goes out of town leaving a stray dime or nickel here and within an hour it is in this boy's
pocket. I have talked to banker Walker of him. He trembles lest his vaults become too
small to hold the wealth of this young Croesus. The day will come when he will buy the
town and put it into his vest pocket."
For all his public teasing of the boy Telfer had the genius to adopt a different attitude
when they were alone together. Then he talked to him openly and freely as he talked to
Valmore and Freedom Smith and to other cronies of his on the streets of Caxton. Walking
along the road he would point with his cane to the town and say, "You and that mother of
yours have more of the real stuff in you than the rest of the boys and mothers of the town
In all Caxton Telfer was the only man who knew books and who took them seriously.
Sam sometimes found his attitude toward them puzzling and would stand with open
mouth listening as Telfer swore or laughed at a book as he did at Valmore or Freedom
Smith. He had a fine portrait of Browning which he kept hung in the stable and before
this he would stand, his legs spread apart, and his head tilted to one side, talking.
"A rich old sport you are, eh?" he would say, grinning. "Getting yourself discussed by
women and college professors in clubs, eh? You old fraud!"
Toward Mary Underwood, the school teacher who had become Sam's friend and with
whom the boy sometimes walked and talked, Telfer had no charity. Mary Underwood
was a sort of cinder in the eyes of Caxton. She was the only child of Silas Underwood,
the town harness maker, who once had worked in a shop belonging to Windy McPherson.
After the business failure of Windy he had started independently and for a time did well,
sending his daughter to a school in Massachusetts. Mary did not understand the people of
Caxton and the people misunderstood and distrusted her. Taking no part in the life of the
town and keeping to herself and to her books she awoke a kind of fear in others. Because
she did not join them at church suppers, or go from porch to porch gossiping with other
women through the long summer evenings, they thought her something abnormal. On