Windy McPherson's Son by Sherwood Anderson - HTML preview
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Sam went along the board sidewalk homeward bound, hurried by the driving March wind that had sent the lantern swinging in Freedom's hand. At the front of a white frame residence a grey-haired old man stood leaning on the gate and looking at the sky.
"We shall have a rain," he said in a quavering voice, as though giving a decision in the matter, and then turned and without waiting for an answer went along a narrow path into the house.
The incident brought a smile to Sam's lips followed by a kind of weariness of mind. Since the beginning of his work with Freedom he had, day after day, come upon Henry Kimball standing by his gate and looking at the sky. The man was one of Sam's old newspaper customers who stood as a kind of figure in the town. It was said of him that in his youth he had been a gambler on the Mississippi River and that he had taken part in more than one wild adventure in the old days. After the Civil War he had come to end his days in Caxton, living alone and occupying himself by keeping year after year a carefully tabulated record of weather variations. Once or twice a month during the warm season he stumbled into Wildman's and, sitting by the stove, talked boastfully of the accuracy of his records and the doings of a mangy dog that trotted at his heels. In his present mood the endless sameness and uneventfulness of the man's life seemed to Sam amusing and in some way sad.
"To depend upon going to the gate and looking at the sky to give point to a day--to look forward to and depend upon that--what deadliness!" he thought, and, thrusting his hand into his pocket, felt with pleasure the letter from the Chicago company that was to open so much of the big outside world to him.
In spite of the shock of unexpected sadness that had come with what he felt was almost a definite parting with Freedom, and the sadness brought on by his mother's approaching death, Sam felt a strong thrill of confidence in his own future that made his homeward walk almost cheerful. The thrill got from reading the letter handed him by Freedom was renewed by the sight of old Henry Kimball at the gate, looking at the sky."I shall never be like that, sitting in a corner of the world watching a mangy dog chase a ball and peering day after day at a thermometer," he thought.
The three years in Freedom Smith's service had taught Sam not to doubt his ability to cope with such business problems as might come in his way. He knew that he had become what he wanted to be, a good business man, one of the men who direct and control the affairs in which they are concerned because of a quality in them called Business Sense. He recalled with pleasure the fact that the men of Caxton had stopped calling him a bright boy and now spoke of him as a good business man.
At the gate before his own house he stopped and stood thinking of these things and of the dying woman within. Back into his mind came the old man he had seen at the gate and with him the thought that his mother's life had been as barren as that of the man who depended for companionship upon a dog and a thermometer.
"Indeed," he said to himself, pursuing the thought, "it has been worse. She has not had a fortune on which to live in peace nor has she had the remembrance of youthful days of wild adventure that must comfort the last days of the old man. Instead she has been watching me as the old man watches his thermometer and Father has been the dog in her house chasing playthings." The figure pleased him. He stood at the gate, the wind singing in the trees along the street and driving an occasional drop of rain against his cheek, and thought of it and of his life with his mother. During the last two or three years he had been trying to make things up to her. After the sale of the newspaper business and the beginning of his success with Freedom he had driven her from the washtub and since the beginning of her ill health he had spent evening after evening with her instead of going to Wildman's to sit with the four friends and hear the talk that went on among them. No more did he walk with Telfer or Mary Underwood on country roads but sat, instead, by the bedside of the sick woman or, the night falling fair, helped her to an arm chair upon the grass plot at the front of the house.
The years, Sam felt, had been good years. They had brought him an understanding of his mother and had given a seriousness and purpose to the ambitious plans he continued to make for himself. Alone together, the mother and he had talked little, the habit of a lifetime making much speech impossible to her and the growing understanding of her making it unnecessary to him. Now in the darkness, before the house, he thought of the evenings he had spent with her and of the pitiful waste that had been made of her fine life. Things that had hurt him and against which he had been bitter and unforgiving became of small import, even the doings of the pretentious Windy, who in the face of Jane's illness continued to go off after pension day for long periods of drunkenness, and who only came home to weep and wail through the house, when the pension money was gone, regretting, Sam tried in fairness to think, the loss of both the washwoman and the wife.
"She has been the most wonderful woman in the world," he told himself and tears of happiness came into his eyes at the thought of his friend, John Telfer, who in bygone days had praised the mother to the newsboy trotting beside him on moonlit roads. Into his mind came a picture of her long gaunt face, ghastly now against the white of the pillows. A picture of George Eliot, tacked to the wall behind a broken harness in the kitchen of Freedom Smith's house, had caught his eye some days before, and in the darkness he took it from his pocket and put it to his lips, realising that in some indescribable way it was like his mother as she had been before her illness. Freedom's wife had given him the picture and he had been carrying it, taking it out of his pocket on lonely stretches of road as he went about his work.
Sam went quietly around the house and stood by an old shed, a relic of an attempt by Windy to embark in raising chickens. He wanted to continue the thoughts of his mother. He began recalling her youth and the details of a long talk they had held together on the lawn before the house. It was extraordinarily vivid in his mind. He thought that even now he could remember every word that had been said. The sick woman had talked of her youth in Ohio, and as she talked pictures had come into the boy's mind. She had told him of her days as a bound girl in the family of a thin- lipped, hard-fisted New Englander, who had come West to take a farm, and of her struggles to obtain an education, of the pennies saved to buy books, of her joy when she had passed examinations and become a school teacher, and of her marriage to Windy--then John McPherson.
Into the Ohio village the young McPherson had come, to cut a figure in the town's life. Sam had smiled at the picture she drew of the young man who walked up and down the village street with girls on his arms, and who taught a Bible class in the Sunday school.
When Windy proposed to the young school teacher she had accepted him eagerly, thinking it unbelievably romantic that so dashing a man should have chosen so obscure a figure among all the women of the town."And even now I am not sorry although it has meant nothing but labour and unhappiness for me," the sick woman had told her son.
After marriage to the young dandy, Jane had come with him to Caxton where he bought a store and where, within three years, he had put the store into the sheriff's hands and his wife into the position of town laundress.
In the darkness a grim smile, half scorn, half amusement, had flitted across the face of the dying woman as she told of a winter when Windy and another young fellow went, from schoolhouse to schoolhouse, over the state giving a show. The ex-soldier had become a singer of comic songs and had written letter after letter to the young wife telling of the applause that greeted his efforts. Sam could picture the performances, the little dimly- lighted schoolhouses with the weatherbeaten faces shining in the light of the leaky magic lantern, and the delighted Windy running here and there, talking the jargon of stageland, arraying himself in his motley and strutting upon the little stage."And all winter he did not send me a penny," the sick woman had said, interrupting his thoughts.
Aroused at last to expression, and filled with the memory of her youth, the silent woman had talked of her own people. Her father had been killed in the woods by a falling tree. Of her mother she told an anecdote, touching it briefly and with a grim humour that surprised her son.
The young school teacher had gone to call upon her mother once and for an hour had sat in the parlour of an Ohio farmhouse while a fierce old woman looked at her with bold questioning eyes that made the daughter feel she had been a fool to come. At the railroad station she had heard an anecdote of her mother. The story ran, that once a burly tramp came to the farmhouse, and finding the woman alone tried to bully her, and that the tramp, and the woman, then in her prime, fought for an hour in the back yard of the house. The railroad agent, who told Jane the story, threw back his head and laughed.
"She knocked him out, too," he said, "knocked him cold upon the ground and then filled him up with hard cider so that he came reeling into town declaring her the finest woman in the state."
In the darkness by the broken shed Sam's mind turned from thoughts of his mother to his sister Kate and of her love affair with the young farmer. He thought with sadness of how she too had suffered because of the failings of the father, of how she had been compelled to go out of the house to wander in the dark streets to avoid the endless evenings of war talk always brought on by a guest in the McPherson household, and of the night when, getting a rig from Culvert's livery, she had driven off alone into the country to return in triumph to pack her clothes and show her wedding ring.
Before him there rose a picture of a summer afternoon when he had seen a part of the love making that had preceded this. He had gone into the store to see his sister when the young farmer came in, looked awkwardly about and pushed a new gold watch across the counter to Kate. A sudden wave of respect for his sister had pervaded the boy. "What a sum it must have cost," he thought, and looked with new interest at the back of the lover and at the flushed cheek and shining eyes of his sister. When the lover, turning, had seen young McPherson standing at the counter, he laughed self-consciously and walked out at the door. Kate had been embarrassed and secretly pleased and flattered by the look in her brother's eyes, but had pretended to treat the gift lightly, twirling it carelessly back and forth on the counter and walking up and down swinging her arms."Don't go telling," she had said. "Then don't go pretending," the boy had answered.
Sam thought that his sister's indiscretion, which had brought her a babe and a husband in the same month had, after all, ended better than the indiscretion of his mother in her marriage with Windy.
Rousing himself, he went into the house. A neighbour woman, employed for the purpose, had prepared the evening meal and now began complaining of his lateness, saying that the food had got cold.Sam ate in silence. While he ate the woman went out of the house and presently returned, bringing a daughter.
There was in Caxton a code that would not allow a woman to be alone in a house with a man. Sam wondered if the bringing of the daughter was an attempt on the part of the woman to abide by the letter of the code, if she thought of the sick woman in the house as one already gone. The thought amused and saddened him.
"You would have thought her safe," he mused. She was fifty, small, nervous and worn and wore a set of ill-fitting false teeth that rattled as she talked. When she did not talk she rattled them with her tongue because of nervousness.In at the kitchen door came Windy, far gone in drink. He stood by the door holding to the knob with his hand and trying to get control of himself. "My wife--my wife is dying. She may die any day," he wailed, tears standing in his eyes.
The woman with the daughter went into the little parlour where a bed had been put for the sick woman. Sam sat at the kitchen table dumb with anger and disgust as Windy, lurching forward, fell into a chair and began sobbing loudly. In the road outside a man driving a horse stopped and Sam could hear the scraping of the wheels against the buggy body as the man turned in the narrow street. Above the scraping of the wheels rose a voice, swearing profanely. The wind continued to blow and it had begun to rain."He has got into the wrong street," thought the boy stupidly.
Windy, his head upon his hands, wept like a brokenhearted boy, his sobs echoing through the house, his breath heavy with liquor tainting the air of the room. In a corner by the stove the mother's ironing board stood against the wall and the sight of it added fuel to the anger smouldering in Sam's heart. He remembered the day when he had stood in the store doorway with his mother and had seen the dismal and amusing failure of his father with the bugle, and of the months before Kate's wedding, when Windy had gone blustering about town threatening to kill her lover and the mother and boy had stayed with the girl, out of sight in the house, sick with humiliation.The drunken man, laying his head upon the table, fell asleep, his snores replacing the sobs that had stirred the boy's anger. Sam began thinking again of his mother's life.
The effort he had made to repay her for the hardness of her life now seemed utterly fruitless. "I would like to repay him," he thought, shaken with a sudden spasm of hatred as he looked at the man before him. The cheerless little kitchen, the cold, half-baked potatoes and sausages on the table, and the drunken man asleep, seemed to him a kind of symbol of the life that had been lived in that house, and with a shudder he turned his face and stared at the wall.
He thought of a dinner he had once eaten at Freedom Smith's house. Freedom had brought the invitation into the stables on that night just as to-night he had brought the letter from the Chicago company, and just as Sam was shaking his head in refusal of the invitation in at the stable door had come the children. Led by the eldest, a great tomboy girl of fourteen with the strength of a man and an inclination to burst out of her clothes at unexpected places, they had come charging into the stables to carry Sam off to the dinner, Freedom laughingly urging them on, his voice roaring in the stable so that the horses jumped about in their stalls. Into the house they had dragged him, the baby, a boy of four, sitting astride his back and beating on his head with a woollen cap, and Freedom swinging a lantern and giving an occasional helpful push with his hand.
A picture of the long table covered with the white cloth at the end of the big dining room in Freedom's house came back into the mind of the boy now sitting in the barren little kitchen before the untasted, badly-cooked food. Upon it lay a profusion of bread and meat and great dishes heaped with steaming potatoes. At his own house there had always been just enough food for the single meal. The thing was nicely calculated, when you had finished the table was bare.
How he had enjoyed that dinner after the long day on the road. With a flourish and a roar at the children Freedom heaped high the plates and passed them about, the wife or the tomboy girl bringing unending fresh supplies from the kitchen. The joy of the evening with its talk of the children in school, its sudden revelation of the womanliness of the tomboy girl, and its air of plenty and good living haunted the mind of the boy."My mother never knew anything like that," he thought. The drunken man who had been sleeping aroused himself and began talking loudly--some old forgotten grievance coming back to his mind, he talked of the cost of school books.
"They change the books in the school too often," he declared in a loud voice, turning and facing the kitchen stove, as though addressing an audience. "It is a scheme to graft on old soldiers who have children. I will not stand it."Sam, enraged beyond speech, tore a leaf from a notebook and scrawled a message upon it. "Be silent," he wrote. "If you say another word or make another sound to disturb mother I will choke you and throw you like a dead dog into the street."
Reaching across the table and touching his father on the hand with a fork taken from among the dishes, he laid the note upon the table under the lamp before his eyes. He was fighting with himself to control a desire to spring across the room and kill the man who he believed had brought his mother to her death and who now sat bellowing and talking at her very death bed. The desire distorted his mind so that he stared about the kitchen like one seized with an insane nightmare.Windy, taking the note in his hand, read it slowly and then, not understanding its import and but half getting its sense, put it in his pocket.
"A dog is dead, eh?" he shouted. "Well you're getting too big and smart, lad. What do I care for a dead dog?"
Sam did not answer. Rising cautiously, he crept around the table and put his hand upon the throat of the babbling old man.
In the kitchen the two men struggled silently. Windy, unable to rise, struck out wildly and helplessly with his feet. Sam, looking down at him and studying the eyes and the colour in the cheeks, realised with a start that he had not for years seen the face of his father. How vividly it stamped itself upon his mind now, and how coarse and sodden it had become."I could repay all of the years mother has spent over the dreary washtub by just one long, hard grip at this lean throat. I could kill him with so little extra pressure," he thought. The eyes began to stare at him and the tongue to protrude. Across the forehead ran a streak of mud picked up somewhere in the long afternoon of drunken carousing. "If I were to press hard now and kill him I would see his face as it looks now all the days of my life," thought the boy.
In the silence of the house he heard the voice of the neighbour woman speaking sharply to her daughter. The familiar, dry, tired cough of the sick woman followed. Sam took the unconscious old man in his arms and went carefully and silently out at the kitchen door. The rain beat down upon him and, as he went around the house with his burden, the wind, shaking loose a dead branch from a small apple tree in the yard, blew it against his face, leaving a long smarting scratch. At the fence before the house he stopped and threw his burden down a short grassy bank into the road. Then turning he went, bareheaded, through the gate and up the street.
"I will go for Mary Underwood," he thought, his mind returning to the friend who years before had walked with him on country roads and whose friendship he had dropped because of John Telfer's tirades against all women. He stumbled along the sidewalk, the rain beating down upon his bare head."We need a woman in our house," he kept saying over and over to himself. "We need a woman in our house."
Leaning against the wall under the veranda of Mary Underwood's house, Sam tried to get in his mind a remembrance of what had brought him there. He had walked bareheaded through Main Street and out along a country road. Twice he had fallen, covering his clothes with mud. He had forgotten the purpose of his walk and had tramped on and on. The unexpected and terrible hatred of his father that had come upon him in the tense silence of the kitchen had so paralysed his brain that he now felt light-headed and wonderfully happy and carefree."I have been doing something," he thought; "I wonder what it is."
The house faced a grove of pine trees and was reached by climbing a little rise and following a winding road out beyond the graveyard and the last of the village lights. The wild spring rain pounded and rattled on the tin roof overhead, and Sam, his back closely pressed against the front of the house, fought to regain control of his mind.
For an hour he stood there staring into the darkness and watched with delight the progress of the storm. He had--an inheritance from his mother --a love of thunderstorms. He remembered a night when he was a boy and his mother had got out of bed and gone here and there through the house singing. She had sung softly so that the sleeping father did not hear, and in his bed upstairs Sam had lain awake listening to the noises--the rain on the roof, the occasional crash of thunder, the snoring of Windy, and the unusual and, he thought, beautiful sound of the mother singing in the storm.
Now, lifting up his head, he looked about with delight. Trees in the grove in front of him bent and tossed in the wind. The inky blackness of the night was relieved by the flickering oil lamp in the road beyond the graveyard and, in the distance, by the lights streaming out at the windows of the houses. The light coming out of the house against which he stood made a little cylinder of brightness among the pine trees through which the raindrops fell gleaming and sparkling. An occasional flash of lightning lit up the trees and the winding road, and the cannonry of the skies rolled and echoed overhead. A kind of wild song sang in Sam's heart."I wish it would last all night," he thought, his mind fixed on the singing of his mother in the dark house when he was a boy.
The door opened and a woman stepped out upon the veranda and stood before him facing the storm, the wind tossing the soft kimono in which she was clad and the rain wetting her face. Under the tin roof, the air was filled with the rattling reverberation of the rain. The woman lifted her head and, with the rain beating down upon her, began singing, her fine contralto voice rising above the rattle of the rain on the roof and going on uninterrupted by the crash of the thunder. She sang of a lover riding through the storm to his mistress. One refrain persisted in the song--
"He rode and he thought of her red, red lips,"
Sam was amazed. The woman standing before him was Mary Underwood, who had been his friend when he was a boy in school and toward whom his mind had turned after the tragedy in the kitchen. The figure of the woman standing singing before him became a part of his thoughts of his mother singing on the stormy night in the house and his mind wandered on, seeing pictures as he used to see them when a boy walking under the stars and listening to the talk of John Telfer. He saw a broad-shouldered man shouting defiance to the storm as he rode down a mountain path."And he laughed at the rain on his wet, wet cloak," went on the voice of the singer. Mary Underwood's singing there in the rain made her seem near and likeable as she had seemed to him when he was a barefoot boy. "John Telfer was wrong about her," he thought.
She turned and faced him. Tiny streams of water ran from her hair down across her cheeks. A flash of lightning cut the darkness, illuminating the spot where Sam, now a broad-shouldered man, stood with the mud upon his clothes and the bewildered look upon his face. A sharp exclamation of surprise broke from her lips:"Hello, Sam! What are you doing here? You had better get in out of the rain." "I like it here," replied Sam, lifting his head and looking past her at the storm. Walking to the door and standing with her hand upon the knob, Mary looked into the darkness. "You have been a long time coming to see me," she said, "come in."
Within the house, with the door closed, the rattle of the rain on the veranda roof sank to a subdued, quiet drumming. Piles of books lay upon a table in the centre of the room and there were other books on the shelves along the walls. On a table burned a student's lamp and in the corners of the room lay heavy shadows.Sam stood by the wall near the door looking about with half-seeing eyes.
Mary, who had gone to another part of the house and who now returned clad in a long cloak, looked at him with quick curiosity, and began moving about the room picking up odds and ends of woman's clothing scattered on the chairs. Kneeling, she lighted a fire under some sticks piled in an open grate at the side of the room.
"It was the storm made me want to sing," she said self-consciously, and then briskly, "we shall have to be drying you out; you have fallen in the road and got yourself covered with mud."
The woman, kneeling by the blazing sticks, made a picture that aroused something that had been sleeping in him. The heavy cloak she wore, falling away, showed the round little shoulders imperfectly covered by the kimono, wet and clinging to them. The slender, youthful figure, the soft grey hair and the serious little face, lit by the burning sticks caused a jumping of his heart.
"We are needing a woman in our house," he said heavily, repeating the words that had been on his lips as he stumbled through the storm-swept streets and along the mudcovered roads. "We are needing a woman in our house, and I have come to take you there."I intend to marry you," he added, lurching across the room and grasping her roughly by the shoulders. "Why not? I am needing a woman."
Mary Underwood was dismayed and frightened by the face looking down at her, and by the strong hands clenched upon her shoulders. In his youth she had conceived a kind of maternal passion for the newsboy and had planned a future for him. Her plans if followed would have made him a scholar, a man living his life among books and ideas. Instead, he had chosen to live his life among men, to be a money-maker, to drive about the country like Freedom Smith, making deals with farmers. She had seen him driving at evening through the street to Freedom's house, going in and out of Wildman's, and walking through the streets with men. In a dim way she knew that an influence had been at work upon him to win him from the things of which she had dreamed and she had secretly blamed John Telfer, the talking, laughing idler. Now, out of the storm, the boy had come back to her, his hands and his clothes covered with the mud of the road, and talked to her, a woman old enough to be his mother, of marriage and of coming to live with him in his house. She stood, chilled, looking into the eager, strong face and the eyes with the pained, dazed look in them.Under her gaze, something of the old feeling of the boy came back to Sam, and he began vaguely trying to tell her of it.
"It was not the talk of Telfer drove me from you," he began, "it was because you talked so much of the schools and of books. I was tired of them. I could not go on year after year sitting in a stuffy little schoolroom when there was so much money to be made in the world. I grew tired of the school teachers, drumming with their fingers on the desks and looking out at the windows at men passing in the street. I wanted to get out of there and into the streets myself."
Dropping his hands from her shoulders, he sat down in a chair and stared into the fire, now blazing steadily. Steam began to rise from his trousers legs. His mind, still working beyond his control, began to reconstruct an old boyhood fancy, half his own, half John Telfer's, that had years before come into his mind. It concerned a picture he and Telfer had made of the ideal scholar. The picture had, as its central figure, a stoop-shouldered, feeble old man stumbling along the street, muttering to himself and poking in a gutter with a stick. The picture was a caricature of puttering old Frank Huntley, superintendent of the Caxton schools.
Sitting before the fire in Mary Underwood's house, become, for the moment, a boy, facing a boy's problems, Sam did not want to be such a man. He wanted only that in scholarship which would help him to be the kind of man he was bent on being, a man of the world doing the work of the world and making money by his work. Things he had been unable to get expressed when he was a boy and her friend, coming again into his mind, he felt that he must here and now make it plain to Mary Underwood that the schools were not giving him what he wanted. His brain worked on the problem of how to tell her about it.Turning, he looked at her and said earnestly: "I am going to quit the schools. It is not your fault, but I am going to quit just the same."
Mary, who had been looking down at the great mud-covered figure in the chair began to understand. A light came into her eyes. Going to the door opening into a stairway leading to sleeping rooms above, she called sharply, "Auntie, come down here at once. There is a sick man here."A startled, trembling voice answered from above, "Who is it?"
Mary Underwood did not answer. She came back to Sam and, putting her hand gently on his shoulder, said, "It is your mother and you are only a sick, half-crazed boy after all. Is she dead? Tell me about it."
Sam shook his head. "She is still there in the bed, coughing." He roused himself and stood up. "I have just killed my father," he announced. "I choked him and threw him down the bank into the road in front of the house. He made horrible noises in the kitchen and mother was tired and wanted to sleep."
Mary Underwood began running about the room. From a little alcove under a stairway she took clothes, throwing them upon the floor about the room. She pulled on a stocking and, unconscious of Sam's presence, raised her skirts and fastened it. Then, putting one shoe on the stockinged foot and the other on the bare one, she turned to him. "We will go back to your house. I think you are right. You need a woman there."
In the street she walked rapidly along, clinging to the arm of the tall fellow who strode silently beside her. A cheerfulness had come over Sam. He felt he had accomplished something--something he had set out to accomplish. He again thought of his mother and drifting into the notion that he was on his way home from work at Freedom Smith's, began planning the evening he would spend with her.
At the gate before the McPherson house Mary looked into the road below the grassy bank that ran down from the fence, but in the darkness she could see nothing. The rain continued to fall and the wind screamed and shouted as it rushed through the bare branches of the trees. Sam went through the gate and around the house to the kitchen door intent upon getting to his mother's bedside.In the house the neighbour woman sat asleep in a chair before the kitchen stove. The daughter had gone. Sam went through the house to the parlour and sat down in a chair beside his mother's bed, picking up her hand and holding it in his own. "She must be asleep," he thought.
At the kitchen door Mary Underwood stopped, and, turning, ran away into the darkness along the street. By the kitchen fire the neighbour woman still slept. In the parlour Sam, sitting on the chair beside his mother's bed, looked about him. A lamp burned dimly upon the little stand beside the bed and the light of it fell upon the portrait of a tall, aristocraticlooking woman with rings on her fingers, that hung upon the wall. The picture belonged to Windy and was claimed by him as a portrait of his mother, and it had once brought on a quarrel between Sam and his sister.
Kate had taken the portrait of the lady seriously, and the boy had come upon her sitting in a chair before it, her hair rearranged and her hands lying in her lap in imitation of the pose maintained so haughtily by the great lady who looked down at her.
"It is a fraud," he had declared, irritated by what he believed his sister's devotion to one of the father's pretensions. "It is a fraud he has picked up somewhere and now claims as his mother to make people believe he is something big."
The girl, ashamed at having been caught in the pose, and furious because of the attack upon the authenticity of the portrait, had gone into a spasm of indignation, putting her hands to her ears and stamping on the floor with her foot. Then she had run across the room and dropped upon her knees before a little couch, buried her face in a pillow and shook with anger and grief.
Sam had turned and walked out of the room. The emotions of the sister had seemed to him to have the flavour of one of Windy's outbreaks.
"She likes it," he had thought, dismissing the incident. "She likes believing in lies. She is like Windy and would rather believe in them than not."
Mary Underwood ran through the rain to John Telfer's house and beat on the door with her fist until Telfer, followed by Eleanor, holding a lamp above her head, appeared at the door. With Telfer she went back through the streets to the front of Sam's house thinking of the terrible choked and disfigured man they should find there. She went along clinging to Telfer's arm as she had clung to Sam's, unconscious of her bare head and scanty attire. In his hand Telfer carried a lantern secured from the stable.
In the road before the house they found nothing. Telfer went up and down swinging the lantern and peering into gutters. The woman walked beside him, her skirts lifted and the mud splashing upon her bare leg.Suddenly Telfer threw back his head and laughed. Taking her hand he led Mary with a rush up the bank and through the gate.
"What a muddle-headed old fool I am!" he cried. "I am getting old and addle-pated! Windy McPherson is not dead! Nothing could kill that old war horse! He was in at Wildman's grocery after nine o'clock to-night covered with mud and swearing he had been in a fight with Art Sherman. Poor Sam and you--to have come to me and to have found me a stupid ass! Fool! Fool! What a fool I have become!"
In at the kitchen door ran Mary and Telfer, frightening the woman by the stove so that she sprang to her feet and began nervously making the false teeth rattle with her tongue. In the parlour they found Sam, his head upon the edge of the bed, asleep. In his hand he held the cold hand of Jane McPherson. She had been dead for an hour. Mary Underwood stooped over and kissed his wet hair as the neighbour woman came in at the doorway bearing the kitchen lamp, and John Telfer, holding his finger to his lips, commanded silence.
The funeral of Jane McPherson was a trying affair for her son. He thought that his sister Kate, with the babe in her arms, had become coarsened--she looked frumpish and, while they were in the house, had an air of having quarrelled with her husband when they came out of their bedroom in the morning. During the funeral service Sam sat in the parlour, astonished and irritated by the endless number of women that crowded into the house. They were everywhere, in the kitchen, the sleeping room back of the parlour; and in the parlour, where the dead woman lay in her coffin, they were massed. When the thin-lipped minister, holding a book in his hand, held forth upon the virtues of the dead woman, they wept. Sam looked at the floor and thought that thus they would have wept over the body of the dead Windy, had his fingers but tightened a trifle. He wondered if the minister would have talked in the same way--blatantly and without knowledge--of the virtues of the dead. In a chair at the side of the coffin the bereaved husband, in new black clothes, wept audibly. The baldheaded, officious undertaker kept moving nervously about, intent upon the ritual of his trade.
During the service, a man sitting behind him dropped a note on the floor at Sam's feet. Sam picked it up and read it, glad of something to distract his attention from the voice of the minister, and the faces of the weeping women, none of whom had before been in the house and all of whom he thought strikingly lacking in a sense of the sacredness of privacy. The note was from John Telfer.
"I will not come to your mother's funeral," he wrote. "I respected your mother while she lived and I will leave you alone with her now that she is dead. In her memory I will hold a ceremony in my heart. If I am in Wildman's, I may ask the man to quit selling soap and tobacco for the moment and to close and lock the door. If I am at Valmore's shop, I will go up into his loft and listen to him pounding on the anvil below. If he or Freedom Smith go to your house, I warn them I will cut their friendship. When I see the carriages going through the street and know that the thing is right well done and over, I will buy flowers and take them to Mary Underwood as an appreciation of the living in the name of the dead."The note cheered and comforted Sam. It gave him back a grip of something that had slipped from him.
"It is good sense, after all," he thought, and realised that even in the days when he was being made to suffer horrors, and in the face of the fact that Jane McPherson's long, hard role was just being played out to the end, the farmer in the field was sowing his corn, Valmore was beating upon his anvil, and John Telfer was writing notes with a flourish. He arose, interrupting the minister's discourse. Mary Underwood had come in just as the minister began talking and had dropped into an obscure corner near the door leading into the street. Sam crowded past the women who stared and the minister who frowned and the baldheaded undertaker who wrung his hands and, dropping the note into her lap, said, oblivious of the people looking and listening with breathless curiosity, "It is from John Telfer. Read it. Even he, hating women as he did, is now bringing flowers to your door."
In the room a wind of whispered comments sprang up. Women, putting their heads together and their hands before their faces, nodded toward the school teacher, and the boy, unconscious of the sensation he had created, went back to his chair and looked again at the floor, waiting until the talk and the singing of songs and the parading through the streets should be ended. Again the minister began reading from the book."I have become older than all of these people here," thought the youth. "They play at life and death, and I have felt it between the fingers of my hand."
Mary Underwood, lacking Sam's unconsciousness of the people, looked about with burning cheeks. Seeing the women whispering and putting their heads together, a chill of fear ran through her. Into the room had been thrust the face of an old enemy to her--the scandal of a small town. Picking up the note she slipped out at the door and stole away along the street. The old maternal love for Sam had returned strengthened and ennobled by the terror through which she had passed with him that night in the rain. Going to her house she whistled the collie dog and set out along a country road. At the edge of a grove of trees she stopped, sat down on a log, and read Telfer's note. From the soft ground into which her feet sank there came the warm pungent smell of the new growth. Tears came into her eyes. She thought that in a few days much had come to her. She had got a boy upon whom she could pour out the mother love in her heart, and she had made a friend of Telfer, whom she had long regarded with fear and doubt.
For a month Sam lingered in Caxton. It seemed to him there was something that wanted doing there. He sat with the men at the back of Wildman's, and walked aimlessly through the streets and out of the town along the country roads, where men worked all day in the fields behind sweating horses, ploughing the land. The thrill of spring was in the air, and in the evening a song sparrow sang in the apple tree below his bedroom window. Sam walked and loitered in silence, looking at the ground. In his mind was the dread of people. The talk of the men in the store wearied him and when he went alone into the country he found himself accompanied by the voices of all of those he had come out of town to escape. On the street corner the thin-lipped, brown-bearded minister stopped him and talked of the future life as he had stopped and talked to a bare-legged newsboy.
"Your mother," he said, "has but gone before. It is for you to get into the narrow path and follow her. God has sent this sorrow as a warning to you. He wants you also to get into the way of life and in the end to join her. Begin coming to our church. Join in the work of the Christ. Find truth."
Sam, who had listened without hearing, shook his head and went on. The minister's talk seemed no more than a meaningless jumble of words out of which he got but one thought.
"Find truth," he repeated to himself after the minister, and let his mind play with the idea. "The best men are all trying to do that. They spend their lives at the task. They are all trying to find truth."
He went along the street, pleased with himself because of the interpretation he had put upon the minister's words. The terrible moments in the kitchen followed by his mother's death had put a new look of seriousness into his face and he felt within him a new sense of responsibility to the dead woman and to himself. Men stopped him on the street and wished him well in the city. News of his leaving had become public. Things in which Freedom Smith was concerned were always public affairs."He would take a drum with him to make love to a neighbour's wife," said John Telfer.
Sam felt that in a way he was a child of Caxton. Early it had taken him to its bosom; it had made of him a semi-public character; it had encouraged him in his money-making, humiliated him through his father, and patronised him lovingly because of his toiling mother. When he was a boy, scurrying between the legs of the drunkards in Piety Hollow of a Saturday night, there was always some one to speak a word to him of his morals and to shout at him a cheering word of advice. Had he elected to remain there, with the thirtyfive hundred dollars already in the Savings Bank--built to that during his years with Freedom Smith--he might soon become one of the town's solid men.He did not want to stay. He felt that his call was in another place and that he would go there gladly. He wondered why he did not get on the train and be off.
One night when he had been late on the road, loitering by fences, hearing the lonely barking of dogs at distant farmhouses, getting the smell of the new-ploughed ground into his nostrils, he came into town and sat down on a low iron fence that ran along by the platform of the railroad station, to wait for the midnight train north. Trains had taken on a new meaning to him since any day might see him on such a train bound into his new life.A man, with two bags in his hands, came on the station platform followed by two women. "Here, watch these," he said to the women, setting the bags upon the platform; "I will go for the tickets," and disappeared into the darkness. The two women resumed their interrupted talk.
"Ed's wife has been poorly these ten years," said one of them. "It will be better for her and for Ed now that she is dead, but I dread the long ride. I wish she had died when I was in Ohio two years ago. I am sure to be train-sick."
Sam, sitting in the darkness, was thinking of a part of one of John Telfer's old talks with him.
"They are good people but they are not your people. You will go away from here. You will be a big man of dollars, it is plain."
He began listening idly to the two women. The man had a shop for mending shoes on a side street back of Geiger's drug store and the two women, one short and round, one long and thin, kept a small, dingy millinery shop and were Eleanor Telfer's only competitors.
"Well, the town knows her now for what she is," said the tall woman. "Milly Peters says she won't rest until she has put that stuck-up Mary Underwood in her place. Her mother worked in the McPherson house and it was her told Milly. I never heard such a story. To think of Jane McPherson working all these years and then having such goings-on in her house when she lay dying, Milly says that Sam went away early in the evening and came home late with that Underwood thing, half dressed, hanging on his arm. Milly's mother looked out of the window and saw them. Then she ran out by the kitchen stove and pretended to be asleep. She wanted to see what was up. And the bold hussy came right into the house with Sam. Then she went away, and after a while back she came with that John Telfer. Milly is going to see that Eleanor Telfer finds it out. I guess it will bring her down, too. And there is no telling how many other men in this town Mary Underwood is running with. Milly says----"The two women turned as out of the darkness came a tall figure roaring and swearing. Two hands flashed out and sank into their hair. "Stop it!" growled Sam, beating the two heads together, "stop your dirty lies!--you ugly she-beasts!"
Hearing the two women screaming the man who had gone for the railroad tickets came running down the station platform followed by Jerry Donlin. Springing forward Sam knocked the shoemaker over the iron fence into a newly spaded flower bed and then turned to the baggage man."They were telling lies about Mary Underwood," he shouted. "She tried to save me from killing my father and now they are telling lies about her."
The two women picked up the bags and ran whimpering away along the station platform. Jerry Donlin climbed over the iron fence and confronted the surprised and frightened shoemaker."What the Hell are you doing in my flower bed?" he growled. * * * * *
Hurrying through the streets Sam's mind was in a ferment. Like the Roman emperor he wished that all the world had but one head that he might cut it off with a slash. The town that had seemed so paternal, so cheery, so intent upon wishing him well, now seemed horrible. He thought of it as a great, crawling, slimy thing lying in wait amid the cornfields.
"To be saying that of her, of that white soul!" he exclaimed aloud in the empty street, all of his boyish loyalty and devotion to the woman who had put out a hand to him in his hour of trouble aroused and burning in him.
He wished that he might meet another man and could hit him also a swinging blow on the nose as he had hit the amazed shoemaker. He went to his own house and, leaning on the gate, stood looking at it and swearing meaninglessly. Then, turning, he went again through the deserted streets past the railroad station where, the midnight train having come and gone and Jerry Donlin having gone home for the night, all was dark and quiet. He was filled with horror of what Mary Underwood had seen at Jane McPherson's funeral."It is better to be utterly bad than to speak ill of another," he thought.
For the first time he realised another side of village life. In fancy he saw going past him on the dark road a long file of women, women with coarse unlighted faces and dead eyes. Many of the faces he knew. They were the faces of Caxton wives at whose houses he had delivered papers. He remembered how eagerly they had run out of their houses to get the papers and how they hung day after day over the details of sensational murder cases. Once, when a Chicago girl had been murdered in a dive and the details were unusually revolting, two women, unable to restrain their curiosity, had come to the station to wait for the train bringing the newspapers and Sam had heard them rolling the horrid mess over and over on their tongues.
In every city and in every village there is a class of women, the thought of whom paralyses the mind. They live their lives in small, unaired, unsanitary houses, and go on year after year washing dishes and clothes-- only their fingers occupied. They read no good books, think no clean thoughts, are made love to as John Telfer had said, with kisses in a darkened room by a shame-faced yokel and, after marrying some such a yokel, live lives of unspeakable blankness. Into the houses of these women come the husbands at evening, tired and uncommunicative, to eat hurriedly and then go again into the streets or, the blessing of utter physical exhaustion having come to them, to sit for an hour in stockinged feet before crawling away to sleep and oblivion.
In these women is no light, no vision. They have instead certain fixed ideas to which they cling with a persistency touching heroism. To the man they have snatched from society they cling also with a tenacity to be measured only by their love of a roof over their heads and the craving for food to put into their stomachs. Being mothers, they are the despair of reformers, the shadow on the vision of dreamers and they put the black dread upon the heart of the poet who cries, "The female of the species is more deadly than the male." At their worst they are to be seen drunk with emotion amid the lurid horrors of a French Revolution or immersed in the secret whispering, creeping terror of a religious persecution. At their best they are mothers of half mankind. Wealth coming to them, they throw themselves into garish display of it and flash upon the sight of Newport or Palm Beach. In their native lair in the close little houses, they sleep in the bed of the man who has put clothes upon their backs and food into their mouths because that is the usage of their kind and give him of their bodies grudgingly or willingly as the laws of their physical needs direct. They do not love, they sell, instead, their bodies in the market place and cry out that man shall witness their virtue because they had had the joy of finding one buyer instead of the many of the red sisterhood. A fierce animalism in them makes them cling to the babe at their breast and in the days of its softness and loveliness they close their eyes and try to catch again an old fleeting dream of their girlhood, a something vague, shadowy, no longer a part of them, brought with the babe out of the infinite. Having passed beyond the land of dreams, they dwell in the land of emotions and weep over the bodies of unknown dead or sit under the eloquence of evangelists, shouting of heaven and of hell--the call to the one being brother to the call of the other--crying upon the troubled air of hot little churches, where hope is fighting in the jaws of vulgarity, "The weight of my sins is heavy on my soul." Along streets they go lifting heavy eyes to peer into the lives of others and to get a morsel to roll upon their heavy tongues. Having fallen upon a side light in the life of a Mary Underwood they return to it again and again as a dog to its offal. Something touching the lives of such as walk in the clean air, dream dreams, and have the audacity to be beautiful beyond the beauty of animal youth, maddens them, and they cry out, running from kitchen door to kitchen door and tearing at the prize like a starved beast who has found a carcass. Let but earnest women found a movement and crowd it forward to the day when it smacks of success and gives promise of the fine emotion of achievement, and they fall upon it with a cry, having hysteria rather than reason as their guiding impulse. In them is all of femininity--and none of it. For the most part they live and die unseen, unknown, eating rank food, sleeping overmuch, and sitting through summer afternoons rocking in chairs and looking at people passing in the street. In the end they die full of faith, hoping for a life to come.
Sam stood upon the road fearing the attacks these women were now making on Mary Underwood. The moon coming up, threw its light on the fields that lay beside the road and brought out their early spring nakedness and he thought them dreary and hideous, like the faces of the women that had been marching through his mind. He drew his overcoat about him and shivered as he went on, the mud splashing him and the raw night air aggravating the dreariness of his thoughts. He tried to revert to the assurance of the days before his mother's illness and to get again the strong belief in his own destiny that had kept him at the money making and saving and had urged him to the efforts to rise above the level of the man who bred him. He didn't succeed. The feeling of age that had settled upon him in the midst of the people mourning over the body of his mother came back, and, turning, he went along the road toward the town, saying to himself: "I will go and talk to Mary Underwood."
While he waited on the veranda for Mary to open the door, he decided that after all a marriage with her might lead to happiness. The half spiritual, half physical love of woman that is the glory and mystery of youth was gone from him. He thought that if he could only drive from her presence the fear of the faces that had been coming and going in his own mind he would, for his own part, be content to live his life as a worker and money maker, one without dreams.
Mary Underwood came to the door wearing the same heavy long coat she had worn on that other night and taking her by the hand Sam led her to the edge of the veranda. He looked with content at the pine trees before the house, thinking that some benign influence must have guided the hand that planted them there to stand clothed and decent amid the barrenness of the land at the end of winter.
"What is it, boy?" asked the woman, and her voice was filled with anxiety. The maternal passion again glowing in her had for days coloured all her thoughts, and with all the ardour of an intense nature she had thrown herself into her love of Sam. Thinking of him, she felt in fancy the pangs of birth, and in her bed at night relived with him his boyhood in the town and built again her plans for his future. In the day time she laughed at herself and said tenderly, "You are an old fool."
Brutally and frankly Sam told her of the thing he had heard on the station platform, looking past her at the pine trees and gripping the veranda rail. From the dead land there came again the smell of the new growth as it had come to him on the road before the revelation at the railroad station.
"Something kept telling me not to go away," he said. "It must have been in the air--this thing. Already these evil crawling things were at work. Oh, if only all the world, like you and Telfer and some of the others here, had an appreciation of the sense of privacy."Mary Underwood laughed quietly.
"I was more than half right when, in the old days, I dreamed of making you a man at work upon the things of the mind," she said. "The sense of privacy indeed! What a fellow you have become! John Telfer's method was better than my own. He has given you the knack of saying things with a flourish."Sam shook his head.
"Here is something that cannot be faced down with a laugh," he said stoutly. "Here is something at you--it is tearing at you--it has got to be met. Even now women are waking up in bed and turning the matter over in their minds. To-morrow they will be at you again. There is but one way and we must take it. You and I will have to marry."Mary looked at the serious new lines of his face. "What a proposal!" she cried. On an impulse she began singing, her voice fine and strong running through the quiet night. "He rode and he thought of her red, red lips," she sang, and laughed again.
"You should come like that," she said, and then, "you poor muddled boy. Don't you know that I am your new mother?" she added, taking hold of his two arms and turning him about facing her. "Don't be absurd. I don't want a husband or a lover. I want a son of my own and I have found him. I adopted you here in this house that night when you came to me sick and covered with mud. As for these women--away with them--I'll face them down --I did it once before and I'll do it again. Go to your city and make your fight. Here in Caxton it is a woman's fight.""It is horrible. You don't understand," Sam protested. A grey, tired look came into Mary Underwood's face. "I understand," she said. "I have been on that battlefield. It is to be won only by silence and tireless waiting. Your very effort to help would make the matter worse."
The woman and the tall boy, suddenly become a man, stood in thought. She was thinking of the end toward which her life was drifting. How differently she had planned it. She thought of the college in Massachusetts and of the men and women walking under the elm trees there."But I have got me a son and I am going to keep him," she said aloud, putting her hand on Sam's arm.
Very serious and troubled, Sam went down the gravel path toward the road. He felt there was something cowardly in the part she had given him to play, but he could see no alternative."After all," he reflected, "it is sensible--it is a woman's battle." Half way to the road he stopped and, running back, caught her in his arms and gave her a great hug. "Good-bye, little Mother," he cried and kissed her upon the lips.
And she, watching him as he went again down the gravel path, was overcome with tenderness. She went to the back of the porch and leaning against the house put her head upon her arm. Then turning and smiling through her tears she called after him."Did you crack their heads hard, boy?" she asked.
* * * * * From Mary's house Sam went to his own. On the gravel path an idea had come to him. He went into the house and, sitting down at the kitchen table with pen and ink, began writing. In the sleeping room back of the parlour he could hear Windy snoring. He wrote carefully, erasing and writing again. Then, drawing up a chair before the kitchen fire, he read over and over what he had written, and putting on his coat went through the dawn to the house of Tom Comstock, editor of the _Caxton Argus_, and roused him out of bed."I'll run it on the front page, Sam, and it won't cost you anything," Comstock promised. "But why run it? Let the matter drop." "I shall just have time to pack and get the morning train for Chicago," Sam thought.
Early the evening before, Telfer, Wildman, and Freedom Smith, at Valmore's suggestion, had made a visit to Hunter's jewelry store. For an hour they bargained, selected, rejected, and swore at the jeweller. When the choice was made and the gift lay shining against white cotton in a box on the counter Telfer made a speech.
"I will talk straight to that boy," he declared, laughing. "I am not going to spend my time training his mind for money making and then have him fail me. I shall tell him that if he doesn't make money in that Chicago I shall come and take the watch from him."
Putting the gift into his pocket Telfer went out of the store and along the street to Eleanor's shop. He strutted through the display room and into the workshop where Eleanor sat with a hat on her knee."What am I going to do, Eleanor?" he demanded, standing with legs spread apart and frowning down upon her, "what am I going to do without Sam?"
A freckle-faced boy opened the shop door and threw a newspaper on the floor. The boy had a ringing voice and quick brown eyes. Telfer went again through the display room, touching with his cane the posts upon which hung the finished hats, and whistling. Standing before the shop, with the cane hooked upon his arm, he rolled a cigarette and watched the boy running from door to door along the street."I shall have to be adopting a new son," he said musingly.
After Sam left, Tom Comstock stood in his white nightgown and re-read the statement just given him. He read it over and over, and then, laying it on the kitchen table, filled and lighted a corncob pipe. A draft of wind blew into the room under the kitchen door chilling his thin shanks so that he drew his bare feet, one after the other, up behind the protective walls of his nightgown.
"On the night of my mother's death," ran the statement, "I sat in the kitchen of our house eating my supper when my father came in and began shouting and talking loudly, disturbing my mother who was asleep. I put my hand at his throat and squeezed until I thought he was dead, and carried him around the house and threw him into the road. Then I ran to the house of Mary Underwood, who was once my schoolteacher, and told her what I had done. She took me home, awoke John Telfer, and then went to look for the body of my father, who was not dead after all. John McPherson knows this is true, if he can be made to tell the truth."
Tom Comstock shouted to his wife, a small nervous woman with red cheeks, who set up type in the shop, did her own housework, and gathered most of the news and advertising for _The Argus_."Ain't that a slasher?" he asked, handing her the statement Sam had written.
"Well, it ought to stop the mean things they are saying about Mary Underwood," she snapped. Then, taking the glasses from her nose, and looking at Tom, who, while he did not find time to give her much help with _The Argus_, was the best checker player in Caxton and had once been to a state tournament of experts in that sport, she added, "Poor Jane McPherson, to have had a son like Sam and no better father for him than that liar Windy. Choked him, eh? Well, if the men of this town had any spunk they would finish the job."
For two years Sam lived the life of a travelling buyer, visiting towns in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and making deals with men who, like Freedom Smith, bought the farmers' products. On Sundays he sat in chairs before country hotels and walked in the streets of strange towns, or, getting back to the city at the week end, went through the downtown streets and among the crowds in the parks with young men he had met on the road. From time to time he went to Caxton and sat for an hour with the men in Wildman's, stealing away later for an evening with Mary Underwood.
In the store he heard news of Windy, who was laying close siege to the farmer's widow he later married, and who seldom appeared in Caxton. In the store he saw the boy with freckles on his nose--the same John Telfer had watched running along Main Street on the night when he went to show Eleanor the gold watch bought for Sam and who sat now on the cracker barrel in the store and later went with Telfer to dodge the swinging cane and listen to the eloquence poured out on the night air. Telfer had not got the chance to stand with a crowd about him at the railroad station and make a parting speech to Sam, and in secret he resented the loss of that opportunity. After turning the matter over in his mind and thinking of many fine flourishes and ringing periods to give colour to the speech he had been compelled to send the gift by mail. And Sam, while the gift had touched him deeply and had brought back to his mind the essential solid goodness of the town amid the cornfields, so that he lost much of the bitterness aroused by the attack upon Mary Underwood, had been able to make but a tame and halting reply to the four. In his room in Chicago he had spent an evening writing and rewriting, putting in and taking out flourishes, and had ended by sending a brief line of thanks.
Valmore, whose affection for the boy had been a slow growth and who, now that he was gone, missed him more than the others, once spoke to Freedom Smith of the change that had come over young McPherson. Freedom sat in the wide old phaeton in the road before Valmore's shop as the blacksmith walked around the grey mare, lifting her feet and looking at the shoes.
"What has happened to Sam--he has changed so much?" he asked, dropping a foot of the mare and coming to lean upon the front wheel. "Already the city has changed him," he added regretfully.Freedom took a match from his pocket and lighted the short black pipe.
"He bites off his words," continued Valmore; "he sits for an hour in the store and then goes away, and doesn't come back to say good-bye when he leaves town. What has got into him?"
Freedom gathered up the reins and spat over the dashboard into the dust of the road. A dog idling in the street jumped as though a stone had been hurled at him. "If you had something he wanted to buy you would find he talked all right," he exploded. "He skins me out of my eyeteeth every time he comes to town and then gives me a cigar wrapped in tinfoil to make me like it."* * * * *
For some months after his hurried departure from Caxton the changing, hurrying life of the city profoundly interested the tall strong boy from the Iowa village, who had the cold, quick business stroke of the money- maker combined with an unusually active interest in the problems of life and of living. Instinctively he looked upon business as a great game in which many men sat, and in which the capable, quiet ones waited patiently until a certain moment and then pounced upon what they would possess. With the quickness and accuracy of a beast at the kill they pounced and Sam felt that he had that stroke, and in his deals with country buyers used it ruthlessly. He knew the vague, uncertain look that came into the eyes of unsuccessful business men at critical moments and watched for it and took advantage of it as a successful prize fighter watches for a similar vague, uncertain look in the eyes of an opponent.
He had found his work, and had the assurance and the confidence that comes with that discovery. The stroke that he saw in the hand of the successful business men about him is the stroke also of the master painter, scientist, actor, singer, prize fighter. It was the hand of Whistler, Balzac, Agassiz, and Terry McGovern. The sense of it had been in him when as a boy he watched the totals grow in the yellow bankbook, and now and then he recognised it in Telfer talking on a country road. In the city where men of wealth and power in affairs rubbed elbows with him in the street cars and walked past him in hotel lobbies he watched and waited saying to himself, "I also will be such a one."
Sam had not lost the vision that had come to him when as a boy he walked on the road and listened to the talk of Telfer, but he now thought of himself as one who had not only a hunger for achievement but also a knowledge of where to look for it. At times he had stirring dreams of vast work to be done by his hand that made the blood race in him, but for the most part he went his way quietly, making friends, looking about him, keeping his mind busy with his own thoughts, making deals.
During his first year in the city he lived in the house of an ex-Caxton family named Pergrin that had been in Chicago for several years, but that still continued to send its members, one at a time, to spend summer vacations in the Iowa village. To these people he carried letters handed him during the month after his mother's death, and letters regarding him had come to them from Caxton. In the house, where eight people sat down to dinner, only three besides himself were Caxton-bred, but thoughts and talk of the town pervaded the house and crept into every conversation.
"I was thinking of old John Moore to-day--does he still drive that team of black ponies?" the housekeeping sister, a mild-looking woman of thirty, would ask of Sam at the dinner table, breaking in on a conversation of baseball, or a tale by one of the boarders of a new office building to be erected in the Loop.
"No, he don't," Jake Pergrin, a fat bachelor of forty who was foreman in a machine shop and the man of the house, would answer. So long had Jake been the final authority in the house on affairs touching Caxton that he looked upon Sam as an intruder. "John told me last summer when I was home that he intended to sell the blacks and buy mules," he would add, looking at the youth challengingly.
The Pergrin family was in fact upon foreign soil. Living amid the roar and bustle of Chicago's vast west side, it still turned with hungry heart toward the place of corn and of steers, and wished that work for Jake, its mainstay, could be found in that paradise.
Jake Pergrin, a bald-headed man with a paunch, stubby iron-grey moustache, and a dark line of machine oil encircling his finger nails so that they stood forth separately like formal flower beds at the edge of a lawn, worked industriously from Monday morning until Saturday night, going to bed at nine o'clock, and until that hour wandering, whistling, from room to room through the house, in a pair of worn carpet slippers, or sitting in his room practising on a violin. On Saturday evening, the habits formed in his Caxton days being strong in him, he came home with his pay in his pocket, settled with the two sisters for the week's living, sat down to dinner neatly shaved and combed, and then disappeared upon the troubled waters of the town. Late on Sunday evening he reappeared, with empty pockets, unsteady step, blood-shot eyes, and a noisy attempt at selfpossessed unconcern, to hurry upstairs and crawl into bed in preparation for another week of toil and respectability. The man had a certain Rabelaisian sense of humour and kept score of the new ladies met on his weekly flights by pencil marks upon his bedroom wall. He once took Sam upstairs to show his record. A row of them ran half around the room.
Besides the bachelor there was a sister, a tall gaunt woman of thirty-five who taught school, and the housekeeper, thirty, mild, and blessed with a remarkably sweet speaking voice. Then there was a medical student in the front room, Sam in an alcove off the hall, a grey-haired woman stenographer, whom Jake called Marie Antoinette, and a buyer from a wholesale dry-goods house, with a vivacious, fun-loving little Southern wife.
The women in the Pergrin house seemed to Sam tremendously concerned about their health and each evening talked of the matter, he thought, more than his mother had talked during her illness. While Sam lived with them they were all under the influence of a strange sort of faith healer and took what they called "Health Suggestion" treatments. Twice each week the faith healer came to the house, laid his hands upon their backs and took their money. The treatment afforded Jake a never-ending source of amusement and in the evening he went through the house putting his hands upon the backs of the women and demanding money from them, but the dry-goods buyer's wife, who for years had coughed at night, slept peacefully after some weeks of the treatment and the cough did not return while Sam remained in the house.
In the house Sam had a standing. Glowing tales of his shrewdness in business, his untiring industry, and the size of his bank account, had preceded him from Caxton, and these tales the Pergrins, in their loyalty to the town and to all the products of the town, did not allow to shrink in the re-telling. The housekeeping sister, a kindly woman, became fond of Sam, and in his absence would boast of him to chance callers or to the boarders gathered in the living room in the evening. She it was who laid the foundation of the medical student's belief that Sam was a kind of genius in money matters, a belief that enabled him later to make a successful assault upon a legacy which came to that young man.
Frank Eckardt, the medical student, Sam took as a friend. On Sunday afternoons they went to walk in the streets, or, taking two girl friends of Frank's, who were also students at the medical school, on their arms, they went to the park and sat upon benches under the trees.
For one of these young women Sam conceived a regard that approached tenderness. Sunday after Sunday he spent with her, and once, walking through the park on an evening in the late fall, the dry brown leaves rustling under their feet and the sun going down in red splendour before their eyes, he took her hand and walked in silence, feeling tremendously alive and vital as he had felt on that other night walking under the trees of Caxton with the dark-skinned daughter of banker Walker.
That nothing came of the affair and that after a time he did not see the girl again was due, he thought, to his own growing interest in money making and to the fact that there was in her, as in Frank Eckardt, a blind devotion to something that he could not himself understand.
Once he had a talk with Eckardt of the matter. "She is fine and purposeful like a woman I knew in my home town," he said, thinking of Eleanor Telfer, "but she will not talk to me of her work as sometimes she talks to you. I want her to talk. There is something about her that I do not understand and that I want to understand. I think that she likes me and once or twice I have thought she would not greatly mind my making love to her, but I do not understand her just the same."
One day in the office of the company for which he worked Sam became acquainted with a young advertising man named Jack Prince, a brisk, very much alive young fellow who made money rapidly, spent it lavishly, and had friends and acquaintances in every office, every hotel lobby, every bar room and restaurant in the down-town section of the city. The chance acquaintance rapidly grew into friendship. The clever, witty Prince made a kind of hero of Sam, admiring his reserve and good sense and boasting of him far and wide through the town. With Prince, Sam occasionally went on mild carouses, and, once, in the midst of thousands of people sitting about tables and drinking beer at the Coliseum on Wabash Avenue, he and Prince got into a fight with two waiters, Prince declaring he had been cheated and Sam, although he thought his friend in the wrong, striking out with his fist and dragging Prince through the door and into a passing street car in time to avoid a rush of other waiters hurrying to the aid of the one who lay dazed and sputtering on the sawdust floor.
After these evenings of carousal, carried on with Jack Prince and with young men met on trains and about country hotels, Sam spent hour after hour walking about town absorbed in his own thoughts and getting his own impressions of what he saw. In the affairs with the young men he played, for the most part, a passive rôle, going with them from place to place and drinking until they became loud and boisterous, or morose and quarrelsome, and then slipping away to his own room, amused or irritated as the circumstances, or the temperament of his companions, had made or marred the joviality of the evening. On his nights alone, he put his hands into his pockets and walked for endless miles through the lighted streets, getting in a dim way a realisation of the hugeness of life. All of the faces going past him, the women in their furs, the young men with cigars in their mouths going to the theatres, the bald old men with watery eyes, the boys with bundles of newspapers under their arms, and the slim prostitutes lurking in the hallways, should have interested him deeply. In his youth, and with the pride of sleeping power in him, he saw them only as so many individuals that might some day test their ability against his own. And if he peered at them closely and marked down face after face in the crowds it was as a sitter in the great game of business that he looked, exercising his mind by imagining this or that one arrayed against him in deals, and planning the method by which he would win in the imaginary struggle.
There was at that time in Chicago a place, to be reached by a bridge above the Illinois Central Railroad track, that Sam sometimes visited on stormy nights to watch the lake lashed by the wind. Great masses of water moving swiftly and silently broke with a roar against wooden piles, backed by hills of stone and earth, and the spray from the broken waves fell upon Sam's face and on winter nights froze on his coat. He had learned to smoke, and leaning upon the railing of the bridge would stand for hours with a pipe in his mouth looking at the moving water, filled with awe and admiration of the silent power of it.
One night in September, when he was walking alone in the streets, an incident happened that showed him also a silent power within himself, a power that startled and for the moment frightened him. Walking into a little street back of Dearborn, he was suddenly aware of the faces of women looking out at him through small square windows cut in the fronts of the houses. Here and there, before and behind him, were the faces; voices called, smiles invited, hands beckoned. Up and down the street went men looking at the sidewalk, their coats turned up about their necks, their hats pulled down over their eyes. They looked at the faces of the women pressed against the little squares of glass and then, turning, suddenly, sprang in at the doors of the houses as if pursued. Among the walkers on the sidewalk were old men, men in shabby coats whose feet scuffled as they hurried along, and young boys with the pink of virtue in their cheeks. In the air was lust, heavy and hideous. It got into Sam's brain and he stood hesitating and uncertain, startled, nerveless, afraid. He remembered a story he had once heard from John Telfer, a story of the disease and death that lurks in the little side streets of cities, and ran into Van Buren Street and from that into lighted State. He climbed up the stairway of the elevated railroad and jumping on the first train went away south to walk for hours on a gravel roadway at the edge of the lake in Jackson Park. The wind from the lake and the laughter and talk of people passing under the lights cooled the fever in him, as once it had been cooled by the eloquence of John Telfer, walking on the road near Caxton, and with his voice marshalling the armies of the standing corn.
Into Sam's mind came a picture of the cold, silent water moving in great masses under the night sky and he thought that in the world of men there was a force as resistless, as little understood, as little talked of, moving always forward, silent, powerful--the force of sex. He wondered how the force would be broken in his own case, against what breakwater it would spend itself. At midnight, he went home across the city and crept into his alcove in the Pergrin house, puzzled and for the time utterly tired. In his bed, he turned his face to the wall and resolutely closing his eyes tried to sleep. "There are things not to be understood," he told himself. "To live decently is a matter of good sense. I will keep thinking of what I want to do and not go into such a place again."
One day, when he had been in Chicago two years, there happened an incident of another sort, an incident so grotesque, so Pan-like, so full of youth, that for days after it happened he thought of it with delight, and walked in the streets or sat in a passenger train laughing joyfully at the remembrance of some new detail of the affair.
Sam, who was the son of Windy McPherson and who had more than once ruthlessly condemned all men who put liquor into their mouths, got drunk, and for eighteen hours went shouting poetry, singing songs, and yelling at the stars like a wood god on the bend.
Late on an afternoon in the early spring he sat with Jack Prince in DeJonge's restaurant in Monroe Street. Prince, his watch lying before him on the table and the thin stem of a wine glass between his fingers, talked to Sam of the man for whom they had been waiting a half hour.
"He will be late, of course," he exclaimed, refilling Sam's glass. "The man was never on time in his life. To keep an appointment promptly would take something from him. It would be like the bloom of youth gone from the cheeks of a maiden."
Sam had already seen the man for whom they waited. He was thirty-five, small and narrow-shouldered, with a little wrinkled face, a huge nose, and a pair of eyeglasses that hooked over his ears. Sam had seen him in a Michigan Avenue club with Prince solemnly pitching silver dollars at a chalk mark on the floor with a group of serious, solid-looking old men."They are the crowd that have just put through the big deal in Kansas oil stock and the little one is Morris, who handled the publicity for them," Prince had explained.
Later, when they were walking down Michigan Avenue, Prince talked at length of Morris, whom he admired immensely. "He is the best advertising and publicity man in America," he declared. "He isn't a four-flusher, as I am, and does not make as much money, but he can take another man's ideas and express them so simply and forcibly that they tell the man's story better than he knew it himself. And that's all there is to advertising."
He began laughing. "It is funny to think of it. Tom Morris will do a job of work and the man for whom he does it will swear that he did it himself, that every pat phrase on the printed page Tom has turned out, is one of his own. He will howl like a beast at paying Tom's bill, and then the next time he will try to do the job himself and make a hopeless muddle of it so that he has to send for Tom only to see the trick done over again like shelling corn off the cob. The best men in Chicago send for him."
Into the restaurant came Tom Morris bearing under his arm a huge pasteboard portfolio. He seemed hurried and nervous. "I am on my way to the office of the International Biscuit Turning Machine Company," he explained to Prince. "I can't stop at all. I have here the layout of a circular designed to push on to the market some more of that common stock of theirs that hasn't paid a dividend for ten years."
Thrusting out his hand, Prince dragged Morris into a chair. "Never mind the Biscuit Machine people and their stock," he commanded; "they will always have common stock to sell. It is inexhaustible. I want you to meet McPherson here who will some day have something big for you to help him with."
Morris reached across the table and took Sam's hand; his own was small and soft like that of a woman. "I am worked to death," he complained; "I have my eye on a chicken farm in Indiana. I am going down there to live."
For an hour the three men sat in the restaurant while Prince talked of a place in Wisconsin where the fish should be biting. "A man has told me of the place twenty times," he declared; "I am sure I could find it on a railroad folder. I have never been fishing nor have you, and Sam here comes from a place to which they carry water in wagons over the plains."
The little man who had been drinking copiously of the wine looked from Prince to Sam. From time to time he took off his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief. "I don't understand your being in such society," he announced; "you have the solid, substantial look of a bucket-shop man. Prince here will get nowhere. He is honest, sells wind and his charming society, and spends the money that he gets, instead of marrying and putting it in his wife's name."Prince arose. "It is useless to waste time in persiflage," he began and then turning to Sam, "There is a place in Wisconsin," he said uncertainly.
Morris picked up the portfolio and with a grotesque effort at steadiness started for the door followed by Prince and Sam walking with wavering steps. In the street Prince took the portfolio out of the little man's hand. "Let your mother carry it, Tommy," he said, shaking his finger under Morris's nose. He began singing a lullaby. "When the bough bends the cradle will fall."
The three men walked out of Monroe and into State Street, Sam's head feeling strangely light. The buildings along the street reeled against the sky. A sudden fierce longing for wild adventure seized him. On a corner Morris stopped, took the handkerchief from his pocket and again wiped his glasses. "I want to be sure that I see clearly," he said; "it seems to me that in the bottom of that last glass of wine I saw three of us in a cab with a basket of life oil on the seat between us going to the station to catch the train for that place Jack's friend told fish lies about."
The next eighteen hours opened up a new world to Sam. With the fumes of liquor rising in his brain, he rode for two hours on a train, tramped in the darkness along dusty roads and, building a bonfire in a woods, danced in the light of it upon the grass, holding the hands of Prince and the little man with the wrinkled face. Solemnly he stood upon a stump at the edge of a wheatfield and recited Poe's "Helen," taking on the voice, the gestures and even the habit of spreading his legs apart, of John Telfer. And then overdoing the last, he sat down suddenly on the stump, and Morris, coming forward with a bottle in his hand said, "Fill the lamp, man--the light of reason has gone out."
From the bonfire in the woods and Sam's recital from the stump, the three friends emerged again upon the road, and a belated farmer driving home half asleep on the seat of his wagon caught their attention. With the skill of an Indian boy the diminutive Morris sprang upon the wagon and thrust a ten dollar bill into the farmer's hand. "Lead us, O man of the soil!" he shouted, "Lead us to a gilded palace of sin! Take us to a saloon! The life oil gets low in the can!"
Beyond the long, jolting ride in the wagon Sam never became quite clear. In his mind ran vague notions of a wild carousal in a country tavern, of himself acting as bartender, and a huge red-faced woman rushing here and there under the direction of a tiny man, dragging reluctant rustics to the bar and commanding them to keep on drinking the beer that Sam drew until the last of the ten dollars given to the man of the wagon should have gone into her cash drawer. Also, he thought that Jack Prince had put a chair upon the bar and that he sat on it explaining to the hurrying drawer of beer that although the Egyptian kings had built great pyramids to celebrate themselves they never built anything more gigantic than the jag Tom Morris was building among the farm hands in the room.
Later Sam thought that he and Jack Prince tried to sleep under a pile of grain sacks in a shed and that Morris came to them weeping because every one in the world was asleep and most of them lying under tables.And then, his head clearing, Sam found himself with the two others walking again upon the dusty road in the dawn and singing songs.
On the train, with the help of a Negro porter, the three men tried to efface the dust and the stains of the wild night. The pasteboard portfolio containing the circular for the Biscuit Machine Company was still under Jack Prince's arm and the little man, wiping and rewiping his glasses, peered at Sam."Did you come with us or are you a child we have adopted here in these parts?" he asked.
It was a wonderful place, that South Water Street in Chicago where Sam came to make his business start in the city, and it was proof of the dry unresponsiveness in him that he did not sense more fully its meaning and its message. All day the food stuff of a vast city flowed through the narrow streets. Blue-shirted, broad-shouldered teamsters from the tops of high piled wagons bawled at scurrying pedestrians. On the sidewalks in boxes, bags, and barrels, lay oranges from Florida and California, figs from Arabia, bananas from Jamaica, nuts from the hills of Spain and the plains of Africa, cabbages from Ohio, beans from Michigan, corn and potatoes from Iowa. In December, fur-coated men hurried through the forests of northern Michigan gathering Christmas trees that found their way to warm firesides through the street. And summer and winter a million hens laid the eggs that were gathered there, and the cattle on a thousand hills sent their yellow butter fat packed in tubs and piled upon trucks to add to the confusion.
Into this street Sam walked, thinking little of the wonder of these things and thinking haltingly, getting his sense of the bigness of it in dollars and cents. Standing in the doorway of the commission house for which he was to work, strong, well clad, able and efficient, he looked through the streets, seeing and hearing the hurry and the roar and the shouting of voices, and then with a smile upon his lips went inside. In his brain was an unexpressed thought. As the old Norse marauders looked at the cities sitting in their splendour on the Mediterranean so looked he. "What loot!" a voice within him said, and his brain began devising methods by which he should get his share of it.
Years later, when Sam was a man of big affairs, he drove one day in a carriage through the streets and turning to his companion, a grey-haired, dignified Boston man who sat beside him, said, "I worked here once and used to sit on a barrel of apples at the edge of the sidewalk thinking how clever I was to make more money in one month than the man who raised the apples made in a year."The Boston man, stirred by the sight of so much foodstuff and moved to epigram by his mood, looked up and down the street. "The foodstuff of an empire rattling o'er the stones," he said. "I should have made more money here," answered Sam dryly.
The commission firm for which Sam worked was a partnership, not a corporation, and was owned by two brothers. Of the two Sam thought that the elder, a tall, bald, narrowshouldered man, with a long narrow face and a suave manner, was the real master, and represented most of the ability in the partnership. He was oily, silent, tireless. All day he went in and out of the office and warehouses and up and down the crowded street, sucking nervously at an unlighted cigar. He was a great worker in a suburban church, but a shrewd and, Sam suspected, an unscrupulous business man. Occasionally the minister or some of the women of the suburban church came into the office to talk with him, and Sam was amused at the thought that Narrow Face, when he talked of the affairs of the church, bore a striking resemblance to the brown-bearded minister of the church in Caxton.
The other brother was a far different sort, and, in business, Sam thought, a much inferior man. He was a heavy, broad-shouldered, square-faced man of about thirty, who sat in the office dictating letters and who stayed out two or three hours to lunch. He sent out letters signed by him on the firm's stationery with the title of General Manager, and Narrow Face let him do it. Broad Shoulders had been educated in New England and even after several years away from his college seemed more interested in it than in the welfare of the business. For a month or more in the spring he took most of the time of one of the two stenographers employed by the firm writing letters to graduates of Chicago high schools to induce them to go East to finish their education; and when a graduate of the college came to Chicago seeking employment, he closed his desk and spent entire days going from place to place, introducing, urging, recommending. Sam noticed, however, that when the firm employed a new man in their own office or on the road it was NarrowFace who chose the man.
Broad-shoulders had been a famous football player in his day and wore an iron brace on his leg. The offices, like most of the offices on the street, were dark and narrow, and smelled of decaying vegetables and rancid butter. Noisy Greek and Italian hucksters wrangled on the sidewalk in front, and among these went Narrow-Face hurrying about making deals.
In South Water Street Sam did well, multiplying his thirty-six hundred dollars by ten during the three years that he stayed there, or went out from there to towns and cities directing a part of the great flowing river of foodstuff through his firm's front door.
With almost his first day on the street he began seeing on all sides of him opportunity for gain, and set himself industriously at work to get his hand upon money with which to take advantage of the chances that he thought lay so invitingly about. Within a year he had made much progress. From a woman on Wabash Avenue he got six thousand dollars, and he planned and executed a coup that gave him the use of twenty thousand dollars that had come as a legacy to his friend, the medical student, who lived at the Pergrin house.
Sam had eggs and apples lying in warehouse against a rise; game, smuggled across the state line from Michigan and Wisconsin, lay frozen in cold storage tagged with his name and ready to be sold at a long profit to hotels and fashionable restaurants; and there were even secret bushels of corn and wheat lying in other warehouses along the Chicago River ready to be thrown on the market at a word from him, or, the margins by which he kept his hold on the stuff not being forthcoming, at a word from a LaSalle Street broker.
Getting the twenty thousand dollars out of the hands of the medical student was a turning point in Sam's life. Sunday after Sunday he walked with Eckardt in the streets or loitered with him in the parks thinking of the money lying idle in the bank and of the deals he might be turning with it in the street or on the road. Daily he saw more clearly the power of cash. Other commission merchants along South Water Street came running into the office of his firm with tense, anxious faces asking Narrow-Face to help them over rough spots in the day's trading. Broad-Shoulders, who had no business ability but who had married a rich woman, went on month after month taking half the profits brought in by the ability of his tall, shrewd brother, and Narrow-Face, who had taken a liking for Sam and who occasionally stopped for a word with him, spoke of the matter often and eloquently.
"Spend your time with no one who hasn't money to help you," he said; "on the road look for the men with money and then try to get it. That's all there is to business--moneygetting." And then looking across to the desk of his brother he would add, "I would kick half the men in business out of it if I could, but I myself must dance to the tune that money plays."One day Sam went to the office of an attorney named Webster, whose reputation for the shrewd drawing of contracts had come to him from Narrow-Face.
"I want a contract drawn that will give me absolute control of twenty thousand dollars with no risk on my part if I lose the money and no promise to pay more than seven per cent if I do not lose," he said.The attorney, a slender, middle-aged man with a swarthy skin and black hair, put his hands on the desk before him and looked at the tall young man. "What collateral?" he asked. Sam shook his head. "Can you draw such a contract that will be legal and what will it cost me?" he asked. The lawyer laughed good naturedly. "I can draw it of course. Why not?" Sam, taking a roll of bills from his pocket, counted the amount upon the table. "Who are you anyway?" asked Webster. "If you can get twenty thousand and without collateral you're worth knowing. I might be getting up a gang to rob a mail train."
Sam did not answer. He put the contract in his pocket and went home to his alcove at the Pergrins. He wanted to get by himself and think. He did not believe that he would by any chance lose Frank Eckardt's money, but he knew that Eckardt himself would draw back from the kind of deals that he expected to make with the money, that they would frighten and alarm him, and he wondered if he was being honest.
In his own room after dinner Sam studied carefully the agreement drawn by Webster. It seemed to him to cover what he wanted covered, and having got it well fixed in his mind he tore it up. "There is no use his knowing I have been to a lawyer," he thought guiltily. Getting into bed, he began building plans for the future. With more than thirty thousand dollars at his command he thought that he should be able to make headway rapidly. "In my hands it will double itself every year," he told himself and getting out of bed he drew a chair to the window and sat down, feeling strangely alive and awake like a young man in love. He saw himself going on and on, directing, managing, ruling men. It seemed to him that there was nothing he could not do. "I will run factories and banks and maybe mines and railroads," he thought and his mind leaped forward so that he saw himself, grey, stern, and capable, sitting at a broad desk high in a great stone building, a materialisation of John Telfer's word picture--"You will be a big man of dollars--it is plain."
And then into Sam's mind came another picture. He remembered a Saturday afternoon when a young man had come running into the office on South Water Street, a young man who owed Narrow-Face a sum of money and could not pay it. He remembered the unpleasant tightening of the mouth and the sudden shrewd hard look in his employer's long narrow face. He had not heard much of the talk, but he was aware of a strained pleading quality in the voice of the young man who had said over and over slowly and painfully, "But, man, my honour is at stake," and of a coldness in the answering voice replying persistently, "With me it is not a matter of honour but of dollars, and I am going to get them."
From the alcove window Sam looked out upon a vacant lot covered with patches of melting snow. Beyond the lot facing him stood a flat building, and the snow, melting on the roof, made a little stream that ran down some hidden pipe and rattled out upon the ground. The noise of the falling water and the sound of distant footsteps going homeward through the sleeping city brought back thoughts of other nights when as a boy in Caxton he had sat thus, thinking disconnected thoughts.
Without knowing it Sam was fighting one of the real battles of his life, a battle in which the odds were very much against the quality in him that got him out of bed to look at the snow-clad vacant lot.
There was in the youth much of the brute trader, blindly intent upon gain; much of the quality that has given America so many of its so-called great men. It was the quality that had sent him in secret to Lawyer Webster to protect himself without protecting the simple credulous young medical student, and that had made him say as he came home with the contract in his pocket, "I will do what I can," when in truth he meant, "I will get what I can."
There may be business men in America who do not get what they can, who simply love power. One sees men here and there in banks, at the heads of great industrial trusts, in factories and in great mercantile houses of whom one would like to think thus. They are the men who one dreams have had an awakening, who have found themselves; they are the men hopeful thinkers try to recall again and again to the mind.
To these men America is looking. It is asking them to keep the faith, to stand themselves up against the force of the brute trader, the dollar man, the man who with his one cunning wolf quality of acquisitiveness has too long ruled the business of the nation.
I have said that the sense of equity in Sam fought an unequal battle. He was in business, and young in business, in a day when all America was seized with a blind grappling for gain. The nation was drunk with it, trusts were being formed, mines opened; from the ground spurted oil and gas; railroads creeping westward opened yearly vast empires of new land. To be poor was to be a fool; thought waited, art waited; and men at their firesides gathered their children around them and talked glowingly of men of dollars, holding them up as prophets fit to lead the youth of the young nation.
Sam had in him the making of the new, the commanding man of business. It was that quality in him that made him sit by the window thinking before going to the medical student with the unfair contract, and the same quality had sent him forth night after night to walk alone in the streets when other young men went to theatres or to walk with girls in the park. He had, in truth, a taste for the lonely hours when thought grows. He was a step beyond the youth who hurries to the theatre or buries himself in stories of love or adventure. He had in him something that wanted a chance.
In the flat building across the vacant lot a light appeared at a window and through the lighted window he saw a man clad in pajamas who propped a sheet of music against a dressing-table and who had a shining silver horn in his hand. Sam watched, filled with mild curiosity. The man, not reckoning on an onlooker at so late an hour, began an elaborate and amusing schedule of personation. He opened the window, put the horn to his lips and then turning bowed before the lighted room as before an audience. He put his hand to his lips and blew kisses about, then put the horn to his lips and looked again at the sheet of music.
The note that came out of the window on the still air was a failure, it flattened into a squawk. Sam laughed and pulled down the window. The incident had brought back to his mind another man who bowed to a crowd and blew upon a horn. Getting into bed he pulled the covers about him and went to sleep. "I will get Frank's money if I can," he told himself, settling the matter that had been in his mind. "Most men are fools and if I do not get his money some other man will."
On the next afternoon Eckardt had lunch down town with Sam. Together they went to a bank where Sam showed the profits of deals he had made and the growth of his bank account, going afterward into South Water Street where Sam talked glowingly of the money to be made by a shrewd man who knew the ways of the street and had a head upon his shoulders.
"That's just it," said Frank Eckardt, falling quickly into the trap Sam had set, and hungering for profits; "I have money but no head on my shoulders for using it. I wish you would take it and see what you can do."
With a thumping heart Sam went home across the city to the Pergrin house, Eckardt beside him in the elevated train. In Sam's room the agreement was written out by Sam and signed by Eckardt. At dinner time they had the drygoods buyer in to sign as witness.
And the agreement turned out to Eckardt's advantage. In no year did Sam return him less than ten per cent, and in the end gave back the principal more than doubled so that Eckardt was able to retire from the practice of medicine and live upon the interest of his capital in a village near Tiffin, Ohio.
With the thirty thousand dollars in his hands Sam began to reach out and extend the scope of his ventures. He bought and sold constantly, not only eggs, butter, apples, and grain, but also houses and building lots. Through his head marched long rows of figures. Deals worked themselves out in detail in his brain as he went about town drinking with young men, or sat at dinner in the Pergrin house. He even began working over in his head various schemes for getting into the firm by which he was employed, and thought that he might work upon Broad-Shoulders, getting hold of his interest and forcing himself into control. And then, the fear of Narrow- Face holding him back and his growing success in deals keeping his mind occupied, he was suddenly confronted by an opportunity that changed entirely the plans he was making for himself.
Through Jack Prince's suggestion Colonel Tom Rainey of the great Rainey Arms Company sent for him and offered him a position as buyer of all the materials used in their factories.
It was the kind of connection Sam had unconsciously been seeking--a company, strong, old, conservative, known throughout the world. There was, in the talk with Colonel Tom, a hint of future opportunities to get stock in the company and perhaps to become eventually an official--these things were of course remote--to be dreamed of and worked toward--the company made it a part of its policy.
Sam said nothing, but already he had decided to accept the place, and was thinking of a profitable arrangement touching percentages on the amount saved in buying that had worked out so well for him during his years with Freedom Smith.
Sam's work for the firearms company took him off the road and confined him to an office all day long. In a way he regretted this. The complaints he had heard among travelling men in country hotels with regard to the hardship of travel meant nothing to his mind. Any kind of travel was a keen pleasure to him. Against the hardships and discomforts he balanced the tremendous advantages of seeing new places and faces and getting a look into many lives, and he looked back with a kind of retrospective joy on the three years of hurrying from place to place, catching trains, and talking with chance acquaintances met by the way. Also, the years on the road had given him many opportunities for secret and profitable deals of his own.
Over against these advantages the place at Rainey's threw him into close and continuous association with men of big affairs. The offices of the Arms Company occupied an entire floor of one of Chicago's newest and biggest skyscrapers and millionaire stockholders and men high in the service of the state and of the government at Washington came in and went out at the door. Sam looked at them closely. He wanted to have a tilt with them and try if his Caxton and South Water Street shrewdness would keep the head upon his shoulders in LaSalle Street. The opportunity seemed to him a big one and he went about his work quietly and ably, intent upon making the most of it.
The Rainey Arms Company, at the time of Sam's coming with it, was still largely owned by the Rainey family, father and daughter. Colonel Rainey, a grey-whiskered military looking man with a paunch, was the president and largest individual stockholder. He was a pompous, swaggering old fellow with a habit of making the most trivial statement with the air of a judge pronouncing the death sentence, and sat dutifully at his desk day after day looking very important and thoughtful, smoking long black cigars and signing personally piles of letters brought him by the heads of various departments. He looked upon himself as a silent but very important spoke in the government at Washington and every day issued many orders which the men at the heads of departments received with respect and disregarded in secret. Twice he had been prominently mentioned in connection with cabinet positions in the national government, and in talks with his cronies at clubs and restaurants he gave the impression of having actually refused an offer of appointment on both occasions.
Having got himself established as a factor in the management of the business, Sam found many things that surprised him. In every company of which he knew there was some one man to whom all looked for guidance, who at critical moments became dominant, saying "Do this, or that," and making no explanations. In the Rainey Company he found no such man, but, instead, a dozen strong departments, each with its own head and each more or less independent of the others.
Sam lay in his bed at night and went about in the evening thinking of this and of its meaning. Among the department heads there was a great deal of loyalty and devotion to Colonel Tom, and he thought that among them were a few men who were devoted to other interests than their own.
At the same time he told himself there was something wrong. He himself had no such feeling of loyalty and although he was willing to give lip service to the resounding talk of the colonel about the fine old traditions of the company, he could not bring himself to a belief in the idea of conducting a vast business on a system founded upon lip service to traditions, or upon loyalty to an individual.
"There must be loose ends lying about everywhere," he thought and followed the thought with another. "A man will come along, pick up these loose ends, and run the whole shop. Why not I?"
The Rainey Arms Company had made its millions for the Rainey and Whittaker families during the Civil War. Whittaker had been an inventor, making one of the first practical breech-loading guns, and the original Rainey had been a dry-goods merchant in an Illinois town who backed the inventor.
It proved itself a rare combination. Whittaker developed into a wonderful shop manager for his day, and, from the first, stayed at home building rifles and making improvements, enlarging the plant, getting out the goods. The drygoods merchant scurried about the country, going to Washington and to the capitals of the individual states, pulling wires, appealing to patriotism and state pride, taking big orders at fat prices.
In Chicago there is a tradition that more than once he went south of the Dixie line and that following these trips thousands of Rainey-Whittaker rifles found their way into the hands of Confederate soldiers, but this story which increased Sam's respect for the energetic little drygoods merchant, Colonel Tom, his son, indignantly denied. In reality Colonel Tom would have liked to think of the first Rainey as a huge, Jove-like god of arms. Like Windy McPherson of Caxton, given a chance, he would have invented a new ancestor.
After the Civil War, and Colonel Tom's growing to manhood, the Rainey and Whittaker fortunes were merged into one through the marriage of Jane Whittaker, the last of her line, to the only surviving Rainey, and upon her death her fortune, grown to more than a million, stood in the name of Sue Rainey, twenty-six, the only issue of the marriage.
From the first day, Sam began to forge ahead in the Rainey Company. In the buying end he found a rich field for spectacular money saving and money making and made the most of it. The position as buyer had for ten years been occupied by a distant cousin to Colonel Tom, now dead. Whether the cousin was a fool or a knave Sam could never quite decide and did not greatly care, but after he had got the situation in hand he felt that the man must have cost the company a tremendous sum, which _he_ intended to save.
Sam's arrangement with the company gave him, besides a fair salary, half he saved in the fixed prices of standard materials. These prices had stood fixed for years and Sam went into them, cutting right and left, and making for himself during his first year twenty-three thousand dollars. At the end of the year, when the directors asked to have an adjustment made and the percentage contract annulled, he got a generous slice of company stock, the respect of Colonel Tom Rainey and the directors, the fear of some of the department heads, the loyal devotion of others, and the title of Treasurer of the company.
The Rainey Arms Company was in truth living largely upon the reputation built up for it by the first pushing energetic Rainey, and the inventive genius of his partner, Whittaker. Under Colonel Tom it had found new conditions and new competition which he had ignored, or met in a half- hearted way, standing on its reputation, its financial strength, and on the glory of its past achievements. Dry rot ate at its heart. The damage done was not great, but was growing greater. The heads of the departments, in whose hands so much of the running of the business lay, were many of them incompetent men with nothing to commend them but long years of service. And in the treasurer's office sat a quiet young man, barely turned twenty, who had no friends, wanted his own way, and who shook his head over the office traditions and was proud of his unbelief.
Seeing the absolute necessity of working through Colonel Tom, and having a head filled with ideas of things he wanted done, Sam began working to get suggestions into the older man's mind. Within a month after his elevation the two men were lunching together daily and Sam was spending many extra hours behind closed doors in Colonel Tom's office.
Although American business and manufacturing had not yet achieved the modern idea of efficiency in shop and office management, Sam had many of these ideas in his mind and expounded them tirelessly to Colonel Tom. He hated waste; he cared nothing for company tradition; he had no idea, as did the heads of other departments, of getting into a comfortable berth and spending the rest of his days there, and he was bent on managing the great Rainey Company, if not directly, then through Colonel Tom, who, he felt, was putty in his hands.
From his new position as treasurer Sam did not drop his work as buyer, but, after a talk with Colonel Tom, merged the two departments, put in capable assistants of his own, and went on with his work of effacing the tracks of the cousin. For years the company had been overpaying for inferior material. Sam put his own material inspectors into the west side factories and brought several big Pennsylvania steel companies scurrying to Chicago to make restitution. The restitution was stiff, but when Colonel Tom was appealed to, Sam went to lunch with him, bought a bottle of wine, and stiffened his back.
One afternoon in a room in the Palmer House a scene was played out that for days stayed in Sam's mind as a kind of realisation of the part he wanted to play in the business world. The president of a lumber company took Sam into the room, and, laying five one thousand dollar bills upon a table, walked to the window and stood looking out.
For a moment Sam stood looking at the money on the table and at the back of the man by the window, burning with indignation. He felt that he should like to take hold of the man's throat and press as he had once pressed on the throat of Windy McPherson. And then a cold gleam coming into his eyes he cleared his throat and said, "You are short here; you will have to build this pile higher if you expect to interest me."
The man by the window shrugged his shoulders--he was a slender, young- looking man in a fancy waistcoat--and then turning and taking a roll of bills from his pocket he walked to the table, facing Sam."I shall expect you to be reasonable," he said, as he laid the bills on the table.
When the pile had reached twenty thousand, Sam reached out his hand and taking it up put it in his pocket. "You will get a receipt for this when I get back to the office," he said; "it is about what you owe our company for overcharges and crooked material. As for our business, I made a contract with another company this morning."
Having got the buying end of the Rainey Arms Company straightened out to his liking, Sam began spending much time in the shops and, through Colonel Tom, forced big changes everywhere. He discharged useless foremen, knocked out partitions between rooms, pushed everywhere for more and better work. Like the modern efficiency man, he went about with a watch in his hand, cutting out lost motion, rearranging, getting his own way.
It was a time of great agitation. The offices and shops buzzed like bees disturbed and black looks followed him about. But Colonel Tom rose to the situation and went about at Sam's heels, swaggering, giving orders, throwing back his shoulders like a man remade. All day long he was at it, discharging, directing, roaring against waste. When a strike broke out in one of the shops because of innovations Sam had forced upon the workmen there, he got upon a bench and delivered a speech--written by Sam--on a man's place in the organisation and conducting of a great modern industry and his duty to perfect himself as a workman.
Silently, the men picked up their tools and started again for their benches and when he saw them thus affected by his words Colonel Tom brought what threatened to be a squally affair to a hurrahing climax by the announcement of a five per cent increase in the wage scale--that was Colonel Tom's own touch and the rousing reception of it brought a glow of pride to his cheeks.
Although the affairs of the company were still being handled by Colonel Tom, and though he daily more and more asserted himself, the officers and shops, and later the big jobbers and buyers as well as the rich LaSalle Street directors, knew that a new force had come into the company. Men began dropping quietly into Sam's office, asking questions, suggesting, seeking favours. He felt that he was getting hold. Of the department heads, about half fought him and were secretly marked for slaughter; the others came to him, expressed approval of what was going on and asked him to look over their departments and to make suggestions for improvements through them. This Sam did eagerly, getting by it their loyalty and support which later stood him in good stead.
In choosing the new men that came into the company Sam also took a hand. The method used was characteristic of his relations with Colonel Tom. If a man applying for a place suited him, he got admission to the colonel's office and listened for half an hour to a talk anent the fine old traditions of the company. If a man did not suit Sam, he did not get to the colonel. "You can't have your time taken up by them," Sam explained.
In the Rainey Company, the various heads of departments were stockholders in the company, and selected from among themselves two men to sit upon the board, and in his second year Sam was chosen as one of these employee directors. During the same year five heads of departments resigning in a moment of indignation over one of Sam's innovations--to be replaced later by two--their stock by a prearranged agreement came back into the company's hands. This stock and another block, secured for him by the colonel, got into Sam's hands through the use of Eckardt's money, that of the Wabash Avenue woman, and his own snug pile.
Sam was a growing force in the company. He sat on the board of directors, the recognised practical head of the business among its stockholders and employees; he had stopped the company's march toward a second place in its industry and had faced it about. All about him, in offices and shops, there was the swing and go of new life and he felt that he was in a position to move on toward real control and had begun laying lines with that end in view. Standing in the offices in LaSalle Street or amid the clang and roar of the shops he tilted up his chin with the same odd little gesture that had attracted the men of Caxton to him when he was a barefoot newsboy and the son of the town drunkard. Through his head went big ambitious projects. "I have in my hand a great tool," he thought; "with it I will pry my way into the place I mean to occupy among the big men of this city and this nation."
Sam McPherson, who stood in the shops among the thousands of employees of the Rainey Arms Company, who looked with unseeing eyes at the faces of the men intent upon the operation of machines and saw in them but so many aids to the ambitious projects stirring in his brain, who, while yet a boy, had because of the quality of daring in him, combined with a gift of acquisitiveness, become a master, who was untrained, uneducated, knowing nothing of the history of industry or of social effort, walked out of the offices of his company and along through the crowded streets to the new apartment he had taken on Michigan Avenue. It was Saturday evening at the end of a busy week and as he walked he thought of things he had accomplished during the week and made plans for the one to come. Through Madison Street he went and into State, seeing the crowds of men and women, boys and girls, clambering aboard the cable cars, massed upon the pavements, forming in groups, the groups breaking and reforming, and the whole making a picture intense, confusing, awe-inspiring. As in the shops among the men workers, so here, also, walked the youth with unseeing eyes. He liked it all; the mass of people; the clerks in their cheap clothing; the old men with young girls on their arms going to dine in restaurants; the young man with a wistful look in his eyes waiting for his sweetheart in the shadow of the towering office building. The eager, straining rush of the whole, seemed no more to him than a kind of gigantic setting for action; action controlled by a few quiet, capable men--of whom he intended to be one--intent upon growth.
In State Street he stopped at a shop and buying a bunch of roses came out again upon the crowded street. In the crowd before him walked a woman-- tall, freewalking, with a great mass of reddish-brown hair on her head. As she passed through the crowd men stopped and looked back at her, their eyes ablaze with admiration. Seeing her, Sam sprang forward with a cry."Edith!" he called, and running forward thrust the roses into her hand. "For Janet," he said, and lifting his hat walked beside her along State to Van Buren Street.
Leaving the woman at a corner Sam came into a region of cheap theatres and dingy hotels. Women spoke to him; young men in flashy overcoats and with a peculiar, assertive, animal swing to their shoulders loitered before the theatres or in the doorways of the hotels; from an upstairs restaurant came the voice of another young man singing a popular song of the street. "There'll be a hot time in the old town to-night," sang the voice.
Over a cross street Sam went into Michigan Avenue, faced by a long narrow park and beyond the railroad tracks by the piles of new earth where the city was trying to regain its lake front. In the cross street, standing in the shadow of the elevated railroad, he had passed a whining, intoxicated old woman who lurched forward and put a hand upon his coat. Sam had flung her a quarter and passed on shrugging his shoulders. Here also he had walked with unseeing eyes; this too was a part of the gigantic machine with which the quiet, competent men of growth worked.
From his new quarters in the top floor of the hotel facing the lake, Sam walked north along Michigan Avenue to a restaurant where Negro men went noiselessly about among white-clad tables, serving men and women who talked and laughed under the shaded lamps had an assured, confident air. Passing in at the door of the restaurant, a wind, blowing over the city toward the lake, brought the sound of a voice floating with it. "There'll be a hot time in the old town to-night," again insisted the voice.
After dining Sam got on a grip car of the Wabash Avenue Cable, sitting on the front seat and letting the panorama of the town roll up to him. From the region of cheap theatres he passed through streets in which saloons stood massed, one beside another, each with its wide garish doorway and its dimly lighted "Ladies' Entrance," and into a region of neat little stores where women with baskets upon their arms stood by the counters and Sam was reminded of Saturday nights in Caxton.
The two women, Edith and Janet Eberly, met through Jack Prince, to one of whom Sam had sent the roses at the hands of the other, and from whom he had borrowed the six thousand dollars when he was new in the city, had been in Chicago for five years when Sam came to know them. For all of the five years they had lived in a two-story frame building that had been a residence in Wabash Avenue near Thirty-ninth Street and that was now both a residence and a grocery store. The apartment upstairs, reached by a stairway at the side of the grocery, had in the five years, and under the hand of Janet Eberly, become a thing of beauty, perfect in the simplicity and completeness of its appointment.
The two women were the daughters of a farmer who had lived in one of the middle western states facing the Mississippi River. Their grandfather had been a noted man in the state, having been one of its first governors and later serving it in the senate in Washington. There was a county and a good-sized town named for him and he had once been talked of as a vice- presidential possibility but had died at Washington before the convention at which his name was to have been put forward. His one son, a youth of great promise, went to West Point and served brilliantly through the Civil War, afterward commanding several western army posts and marrying the daughter of another army man. His wife, an army belle, died after having borne him the two daughters.
After the death of his wife Major Eberly began drinking, and to get away from the habit and from the army atmosphere where he had lived with his wife, whom he loved intensely, took the two little girls and returned to his home state to settle on a farm.
About the county where the two girls grew to womanhood, their father, Major Eberly, got the name of a character, seeing people but seldom and treating rudely the friendly advances of his farmer neighbours. He would sit in the house for days poring over books, of which he had a great many, and hundreds of which were now on open shelves in the apartment of the two girls. These days of study, during which he would brook no intrusion, were followed by days of fierce industry during which he led team after team to the field, ploughing or reaping day and night with no rest except to eat.
At the edge of the Eberly farm there was a little wooden country church surrounded by a hay field, and on Sunday mornings during the summer the ex-army man was always to be found in the field, running some noisy, clattering agricultural implement up and down under the windows of the church and disturbing the worship of the country folk; in the winter he drew a pile of logs there and went on Sunday mornings to split firewood under the church windows. While his daughters were small he was several times haled into court and fined for cruel neglect of his animals. Once he locked a great herd of fine sheep in a shed and went into the house and stayed for days intent upon his books so that many of them suffered cruelly for want of food and water. When he was taken into court and fined, half the county came to the trial and gloated over his humiliation.
To the two girls the father was neither cruel nor kind, leaving them largely to themselves but giving them no money, so that they went about in dresses made over from those of the mother, that lay piled in trunks in the attic. When they were small, an old Negro woman, an ex-servant of the army belle, lived with and mothered them, but when Edith was a girl of ten this woman went off home to Tennessee, so that the girls were thrown on their own resources and ran the house in their own way.
Janet Eberly was, at the beginning of her friendship with Sam, a slight woman of twentyseven with a small expressive face, quick nervous fingers, black piercing eyes, black hair and a way of becoming so absorbed in the exposition of a book or the rush of a conversation that her little intense face became transfigured and her quick fingers clutched the arm of her listener while her eyes looked into his and she lost all consciousness of his presence or of the opinions he may have expressed. She was a cripple, having fallen from the loft of a barn in her youth injuring her back so that she sat all day in a specially made reclining wheeled chair.
Edith was a stenographer, working in the office of a publisher down town, and Janet trimmed hats for a milliner a few doors down the street from the house in which they lived. In his will the father left the money from the sale of the farm to Janet, and Sam used it, insuring his life for ten thousand dollars in her name while it was in his possession and handling it with a caution entirely absent from his operations with the money of the medical student. "Take it and make money for me," the little woman had said impulsively one evening shortly after the beginning of their acquaintance and after Jack Prince had been talking flamboyantly of Sam's ability in affairs. "What is the good of having a talent if you do not use it to benefit those who haven't it?"
Janet Eberly was an intellect. She disregarded all the usual womanly points of view and had an attitude of her own toward life and people. In a way she had understood her harddriven, grey-haired father and during the time of her great physical suffering they had built up a kind of understanding and affection for each other. After his death she wore a miniature of him, made in his boyhood, on a chain about her neck. When Sam met her the two immediately became close friends, sitting for hours in talk and coming to look forward with great pleasure to the evenings spent together.
In the Eberly household Sam McPherson was a benefactor, a wonder-worker. In his hands the six thousand dollars was bringing two thousand a year into the house and adding immeasurably to the air of comfort and good living that prevailed there. To Janet, who managed the house, he was guide, counsellor, and something more than friend.
Of the two women it was the strong, vigorous Edith, with the reddish-brown hair and the air of physical completeness that made men stop to look at her on the street, who first became Sam's friend.
Edith Eberly was strong of body, given to quick flashes of anger, stupid intellectually and hungry to the roots of her for wealth and a place in the world. She had heard, through Jack Prince, of Sam's money making and of his ability and prospects and, for a time, had designs upon his affections. Several times when they were alone together she gave his hand a characteristically impulsive squeeze and once upon the stairway beside the grocery store offered him her lips to kiss. Later there sprang up between her and Jack Prince a passionate love affair, dropped finally by Prince through fear of her violent fits of anger. After Sam had met Janet Eberly and had become her loyal friend and henchman all show of affection or even of interest between him and Edith was at an end and the kiss upon the stairs was forgotten.* * * * *
Going up the stairway after the ride in the cable car Sam stood beside Janet's wheel chair in the room at the front of the apartment facing Wabash Avenue. The chair was by the window and faced an open coal fire in a grate she had had built into the wall of the house. Outside, through an open arched doorway, Edith moved noiselessly about taking dishes from a little table. He knew that after a time Jack Prince would come and take her to the theatre, leaving Janet and him to finish their talk.
Sam lighted his pipe and between puffs began talking, making a statement that he knew would arouse her, and Janet, putting her hand impulsively on his shoulder, began tearing the statement to bits.
"You talk!" she broke out. "Books are not full of pretence and lies; you business men are
-you and Jack Prince. What do you know of books? They are the most wonderful things in the world. Men sit writing them and forget to lie, but you business men never forget. You and books! You haven't read books, not real ones. Didn't my father know; didn't he save himself from insanity through books? Do I not, sitting here, get the real feel of the movement of the world through the books that men write? Suppose I saw those men. They would swagger and strut and take themselves seriously just like you or Jack or the grocer down stairs. You think you know what's going on in the world. You think you are doing things, you Chicago men of money and action and growth. You are blind, all blind."
The little woman, a light, half scorn, half amusement in her eyes, leaned forward and ran her fingers through Sam's hair, laughing down into the astonished face he turned up to her.
"Oh, I'm not afraid, in spite of what Edith and Jack Prince say of you," she went on impulsively. "I like you all right and if I were a well woman I should make love to you and marry you and then see to it there was something in this world for you besides money and tall buildings and men and machines that make guns."
Sam grinned. "You are like your father, driving the mowing machine up and down under the church windows on Sunday mornings," he declared; "you think you could remake the world by shaking your fist at it. I should like to go and see you fined in a court room for starving sheep."Janet, closing her eyes and lying back in her chair, laughed with delight and declared that they would have a splendid quarrelsome evening.
After Edith had gone out, Sam sat through the evening with Janet, listening to her exposition of life and what she thought it should mean to a strong capable fellow like himself, as he had been listening ever since their acquaintanceship began. In the talk, and in the many talks they had had together, talks that rang in his ears for years, the little black-eyed woman gave him a glimpse into a whole purposeful universe of thought and action of which he had never dreamed, introducing him to a new world of men: methodical, hard-thinking Germans, emotional, dreaming Russians, analytical, courageous Norwegians, Spaniards and Italians with their sense of beauty, and blundering, hopeful Englishmen wanting so much and getting so little; so that at the end of the evening he went out of her presence feeling strangely small and insignificant against the great world background she had drawn for him.
Sam did not understand Janet's point of view. It was all too new and foreign to everything life had taught him, and in his mind he fought her ideas doggedly, clinging to his own concrete, practical thoughts and hopes, but on the train homeward bound, and in his own room later, he turned over and over in his mind the things she had said and tried in a dim way to grasp the bigness of the conception of human life she had got sitting in a wheel chair and looking down into Wabash Avenue.
Sam loved Janet Eberly. No word of that had ever passed between them and he had seen her hand flash out and grasp the shoulder of Jack Prince when she was laying down to him some law of life as she saw it, as it had so often shot out and grasped his own, but had she been able to spring out of the wheel chair he should have taken her hand and gone with her to the clergyman within the hour and in his heart he knew that she would have gone with him gladly.
Janet died suddenly during the second year of Sam's work for the gun company without a direct declaration of affection from him, but during the years when they were much together he thought of her as in a sense his wife and when she died he was desolate, overdrinking night after night and wandering aimlessly through the deserted streets during hours when he should have been asleep. She was the first woman who ever got hold of and stirred his manhood, and she awoke something in him that made it possible for him later to see life with a broadness and scope of vision that was no part of the pushing, energetic young man of dollars and of industry who sat beside her wheeled chair during the evenings on Wabash Avenue.
After Janet's death, Sam did not continue his friendship with Edith, but turned over to her the ten thousand dollars to which the six thousand of Janet's money had grown in his hands and did not see her again.