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Title: Horses and Men - Tales, long and short, from our American life
Author: Anderson, Sherwood
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             HORSES AND MEN



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      ----------------------------

                             OTHER BOOKS BY

                           SHERWOOD ANDERSON

                      ----------------------------

                WINDY MCPHERSON’S SON, A novel
                MARCHING MEN, A novel
                MID-AMERICAN CHANTS, Chants
                WINESBURG, OHIO, A book of tales
                POOR WHITE, A novel
                THE TRIUMPH OF THE EGG, A book of tales
                MANY MARRIAGES, A novel

                      ----------------------------



------------------------------------------------------------------------


                             HORSES AND MEN

                      Tales, long and short, from
                           our American life

                                   BY
                           SHERWOOD ANDERSON



[Illustration]



                                NEW YORK
                          B. W. HUEBSCH, INC.
                                MCMXXIII


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY
                          B. W. HUEBSCH, INC.

                                  ---

                           PRINTED IN U.S.A.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TO THEODORE DREISER

                 In whose presence I have sometimes had
                 the same refreshed feeling as when in
                 the presence of a thoroughbred horse.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



          Some of the tales in this book have been printed in
           The Little Review, The New Republic, The Century,
           Harper’s, The Dial, The London Mercury and Vanity
             Fair, to which magazines the author makes due
                            acknowledgment.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                FOREWORD


Did you ever have a notion of this kind—there is an orange, or say an
apple, lying on a table before you. You put out your hand to take it.
Perhaps you eat it, make it a part of your physical life. Have you
touched? Have you eaten? That’s what I wonder about.

The whole subject is only important to me because I want the apple. What
subtle flavors are concealed in it—how does it taste, smell, feel?
Heavens, man, the way the apple feels in the hand is something—isn’t it?

For a long time I thought only of eating the apple. Then later its
fragrance became something of importance too. The fragrance stole out
through my room, through a window and into the streets. It made itself a
part of all the smells of the streets. The devil!—in Chicago or
Pittsburgh, Youngstown or Cleveland it would have had a rough time.

That doesn’t matter.

The point is that after the form of the apple began to take my eye I
often found myself unable to touch at all. My hands went toward the
object of my desire and then came back.

There I sat, in the room with the apple before me, and hours passed. I
had pushed myself off into a world where nothing has any existence. Had
I done that, or had I merely stepped, for the moment, out of the world
of darkness into the light?

It may be that my eyes are blind and that I cannot see.

It may be I am deaf.

My hands are nervous and tremble. How much do they tremble? Now, alas, I
am absorbed in looking at my own hands.

With these nervous and uncertain hands may I really feel for the form of
things concealed in the darkness?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                DREISER

                   _Heavy, heavy, hangs over thy head,
                   Fine, or superfine?_


Theodore Dreiser is old—he is very, very old. I do not know how many
years he has lived, perhaps forty, perhaps fifty, but he is very old.
Something grey and bleak and hurtful, that has been in the world perhaps
forever, is personified in him.

When Dreiser is gone men shall write books, many of them, and in the
books they shall write there will be so many of the qualities Dreiser
lacks. The new, the younger men shall have a sense of humor, and
everyone knows Dreiser has no sense of humor. More than that, American
prose writers shall have grace, lightness of touch, a dream of beauty
breaking through the husks of life.

O, those who follow him shall have many things that Dreiser does not
have. That is a part of the wonder and beauty of Theodore Dreiser, the
things that others shall have, because of him.

Long ago, when he was editor of the _Delineator_, Dreiser went one day,
with a woman friend, to visit an orphan asylum. The woman once told me
the story of that afternoon in the big, ugly grey building, with
Dreiser, looking heavy and lumpy and old, sitting on a platform, folding
and refolding his pocket-handkerchief and watching the children—all in
their little uniforms, trooping in.

“The tears ran down his cheeks and he shook his head,” the woman said,
and that is a real picture of Theodore Dreiser. He is old in spirit and
he does not know what to do with life, so he tells about it as he sees
it, simply and honestly. The tears run down his cheeks and he folds and
refolds the pocket-handkerchief and shakes his head.

Heavy, heavy, the feet of Theodore. How easy to pick some of his books
to pieces, to laugh at him for so much of his heavy prose.

The feet of Theodore are making a path, the heavy brutal feet. They are
tramping through the wilderness of lies, making a path. Presently the
path will be a street, with great arches overhead and delicately carved
spires piercing the sky. Along the street will run children, shouting,
“Look at me. See what I and my fellows of the new day have
done”—forgetting the heavy feet of Dreiser.

The fellows of the ink-pots, the prose writers in America who follow
Dreiser, will have much to do that he has never done. Their road is long
but, because of him, those who follow will never have to face the road
through the wilderness of Puritan denial, the road that Dreiser faced
alone.

                   _Heavy, heavy, hangs over thy head,
                   Fine, or superfine?_


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           TALES OF THE BOOK


                   Page
                     ix FOREWORD

                     xi DREISER

                      3 I’M A FOOL

                     21 THE TRIUMPH OF A MODERN

                     31 “UNUSED”

                    139 A CHICAGO HAMLET

                    185 THE MAN WHO BECAME A WOMAN

                    231 MILK BOTTLES

                    245 THE SAD HORN BLOWERS

                    287 THE MAN’S STORY

                    315 AN OHIO PAGAN


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               I’M A FOOL



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               I’M A FOOL


IT was a hard jolt for me, one of the most bitterest I ever had to face.
And it all came about through my own foolishness, too. Even yet
sometimes, when I think of it, I want to cry or swear or kick myself.
Perhaps, even now, after all this time, there will be a kind of
satisfaction in making myself look cheap by telling of it.

It began at three o’clock one October afternoon as I sat in the grand
stand at the fall trotting and pacing meet at Sandusky, Ohio.

To tell the truth, I felt a little foolish that I should be sitting in
the grand stand at all. During the summer before I had left my home town
with Harry Whitehead and, with a nigger named Burt, had taken a job as
swipe with one of the two horses Harry was campaigning through the fall
race meets that year. Mother cried and my sister Mildred, who wanted to
get a job as a school teacher in our town that fall, stormed and scolded
about the house all during the week before I left. They both thought it
something disgraceful that one of our family should take a place as a
swipe with race horses. I’ve an idea Mildred thought my taking the place
would stand in the way of her getting the job she’d been working so long
for.

But after all I had to work, and there was no other work to be got. A
big lumbering fellow of nineteen couldn’t just hang around the house and
I had got too big to mow people’s lawns and sell newspapers. Little
chaps who could get next to people’s sympathies by their sizes were
always getting jobs away from me. There was one fellow who kept saying
to everyone who wanted a lawn mowed or a cistern cleaned, that he was
saving money to work his way through college, and I used to lay awake
nights thinking up ways to injure him without being found out. I kept
thinking of wagons running over him and bricks falling on his head as he
walked along the street. But never mind him.

I got the place with Harry and I liked Burt fine. We got along splendid
together. He was a big nigger with a lazy sprawling body and soft, kind
eyes, and when it came to a fight he could hit like Jack Johnson. He had
Bucephalus, a big black pacing stallion that could do 2.09 or 2.10, if
he had to, and I had a little gelding named Doctor Fritz that never lost
a race all fall when Harry wanted him to win.

We set out from home late in July in a box car with the two horses and
after that, until late November, we kept moving along to the race meets
and the fairs. It was a peachy time for me, I’ll say that. Sometimes now
I think that boys who are raised regular in houses, and never have a
fine nigger like Burt for best friend, and go to high schools and
college, and never steal anything, or get drunk a little, or learn to
swear from fellows who know how, or come walking up in front of a grand
stand in their shirt sleeves and with dirty horsey pants on when the
races are going on and the grand stand is full of people all dressed
up—What’s the use of talking about it? Such fellows don’t know nothing
at all. They’ve never had no opportunity.

But I did. Burt taught me how to rub down a horse and put the bandages
on after a race and steam a horse out and a lot of valuable things for
any man to know. He could wrap a bandage on a horse’s leg so smooth that
if it had been the same color you would think it was his skin, and I
guess he’d have been a big driver, too, and got to the top like Murphy
and Walter Cox and the others if he hadn’t been black.

Gee whizz, it was fun. You got to a county seat town, maybe say on a
Saturday or Sunday, and the fair began the next Tuesday and lasted until
Friday afternoon. Doctor Fritz would be, say in the 2.25 trot on Tuesday
afternoon and on Thursday afternoon Bucephalus would knock ’em cold in
the “free-for-all” pace. It left you a lot of time to hang around and
listen to horse talk, and see Burt knock some yap cold that got too gay,
and you’d find out about horses and men and pick up a lot of stuff you
could use all the rest of your life, if you had some sense and salted
down what you heard and felt and saw.

And then at the end of the week when the race meet was over, and Harry
had run home to tend up to his livery stable business, you and Burt
hitched the two horses to carts and drove slow and steady across
country, to the place for the next meeting, so as to not over-heat the
horses, etc., etc., you know.

Gee whizz, Gosh amighty, the nice hickorynut and beechnut and oaks and
other kinds of trees along the roads, all brown and red, and the good
smells, and Burt singing a song that was called Deep River, and the
country girls at the windows of houses and everything. You can stick
your colleges up your nose for all me. I guess I know where I got my
education.

Why, one of those little burgs of towns you come to on the way, say now
on a Saturday afternoon, and Burt says, “let’s lay up here.” And you
did.

And you took the horses to a livery stable and fed them, and you got
your good clothes out of a box and put them on.

And the town was full of farmers gaping, because they could see you were
race horse people, and the kids maybe never see a nigger before and was
afraid and run away when the two of us walked down their main street.

And that was before prohibition and all that foolishness, and so you
went into a saloon, the two of you, and all the yaps come and stood
around, and there was always someone pretended he was horsey and knew
things and spoke up and began asking questions, and all you did was to
lie and lie all you could about what horses you had, and I said I owned
them, and then some fellow said “will you have a drink of whiskey” and
Burt knocked his eye out the way he could say, off-hand like, “Oh well,
all right, I’m agreeable to a little nip. I’ll split a quart with you.”
Gee whizz.

                  *       *       *       *       *

But that isn’t what I want to tell my story about. We got home late in
November and I promised mother I’d quit the race horses for good.
There’s a lot of things you’ve got to promise a mother because she don’t
know any better.

And so, there not being any work in our town any more than when I left
there to go to the races, I went off to Sandusky and got a pretty good
place taking care of horses for a man who owned a teaming and delivery
and storage and coal and real-estate business there. It was a pretty
good place with good eats, and a day off each week, and sleeping on a
cot in a big barn, and mostly just shovelling in hay and oats to a lot
of big good-enough skates of horses, that couldn’t have trotted a race
with a toad. I wasn’t dissatisfied and I could send money home.

And then, as I started to tell you, the fall races come to Sandusky and
I got the day off and I went. I left the job at noon and had on my good
clothes and my new brown derby hat, I’d just bought the Saturday before,
and a stand-up collar.

First of all I went down-town and walked about with the dudes. I’ve
always thought to myself, “put up a good front” and so I did it. I had
forty dollars in my pocket and so I went into the West House, a big
hotel, and walked up to the cigar stand. “Give me three twenty-five cent
cigars,” I said. There was a lot of horsemen and strangers and
dressed-up people from other towns standing around in the lobby and in
the bar, and I mingled amongst them. In the bar there was a fellow with
a cane and a Windsor tie on, that it made me sick to look at him. I like
a man to be a man and dress up, but not to go put on that kind of airs.
So I pushed him aside, kind of rough, and had me a drink of whiskey. And
then he looked at me, as though he thought maybe he’d get gay, but he
changed his mind and didn’t say anything. And then I had another drink
of whiskey, just to show him something, and went out and had a hack out
to the races, all to myself, and when I got there I bought myself the
best seat I could get up in the grand stand, but didn’t go in for any of
these boxes. That’s putting on too many airs.

And so there I was, sitting up in the grand stand as gay as you please
and looking down on the swipes coming out with their horses, and with
their dirty horsey pants on and the horse blankets swung over their
shoulders, same as I had been doing all the year before. I liked one
thing about the same as the other, sitting up there and feeling grand
and being down there and looking up at the yaps and feeling grander and
more important, too. One thing’s about as good as another, if you take
it just right. I’ve often said that.

Well, right in front of me, in the grand stand that day, there was a
fellow with a couple of girls and they was about my age. The young
fellow was a nice guy all right. He was the kind maybe that goes to
college and then comes to be a lawyer or maybe a newspaper editor or
something like that, but he wasn’t stuck on himself. There are some of
that kind are all right and he was one of the ones.

He had his sister with him and another girl and the sister looked around
over his shoulder, accidental at first, not intending to start
anything—she wasn’t that kind—and her eyes and mine happened to meet.

You know how it is. Gee, she was a peach! She had on a soft dress, kind
of a blue stuff and it looked carelessly made, but was well sewed and
made and everything. I knew that much. I blushed when she looked right
at me and so did she. She was the nicest girl I’ve ever seen in my life.
She wasn’t stuck on herself and she could talk proper grammar without
being like a school teacher or something like that. What I mean is, she
was O. K. I think maybe her father was well-to-do, but not rich to make
her chesty because she was his daughter, as some are. Maybe he owned a
drug store or a drygoods store in their home town, or something like
that. She never told me and I never asked.

My own people are all O. K. too, when you come to that. My grandfather
was Welsh and over in the old country, in Wales he was—But never mind
that.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The first heat of the first race come off and the young fellow setting
there with the two girls left them and went down to make a bet. I knew
what he was up to, but he didn’t talk big and noisy and let everyone
around know he was a sport, as some do. He wasn’t that kind. Well, he
come back and I heard him tell the two girls what horse he’d bet on, and
when the heat was trotted they all half got to their feet and acted in
the excited, sweaty way people do when they’ve got money down on a race,
and the horse they bet on is up there pretty close at the end, and they
think maybe he’ll come on with a rush, but he never does because he
hasn’t got the old juice in him, come right down to it.

And then, pretty soon, the horses came out for the 2.18 pace and there
was a horse in it I knew. He was a horse Bob French had in his string
but Bob didn’t own him. He was a horse owned by a Mr. Mathers down at
Marietta, Ohio.

This Mr. Mathers had a lot of money and owned some coal mines or
something, and he had a swell place out in the country, and he was stuck
on race horses, but was a Presbyterian or something, and I think more
than likely his wife was one, too, maybe a stiffer one than himself. So
he never raced his horses hisself, and the story round the Ohio race
tracks was that when one of his horses got ready to go to the races he
turned him over to Bob French and pretended to his wife he was sold.

So Bob had the horses and he did pretty much as he pleased and you can’t
blame Bob, at least, I never did. Sometimes he was out to win and
sometimes he wasn’t. I never cared much about that when I was swiping a
horse. What I did want to know was that my horse had the speed and could
go out in front, if you wanted him to.

And, as I’m telling you, there was Bob in this race with one of Mr.
Mathers’ horses, was named “About Ben Ahem” or something like that, and
was fast as a streak. He was a gelding and had a mark of 2.21, but could
step in .08 or .09.

Because when Burt and I were out, as I’ve told you, the year before,
there was a nigger, Burt knew, worked for Mr. Mathers and we went out
there one day when we didn’t have no race on at the Marietta Fair and
our boss Harry was gone home.

And so everyone was gone to the fair but just this one nigger and he
took us all through Mr. Mathers’ swell house and he and Burt tapped a
bottle of wine Mr. Mathers had hid in his bedroom, back in a closet,
without his wife knowing, and he showed us this Ahem horse. Burt was
always stuck on being a driver but didn’t have much chance to get to the
top, being a nigger, and he and the other nigger gulped that whole
bottle of wine and Burt got a little lit up.

So the nigger let Burt take this About Ben Ahem and step him a mile in a
track Mr. Mathers had all to himself, right there on the farm. And Mr.
Mathers had one child, a daughter, kinda sick and not very good looking,
and she came home and we had to hustle and get About Ben Ahem stuck back
in the barn.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I’m only telling you to get everything straight. At Sandusky, that
afternoon I was at the fair, this young fellow with the two girls was
fussed, being with the girls and losing his bet. You know how a fellow
is that way. One of them was his girl and the other his sister. I had
figured that out.

“Gee whizz,” I says to myself, “I’m going to give him the dope.”

He was mighty nice when I touched him on the shoulder. He and the girls
were nice to me right from the start and clear to the end. I’m not
blaming them.

And so he leaned back and I give him the dope on About Ben Ahem. “Don’t
bet a cent on this first heat because he’ll go like an oxen hitched to a
plow, but when the first heat is over go right down and lay on your
pile.” That’s what I told him.

Well, I never saw a fellow treat any one sweller. There was a fat man
sitting beside the little girl, that had looked at me twice by this
time, and I at her, and both blushing, and what did he do but have the
nerve to turn and ask the fat man to get up and change places with me so
I could set with his crowd.

Gee whizz, craps amighty. There I was. What a chump I was to go and get
gay up there in the West House bar, and just because that dude was
standing there with a cane and that kind of a necktie on, to go and get
all balled-up and drink that whiskey, just to show off.

Of course she would know, me setting right beside her and letting her
smell of my breath. I could have kicked myself right down out of that
grand stand and all around that race track and made a faster record than
most of the skates of horses they had there that year.

Because that girl wasn’t any mutt of a girl. What wouldn’t I have give
right then for a stick of chewing gum to chew, or a lozenger, or some
liquorice, or most anything. I was glad I had those twenty-five cent
cigars in my pocket and right away I give that fellow one and lit one
myself. Then that fat man got up and we changed places and there I was,
plunked right down beside her.

They introduced themselves and the fellow’s best girl, he had with him,
was named Miss Elinor Woodbury, and her father was a manufacturer of
barrels from a place called Tiffin, Ohio. And the fellow himself was
named Wilbur Wessen and his sister was Miss Lucy Wessen.

I suppose it was their having such swell names got me off my trolley. A
fellow, just because he has been a swipe with a race horse, and works
taking care of horses for a man in the teaming, delivery, and storage
business, isn’t any better or worse than any one else. I’ve often
thought that, and said it too.

But you know how a fellow is. There’s something in that kind of nice
clothes, and the kind of nice eyes she had, and the way she had looked
at me, awhile before, over her brother’s shoulder, and me looking back
at her, and both of us blushing.

I couldn’t show her up for a boob, could I?

I made a fool of myself, that’s what I did. I said my name was Walter
Mathers from Marietta, Ohio, and then I told all three of them the
smashingest lie you ever heard. What I said was that my father owned the
horse About Ben Ahem and that he had let him out to this Bob French for
racing purposes, because our family was proud and had never gone into
racing that way, in our own name, I mean. Then I had got started and
they were all leaning over and listening, and Miss Lucy Wessen’s eyes
were shining, and I went the whole hog.

I told about our place down at Marietta, and about the big stables and
the grand brick house we had on a hill, up above the Ohio River, but I
knew enough not to do it in no bragging way. What I did was to start
things and then let them drag the rest out of me. I acted just as
reluctant to tell as I could. Our family hasn’t got any barrel factory,
and, since I’ve known us, we’ve always been pretty poor, but not asking
anything of any one at that, and my grandfather, over in Wales—but never
mind that.

We set there talking like we had known each other for years and years,
and I went and told them that my father had been expecting maybe this
Bob French wasn’t on the square, and had sent me up to Sandusky on the
sly to find out what I could.

And I bluffed it through I had found out all about the 2.18 pace, in
which About Ben Ahem was to start.

I said he would lose the first heat by pacing like a lame cow and then
he would come back and skin ’em alive after that. And to back up what I
said I took thirty dollars out of my pocket and handed it to Mr. Wilbur
Wessen and asked him, would he mind, after the first heat, to go down
and place it on About Ben Ahem for whatever odds he could get. What I
said was that I didn’t want Bob French to see me and none of the swipes.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sure enough the first heat come off and About Ben Ahem went off his
stride, up the back stretch, and looked like a wooden horse or a sick
one, and come in to be last. Then this Wilbur Wessen went down to the
betting place under the grand stand and there I was with the two girls,
and when that Miss Woodbury was looking the other way once, Lucy Wessen
kinda, with her shoulder you know, kinda touched me. Not just tucking
down, I don’t mean. You know how a woman can do. They get close, but not
getting gay either. You know what they do. Gee whizz.

And then they give me a jolt. What they had done, when I didn’t know,
was to get together, and they had decided Wilbur Wessen would bet fifty
dollars, and the two girls had gone and put in ten dollars each, of
their own money, too. I was sick then, but I was sicker later.

About the gelding, About Ben Ahem, and their winning their money, I
wasn’t worried a lot about that. It come out O.K. Ahem stepped the next
three heats like a bushel of spoiled eggs going to market before they
could be found out, and Wilbur Wessen had got nine to two for the money.
There was something else eating at me.

Because Wilbur come back, after he had bet the money, and after that he
spent most of his time talking to that Miss Woodbury, and Lucy Wessen
and I was left alone together like on a desert island. Gee, if I’d only
been on the square or if there had been any way of getting myself on the
square. There ain’t any Walter Mathers, like I said to her and them, and
there hasn’t ever been one, but if there was, I bet I’d go to Marietta,
Ohio, and shoot him tomorrow.

There I was, big boob that I am. Pretty soon the race was over, and
Wilbur had gone down and collected our money, and we had a hack
down-town, and he stood us a swell supper at the West House, and a
bottle of champagne beside.

And I was with that girl and she wasn’t saying much, and I wasn’t saying
much either. One thing I know. She wasn’t stuck on me because of the lie
about my father being rich and all that. There’s a way you know....
Craps amighty. There’s a kind of girl, you see just once in your life,
and if you don’t get busy and make hay, then you’re gone for good and
all, and might as well go jump off a bridge. They give you a look from
inside of them somewhere, and it ain’t no vamping, and what it means
is—you want that girl to be your wife, and you want nice things around
her like flowers and swell clothes, and you want her to have the kids
you’re going to have, and you want good music played and no rag time.
Gee whizz.

There’s a place over near Sandusky, across a kind of bay, and it’s
called Cedar Point. And after we had supper we went over to it in a
launch, all by ourselves. Wilbur and Miss Lucy and that Miss Woodbury
had to catch a ten o’clock train back to Tiffin, Ohio, because, when
you’re out with girls like that you can’t get careless and miss any
trains and stay out all night, like you can with some kinds of Janes.

And Wilbur blowed himself to the launch and it cost him fifteen cold
plunks, but I wouldn’t never have knew if I hadn’t listened. He wasn’t
no tin horn kind of a sport.

Over at the Cedar Point place, we didn’t stay around where there was a
gang of common kind of cattle at all.

There was big dance halls and dining places for yaps, and there was a
beach you could walk along and get where it was dark, and we went there.

She didn’t talk hardly at all and neither did I, and I was thinking how
glad I was my mother was all right, and always made us kids learn to eat
with a fork at table, and not swill soup, and not be noisy and rough
like a gang you see around a race track that way.

Then Wilbur and his girl went away up the beach and Lucy and I sat down
in a dark place, where there was some roots of old trees, the water had
washed up, and after that the time, till we had to go back in the launch
and they had to catch their trains, wasn’t nothing at all. It went like
winking your eye.

Here’s how it was. The place we were setting in was dark, like I said,
and there was the roots from that old stump sticking up like arms, and
there was a watery smell, and the night was like—as if you could put
your hand out and feel it—so warm and soft and dark and sweet like an
orange.

I most cried and I most swore and I most jumped up and danced, I was so
mad and happy and sad.

When Wilbur come back from being alone with his girl, and she saw him
coming, Lucy she says, “we got to go to the train now,” and she was most
crying too, but she never knew nothing I knew, and she couldn’t be so
all busted up. And then, before Wilbur and Miss Woodbury got up to where
we was, she put her face up and kissed me quick and put her head up
against me and she was all quivering and—Gee whizz.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes I hope I have cancer and die. I guess you know what I mean. We
went in the launch across the bay to the train like that, and it was
dark, too. She whispered and said it was like she and I could get out of
the boat and walk on the water, and it sounded foolish, but I knew what
she meant.

And then quick we were right at the depot, and there was a big gang of
yaps, the kind that goes to the fairs, and crowded and milling around
like cattle, and how could I tell her? “It won’t be long because you’ll
write and I’ll write to you.” That’s all she said.

I got a chance like a hay barn afire. A swell chance I got.

And maybe she would write me, down at Marietta that way, and the letter
would come back, and stamped on the front of it by the U.S.A. “there
ain’t any such guy,” or something like that, whatever they stamp on a
letter that way.

And me trying to pass myself off for a bigbug and a swell—to her, as
decent a little body as God ever made. Craps amighty—a swell chance I
got!

And then the train come in, and she got on it, and Wilbur Wessen he come
and shook hands with me, and that Miss Woodbury was nice too and bowed
to me, and I at her, and the train went and I busted out and cried like
a kid.

Gee, I could have run after that train and made Dan Patch look like a
freight train after a wreck but, socks amighty, what was the use? Did
you ever see such a fool?

I’ll bet you what—if I had an arm broke right now or a train had run
over my foot—I wouldn’t go to no doctor at all. I’d go set down and let
her hurt and hurt—that’s what I’d do.

I’ll bet you what—if I hadn’t a drunk that booze I’d a never been such a
boob as to go tell such a lie—that couldn’t never be made straight to a
lady like her.

I wish I had that fellow right here that had on a Windsor tie and
carried a cane. I’d smash him for fair. Gosh darn his eyes. He’s a big
fool—that’s what he is.

And if I’m not another you just go find me one and I’ll quit working and
be a bum and give him my job. I don’t care nothing for working, and
earning money, and saving it for no such boob as myself.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        THE TRIUMPH OF A MODERN
                        OR, SEND FOR THE LAWYER



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        THE TRIUMPH OF A MODERN
                        OR, SEND FOR THE LAWYER


INASMUCH as I have put to myself the task of trying to tell you a
curious story in which I am myself concerned—in a strictly secondary way
you must of course understand—I will begin by giving you some notion of
myself.

Very well then, I am a man of thirty-two, rather small in size, with
sandy hair. I wear glasses. Until two years ago I lived in Chicago,
where I had a position as clerk in an office that afforded me a good
enough living. I have never married, being somewhat afraid of women—in
the flesh, in a way of speaking. In fancy and in my imagination I have
always been very bold but in the flesh women have always frightened me
horribly. They have a way of smiling quietly as though to say——. But we
will not go into that now.

Since boyhood I have had an ambition to be a painter, not, I will
confess, because of a desire to produce some great masterpiece of the
arts, but simply and solely because I have always thought the life
painters lead would appeal to me.

I have always liked the notion (let’s be honest if we can) of going
about, wearing a hat, tipped a little to the side of my head, sporting a
moustache, carrying a cane and speaking in an off-hand way of such
things as form, rhythm, the effects of light and masses, surfaces, etc.,
etc. During my life I have read a good many books concerning painters
and their work, their friendships and their loves and when I was in
Chicago and poor and was compelled to live in a small room alone, I
assure you I carried off many a dull weary evening by imagining myself a
painter of wide renown in the world.

It was afternoon and having finished my day’s work I went strolling off
to the studio of another painter. He was still at work and there were
two models in the room, women in the nude sitting about. One of them
smiled at me, I thought a little wistfully, but pshaw, I am too blasé
for anything of that sort.

I go across the room to my friend’s canvas and stand looking at it.

Now he is looking at me, a little anxiously. I am the greater man, you
understand. That is frankly and freely acknowledged. Whatever else may
be said against my friend he never claimed to be my equal. In fact it is
generally understood, wherever I go, that I am the greater man.

“Well?” says my friend. You see he is fairly hanging on my words, as the
saying goes; in short, he is waiting for me to speak with the air of one
about to be hanged.

Why? The devil! Why does he put everything up to me? One gets tired
carrying such responsibility upon one’s shoulders. A painter should be
the judge of his own work and not embarrass his fellow painters by
asking questions. That is my method.

Very well then. If I speak sharply you have only yourself to blame. “The
yellow you have been using is a little muddy. The arm of this woman is
not felt. In painting one should feel the arm of a woman. What I advise
is that you change your palette. You have scattered too much. Pull it
together. A painting should stick together as a wet snow ball thrown by
a boy clings to a wall.”

When I had reached the age of thirty, that is to say two years ago, I
received from my aunt, the sister of my father to be exact, a small
fortune I had long been dreaming I might possibly inherit.

My aunt I had never seen, but I had always been saying to myself, “I
must go see my aunt. The old lady will be sore at me and when she dies
will not leave me a cent.”

And then, lucky fellow that I am, I did go to see her just before she
died.

Filled with determination to put the thing through I set out from
Chicago, and it is not my fault that I did not spend the day with her.
Even although my aunt is (as I am not fool enough not to know that you
know) a woman I would have spent the day with her but that it was
impossible.

She lived at Madison, Wisconsin, and I went there on Saturday morning.
The house was locked and the windows boarded up. Fortunately, at just
that moment, a mail carrier came along and, upon my telling him that I
was my aunt’s nephew, gave me her address. He also gave me some news
concerning her.

For years she had been a sufferer from hay-fever and every summer had to
have a change of climate.

That was an opportunity for me. I went at once to a hotel and wrote her
a letter telling of my visit and expressing, to the utmost of my
ability, my sorrow in not having found her at home. “I have been a long
time doing this job but now that I am at it I fancy I shall do it rather
well,” I said to myself.

A sort of feeling came into my hand, as it were. I can’t just say what
it was but as soon as I sat down I knew very well I should be eloquent.
For the moment I was positively a poet.

In the first place, and as one should in writing a letter to a lady, I
spoke of the sky. “The sky is full of mottled clouds,” I said. Then, and
I frankly admit in a brutally casual way, I spoke of myself as one
practically prostrated with grief. To tell the truth I did not just know
what I was doing. I had got the fever for writing words, you see. They
fairly flowed out of my pen.

I had come, I said, on a long and weary journey to the home of my only
female relative, and here I threw into the letter some reference to the
fact that I was an orphan. “Imagine,” I wrote, “the sorrow and
desolation in my heart at finding the house unoccupied and the windows
boarded up.”

It was there, sitting in the hotel at Madison, Wisconsin, with the pen
in my hand, that I made my fortune. Something bold and heroic came into
my mood and, without a moment’s hesitation, I mentioned in my letter
what should never be mentioned to a woman, unless she be an elderly
woman of one’s own family, and then only by a physician perhaps—I spoke
of my aunt’s breasts, using the plural.

I had hoped, I said, to lay my tired head on her breasts. To tell the
truth I had become drunken with words and now, how glad I am that I did.
Mr. George Moore, Clive Bell, Paul Rosenfeld, and others of the most
skillful writers of our English speech, have written a great deal about
painters and, as I have already explained, there was not a book or
magazine article in English and concerning painters, their lives and
works, procurable in Chicago, I had not read.

What I am now striving to convey to you is something of my own pride in
my literary effort in the hotel at Madison, Wisconsin, and surely, if I
was, at that moment an artist, no other artist has ever had such quick
and wholehearted recognition.

Having spoken of putting my tired head on my aunt’s breasts (poor woman,
she died, never having seen me) I went on to give the general
impression—which by the way was quite honest and correct—of a somewhat
boyish figure, rather puzzled, wandering in a confused way through life.
The imaginary but correct enough figure of myself, born at the moment in
my imagination, had made its way through dismal swamps of gloom, over
the rough hills of adversity and through the dry deserts of loneliness,
toward the one spot in all this world where it had hoped to find rest
and peace—that is to say upon the bosom of its aunt. However, as I have
already explained, being a thorough modern and full of the modern
boldness, I did not use the word bosom, as an old-fashioned writer might
have done. I used the word breasts. When I had finished writing tears
were in my eyes.

The letter I wrote on that day covered some seven sheets of hotel
paper—finely written to the margins—and cost four cents to mail.

“Shall I mail it or shall I not?” I said to myself as I came out of the
hotel office and stood before a mail box. The letter was balanced
between my finger and thumb.

                      “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,
                       Catch a nigger by the toe.”

The forefinger of my left hand—I was holding the letter in my right
hand—touched my nose, mouth, forehead, eyes, chin, neck, shoulder, arm,
hand and then tapped the letter itself. No doubt I fully intended, from
the first, to drop it. I had been doing the work of an artist. Well,
artists are always talking of destroying their own work but few do it,
and those who do are perhaps the real heroes of life.

And so down into the mail box it went with a thud and my fortune was
made. The letter was received by my aunt, who was lying abed of an
illness that was to destroy her—she had, it seems, other things beside
hay-fever the matter with her—and she altered her will in my favor. She
had intended leaving her money, a tidy sum yielding an income of five
thousand a year, to a fund to be established for the study of methods
for the cure of hay-fever—that is to say, really you see, to her fellow
sufferers—but instead left it to me. My aunt could not find her
spectacles and a nurse—may the gods bring her bright days and a good
husband—read the letter aloud. Both women were deeply touched and my
aunt wept. I am only telling you the facts, you understand, but I would
like to suggest that this whole incident might well be taken as proof of
the power of modern art. From the first I have been a firm believer in
the moderns. I am one who, as an art critic might word it, has been
right down through the movements. At first I was an impressionist and
later a cubist, a post-impressionist, and even a vorticist. Time after
time, in my imaginary life, as a painter, I have been quite swept off my
feet. For example I remember Picasso’s blue period ... but we’ll not go
into that.

What I am trying to say is that, having this faith in modernity, if one
may use the word thus, I did find within myself a peculiar boldness as I
sat in the hotel writing room at Madison, Wisconsin. I used the word
breasts (in the plural, you understand) and everyone will admit that it
is a bold and modern word to use in a letter to an aunt one has never
seen. It brought my aunt and me into one family. Her modesty never could
have admitted anything else.

And then, my aunt was really touched. Afterward I talked to the nurse
and made her a rather handsome present for her part in the affair. When
the letter had been read my aunt felt overwhelmingly drawn to me. She
turned her face to the wall and her shoulders shook. Do not think that I
am not also touched as I write this. “Poor lad,” my aunt said to the
nurse, “I will make things easier for him. Send for the lawyer.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                “UNUSED”



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                “UNUSED”

                         A TALE OF LIFE IN OHIO


“UNUSED,” that was one of the words the Doctor used that day in speaking
of her. He, the doctor, was an extraordinarily large and immaculately
clean man, by whom I was at that time employed. I swept out his office,
mowed the lawn before his residence, took care of the two horses in his
stable and did odd jobs about the yard and kitchen—such as bringing in
firewood, putting water in a tub in the sun behind a grape arbor for the
doctor’s bath and even sometimes, during his bath, scrubbing for him
those parts of his broad back he himself could not reach.

The doctor had a passion in life with which he early infected me. He
loved fishing and as he knew all of the good places in the river,
several miles west of town, and in Sandusky Bay, some nineteen or twenty
miles to the north, we often went off for long delightful days together.

It was late in the afternoon of such a fishing day in the late June,
when the doctor and I were together in a boat on the bay, that a farmer
came running to the shore, waving his arms and calling to the doctor.
Little May Edgley’s body had been found floating near a river’s mouth
half a mile away, and, as she had been dead for several days, as the
doctor had just had a good bite, and as there was nothing he could do
anyway, it was all nonsense, his being called. I remembered how he
growled and grumbled. He did not then know what had happened but the
fish were just beginning to bite splendidly, I had just landed a fine
bass and the good evening’s fishing was all ahead of us. Well, you know
how it is—a doctor is always at everyone’s beck and call.

“Dang it all! That’s the way it always goes! Here we are—as good a
fishing evening as we’ll find this summer—wind just right and the sky
clouding over—and will you look at my dang luck? A doctor in the
neighborhood and that farmer knows it and so, just to accommodate me, he
goes and stubs his toe, like as not, or his boy falls out of a barn
loft, or his old woman gets the toothache. Like as not it’s one of his
women folks. I know ’em! His wife’s got an unmarried sister living with
her. Dang sentimental old maid! She’s got a nervous complaint—gets all
worked up and thinks she’s going to die. Die nothing! I know that kind.
Lots of ’em like to have a doctor fooling around. Let a doctor come
near, so they can get him alone in a room, and they’ll spend hours
talking about themselves—if he’ll let ’em.”

The doctor was reeling in his line, grumbling and complaining as he did
so and then, suddenly, with the characteristic cheerfulness that I had
seen carry him with a smile on his lips through whole days and nights of
work and night driving over rough frozen earth roads in the winter, he
picked up the oars and rowed vigorously ashore. When I offered to take
the oars he shook his head. “No kid, it’s good for the figure,” he said,
looking down at his huge paunch. He smiled. “I got to keep my figure. If
I don’t I’ll be losing some of my practice among the unmarried women.”

As for the business ashore—there was May Edgley, of our town, drowned in
that out of the way place, and her body had been in the water several
days. It had been found among some willows that grew near the mouth of a
deep creek that emptied into the bay, had lodged in among the roots of
the willows, and when we got ashore the farmer, his son and the hired
man, had got it out and had laid it on some boards near a barn that
faced the bay.

That was my own first sight of death and I shall not forget the moment
when I followed the doctor in among the little group of silent people
standing about and saw the dead, discolored and bloated body of the
woman lying there.

The doctor was used to that sort of thing, but to me it was all new and
terrifying. I remember that I looked once and then ran away. Dashing
into the barn I went to lean against the feedbox of a stall, where an
old farm-horse was eating hay. The warm day outside had suddenly seemed
cold and chill but in the barn it was warm again. Oh, what a lovely
thing to a boy is a barn, with the rich warm comforting smell of the
cured hay and the animal life, lying like a soft bed over it all. At the
doctor’s house, while I lived and worked there, the doctor’s wife used
to put on my bed, on winter nights, a kind of soft warm bed cover called
a “comfortable.” That’s what it was like to me that day in the barn when
we had just found May Edgley’s body.

As for the body—well, May Edgley had been a small woman with small firm
hands and in one of her hands, tightly gripped, when they had found her,
was a woman’s hat—a great broad-brimmed gaudy thing it must have been,
and there had been a huge ostrich feather sticking out of the top, such
an ostrich feather as you see sometimes sticking out of the hat of a
kind of big flashy woman at the horse races or at second-rate summer
resorts near cities.

It stayed in my mind, that bedraggled ostrich feather, little May
Edgley’s hand had gripped so determinedly when death came, and as I
stood shivering in the barn I could see it again, as I had so often seen
it perched on the head of big bold Lil Edgley, May Edgley’s sister, as
she went, half-defiantly always, through the streets of our town,
Bidwell, Ohio.

And then as I stood shivering with boyish dread of death in that old
barn, the farm-horse put his head through an opening at the front of the
stall and rubbed his soft warm nose against my cheek. The farmer, on
whose place we were, must have been one who was kind to his animals. The
old horse rubbed his nose up and down my cheek. “You are a long ways
from death, my lad, and when the time comes for you you won’t shiver so
much. I am old and I know. Death is a kind comforting thing to those who
are through with their lives.”

Something of that sort the old farm-horse seemed to be saying and at any
rate he quieted me, took the fear and the chill all out of me.

It was when the doctor and I were driving home together that evening in
the dusk, and after all arrangements for sending May Edgley’s body back
to town and to her people had been made, that he spoke of her and used
the word I am now using as the title for her story. The doctor said a
great many things that evening that I cannot now remember and I only
remember how the night came softly on and how the grey road faded out of
sight, and then how the moon came out and the road that had been grey
became silvery white, with patches of inky blackness where the shadows
of trees fell across it. The doctor was one sane enough not to talk down
to a boy. How often he spoke intimately to me of his impressions of men
and events! There were many things in the fat old doctor’s mind of which
his patients knew nothing, but of which his stable boy knew.

The doctor’s old bay horse went steadily along, doing his work as
cheerfully as the doctor did his and the doctor smoked a cigar. He spoke
of the dead woman, May Edgley, and of what a bright girl she had been.

As for her story—he did not tell it completely. I was myself much alive
that evening—that is to say the imaginative side of myself was much
alive—and the doctor was as a sower, sowing seed in a fertile soil. He
was as one who goes through a wide long field, newly plowed by the hand
of Death, the plowman, and as he went along he flung wide the seeds of
May Edgley’s story, wide, far over the land, over the rich fertile land
of a boy’s awakening imagination.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER I


THERE were three boys and as many girls in the Edgley family of Bidwell,
Ohio, and of the girls Lillian and Kate were known in a dozen towns
along the railroad that ran between Cleveland and Toledo. The fame of
Lillian, the eldest, went far. On the streets of the neighboring towns
of Clyde, Norwalk, Fremont, Tiffin, and even in Toledo and Cleveland,
she was well known. On summer evenings she went up and down our main
street wearing a huge hat with a white ostrich feather that fell down
almost to her shoulder. She, like her sister Kate, who never succeeded
in attaining to a position of prominence in the town’s life, was a
blonde with cold staring blue eyes. On almost any Friday evening she
might have been seen setting forth on some adventure, from which she did
not return until the following Monday or Tuesday. It was evident the
adventures were profitable, as the Edgley family were working folk and
it is certain her brothers did not purchase for her the endless number
of new dresses in which she arrayed herself.

It was a Friday evening in the summer and Lillian appeared on the upper
main street of Bidwell. Two dozen men and boys loafed by the station
platform, awaiting the arrival of the New York Central train, eastward
bound. They stared at Lillian who stared back at them. In the west, from
which direction the train was presently to come, the sun went down over
young corn fields. A dusky golden splendor lit the skies and the loafers
were awed into silence, hushed, both by the beauty of the evening and by
the challenge in Lillian’s eyes.

Then the train arrived and the spell of silence was broken. The
conductor and brakeman jumped to the station platform and waved their
hands at Lillian and the engineer put his head out of the cab.

Aboard the train Lillian found a seat by herself and as soon as the
train had started and the fares were collected the conductor came to sit
with her. When the train arrived at the next town and the conductor was
compelled to attend to his affairs, the brakeman came to lean over her
seat. The men talked in undertones and occasionally the silence in the
car was broken by outbursts of laughter. Other women from Bidwell, going
to visit relatives in distant towns, were embarrassed. They turned their
heads to look out at car windows and their cheeks grew red.

On the station platform at Bidwell, where darkness was settling down
over the scene, the men and boys still lingered about speaking of
Lillian and her adventures. “She can ride anywhere she pleases and never
has to pay a cent of fare,” declared a tall bearded man who leaned
against the station door. He was a buyer of pigs and cattle and was
compelled to go to the Cleveland market once every week. The thought of
Lillian, the light o’ love traveling free over the railroads filled his
heart with envy and anger.

The entire Edgley family bore a shaky reputation in Bidwell but with the
exception of May, the youngest of the girls, they were people who knew
how to take care of themselves. For years Jake, the eldest of the boys,
tended bar for Charley Shuter in a saloon in lower Main Street and then,
to everyone’s surprise, he bought out the place. “Either Lillian gave
him the money or he stole it from Charley,” the men said, but
nevertheless, and throwing moral standards aside, they went into the bar
to buy drinks. In Bidwell vice, while openly condemned, was in secret
looked upon as a mark of virility in young manhood.

Frank and Will Edgley were teamsters and draymen like their father John
and were hard working men. They owned their own teams and asked favors
of no man and when they were not at work did not seek the society of
others. Late on Saturday afternoons, when the week’s work was done and
the horses cleaned, fed and bedded down for the night they dressed
themselves in black suits, put on white collars and black derby hats and
went into our main street to drink themselves drunk. By ten o’clock they
had succeeded and went reeling homeward. When in the darkness under the
maple trees on Vine or Walnut Streets they met a Bidwell citizen, also
homeward bound, a row started. “Damn you, get out of our way. Get off
the sidewalk,” Frank Edgley shouted and the two men rushed forward
intent on a fight.

One evening in the month of June, when there was a moon and when insects
sang loudly in the long grass between the sidewalks and the road, the
Edgley brothers met Ed Pesch, a young German farmer, out for an
evening’s walk with Caroline Dupee, daughter of a Bidwell drygoods
merchant, and the fight the Edgley boys had long been looking for took
place. Frank Edgley shouted and he and his brother plunged forward but
Ed Pesch did not run into the road and leave them to go triumphantly
homeward. He fought and the brothers were badly beaten, and on Monday
morning appeared driving their team and with faces disfigured and eyes
blackened. For a week they went up and down alleyways and along
residence streets, delivering ice and coal to houses and merchandise to
the stores without lifting their eyes or speaking. The town was
delighted and clerks ran from store to store making comments, they
longed to repeat within hearing of one of the brothers. “Have you seen
the Edgley boys?” they asked one another. “They got what was coming to
them. Ed Pesch gave them what for.” The more excitable and imaginative
of the clerks spoke of the fight in the darkness as though they had been
on hand and had seen every blow struck. “They are bullies and can be
beaten by any man who stands up for his rights,” declared Walter Wills,
a slender, nervous young man who worked for Albert Twist, the grocer.
The clerk hungered to be such another fighter as Ed Pesch had proven
himself. At night he went home from the store in the soft darkness and
imagined himself as meeting the Edgleys. “I’ll show you—you big
bullies,” he muttered and his fists shot out, striking at nothingness.
An eager strained feeling ran along the muscles of his back and arms but
his night time courage did not abide with him through the day. On
Wednesday when Will Edgley came to the back door of the store, his wagon
loaded with salt in barrels, Walter went into the alleyway to enjoy the
sight of the cut lips and blackened eyes. Will stood with hands in
pockets looking at the ground. An uncomfortable silence ensued and in
the end it was broken by the voice of the clerk. “There’s no one here
and those barrels are heavy,” he said heartily. “I might as well make
myself useful and help you unload.” Taking off his coat Walter Wills
voluntarily helped at the task that belonged to Will Edgley, the
drayman.

If May Edgley, during her girlhood, rose higher than any of the others
of the Edgley family she also fell lower. “She had her chance and threw
it away,” was the word that went round and surely no one else in that
family ever had so completely the town’s sympathy. Lillian Edgley was
outside the pale of the town’s life, and Kate was but a lesser edition
of her sister. She waited on table at the Fownsby House, and on almost
any evening might have been seen walking out with some traveling man.
She also took the evening train to neighboring towns but returned to
Bidwell later on the same night or at daylight the next morning. She did
not prosper as Lillian did and grew tired of the dullness of small town
life. At twenty-two she went to live in Cleveland where she got a job as
cloak model in a large store. Later she went on the road as an actress,
in a burlesque show, and Bidwell heard no more of her.

As for May Edgley, all through her childhood and until her seventeenth
year she was a model of good behavior. Everyone spoke of it. She was,
unlike the other Edgleys, small and dark, and unlike her sisters dressed
herself in plain neat-fitting clothes. As a young girl in the public
school she began to attract attention because of her proficiency in the
classes. Both Lillian and Kate Edgley had been slovenly students, who
spent their time ogling boys and the men teachers but May looked at no
one and as soon as school was dismissed in the afternoon went home to
her mother, a tall tired-looking woman who seldom went out of her own
house.

In Bidwell, Tom Means, who later became a soldier and who has recently
won high rank in the army because of his proficiency in training
recruits for the World War, was the prize pupil in the schools. Tom was
working for his appointment to West Point, and did not spend his
evenings loafing on the streets, as did other young men. He stayed in
his own house, intent on his studies. Tom’s father was a lawyer and his
mother was third cousin to a Kentucky woman who had married an English
baronet. The son aspired to be a soldier and a gentleman and to live on
the intellectual plane, and had a good deal of contempt for the mental
capacities of his fellow students, and when one of the Edgley family set
up as his rival he was angry and embarrassed and the schoolroom was
delighted. Day after day and year after year the contest between him and
May Edgley went on and in a sense the whole town of Bidwell got back of
the girl. In all such things as history and English literature Tom swept
all before him but in spelling, arithmetic, and geography May defeated
him without effort. At her desk she sat like a little terrier in the
presence of a trap filled with rats. A question was asked or a problem
in arithmetic put on the blackboard and like a terrier she jumped. Her
hand went up and her sensitive mouth quivered. Fingers were snapped
vigorously. “I know,” she said, and the entire class knew she did. When
she had answered the question or had gone to the blackboard to solve the
problem the half-grown children along the rows of benches laughed and
Tom Means stared out through a window. May returned to her seat, half
triumphant, half ashamed of her victory.

The country lying west of Bidwell, like all the Ohio country down that
way, is given to small fruit and berry raising, and in June and after
school has been dismissed for the year all the younger men, boys, and
girls, with most of the women of the town go to work in the fruit
harvest. To the fields immediately after breakfast the citizens go
trooping away. Lunches are carried in baskets and until the sun goes
down everyone stays in the fields.

And in the berry fields as in the schoolroom May was a notable figure.
She did not walk or ride to the work with the other young girls, or join
the parties at lunch at the noon hour, but everyone understood that that
was because of her family. “I know how she feels, if I came from a
family like that I wouldn’t ask or want other people’s attention,” said
one of the women, the wife of a carpenter, who trudged along with the
others in the dust of the road.

In a berry field, belonging to a farmer named Peter Short, some thirty
women, young men and tall awkward boys crawled over the ground, picking
the red fragrant berries. Ahead of them, in a row by herself, went May,
the exclusive, the woman who walked by herself. Her hands flitted in and
out of the berry vines as the tail of a squirrel disappears among the
leaves of a tree when one walks in a wood. The other pickers went
slowly, stopping occasionally to eat berries and talk and when one had
crawled a little ahead of the others he stopped and waited, sitting on
his haunches. The pickers were paid in proportion to the number of
quarts picked during the day but, as they often said, “pay was not
everything.” The berry picking was in a way a social function, and who
were the pickers, wives, sons and daughters of prosperous artisans, to
kill themselves for a few paltry dollars?

With May Edgley they understood it was different. Everyone knew that she
and her mother got practically no money from John Edgley, the
father—from the boys, Jake, Frank and Will—or from the girls, Lillian
and Kate, who spent their takings on clothes for themselves. If she were
to be decently dressed, she had to earn the money for the purpose during
the vacation time when she could stay out of school. Later it was
understood she planned to be a school teacher herself, and to attain to
that position it was necessary that she keep herself well dressed and
show herself industrious and alert in affairs.

Tirelessly, therefore, May worked and the boxes of berries, filled by
her ever alert fingers, grew into mountains. Peter Short with his son
came walking down the rows to gather the filled crates and put them
aboard a wagon to be hauled to town. He looked at May with pride in his
eyes and the other pickers lumbering slowly along became the target for
his scorn. “Ah, you talking women and you big lazy boys, you’re not much
good,” he cried. “Ain’t you ashamed of yourselves? Look at you there,
Sylvester and Al—letting yourself be beat, twice over, by a girl so
little you could almost carry her home in your pocket.”

It was in the summer of her seventeenth year that May fell down from her
high place in the life of the town of Bidwell. Two vital and dramatic
events had happened to her that year. Her mother died in April and she
graduated from the high school in June, second only in honors to Tom
Means. As Tom’s father had been on the school board for years the town
shook its head over the decision that placed him ahead of May and in
everyone’s eyes May had really walked off with the prize. When she went
into the fields, and when they remembered the fact of her mother’s
recent death, even the women were ready to forget and forgive the fact
of her being a member of the Edgley family. As for May, it seemed to her
at that moment that nothing that could happen to her could very much
matter.

And then the unexpected. As more than one Bidwell wife said afterwards
to her husband. “It was then that blood showed itself.”

A man named Jerome Hadley first found out about May. He went that year
to Peter Short’s field, as he himself said, “just for fun,” and he found
it. Jerome was pitcher for the Bidwell baseball nine and worked as mail
clerk on the railroad. After he had returned from a run he had several
days’ rest and went to the berry field because the town was deserted.
When he saw May working off by herself he winked at the other young men
and going to her got down on his knees and began picking at a speed
almost as great as her own. “Come on here, little woman,” he said, “I’m
a mail clerk and have got my hand in, sorting letters. My fingers can go
pretty fast. Come on now, let’s see if you can keep up with me.”

For an hour Jerome and May went up and down in the rows and then the
thing happened that set the town by the ears. The girl, who had never
talked to others, began talking to Jerome and the other pickers turned
to look and wonder. She no longer picked at lightning speed but loitered
along, stopping to rest and put choice berries into her mouth. “Eat
that,” she said boldly passing a great red berry across the row to the
man. She put a handful of berries into his box. “You won’t make as much
as seventy-five cents all day if you don’t get a move on you,” she said,
smiling shyly.

At the noon hour the other pickers found out the truth. The tired
workers had gone to the pump by Peter Short’s house and then to a nearby
orchard to sit under the trees and rest after the eating of lunches.

There was no doubt something had happened to May. Everyone felt it. It
was later understood that she had, during that noon hour in June and
quite calmly and deliberately, decided to become like her two sisters
and go on the town.

The berry pickers as usual ate their lunches in groups, the women and
girls sitting under one tree and the young men and boys under another.
Peter Short’s wife brought hot coffee and tin cups were filled. Jokes
went back and forth and the girls giggled.

In spite of the unexpectedness of May’s attitude toward Jerome, a
bachelor and quite legitimate game for the unmarried women, no one
suspected anything serious would happen. Flirtations were always going
on in the berry fields. They came, played themselves out, and passed
like the clouds in the June sky. In the evening, when the young men had
washed the dirt of the fields away and had put on their Sunday clothes,
things were different. Then a girl must look out for herself. When she
went to walk in the evening with a young man under the trees or out into
country lanes—then anything might happen.

But in the fields, with all the older women about—to have thought
anything at all of a young man and a girl working together and blushing
and laughing, would have been to misunderstand the whole spirit of the
berry picking season.

And it was evident May had misunderstood. Later no one blamed Jerome, at
least none of the young fellows did. As the pickers ate lunch May sat a
little apart from the others. That was her custom and Jerry lay in the
long grass at the edge of the orchard also a little apart. A sudden
tenseness crept into the groups under the trees. May had not gone to the
pump with the others when she came in from the field but sat with her
back braced against a tree and the hand that held the sandwich was black
with the soil of her morning labors. It trembled and once the sandwich
fell out of her hand.

Suddenly she got to her feet and put her lunch basket into the fork of a
tree, and then, with a look of defiance in her eyes, she climbed over a
fence and started along a lane past Peter Short’s barn. The lane ran
down to a meadow, crossed a bridge and went on beside a waving
wheatfield to a wood.

May went a little way along the lane and then stopped to look back and
the other pickers stared at her, wondering what was the matter. Then
Jerome Hadley got to his feet. He was ashamed and climbed awkwardly over
the fence and walked away without looking back.

Everyone was quite sure it had all been arranged. As the girls and women
got to their feet and stood watching, May and Jerome went out of the
lane and into the wood. The older women shook their heads. “Well, well,”
they exclaimed while the boys and young men began slapping each other on
the back and prancing grotesquely about.

It was unbelievable. Before they had got out of sight of the others
under the tree Jerome had put his arm about May’s waist and she had put
her head down on his shoulder. It was as though May Edgley who, as all
the older women agreed, had been treated almost as an equal by all of
the others had wanted to throw something ugly right in their faces.

Jerome and May stayed for two hours in the wood and then came back
together to the field where the others were at work. May’s cheeks were
pale and she looked as though she had been crying. She picked alone as
before and after a few moments of awkward silence Jerome put on his coat
and went off along a road toward town. May made a little mountain of
filled berry boxes during that afternoon but two or three times filled
boxes dropped out of her hands. The spilled fruit lay red and shining
against the brown and black of the soil.

No one saw May in the berry fields after that, and Jerome Hadley had
something of which to boast. In the evening when he came among the young
fellows he spoke of his adventure at length.

“You couldn’t blame me for taking the chance when I had it,” he said
laughing. He explained in detail what had occurred in the wood, while
other young men stood about filled with envy. As he talked he grew both
proud and a little ashamed of the public attention his adventure was
attaining. “It was easy,” he said. “That May Edgley’s the easiest thing
that ever lived in this town. A fellow don’t have to ask to get what he
wants. That’s how easy it is.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER II


IN Bidwell, and after she had fairly flung herself against the wall of
village convention by going into the wood with Jerome, May lived at
home, doing the work her mother had formerly done in the Edgley
household. She washed the clothes, cooked the food and made the beds.
There was, for the time, something sweet to her in the thoughts of doing
lowly tasks and she washed and ironed the dresses in which Lillian and
Kate were to array themselves and the heavy overalls worn by her father
and brothers with a kind of satisfaction in the task. “It makes me tired
and I can sleep and won’t be thinking,” she told herself. As she worked
over the washtubs, among the beds soiled by the heavy slumbers of her
brothers who on the evening before had perhaps come home drunk, or stood
over the hot stove in the kitchen, she kept thinking of her dead mother.
“I wonder what she would think,” she asked herself and then added. “If
she hadn’t died it wouldn’t have happened. If I had someone, I could go
to and talk with, things would be different.”

During the day when the men of the household were gone with their teams
and when Lillian was away from town May had the house to herself. It was
a two-storied frame building, standing at the edge of a field near the
town’s edge, and had once been painted yellow. Now, water washing from
the roofs had discolored the paint, and the side walls of the old
building were all mottled and streaked. The house stood on a little hill
and the land fell sharply away from the kitchen door. There was a creek
under the hill and beyond the creek a field that at certain times during
the year became a swamp. At the creek’s edge willows and elders grew and
often in the afternoon, when there was no one about, May went softly out
at the kitchen door, looking to be sure there was no one in the road
that ran past the front of the house, and if the coast was clear went
down the hill and crept in among the fragrant elders and willows. “I am
lost here and no one can see me or find me,” she thought, and the
thought gave her intense satisfaction. Her cheeks grew flushed and hot
and she pressed the cool green leaves of the willows against them. When
a wagon passed in the road or someone walked along the board sidewalk at
the road-side she drew herself into a little lump and closed her eyes.
The passing sounds seemed far away and to herself it seemed that she had
in some way escaped from life. How warm and close it was there, buried
amid the dark green shadows of the willows. The gnarled twisted limbs of
the trees were like arms but unlike the arms of the man with whom she
had lain in the wood they did not grasp her with terrifying convulsive
strength. For hours she lay still in the shadows and nothing came to
frighten her and her lacerated spirit began to heal a little. “I have
made myself an outlaw among people but I am not an outlaw here,” she
told herself.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Having heard of the incident with Jerome Hadley, in the berry field,
Lillian and Kate Edgley were irritated and angry and one evening when
they were both at the house and May was at work in the kitchen they
spoke about it. Lillian was very angry and had decided to give May what
she spoke of as “a piece of her mind.” “What’d she want to go in the
cheap for?” she asked. “It makes me sick when I think of it—a fellow
like that Jerome Hadley! If she was going to cut loose what made her
want to go on the cheap?”

In the Edgley family it had always been understood that May was of a
different clay and old John Edgley and the boys had always paid her a
kind of crude respect. They did not swear at her as they sometimes did
at Lillian and Kate, and in secret they thought of her as a link between
themselves and the more respectable life of the town. Ma Edgley was
respectable enough but she was old and tired and never went out of the
house and it was in May the family held up its head. The two brothers
were proud of their sister because of her record in the town school.
They themselves were working men and never expected to be anything else
but, they thought, “that sister of ours has shown the town that an
Edgley can beat them at their own game. She is smarter than any of them.
See how she has forced the town to pay attention to her.”

As for Lillian—before the incident with Jerome Hadley, she continually
talked of her sister. In Norwalk, Fremont, Clyde and the other towns she
visited she had many friends. Men liked her because, as they often said,
she was a woman to be trusted. One could talk to her, say anything, and
she would keep her mouth shut and in her presence one felt comfortably
free and easy. Among her secret associates were members of churches,
lawyers, owners of prosperous businesses, heads of respectable families.
To be sure they saw Lillian in secret but she seemed to understand and
respect their desire for secrecy. “You don’t need to make no bones about
it with me. I know you got to be careful,” she said.

On a summer evening, in one of the towns she was in the habit of
visiting, an arrangement was made. The man with whom she was to spend
the evening waited until darkness had come and then, hiring a horse at a
livery stable, drove to an appointed place. Side curtains were put on
the buggy and the pair set forth into the darkness and loneliness of
country roads. As the evening advanced and the more ardent mood of the
occasion passed, a sudden sense of freedom swept over the man. “It is
better not to fool around with a young girl or with some other man’s
wife. With Lillian one does not get found out and get into trouble,” he
thought.

The horse went slowly, along out of the way roads—bars were let down and
the couple drove into a field. For hours they sat in the buggy and
talked. The men talked to Lillian as they could talk to no other woman
they had ever known. She was shrewd and in her own way capable and often
the men spoke of their affairs, asking her advice. “Now what do you
think, Lil’—if you were me would you buy or sell?” one of them asked.

Other and more intimate things crept into the conversations. “Well,
Lil’, my wife and I are all right. We get along well enough, but we
ain’t what you might speak of as lovers,” Lillian’s temporary intimate
said. “She jaws me a lot when I smoke too much or when I don’t want to
go to church. And then, you see, we’re worried about the kids. My oldest
girl is running around a lot with young Harry Garvner and I keep asking
myself, ‘Is he any good?’ I can’t make up my mind. You’ve seen him
around, Lil’, what do you think?”

Having taken part in many such conversations Lillian had come to depend
on her sister May to furnish her with a topic of conversation. “I know
how you feel. I feel that way about May,” she said. More than a hundred
times she had explained that May was different from the rest of the
Edgleys. “She’s smart,” she explained. “I tell you what, she’s the
smartest girl that ever went to the high school in Bidwell.”

Having so often used May as an example of what an Edgley could be
Lillian was shocked when she heard of the affair in the berry field. For
several weeks she said nothing and then one evening in July when the two
were alone in the house together she spoke. She had intended to be
motherly, direct and kind—if firm, but when the words came her voice
trembled and she grew angry. “I hear, May, you been fooling with a man,”
she began as they sat together on the front porch of the house. It was a
hot evening and dark and a thunder storm threatened and for a long time
after Lillian had spoken there was silence and then May put her head
into her hands and leaning forward began to cry softly. Her body rocked
back and forth and occasionally a dry broken sob broke the silence.
“Well,” Lillian added sharply, being determined to terminate her remarks
before she also broke into tears, “well, May, you’ve made a darn fool of
yourself. I didn’t think it of you. I didn’t think you’d turn out a
fool.”

In the attempt to control her own unhappiness and to conceal it, Lillian
became more and more angry. Her voice continued to tremble and to regain
control of it she got up and went inside the house. When she came out
again May still sat in the chair at the edge of the porch with her head
held in her hands. Lillian was moved to pity. “Well, don’t break your
heart about it, kid. I’m only an old fool after all. Don’t pay too much
attention to me. I guess Kate and I haven’t set you such a good
example,” she said softly.

Lillian sat on the edge of the porch and put her hand on May’s knee and
when she felt the trembling of the younger woman’s body a sharp mother
feeling awakened within her. “I say, kid,” she began again, “a girl gets
notions into her head. I’ve had them myself. A girl thinks she’ll find a
man that’s all right. She kinda dreams of a man that doesn’t exist. She
wants to be good and at the same time she wants to be something else. I
guess I know how you felt but, believe me, kid, it’s bunk. Take it from
me, kid, I know what I’m talking about. I been with men enough. I ought
to know something.”

Intent now on giving advice and having for the first time definitely
accepted her sister as a comrade Lillian did not realize that what she
now had to say would hurt May more than her anger. “I’ve often wondered
about mother,” she said reminiscently. “She was always so glum and
silent. When Kate and I went on the turf she never had nothing to say
and even when I was a kid and began running around with men evenings,
she kept still. I remember the first time I went over to Fremont with a
man and stayed out all night. I was ashamed to come home. ‘I’ll catch
hell,’ I thought but she never said nothing at all and it was the same
way with Kate. She never said nothing to her. I guess Kate and I thought
she was like the rest of the family—she was banking on you.”

“To Ballyhack with Dad and the boys,” Lillian added sharply. “They’re
men and don’t care about anything but getting filled up with booze and
when they’re tired sleeping like dogs. They’re like all the other men
only not so much stuck on themselves.”

Lillian became angry again. “I was pretty proud of you, May, and now I
don’t know what to think,” she said. “I’ve bragged about you a thousand
times and I suppose Kate has. It makes me sore to think of it, you an
Edgley and being as smart as you are, to fall for a cheap one like that
Jerome Hadley. I bet he didn’t even give you any money or promise to
marry you either.”

May arose from her chair, her whole body trembling as with a chill, and
Lillian arose and stood beside her. The older woman got down to the
kernel of what she wanted to say. “You ain’t that way are you, sis—you
ain’t going to have a kid?” she asked. May stood by the door, leaning
against the door jamb and the rain that had been threatening began to
fall. “No, Lillian,” she said. Like a child begging for mercy she held
out her hand. Her face was white and in a flash of lightning Lillian
could see it plainly. It seemed to leap out of the darkness toward her.
“Don’t talk about it any more, Lillian, please don’t. I won’t ever do it
again,” she pleaded.

Lillian was determined. When May went indoors and up the stairway to her
room above she followed to the foot of the stairs and finished what she
felt she had to say. “I don’t want you to do it, May,” she said, “I
don’t want you to do it. I want to see there be one Edgley that goes
straight but if you intend to go crooked don’t be a fool. Don’t take up
with a cheap one, like Jerome Hadley, who just give you soft talk. If
you are going to do it anyway you just come to me. I’ll get you in with
men who have money and I’ll fix it so you don’t have no trouble. If
you’re going to go on the turf, like Kate and I did, don’t be a fool.
You just come to me.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

In all her life May had never achieved a friendship with another woman,
although often she had dreamed of such a possibility. When she was still
a school girl she saw other girls going homeward in the evening. They
loitered along, their arms linked, and how much they had to say to each
other. When they came to a corner, where their ways parted, they could
not bear to leave each other. “You go a piece with me tonight and
tomorrow night I’ll go a piece with you,” one of them said.

May hurried homeward alone, her heart filled with envy, and after she
had finished her time in the school and, more than ever after the
incident in the berry field—always spoken of by Lillian as the time of
her troubles—the dream of a possible friendship with some other woman
grew more intense.

During the summer of that last year of her life in Bidwell a young woman
from another town moved into a house on her street. Her father had a job
on the Nickel Plate Railroad and Bidwell was at the end of a section of
that road. The railroad man was seldom at home, his wife had died a few
months before and his daughter, whose name was Maud, was not well and
did not go about town with the other young women. Every afternoon and
evening she sat on the front porch of her father’s house, and May, who
was sometimes compelled to go to one of the stores, often saw her
sitting there. The newcomer in Bidwell was tall and slender and looked
like an invalid. Her cheeks were pale and she looked tired. During the
year before she had been operated upon and some part of her internal
machinery had been taken away and her paleness and the look of weariness
on her face, touched May’s heart. “She looks as though she might be
wanting company,” she thought hopefully.

After his wife’s death an unmarried sister had become the railroad man’s
housekeeper. She was a short strongly built woman with hard grey eyes
and a determined jaw and sometimes she sat with the new girl. Then May
hurried past without looking, but, when Maud sat alone, she went slowly,
looking slyly at the pale face and drooped figure in the rocking chair.
One day she smiled and the smile was returned. May lingered a moment.
“It’s hot,” she said leaning over the fence, but before a conversation
could be started she grew alarmed and hurried away.

When the evening’s work was done on that evening and when the Edgley men
had gone up town, May went into the street. Lillian was away from home
and the sidewalk further up the street was deserted. The Edgley house
was the last one on the street, and in the direction of town and on the
same side of the street, there was—first a vacant lot, then a shed that
had once been used as a blacksmith shop but that was now deserted, and
after that the house where the new girl had come to live.

When the soft darkness of the summer evening came May went a little way
along the street and stopped by the deserted shed. The girl in the
rocking chair on the porch saw her there, and seemed to understand May’s
fear of her aunt. Arising she opened the door and peered into the house
to be sure she was unobserved and then came down a brick walk to the
gate and along the street to May, occasionally looking back to be sure
she had escaped unnoticed. A large stone lay at the edge of the sidewalk
before the shed and May urged the new girl to sit down beside her and
rest herself.

May was flushed with excitement. “I wonder if she knows? I wonder if she
knows about me?” she thought.

“I saw you wanted to be friendly and I thought I’d come and talk,” the
new girl said. She was filled with a vague curiosity. “I heard something
about you but I know it ain’t true,” she said.

May’s heart jumped and her hands trembled. “I’ve let myself in for
something,” she thought. The impulse to jump to her feet and run away
along the sidewalk, to escape at once from the situation her hunger for
companionship had created, almost overcame her and she half arose from
the stone and then sat down again. She became suddenly angry and when
she spoke her voice was firm, filled with indignation. “I know what you
mean,” she said sharply, “you mean the fool story about me and Jerome
Hadley in the woods?” The new girl nodded. “I don’t believe it,” she
said. “My aunt heard it from a woman.”

Now that Maud had boldly mentioned the affair, that had, May knew, made
her an outlaw in the town’s life May felt suddenly free, bold, capable
of meeting any situation that might arise and was lost in wonder at her
own display of courage. Well, she had wanted to love the new girl, take
her as a friend, but now that impulse was lost in another passion that
swept through her. She wanted to conquer, to come out of a bad situation
with flying colors. With the boldness of another Lillian she began to
speak, to tell lies. “It just shows what happens,” she said quickly. A
re-creation of the incident in the wood with Jerome had come to her
swiftly, like a flash of sunlight on a dark day. “I went into the woods
with Jerome Hadley—why? You won’t believe it when I tell you, maybe,”
she added.

May began laying the foundation of her lie. “He said he was in trouble
and wanted to speak with me, off somewhere where no one could hear, in
some secret place,” she explained. “I said, ‘If you’re in trouble let’s
go over into the woods at noon.’ It was my idea, our going off together
that way. When he told me he was in trouble his eyes looked so hurt I
never thought of reputation or nothing. I just said I’d go and I been
paid for it. A girl always has to pay if she’s good to a man I suppose.”

May tried to look and talk like a wise woman, as she imagined Lillian
would have talked under the circumstances. “I’ve got a notion to tell
what that Jerome Hadley talked to me about all the time when we were in
there—in the woods—but I won’t,” she declared. “He lied about me
afterwards because I wouldn’t do what he wanted me to, but I’ll keep my
word. I won’t tell you any names but I’ll tell you this much—I know
enough to have Jerome Hadley sent to jail if I wanted to do it.”

May watched her companion. To Maud, whose life had always been a dull
affair, the evening was like going to a theatre. It was better than
that. It was like going to the theatre where the star is your friend,
where you sit among strangers and have the sense of superiority that
comes with knowing, as a person much like yourself, the hero in the
velvet gown with the sword clanking at his side. “Oh, do tell me all you
dare. I want to know,” she said.

“It was about a woman he was in trouble,” May answered. “One of these
days maybe the whole town will find out what I alone know.” She leaned
forward and touched Maud’s arm. The lie she was telling made her feel
glad and free. As on a dark day, when the sun suddenly breaks through
clouds, everything in life now seemed bright and glowing and her
imagination took a great leap forward. She had been inventing a tale to
save herself but went on for the joy of seeing what she could do with
the story that had come suddenly, unexpectedly, to her lips. As when she
was a girl in school her mind worked swiftly, eagerly. “Listen,” she
said impressively, “and don’t you never tell no one. Jerome Hadley
wanted to kill a man here in this town, because he was in love with the
man’s woman. He had got poison and intended to give it to the woman. She
is married and rich too. Her husband is a big man here in Bidwell.
Jerome was to give the poison to the woman and she was to put it in her
husband’s coffee and, when the man died, the woman was to marry Jerome.
I put a stop to it. I prevented the murder. Now do you understand why I
went into the woods with that man?”

The fever of excitement that had taken possession of May was transmitted
to her companion. It drew them closer together and now Maud put her arm
about May’s waist. “The nerve of him,” May said boldly, “he wanted me to
take the stuff to the woman’s house and he offered me money too. He said
the rich woman would give me a thousand dollars, but I laughed at him.
‘If anything happens to that man I’ll tell and you’ll get hung for
murder,’ that’s what I said to him.”

May described the scene that had taken place there in the deep dark
forest with the man, intent upon murder. They fought, she said, for more
than two hours and the man tried to kill her. She would have had him
arrested at once, she explained, but to do so involved telling the story
of the poison plot and she had given her word to save him, and if he
reformed, she would not tell. After a long time, when the man saw she
was not to be moved and would neither take part in the plot or allow it
to be carried out, he grew quieter. Then, as they were coming out of the
woods, he sprang upon her again and tried to choke her. Some berry
pickers in a field, among whom she had been working during the morning,
saw the struggle.

“They went and told lies about me,” May said emphatically. “They saw us
struggling and they went and said he was making love to me. A girl
there, who was in love with Jerome herself and was jealous when she saw
us together, started the story. It spread all over town and now I’m so
ashamed I hardly dare to show my face.”

With an air of helpless annoyance May arose. “Well,” she said, “I
promised him I wouldn’t tell the name of the man he was going to murder
or nothing about it and I won’t. I’ve told you too much as it is but you
gave me your word you wouldn’t tell. It’s got to be a secret between
us.” She started off along the sidewalk toward the Edgley house and then
turned and ran back to the new girl, who had got almost to her own gate.
“You keep still,” May whispered dramatically. “If you go talking now
remember you may get a man hung.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER III


A NEW life began to unfold itself to May Edgley. After the affair in the
berry field, and until the time of the conversation with Maud Welliver,
she had felt as one dead. As she went about in the Edgley household,
doing the daily work, she sometimes stopped and stood still, on the
stairs or in the kitchen by the stove. A whirlwind seemed to be going on
around her while she stood thus, becalmed—fear made her body tremble. It
had happened even in the moments when she was hidden under the elders by
the creek. At such times the trunks of the willow trees and the
fragrance of the elders comforted but did not comfort enough. There was
something wanting. They were too impersonal, too sure of themselves.

To herself, at such moments, May was like one sealed up in a vessel of
glass. The light of days came to her and from all sides came the sound
of life going on but she herself did not live. She but breathed, ate
food, slept and awakened but what she wanted out of life seemed far
away, lost to her. In a way, and ever since she had been conscious of
herself, it had been so.

She remembered faces she had seen, expressions that had come suddenly to
peoples’ faces as she passed them on the streets. In particular old men
had always been kind to her. They stopped to speak to her. “Hello,
little girl,” they said. For her benefit eyes had been lifted, lips had
smiled, kindly words had been spoken, and at such moments it had seemed
to her that some tiny sluiceway out of the great stream of human life
had been opened to her. The stream flowed on somewhere, in the distance,
on the further side of a wall, behind a mountain of iron—just out of
sight, out of hearing—but a few drops of the living waters of life had
reached her, had bathed her. Understanding of the secret thing that went
on within herself was not impossible. It could exist.

In the days after the talk with Lillian the puzzled woman in the yellow
house thought much about life. Her mind, naturally a busy active one,
could not remain passive and for the time she dared not think much of
herself and of her own future. She thought abstractly.

She had done a thing and how natural and yet how strange the doing of it
had been. There she was at work in a berry field—it was morning, the sun
shone, boys, young girls, and mature women laughed and talked in the
rows behind her. Her fingers were very busy but she listened while a
woman’s voice talked of canning fruit. “Cherries take so much sugar,”
the voice said. A young girl’s voice talked endlessly of some boy and
girl affair. There was a tale of a ride into the country on a hay wagon,
and an involved recital of “he saids” and “I saids.”

And then the man had come along the rows and had got down on his knees
to work beside herself—May Edgley. He was a man out of the town’s life,
and had come thus, suddenly, unexpectedly. No one had ever come to her
in that way. Oh, people had been kind. They had smiled and nodded, and
had gone their own ways.

May had not seen the sly winks Jerome Hadley had bestowed on the other
berry pickers and had taken his impulse to come to her as a simple and
lovely fact in life. Perhaps he was lonely like herself. For a time the
two had worked together in silence and then a bantering conversation
began. May had found herself able to carry her end of a conversation, to
give and take with the man. She laughed at him because, although his
fingers were skilled, he could not fill the berry boxes as fast as
herself.

And then, quite suddenly, the tone of the conversation had changed. The
man became bold and his boldness had excited May. What words he had
said. “I’d like to hold you in my arms. I’d like to have you alone where
I could kiss you. I’d like to be alone with you in the woods or
somewhere.” The others working, now far away along the rows, young girls
and women, too, must also have heard just such words from the lips of
men. It was the fact that they had heard such words and responded to
them in kind that differentiated them from herself. It was by responding
to such words that a woman got herself a lover, got married, connected
herself with the stream of life. She heard such words and something
within herself stirred, as it was stirring now in herself. Like a flower
she opened to receive life. Strange beautiful things happened and her
experience became the experience of all life, of trees, of flowers, of
grasses and most of all of other women. Something arose within her and
then broke. The wall of life was broken down. She became a living thing,
receiving life, giving it forth, one with all life.

In the berry field that morning May had gone on working after the words
were said. Her fingers automatically picked berries and put them in the
boxes slowly, hesitatingly. She turned to the man and laughed. How
wonderful that she could control herself so.

Her mind had raced. What a thing her mind was. It was always doing
that—racing, running madly, a little out of control. Her fingers moved
more slowly. She picked berries and put them in the man’s box, and now
and then gave him large fine round berries to eat and was conscious that
the others in the field were looking in her direction. They were
listening, wondering, and she grew resentful. “What did they want? What
did all this have to do with them?”

Her mind took a new turn. “What would it be like to be held in the arms
of a man, to have a man’s lips pressed down upon her lips. It was an
experience all women, who had lived, had known. It had come to her own
mother, to the married women, working with her in the field, to young
girls, too, to many much younger than herself.” She imagined arms soft
and yet firm, strong arms, holding her closely, and sank into a dim,
splendid world of emotion. The stream of life in which she had always
wanted to float had picked her up—it carried her along. All life became
colorful. The red berries in the boxes—how red they were, the green of
the vines, what a living green! The colors merged—they ran together, the
stream of life was flowing over them, over her.

What a terrible day that had been for May. Later she could not focus her
mind upon it, dared not do so. The actual experience with the man in the
forest had been quite brutal—an assault had been made upon her. She had
consented—yes—but not to what happened. Why had she gone into the woods
with him? Well, she had gone, and by her manner she had invited, urged
him to follow, but she had not expected anything really to happen.

It had been her own fault, everything had been her own fault. She had
got up from among the berry pickers, angry at them—resentful. They knew
too much and not enough and she had hated their knowledge, their
smartness. She had got up and walked away from them, looking back,
expecting him.

What had she expected? What she had expected could not get itself put
into words. She knew nothing of poets and their efforts, of the things
they live to try to do, of things men try to paint into canvasses,
translate into song. She was an Ohio woman, an Edgley, the daughter of a
teamster, the sister of Lillian Edgley who had gone on the turf. May
expected to walk into a new world, into life—she expected to bathe
herself in the living waters of life. There was to be something warm,
close, comforting, secure. Hands were to arise out of darkness and grasp
her hands, her hands covered with the stain of red berries and the
yellow dust of fields. She was to be held closely in the warm place and
then like a flower she was to break open, throw herself, her fragrance
into the air.

What had been the matter with her, with her notion of life? May had
asked herself that question a thousand times, had asked it until she was
weary of asking, could not ask any more. She had known her
mother—thought she had known her—if she had not, no Edgley had. Had none
of the others cared? Her mother had met a man and had been held in his
arms, she had become the mother of sons and daughters, and the sons and
daughters had gone their own way, lived brutally. They had gone after
what they thought they wanted from life, directly, brutally—like
animals. And her mother had stood aside. How long ago she must have
died, really. It was then only flesh and blood that went on living,
working, making beds, cooking, lying with a husband.

It was plain that was true of her mother—it must have been true. If it
were not true why had she not spoken, why had no words come to her lips.
Day after day May had worked with her mother. Well, then she was a
virgin, young, tender and her mother had not kissed her, had not held
her closely. No word had been said. It was not true, as Lillian had
said, that her mother had counted on her. It was because of death that
she was silent, when Lillian and then Kate went on the turf. The dead
did not care! The dead are dead!

May wondered if she herself had passed out of life, if she had died. “It
may be,” she thought, “I may never have lived and my thinking I was
alive may only have been a trick of mind.”

“I’m smart,” May thought. Lillian had said that, her brothers had said
it, the whole town had said it. How she hated her own smartness.

The others had been proud of it, glad of it. The whole town had been
proud of her, had hailed her. It was because she was smart, because she
thought quicker and faster than others, it was because of that the women
schoolteachers had smiled at her, because of that old men spoke to her
on the streets.

Once an old man had met her on the sidewalk in front of one of the
stores and taking her by the hand had led her inside and had bought her
a bag of candy. The man was a merchant in Bidwell and had a daughter who
was a teacher in the schools, but May had never seen him before, had
heard nothing of him, knew nothing about him. He came up to her out of
nothingness, out of the stream of life. He had heard about May, of her
quick active mind, that always defeated the other children in the school
room, that in every test came out ahead. Her imagination played about
his figure.

At that time May went every Sunday morning to the Presbyterian Sunday
School, as there was a tradition in the Edgley family that Ma Edgley had
once been a Presbyterian. None of the other children had ever gone, but
for a time she did and they all seemed to want her to go. She remembered
the men, the Sunday School teachers were always talking about. There was
a gigantic strong old man named Abraham who walked in God’s footsteps.
He must have been huge, strong, and good, too. His children were like
the sands of the seas for numbers, and was that not a sign of strength.
How many children! All the children in the world could not be more than
that! The man who had taken hold of her hand and had led her into the
store to buy the candy for her was, she imagined just such another. He
also must own lands and be the father of innumerable children and no
doubt he could ride all day on a fast horse and never get off his own
possessions. It was possible he thought her one of his innumerable
children.

There was no doubt he was a mighty man. He looked like one and he had
admired her. “I’m giving you this candy because my daughter says you are
the smartest girl in school,” he said. She remembered that another man
stood in the store and that, as she ran away with the bag of candy
gripped in her small fingers, the old man, the mighty one, turned to
him. He said something to the man. “They are all cattle except her, just
cattle,” he had said. Later she had thought out what he meant. He meant
her family, the Edgleys.

How many things she had thought out as she went back and forth to
school, always alone. There was always plenty of time for thinking
things out—in the late afternoons as she helped her mother with the
housework and in the long winter evenings when she went to bed early and
for a long time did not go to sleep. The old man in the store had
admired her quick brain—for that he had forgiven her being an Edgley,
one of the cattle. Her thoughts went round and round in circles. Even as
a child she had always felt shut in, walled in from life. She struggled
to escape out of herself, out into life.

And now she was a woman who had experienced life, tested it, and she
stood, silent and attentive on the stairway of the Edgley house or by
the stove in the kitchen and with an effort forced herself to quit
thinking. On another street, in another house, a door banged. Her sense
of hearing was extraordinarily acute, and it seemed to her she could
hear every sound made by every man, woman, and child in town. The circle
of thoughts began again and again she fought to think, to feel her way
out of herself. On another street, in another house a woman was doing
housework, just as she had been doing—making beds, washing dishes,
cooking food. The woman had just passed from one room of her house to
another and a door had shut with a bang. “Well,” May thought, “she is a
human being, she feels things as I do, she thinks, eats food, sleeps,
dreams, walks about her house.”

It didn’t matter who the woman was. Being or not being an Edgley made no
difference. Any woman would do for the purposes of May’s thoughts. All
people who lived, lived! Men walked about too, and had thoughts, young
girls laughed. She had heard a girl in school, when no one was speaking
to her—paying any attention to her—burst suddenly into loud laughter.
What was she laughing about?

How cruelly the town had patronized May, setting her apart from the
others, calling her smart. They had cared about her because of her
smartness. She was smart. Her mind was quick, it reached out. And she
was one of the Edgleys—“cattle,” the bearded man in the store had said.

And what of that—what was an Edgley—why were they cattle? An Edgley also
slept, ate food, had dreams, walked about. Lillian had said that an
Edgley man was like all other men, only less stuck on himself.

May’s mind fought to realize herself in the world of people, she wanted
to be a part of all life, to function in life—did not want to be a
special thing—smart—patted on the head—smiled at because she was smart.

What was smartness? She could work out problems in school quickly,
swiftly, but as each problem was solved she forgot it. It meant nothing
to her. A merchant in Egypt wanted to transport goods across the desert
and had 370 pounds of tea and such another number of pounds of dried
fruits and spices. There was a problem concerning the matter. Camels
were to be loaded. How far away? The result of all her quick thinking
was some number like twelve or eighteen, arrived at before the others.
There was a little trick. It consisted in throwing everything else out
of the mind and concentrating on the one thing—and that was smartness.

But what did it matter to her about the loading of camels? It might have
meant something could she have seen into the mind, the soul of the man
who owned all that merchandise and who was to carry it so far, if she
could have understood him, if she could have understood anyone, if
anyone could have understood her.

May stood in the kitchen of the Edgley house, quiet, attentive—for ten
minutes, a half hour. Once a dish she held in her hand fell to the floor
and broke, awakening her suddenly and to awaken was like coming back to
the Edgley house after a long journey, during which she had traveled
far, over mountains, rivers, seas—it was like coming back to a place she
wanted to leave for good.

“And all the time,” she told herself, “life swept on, other people
lived, laughed, achieved life.”

And then, through the lie she had told Maud Welliver, May stepped into a
new world, a world of boundless release. Through the lie and the telling
of it she found out that, if she could not live in the life about her,
she could create a life. If she was walled in, shut off from
participation in the life of the Ohio town—hated, feared by the town—she
could come out of the town. The people would not really look at her, try
to understand her and they would not let her look down into themselves.

The lie she had told was the foundation stone, the first of the
foundation stones. A tower was to be built, a tall tower on which she
could stand, from the ramparts of which she could look down into a world
created by herself, by her own mind. If her mind was really what
Lillian, the teachers in the school, all the others, had said she would
use it, it would become the tool which in her hands, would force stone
after stone into its place in her tower.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the Edgley house May had a room of her own, a tiny room at the back
of the house and there was one window looking down into the field, that
every spring and fall became a swamp. In the winter sometimes it was
covered with ice and boys came there to skate. On the evening she had
told Maud Welliver the great lie—recreated the incident in the wood with
Jerome Hadley—she hurried home and went up to her room and, pulling a
chair to the window, sat down. What a thing she had done! The encounter
with Jerome Hadley in the wood had been terrible—she had been unable to
think about it, did not dare to think about it, and trying not to think
had almost upset her reason.

And now it was gone. The whole thing had really never happened. What had
happened was this other thing, or something like that, something no one
knew about. There had really been an attempt at murder. May sat by the
window and smiled sadly. “I stretched it a little,” she thought. “Of
course I stretched it, but what was the use trying to tell what
happened. I couldn’t make it understood. I can’t understand it myself.”

All through the weeks that had passed since that day in the wood May had
been obsessed by the notion that she was unclean, physically unclean.
Doing the housework she wore calico dresses—she had several of them and
two or three times a day she changed her dress and the soiled dress she
could not leave hanging in a closet until washday but washed the dress
at once and hung it on a line in the back yard. The wind blowing through
it gave her a comforting feeling.

The Edgleys had no bathroom or bathtub. Few people in towns in her day
owned any such luxurious appendages to life. And a washtub was kept in
the woodshed by the kitchen door and what baths were taken were taken in
the tub. It was a ceremony that did not often occur in the family, and
when it did occur the tub was filled from the cistern and set in the sun
to warm. Then it was carried into the shed. The candidate for
cleanliness went into the shed and closed the door. In the winter the
ceremony took place in the kitchen and Ma Edgley came at the last moment
and poured a kettle of boiling water into the cold water in the tub. In
the summer in the shed that was not necessary. The bather undressed and
put his clothes about, on the piles of wood, and there was a great
splashing.

During that summer May took a bath every afternoon, but did not bother
to put the water out in the sun. How good it felt to have it cold! Often
when there was no one about, she filled the tub and got into it again
before going to bed. Her small body, dark and strong, sank into the cold
water and she took strong soap and scrubbed her legs, her breasts, her
neck where Jerome Hadley’s kisses had alighted. Her neck and breasts she
wished she could scrub quite away.

Her body was strong and wiry. All the Edgleys, even Ma Edgley, had been
strong. They were all, except May, large people and in her the family
strength seemed to have concentrated. She was never physically weary and
after the time of her intensive thinking began, and when she often slept
little at night her body seemed to grow constantly stronger. Her breasts
grew larger and her figure changed slightly. It grew less boyish. She
was becoming a woman.

                  *       *       *       *       *

After the telling of the lie, May’s body became for a time no more than
a tree growing in a forest through which she walked. It was something
through which life made itself manifest; it was a house within which she
lived, a house, in which, and in spite of the enmity of the town, life
went on. “I’m not dead like those who die while their bodies are still
alive,” May thought, and there was intense comfort in the thought.

She sat by the window of her room in the darkness thinking. Jerome
Hadley had tried to commit a murder and how often such attempts must
have been made in the history of other men and women—and how often they
must have succeeded. The spirit within was killed. Boys and girls grew
up full of notions, brave notions too. In Bidwell, as in other towns,
they went to schools and Sunday schools. Words were said—they heard many
brave words—but within themselves, within their own tiny houses, all
life was uncertain, hesitating. They looked abroad and saw men and
women, bearded men, kind strong women. How many were dead! How many of
the houses were but empty haunted places! Their town was not the town
they had thought it and some day they would have to find that out. It
was not a place of warm friendly closeness. Feeling instinctively the
uncertainty of life, the difficulty of arriving at truth the people did
not draw together. They were not humble in the face of the great
mystery. The mystery was to be solved with lies, with truth put away. A
great noise must be made. Everything was to be covered up. There must be
a great noise and bustle, the firing of cannons, the roll of drums, the
shouting of many words. The spirit within must be killed. “What liars
people are,” May thought breathlessly. It seemed to her that all the
people of her town stood before her, were in a way being judged by her,
and her own lie, told to defeat a universal lie, now seemed a small, a
white innocent thing.

There was a very tender delicate thing within her, many people had
wanted to kill—that was certain. To kill the delicate thing within was a
passion that obsessed mankind. All men and women tried to do it. First
the man or woman killed the thing within himself, and then tried to kill
it in others. Men and women were afraid to let the thing live.

May sat in the darkness in her room in the Edgley house having such
thoughts as had never come to her before and the night seemed alive as
no other night of her life had been. For her gods walked abroad in the
land. The Edgley house was but a poor little affair of boards—of thin
walls—and she looked out, in the dim wavering light of the night, into a
field, that at times during the year became a bog where cattle sank in
black mud to their knees. Her town was but a dot on the huge map of her
country—she knew that. It was not necessary to travel to find out. Had
she not been at the top of her class in geography? In her country alone
lived some sixty, eighty, a hundred million people—she could not
remember the number—it changed yearly. When the country was new millions
of buffalo walked up and down on the plains. She was a she-calf among
the buffalo but she had found lodgment in a town, in a house made of
boards and painted yellow, but the field below the house was dry now and
long grass grew there. However, tiny pools remained and frogs lived in
them and croaked loudly while crickets sang in the dry grass. Her life
was sacred—the house in which she lived, the room in which she sat,
became a church, a temple, a tower. The lie she had told had started a
new force within her and the new temple, in which she was to live, was
now being built.

Thoughts like giant clouds, seen in a dim night sky, floated through her
mind. Tears came to her eyes and her throat seemed to be swelling. She
put her head down on the window sill and convulsive sobs shook her.

That was, she knew, because she had been brave enough and quick-witted
enough to tell the lie, to re-establish the romance of existence within
herself. The foundation stone for the temple had been laid.

May did not think anything out clearly, did not try to do that. She
felt—she knew her own truth. Words heard, read in books in school, in
other books loaned her by the schoolteachers, words said casually,
without feeling—by thin-lipped, flat-breasted young women who were
teachers at the Sunday school, words that had seemed as nothing to her
when said, now made a great sound in her mind. They were repeated to her
in stately measure by some force, seemingly outside herself and were
like the steady rhythmical tread of an army marching on earth roads. No,
they were like rain on the roof over her head, on the roof of the house
that was herself. All her life she had lived in a house and the rains
had come unheeded—and the words she had heard and now remembered were
like rain drops falling on roofs. There was a subtle perfume remaining.
“The stone which the builders refused is become the headstone of the
corner.”

As the thoughts marched through May’s mind her small shoulders shook
with sobs, but she was happy—strangely happy and something within
herself was singing. The singing was a song that was always alive
somewhere in the world, it was the song of life, the song that crickets
sang, the song the frogs croaked hoarsely. It ran away out of her room,
out of the darkness into the night, into days, into far lands—it was the
old song, the sweet song.

May kept thinking about buildings and builders. “The stone which the
builders refused is become the headstone of the corner.” Someone had
said that and others had felt what she now felt—they had had the feeling
she could not put into words and they had tried putting it into words.
She was not alone in the world. It was not a strange path she walked in
life, but many had walked it, many were walking it now. Even as she sat
in the window, thinking so strangely, many men and women in many places
and many lands sat at other windows having the same thoughts. In a
world, where many men and women had killed the thing within themselves,
the path of the rejected was the true path and how many had walked the
path! The trees along the way were marked. Signs had been hung up by
those who wanted to show others the way. “The stone which the builders
refused is become the headstone of the corner.”

Lillian had said, “men are no good,” and it was clear Lillian had also
killed the thing within herself, had let it be killed. She had let some
Jerome Hadley kill it, and then she had grown slowly and steadily more
and more angry at life, had come to hate life, had thrown it away. And
the thing had happened to her mother, too. That was the reason for her
life of silence—death walking about. “The dead rise up to strike the
dead.”

The story May had told to Maud Welliver was not a lie—it was the living
truth. He had tried to kill and had come near succeeding. May had walked
in the valley of the shadow of death. She knew that now. Her own sister,
Lillian, had come to her when she walked with Death and wanted Life. “If
you are going to go on the turf I’ll get you in with men who have
money,” Lillian had said. She had got no closer to understanding than
that.

                  *       *       *       *       *

May decided that after all she would not try to be Maud Welliver’s
friend. She would see her and talk to her but, for the present, she
would keep herself to herself. The living thing within her had been
wounded and needed time to recover. Of all the feelings, the strong
emotion, that swept through her on that evening, cleansing her
internally, as she had been trying by splashing in the tub in the
woodshed to cleanse herself externally, one impulse got itself
definitely expressed. “I’ll go it alone, that’s what I’ll do,” she
murmured between sobs as she sat by the window with her head in her
hands, and heard the sweet song of the insects, singing of life in the
darkness of the fields.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IV


“THERE was a man here. For weeks he lay sick to the point of death, in
our house, and all the time I did not dare sleep. Night and day I was on
the watch. How often at night I have crept down across this very field,
in the middle of the night, in the darkness looking for the black,
trying to discover if he was still on the trail.”

It was early summer and May sat talking with Maud Welliver by a tree in
the field back of the Edgley’s kitchen door—building steadily her tower
of romance. Two or three times each week, since that first talk by the
blacksmith shop, Maud had managed to get to the Edgley house unobserved
by her aunt. In her passionate devotion to the little dark-skinned
woman, who had lived through so many and such romantic adventures in
life, she was ready to risk anything, even to the wrath of her father’s
iron-jawed housekeeper.

To the Edgley house she came always at night, and the necessity of that
was understood by May and perhaps better understood by Lillian Edgley.
On the next day, after the meeting by the blacksmith shop, Maud’s father
had spoken his mind concerning the Edgleys. The Welliver family sat at
supper in the evening. “Maud,” John Welliver began, looking sternly at
his daughter, “I don’t want you should have anything to do with that
Edgley family that lives on this street.” The railroad man cursed the
ill luck that had led him to take a house on the same street where such
cattle lived. One of his brother employees on the road, he said, had
told him the story of the Edgleys. “They are such an outfit,” he
declared wrathfully. “God only knows why they are allowed to stay here.
They should be tarred and feathered and run out of town. Why, to live on
the same street with them is like living in the midst of cattle.”

The railroad man looked hard at his daughter. To him she was a young
woman and a virgin, and by these tokens walked a dangerous trail through
life. On dark streets, adventurous men lay in wait for all such women
and they employed other women, of the Edgley stripe, to decoy innocent
virgins into their hands. There was much he would have liked to say to
his daughter but not much he could say. Among themselves men could speak
openly of such women as the Edgley sisters. They were a thing—well. To
tell the truth—during young manhood almost every man went to see such
women, went with other men into a house inhabited by such women. To go
to such a place one needed to have been drinking a little. It happened.
Several young men were together and went from place to place drinking.
“Let’s go down the line,” one of them said. The men went straggling off
along a street, two by two. Little was said and they were all a little
ashamed of their mission. Then they came to a house, always on a dark
foul street, and one of the young men, a bold fellow, knocked at the
door. A fat woman, with a hard face, came to let them in and they went
into a room and stood about, looking foolish. “O, girls,—company,” the
fat woman shouted and several women came and stood about. The women
looked bored and tired.

John Welliver had himself been to such places. Well, that was when he
was a young workman. Later a man met a good woman and married her, tried
to forget the other women, did forget them. In spite of all the things
said, most men after marriage went straight. They had a living to make
and children growing up and there was no time for any such nonsense.
Among his fellow workmen, the railroad man often spoke of the kind of
women he believed the three Edgley women to be. “It’s my notion,” he
said, “that it’s better to have such places in order that good women may
be let alone, but they ought to be off by themselves somewhere. A good
woman never ought to see or know about such cattle.”

In the presence of his daughter and of his sister, the housekeeper, now
that the subject of the Edgleys had been broached the railroad man was
embarrassed. He kept his eye on the plate before him and stole a shy
look at his daughter’s face. How white and pure it looked. “I wish I had
kept my mouth shut,” he thought—but a sense of the necessity of the
occasion led him on. “My Maud might be led to take up with the Edgley
women, knowing nothing,” he thought. “Well,” he said, “there are three
women in that family and they are all alike. There is one, who works at
the hotel—where she meets traveling men—and the oldest one doesn’t work
at all. And there is another, too, the youngest that everyone thought
was going to turn out all right because she stood high in school and is
said to be smart. Everyone thought she would be different but she isn’t,
you see. Why, right before everyone, in a berry field, where she was at
work, she went into a wood with a man.”

“I know about it and I’ve told Maud,” the railroad man’s sister said
sharply. “We don’t need to talk about it no more.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Maud Welliver had listened with flushed cheeks to her father’s words,
and even as he talked had made up her mind she would see May again and
soon. Since coming to Bidwell she had not left the house at night, but
now she felt suddenly quite strong and well. When the supper was
finished and darkness came on she got up from her chair on the porch and
spoke to her aunt, at work inside the house. “I feel better than I have
for months, aunty,” she said, “and I’m going for a little walk. You know
the doctor said I was to walk all I could and I can’t walk during the
day on account of the heat. I’ll just go uptown a little while.”

Maud went cautiously along the sidewalk toward the business section of
town and then crossed over and returning on the opposite side, stole
along, walking on the grass at the edge of lawns. What an adventure! She
felt like one being admitted into some strange world filled with
romance. For her May Edgley’s tales had become golden apples of
existence, to taste which she would risk anything. “What a person!” she
thought as she crept forward in the darkness, lifting and putting down
her feet on the grass like a kitten compelled to walk in water. She
thought of May Edgley’s adventure in the wood with Jerome Hadley. How
stupid her father had been, how stupid everyone in the town of Bidwell!
“It must be so with men and women everywhere,” she thought vaguely.
“They go on thinking they know what’s happening, and they know nothing.”
She thought of May Edgley, small and a woman, alone in the forest with a
man—a dark determined man, intent upon murder. The man held in his hand
a little package containing a white powder. A few grains of it in a cup
of coffee and a human life would go out. A man who walked and talked and
went about the streets of Bidwell with other men would become a white
lifeless bit of clay. Maud had been at several times in her life close
to the door of death. She imagined a scene. There was a rich man’s home
with soft carpets, woven of priceless stuffs, brought from the Orient.
One walking on the carpets made no sound. The feet sank softly into the
velvety stuff and soft-voiced servants moved about. A man entered and
sat at breakfast. The movies had not at that time come to Bidwell but
Maud had read many popular novels and several times, at Fort Wayne, had
been to the theatre.

There was a woman in the rich man’s house—his guilty wife. She was
slender and willowy. Ah, there was something serpentine about her. In
Maud’s imagination she lay on a silken couch beside the table, at which
the man now sat down to eat his breakfast. A wood fire burned in the
fireplace. The woman’s hand stole forward and a tiny pinch of the white
powder went into the coffee cup; then she raised a white hand and
stroked the man’s cheek. She closed her eyes and lay back on the silken
couch. The dastardly deed was done and the woman did not care. She was
not even curious as to how death would come. She yawned and waited.

The man drank his coffee and arising moved about the room and then a
sudden pallor came upon his cheeks. It was quite noticeable as he was a
ruddy-cheeked man with soft grey hair—a strong commanding figure of a
man, a leader among men. Maud pictured him as the president of a great
railroad system. She had never seen a railroad president but her father
had often spoken of the president of the Nickle Plate and had described
him as a big fine looking fellow.

What a thing is passion, so terrible, so strange. It takes such
unimaginable turns. The woman on the silken couch, the willowy
serpentine woman, had turned from her husband, from the commander of
men, from the strong man, the powerful one who swept all before him, and
had given her illicit but powerfully fascinating love to a railroad mail
clerk.

Maud had seen Jerome Hadley. When the Wellivers had first come to
Bidwell she, with her aunt and father, had been driven about town with a
real-estate man and his wife. They were looking for a house in which to
live and as they drove about the real-estate man’s wife, who sat on the
back seat of a surrey with Maud and her aunt, had pointed to Jerome
Hadley, walking past in the street, and had told in a whisper the story
of his going into the wood with May Edgley. Maud was half sick on that
day and had not listened. The railroad journey from Fort Wayne to
Bidwell had given her a headache.

However, she had looked at Jerome. He had sloping shoulders, pale grey
eyes and sandy hair, and when he walked he toed out badly and his
trousers were baggy. And for that man the woman on the silken couch, the
railroad president’s wife, was ready to commit murder. What an
unexplainable, what a strange thing is love! The windings and twistings
of its pathway through life cannot be followed by the human mind.

The scene being enacted in Maud Welliver’s mind played itself out. The
strong man in the richly furnished room put his hand to his throat and
staggered. He reeled from side to side and clutched at the backs of
chairs. The noiseless servants had all gone out of the room. The woman
half arose from the couch as the man fell to the floor and in falling
struck his head on the corner of a table so that his blood ran out upon
the silken carpets. The woman smiled sardonically. It was terrible. She
cared not the least in the world and a slow cruel smile came and
remained fixed on her face. Then there was the sound of running feet.
The servants were coming, they were running, running desperately. The
woman lay back on the couch and yawned again. “I had better scream and
then faint,” she thought and she did the two things, did them with the
air of a tired actor rehearsing a well known part for a play. It was all
for love, for a strange and mysterious thing called passion. She did it
for Jerome Hadley’s sake, that she might be free to walk with him the
illicit paths of love.

Maud Welliver tiptoed cautiously forward on the lawns on the further
side of Duane Street in Bidwell, looking across at the dark house where
she had come to live. In Fort Wayne she had known nothing like this.
What a terrible thing might have happened in Bidwell but for May Edgley!
The scene in the rich man’s home faded and was replaced by another. She
saw May standing in the forest with Jerome Hadley. How he had changed!
He stood alert, intent, determined, holding the poison package in his
hand and he was threatening, threatening and pleading. In the other hand
he held money, a great package of bills. He thrust the bills forward and
pleaded with May Edgley and then grew angry and threatened again.

Before him stood the small, white-faced woman, frightened now, but
terribly determined also. The word “never” was upon her lips. And now
the man threw the money away into the bushes and sprang forward. His
hand was at the woman’s throat, the murderous hand of the infuriated
mail clerk. It pressed hard. May fell to the ground.

Jerome Hadley did not quite dare let the woman die. Too many people had
seen the two go into the wood together. He stood over her until she had
a little recovered and then the threatening and pleading began again,
but all the time the little woman stood firm, shaking her head and
saying the brave word “never.” “Kill me if you will,” she said, “but
I’ll take no part in this murder. My reputation is gone and I am an
outlaw among men and women but I’ll take no part in this murder, and if
you go on with it I will betray you.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The September evening when May uttered the startling sentences,
regarding a strange man and a mysterious black, set down at the head of
this section of the story of her adventures, was warm and clear.
Brightly the stars shone in the sky and in the field back of the
Edgley’s kitchen door all the little ponds had become dry. Since that
first evening when she had met May a great change had taken place in
Maud. May had led her up to the ramparts of the tower of romance and as
often as possible now the two sat together under a tree in the field or
on the floor by the open window in May’s room. To the field they went
through the kitchen door, along the creek where the elders and willows
grew and over stones in the bed of the creek itself, to a wire fence.
How alone and how far away from the life of the town they were in the
field at night! Buggies and the few automobiles then owned in Bidwell
passed on distant roads, and over the town, soft lights played on the
sky and soft lights seemed to play over the spirits of the two women. On
a distant street, that led down to the town waterworks, a group of young
men went tramping along on a board sidewalk. They were singing a song.
“Listen, May,” Maud said. The voices died away and another sound came.
Jerry Haden, a cripple who walked with a crutch and who delivered
evening papers, went along quickly, his crutch making a sharp clicking
sound on the sidewalks. What a hurry he was in. “Click! click!” went the
crutch.

It was a time and place for the growth of romance. A desire to reach out
to life, to command life grew within Maud. One evening she, alone and
unaided, mounted the tower of romance and told May of how a young man in
Fort Wayne had wanted to marry her. “He was the son of the president of
a railroad company,” she said. The matter was of no importance and she
only spoke of it to show what men were like. For a long time he came to
the house almost every evening and when he did not come he sent flowers
and candy. Maud had cared nothing for him. There was a certain air he
had that wearied her. He seemed to think himself in some way of better
blood than the Wellivers. The idea was absurd. Maud’s father knew his
father and knew that he had once been no more than a section hand on the
railroad. His pretensions wearied Maud and she finally sent him away.

Maud told May, on several evenings of the imaginary young man whom,
because of his pride of blood, she had cast adrift, and on the September
evening wanted to speak of something else. For two or three evenings she
had been on the point of saying what was in her mind but could not bring
the matter to her lips. It trembled within her like a wild bird caught
and held in her hand, as, in the dim light, she looked at May. “She
won’t do it. I’ll never get her to do it,” she thought.

In Fort Wayne, before she came to Bidwell, and when she had just
graduated from the high school Maud had for a time walked upon the
border line of love, had stood for a moment in the very pathway of
Cupid’s darts. Near the house where the Wellivers then lived there was a
grocery run by an alert erect little man of forty-five, whose wife had
died. Maud often went to the store to buy supplies for the Welliver home
and one evening she arrived just as the grocer, a man named Hunt, was
locking the store for the night. He unlocked the door and let her in.
“You won’t mind if I don’t light the lights again,” he said. He
explained that the grocerymen of Fort Wayne had made an agreement among
themselves that they would sell no goods after seven in the evening. “If
I light the lights and people see us in here they will be coming in and
wanting to be waited on,” he explained.

Maud stood in the uncertain light by a counter while the grocer wrapped
her packages. At the back of the store there was a lamp fastened to a
bracket on the wall and burning dimly and the soft yellow light fell on
her hair and on her white smiling face as the grocer fumbled in the
darkness back of the counter and from time to time looked up at her. How
beautiful her long pale face in that light! He was stirred and delayed
the matter of getting the packages wrapped. “My wife and I were not very
happy together but I was happy when I lived alone with my mother,” he
thought. He let Maud out at the door, locked it and went along beside
her carrying the packages. “I’m going your way,” he said vaguely. He
began to speak of his boyhood in a town in Ohio and told of how he had
married at the age of twenty-three and had come to Fort Wayne where his
wife’s father owned the store that was now his own. He spoke to Maud as
to one who knew most of the details of his life. “Well, my wife and her
father are both dead and I own the place—I’ve come out all right,” he
said. “I wonder why I left my mother. I thought more of her than anyone
else in the world but I got married and went away and left her, went
away and left her, to live alone until she died,” he said. They came to
a corner and he put the packages into Maud’s arms. “You got me started
thinking of mother. You’re like her,” he said suddenly and then hurried
away.

Maud had got into the habit of going to the store, just at closing time
in the evening and when she did not come the grocer was upset. He closed
the store and, walking to a nearby corner, stood under an awning before
a hardware store, also closed for the night, and looked down along the
street where Maud lived. Then he took a heavy silver watch from his
pocket and looked at it. “Huh!” he exclaimed and went off along another
street to his boarding house, stopping several times in the first block
to look back.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was early June and the Wellivers had lived in Bidwell, for four
months and, during the last year of her life at Fort Wayne Maud had been
so continually ill that she had seldom seen the grocer, but now a letter
had come from him. The letter came from the city of Cleveland. “I am
here at a convention of the K of Ps,” he wrote, “and I have met a man
here who is a widower like myself. We are in the same room at the hotel.
I want to stop to see you on the way home and would like to bring my
friend along. Can’t you get another girl and we’ll all spend an evening
together. If you can do it, you get a surrey and meet us at the
seven-fifty train next Friday evening. I’ll pay for the surrey of course
and we’ll go off somewhere to the country. I’ve got something very
important I want to say to you. You write me here and let me know if
it’s all right.”

Maud sat in the field beside May and thought of the letter. An answer
must be sent at once. In fancy she saw the little bright-eyed grocer
standing before May, the hero of the passage in the wood with Jerome
Hadley, the woman who lived the romance of which she herself dreamed. At
the post office during the afternoon she had heard two young men talking
of a dance to be given at a place called the Dewdrop. It was to be held
on Friday evening, and a bold impulse had led her to go to a livery
stable and make inquiry about the place. It was twenty miles away and on
the shores of Sandusky Bay. “We will go there,” she had thought, and had
engaged the surrey and horses and now she was face to face with May and
the thought of the little grocer and his companion frightened her.
Freeman Hunt the widower had a bald head and a grey mustache. What would
his friend be like? Fear made Maud’s body tremble and when she tried to
speak, to tell May of her plan, the words would not come. “She’ll never
do it. I’ll never get her to do it,” she thought again.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“There was a man here. For weeks he lay sick to the point of death in
our house and all the time I did not dare sleep.”

May Edgley was building high her tower of romance. Having several times
listened, as Maud told of the imaginary son of the railroad president
who had been determined to marry her, she had set about making a
romantic lover of her own. Books she had read, the remembrance of
childhood tales of love and romantic adventure poured in upon her mind.
“There was a man here. He was just twenty-four but what a life he had
led,” she said absentmindedly. She appeared to be lost in thought and
for a long time was silent. Then she got suddenly to her feet and ran to
where two large maple trees stood on a little hill in the midst of the
field. Maud also got to her feet and her body shook with a new fear. The
grocer was forgotten. May returned and again sat on the grass. “I
thought I saw someone snooping there behind that tree,” she said. “You
see I have to be careful. A man’s life depends on my being careful.”

Warning Maud that whatever happened she was not to tell the secret, now
for the first time to be told to another, May launched into her tale. On
a dark night, when it was raining and when the trees shook in the wind,
she had got out of bed in the Edgley house and had opened her window to
behold the storm. She could not imagine what had led her to do it. It
was something she had never done before. To tell the truth a voice
outside herself seemed to be calling her, commanding her. Well, she had
thrown up the window and had stood looking out. How the wind screamed
and shrieked! Furies seemed abroad in the night. The house itself
trembled on its foundations and great trees bent almost to the ground.
Now and then there was a flash of lightning and she could see the whole
outdoors as plain as day—“I could even see the leaves on the tree.” May
had thought the world must be coming to an end but for some strange
reason she was not in the least afraid. It was impossible to explain the
feeling she had on that night. Well, she couldn’t sleep. Something,
outside there, in the darkness, seemed to be calling, calling to her.
“All of this happened more than two years ago, when I was just a young
girl in school,” she explained.

On that night when the storm raged May had seen, during one of the
flashes of lightning, a man running desperately across the very field,
where now she and Maud sat so quietly. Even from where she stood by the
window in the upstairs room she could see that he was white and that his
face was drawn and tired from long running. Behind him, perhaps a dozen
strides behind, was another man, a giant black, with a club in his hand.
In a moment May knew, she knew everything, knowledge came into her mind
and illuminated it as the lightning had illuminated the scene in the
field. The giant black with the club was about to kill the other man,
the white man in the field. In a moment she knew she would see a murder
done. The fleeing man could not escape. At every stride the black
gained. There came a second flash of lightning and then the white man
stumbled and fell. May threw up her hands and screamed. She had always
been ashamed of the fact but why deny it—she fainted.

What a night that had turned out to be! Even to speak of it made May
shudder, even yet. Her father had heard her scream and came running to
her room. She recovered—she sat up—in a few quick words she told her
father what she had seen.

Well, you see, her father and she had got out of the house somehow. They
were both in their night dresses and in the woodshed back of the house
her father had fumbled about and had got hold of an axe. It was the only
weapon of any kind he could lay his hands on about the place.

And there they were, in the darkness. No more flashes of lightning came
and it began to rain. It poured. The rain came in torrents and the wind
blew so that the trees seemed to be shouting to each other, calling to
each other like friends lost in some dark pit.

There was plenty of shouting after that but neither May nor her father
was afraid. They were perhaps too excited for fear to take hold of them.
May didn’t know exactly how she felt. No words could describe how she
felt.

Followed by her father she ran, down the little hill back of the
kitchen, got across the creek, stumbled and fell several times, picked
herself up and ran on again. They came to the fence at the edge of the
field. Well, they got over somehow. It was strange how the field, across
which they had both walked so many times in the daytime (as a child May
had always played there) and she thought she knew every blade of grass,
every little pond, and hillock,—it was strange how it had changed. It
was exactly as though she and her father had run out upon a wide
treeless plain. They ran, it seemed for hours and hours, and still they
were in the field. Later when May thought of the experiences of that
night she understood how men came to write fairy tales. Why, the ground
in the field might have been made of rubber that stretched out as they
ran.

They could see no trees, no buildings—nothing. For a time she and her
father kept close together, running desperately, into nothingness, into
a wall of darkness.

Then her father got lost from her, was swallowed up in the darkness.

What a roaring of voices went on. Trees somewhere, away off in the
distance, were shouting to each other. The very blades of grass seemed
to be talking—in excited whispers, you understand.

It was terrible! Now and then May could hear her father’s voice. He just
swore. “Gol darn you,” he shouted over and over. The words were grunted
forth.

Then there was another and terrible voice—it must have been the voice of
the black, intent upon murder. May could not understand what he said.
He, of course, just shouted words in some strange foreign language—a
gibberish of words.

Then May stopped running. She was too exhausted to run any more and sat
down on the ground at the edge of one of the little ponds. Her hair had
all fallen about her face. Well, she wasn’t afraid. The thing that had
happened was too big to be afraid of. It was like being in the presence
of God and one couldn’t be afraid. How could one? A blade of grass isn’t
afraid in the presence of the sun, coming up. That’s the way May
felt—little you see—a tiny thing in the vast night—nothing.

How wet she was! Her clothes clung to her. All about the voices went on
and on and the storm raged. She sat with her feet in a puddle of water
and things seemed to fly past her, dark figures running, screaming,
swearing, saying strange words. She herself did not doubt—when she
thought of it all after it was over—that the giant black and her father
had both run past her a dozen times, had passed so close to her that she
might have put out her hand and touched them.

How long did she sit there in the darkness? That was something she never
knew and her father was like her about it too. Later he couldn’t have
said, for the life of him, how long he ran about in the darkness, trying
to strike something with the axe. Once he ran against a tree. Well, he
drew back and sank the axe into the tree. Sometime—in the daytime—May
would show Maud the tree with the great gash in it. Her father sank the
axe so deeply into the body of the tree that he had work getting it out
again and even in the midst of his excitement he had to laugh to think
of what a silly fool he had been.

And there was May sitting with her feet in the puddle, the hair clinging
to her bare shoulders, her head in her hands, trying to think, trying
perhaps to catch some meaningful word in the strange roar of voices.
Well, what was she thinking about? She didn’t know.

And then a hand touched her, a white strong firm hand. It just crept up
out of the darkness, seemed to come out of the very ground under her.
There was one thing sure—although she lived to be a thousand years old,
May would never know why she didn’t scream, faint away, get up and run
madly, butting her head against things.

“Love is a strange thing,” she told Maud Welliver, as the two sat in the
field that warm clear starlit evening. Her voice trembled. “I knew a man
had come to whom I would be faithful unto death,” she explained.

That was the beginning of the strangest and most exciting time in May’s
whole life. Never had she thought she would tell anyone in the world
about it, at least not until the time came for her marriage, and when
all the dangers that still faced the man she loved had passed like a
cloud.

On that terrible night, and while the storm still raged, the hand that
had crept so strangely and unexpectedly into hers had at once quieted
and reassured her. It was too dark to see the face and the body of the
man’s back of the hand, but for some reason she knew at once that he was
beautiful and good. She loved the man at once and completely, that was
the truth. Later he had told her that his own experience was the same.
For him also there came a great peace of the spirit, after his hand
found hers in the midst of that roaring darkness.

They got out of that field and into the Edgley house somehow, crawled
along together and when they got to the house they did not light a lamp
or anything but sat on the floor of May’s room hand in hand, talking in
low quiet tones. After a long time, perhaps an hour, May’s father came
home. He had got out of the field and had wandered on a country road and
as he went along he heard stealthy footsteps behind him. That was the
black following the wrong man and it’s a wonder he didn’t kill John
Edgley. What happened was that the drayman began to run and got into a
grove of trees and there lost his pursuer. Then he took off his shoes
and managed to find his way home barefooted. The black having followed
the wrong man turned out to be a good thing. The man up in May’s room
was free, for the first time in more than two years, he was free.

It had turned out that the man was quite badly injured, the black
having, in his excitement, aimed a blow at his head that would have done
for him had it struck fair. However, the blow glanced off and only
bruised his head and made it bleed and as he sat in the darkness on the
floor in May’s room with his hand in hers, telling her his story, the
blood kept dropping thump, thump, on the floor. May had thought, at the
time, it was water falling from her hair. It just went to show what a
man he was, afraid of nothing, enduring everything without a murmur.
Later he was sick with a fever for weeks and May never left his room,
but gradually nursed him back to health and strength, and no one in
Bidwell had ever known of his presence in the house. Later he left town
at night, on a dark night when, to save yourself, you couldn’t see your
hand before your face.

As to the man’s story—it had never been told to anyone and if May told
it to Maud Welliver it was because she had to have at least one friend
who knew all. Even her father, who had risked his life, did not know.

May put her hands over her face and leaned forward and for a long time
she was silent. In the grass the insects kept singing and on a distant
street Maud could hear the footsteps of people walking. What a world she
had come into when she left Fort Wayne and came to Bidwell! Indiana was
not like Ohio! The very air was different. She breathed deeply and
looked about into the soft darkness. Had she been alone she could not
have stood being in a place where such wonderful things as had just been
described to her could happen. How quiet it was in the field now. She
put out a hand softly and touched May’s dress and tried to think but her
own thoughts were vague, they swam away into a strange world. To go to a
theatre, to read books, to hear of the commonplace adventures of other
people—how dull and uneventful her life had been before she knew May.
Once her father had been in a wreck on the railroad and by a miracle had
escaped uninjured and, when company came to the Welliver house, he
always told of the wreck, how the cars were piled up and how he, walking
over the tops of cars in the darkness of a rainy night was pitched off
and went flying, head over heels, only by a pure miracle to land on his
feet in dense bushes, uninjured, only badly shaken up. May had thought
the tale exciting, she had been stupid enough to think it exciting. What
contempt she now had for such weak commonplace adventures. What a vast
change knowing May Edgley had made in her life!

“You won’t tell. You promise on your life you won’t tell.” May’s hand
gripped Maud’s and the two women sat in silence, intent, shaken with
some vast emotion that seemed to run over the dry grass in the field,
through the branches of distant trees, and that seemed to effect even
the stars in the sky. To Maud the stars appeared about to speak. They
came down close out of the sky. “Be cautious,” they seemed to be saying.
Had she lived in old times, in Judea, and had she been permitted to go
into the room where Jesus sat at the last supper with his disciples, she
could not have felt more completely humble and thankful that she, of all
the people in the world had been permitted to be where she was at the
moment.

“He was a prince in his own country,” May said suddenly breaking the
silence that had become so intense that in another moment Maud thought
she would have screamed. “He lived, Oh, far away.” In his own country
the father, a king, had decided to marry the prince to the princess of a
neighboring kingdom, and on the same day his sister was to marry the
brother of his betrothed. Neither he nor his sister had ever seen the
man and woman they were to marry. Princes and princesses don’t, you
know. That is the way such things are arranged when princes and
princesses are concerned.

“He thought nothing about it, was all ready for the marriage, and then
one night something came into his head and he had an almost overpowering
desire to see the woman, who was to be his wife, and the man who was to
be his sister’s husband. Well, he went at night and crept up the side of
a great wall to the window of a tower, and through the window saw the
man and woman. How ugly they were—horrible! He shuddered. For a time he
thought he would let go his hold on the stone face of the wall and be
dashed to bits on the rocks beneath. He was ready to die with
horror—didn’t care much.

“And then he thought of his sister, the beautiful princess. Whatever
happened she had to be saved from such a marriage.

“And so home the prince went and confronted his father and there was a
terrible scene, the father swearing the marriage would have to be
consummated. The neighboring king was powerful and his kingdom was of
vast extent and the marriage would make the son, born of the marriage,
the most powerful king in the whole world. The prince and the king stood
in the castle and looked at each other. Neither of them would give in an
inch.

“There was one thing of which the prince was sure—if he did not marry
his sister would not have to. If he went away there would be a quarrel
between the two old kings. He was sure of that.

“First though he gave the king, his father, his chance. ‘I won’t do it,’
he declared and he stuck to his word. The king was furious. ‘I’ll
disinherit you,’ he cried, and then he ordered his son to go out of his
presence and not to come back until he had made up his mind to go ahead
with the marriage.

“What the king did not expect was that he would be taken at his word.
For what the young man, the prince, did, you see, was to just walk out
of the castle and right on out into the world.

“Poor man, his hands were then as soft as a woman’s,” May explained.
“You see in all his former life he had never even lifted his hand to do
a thing. When he dressed he didn’t even button his own clothes. A prince
never did.

“And so the prince ran away and managed, after unbelievable hardships,
to make his way to a seaport, where he got a place as sailor on a ship
just leaving for foreign parts. The captain of the ship did not know,
and the other sailors did not know that he was a king’s son, nor did
they know that a great outcry was going up and horsemen riding madly
over the whole country, trying to find the lost prince.

“So he got away and was a sailor and in the castle his father was so
furious he would not speak to anyone. He shut himself up in a room of
the castle and just swore and swore.

“And then one day he called to him a giant black, one who had been his
slave since he was born, and was the strongest, the fleetest of foot and
the smartest man too, of all the king’s servants. ‘Go over land and
sea,’ shouted the king. ‘Go into all strange far away lands and amongst
all peoples. Do not let me ever see your face again until you have found
my son and have brought him back to marry the woman I have decided shall
be his wife. If you find him and he will not come strike him down if you
must, but do not kill him. Stun him and bring him to me. Do not let me
see your face again until you have done my bidding.’ He threw a handful
of gold at the black’s feet. That was to pay the fares on railroads and
buy his meals at hotels,” May explained.

“And all the time the king’s son was sailing on and on, over unknown
seas. He passed icebergs, islands and continents, and saw great whales
and at night heard the growling of wild beasts on strange shores.

“He wasn’t afraid, not he. And all the time he kept getting stronger and
his hands got harder, and he could do more work and do it quicker than
almost any man on the ship. Almost every day the captain called him
aside. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you are my bravest and best sailor. How shall I
reward you?’

“But the young prince wanted no reward. He was so glad to escape from
that horrible king’s daughter. How homely she was. Why her teeth stuck
out of her mouth like tusks and she was all covered with wrinkles and
haggard.

“And the ship sailed and sailed, and it hit a hidden rock, sticking up
in the bottom of the ocean, and was split right in two. All but the
prince were drowned.

“He swam and swam and came at last to an island that had a mountain on
it, and no one lived there, and the mountain was filled with gold. After
a long time a passing ship took him off but he told no one of the golden
mountain. He sailed and sailed and came to America, and started out to
get money to buy a ship and go get the gold and go back to his own
country, rich enough so he could marry almost anyone he chose. He had
worked and worked and saved money, and then the giant black got on his
trail. He tried to escape, time after time he tried to escape. He had
been trying that time May found him half-dead in the field.

“The way that came about was that he was on a train passing through
Bidwell at night and it was the nine-fifty, that didn’t stop but only
threw off a mail sack. He was on that train and the black was on it,
too, and, as the train went flying through Bidwell in the terrible
storm, the prince opened a door and jumped and the black jumped after
him. They ran and ran.

“By a miracle neither of them was hurt by the leap from the train, and
then they had got into the field where May had seen them.

“I can’t think what kept me awake on that night,” May said again. She
arose and walked toward the Edgley house. “We are betrothed. He has gone
to earn money to buy a ship and get the gold. Then he will come for me,”
she said in a matter of fact tone.

The two women went to the wire fence, crawled over and got into the
Edgley back yard. It was nearly midnight and Maud Welliver had never
before been out so late. In the Welliver house her aunt and father sat
waiting for her, frightened and nervous. “If she doesn’t come soon I’ll
get the police to look for her. I’m afraid something dreadful has
happened.”

Maud did not, however, think of her father or of the reception that
awaited her in the Welliver house. Other and more sombre thoughts
occupied her mind. She had come on that evening to the Edgley house,
intending to ask May to go with her on the excursion to the Dewdrop with
the two grocers, and that was now an impossibility. One who was loved by
a prince, who was secretly betrothed to a prince, would never let
herself be seen in the company of a grocer, and, beside May, Maud knew
no other woman in Bidwell she felt she could ask to go on the trip, on
which she did not feel she could go alone. The whole thing would have to
be given up. With a catch in her throat she realized what the trip had
meant to her. In Fort Wayne, in the presence of the grocer Hunt, she had
felt as she had never felt in the presence of another man. He was old,
yes, but there was something in his eyes when he looked at her that made
her feel strange inside. He had written that he had something to say to
her. Now it could never be said.

In the darkness the two women passed around the Edgley house and came to
the front gate, and then Maud gave way to the grief struggling for
expression within. May was astonished and tried to comfort her. “What’s
the matter? What’s the matter?” she asked anxiously. Stepping through
the gate she put an arm about Maud Welliver’s shoulders and for a long
time the two figures rocked back and forth in the darkness, and then May
managed to get her to come to the Edgley front porch and sit beside her.
Maud told the story of the proposed trip and of what it had meant to
her—spoke of it as a thing of the past, as a hopeless dream that had
faded. “I wouldn’t dare ask you to go,” she said.

It was ten minutes later when Maud got up to go home and May was silent,
absorbed in her own thoughts. The tale of the prince was forgotten and
she thought only of the town, of what it had done to her, what it would
do again when the chance offered. The two grocers were both, however,
from another place and knew nothing of her. She thought of the long ride
to the shore of Sandusky Bay. Maud had conveyed to her some notion of
what the trip meant to her. May’s mind raced. “I could not be alone with
a man. I wouldn’t dare,” she thought. Maud had said they would go in a
surrey and there was something, that could be used now, in the story she
had told about the prince. She could insist that, because of the prince,
Maud was not to leave her alone with another man, with the strange
grocer, not for a moment.

May arose and stood irresolutely by the front door of the Edgley house
and watched Maud go through the gate. How her shoulders drooped. “Oh,
well, I’ll go. You fix it up. Don’t you tell anyone in the world, but
I’ll go,” she said and then, before Maud Welliver could recover from her
surprise, and from the glad thrill that ran through her body, May had
opened the door and had disappeared into the Edgley house.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER V


THE Dewdrop, where the dance Maud and May were to attend was to be held
was, in May Edgley’s day and no doubt is now, a dreary enough place. An
east and west trunk line here came down almost to the water’s edge,
touching and then swinging off inland again, and on a narrow strip of
land between the tracks and the bay several huge ice houses had been
built. To the west of the ice houses were four other buildings,
buildings less huge but equally stark and unsightly. The shore of the
bay, turned beyond the ice houses, leaving the four latter buildings
standing at some distance from the railroad, and during ten months of
the year they were uninhabited and stared with curtainless windows—that
looked like great dead eyes—out over the water.

The buildings had been erected by an ice company, with headquarters at
Cleveland, for the housing of its workmen during the ice-cutting season,
and the upper floors, reached by outside stairways, had rickety
balconies running about the four sides. The balconies served as entry
ways to small sleeping rooms each provided with a bunk built against the
inner wall and filled with straw.

Still further west was the village of Dewdrop itself, a place of some
eight or ten small unpainted frame houses, inhabited by men who combined
fishing with small farming, and on the shore before each house a small
sailing craft was drawn, during the winter months, far up on the sand
out of the reach of storms.

All summer long the Dewdrop remained a quiet sleepy place and, far away,
over the water, smoke from factory chimneys in the growing industrial
city of Sandusky, at the foot of the bay, could be seen—a cloud of smoke
that drifted slowly across the horizon and was torn and tossed by a
wind. On summer days, on the long beaches a few fishermen launched their
boats and went to visit the nets while their children played in the sand
at the water’s edge. Inland the farming country—black land, partially
covered at certain seasons of the year with stagnant water—was not very
prosperous and the road leading down to the Dewdrop from the towns of
Fremont, Bellevue, Clyde, Tiffin, and Bidwell was often impassable.

On June days, however, in May Edgley’s time, parties came down along the
road to the beach and there was the screaming of town children, the
laughter of women and the gruff voices of men. They stayed for a day and
an evening and went, leaving upon the beach many empty tin cans, rusty
cooking utensils and bits of paper that lay rotting at the base of trees
and among the bushes back from the shore.

The hot months of July and August came and brought a little life. The
summer crew came to take the ice out of the ice houses and load it into
cars. They came in the morning and departed in the evening, and, as they
were quiet workmen with families of their own, did nothing to disturb
the quiet of the place. At the noon hour they sat in the shade of one of
the ice houses and ate their luncheons while they discussed such
problems as whether it was better for a workman to pay rent or to own
his own house, going into debt and paying on the installment plan.

Night came and an adventurous girl, daughter of one of the fishermen,
went to walk on the beach. Thanks to wind and rain the beach kept itself
always quite clean. Great tree stumps and logs had been carried up on to
the sand by winter storms but the wind and water had mellowed these and
touched them with delightful color. On moonlight nights the old roots,
clinging to the tree trunks, were like gaunt arms reached up to the sky,
and on stormy nights these moved back and forth in the wind and sent a
thrill of terror through the breast of the girl. She pressed her body
against the wall of one of the ice houses and listened. Far away, over
the water, were the massed lights of the great town of Sandusky and over
her shoulder the few feeble lights of her own fishing town. A group of
tramps had dropped off a freight train that afternoon and were making a
night of it about the empty workingmen’s lodging houses. They had jerked
doors off their hinges and were throwing them down from the balconies
above and soon a great fire would be lit and all night the fishing
families would be disturbed by oaths and shouts. The adventurous girl
ran swiftly along the beach but was seen by one of the road adventurers.
The fire had been lighted and he took a burning stick in his hand and
hurled it over her head. “Run little rabbit,” he called as the burning
stick, after making a long arch through the air, fell with a hiss into
the water.

That was a prelude to the coming of winter and the time of terror. In
the hard month of January, when the whole bay was covered with thick
ice, a fat man in a heavy fur overcoat, got off a train, that stopped
beside the ice houses, and from a car at the front of the train a great
multitude of boxes, kegs and crates were pitched into the deep snow at
the track side. The world of the cities was coming to break the winter
silence of the Dewdrop and the fur coated man and his helpers had come
to set the stage for the drama. Hundreds of thousands of tons of ice
were to be cut and stored in sawdust in the great ice houses and for
weeks, the quiet secluded spot would be astir with life. The silence
would be torn by cries, oaths, bits of drunken song—fights would be
started and blood would flow.

The fat man waded through the snow to the four empty houses and began to
look about. From the little cluster of native houses thin columns of
smoke went up into the winter sky. He spoke to one of his helpers. “Who
lives in those shacks?” he asked. He himself had much money invested at
the Dewdrop but visited the place but once each year and then stayed but
a few days. He walked through the big dining room and along the upper
galleries where the ice cutters slept, swearing softly. During the year
much of his property had been destroyed. Windows had been broken and
doors torn from their hinges and he took pencil and paper from his
pocket and began to figure. “We’ll have to spend all of three hundred
dollars this year,” he meditated. The thoughts of the money, thus thrown
away, brought a flush to his cheeks and he looked again along the shore
towards the tiny houses. Almost every year he decided he would go to the
houses and do what he called “raising the devil.” If doors were torn
from hinges and windows smashed these people must have done it. No one
else lived at the Dewdrop. “Well I suppose they are a rough gang and I’d
better let them alone,” he concluded, “I’ll send a couple of carpenters
down tomorrow and have them do just what has to be done. It’s better to
keep the ice cutters filled up with beer than to waste money giving them
luxurious quarters.”

The fat man went away and other men came. Fires were lighted in the
kitchens of the great boarding houses, carpenters nailed doors back on
hinges and replaced broken windows and the Dewdrop was ready again for
its season of feverish activity.

The fisher folk hid themselves completely away. On the day when the
first of the ice cutters arrived one of them spoke to his assembled
family. He looked at his daughter, a somewhat comely girl of fifteen,
who could sail a boat through the roughest storm that ever swept down
the bay. “I want you to keep out of sight,” he said. One winter night a
fire had broken out in the dining room of the smallest of the houses
where the ice cutters boarded and the fishermen with their wives had
gone to help put it out. That was an event they could never forget. As
the men worked, carrying buckets of water from a hole cut in the ice of
the bay, a group of young roughs, from Cleveland, tried to drag their
wives into another of the houses. Screams and cries arose on the winter
air and the men ran to the defense of their women. A battle began, some
of the ice cutters fighting on the side of the fishermen, some on the
side of the young roughs, but the fishermen never knew they had helpers
in the struggle. Out of a mass of swearing, laughing men they had
managed to drag their women and escape to their own houses and the
thoughts of what might have happened, had they been unsuccessful, had
brought the fear of man upon them. “I want you to keep out of sight,”
the fisherman said to his assembled family, but as he said it he looked
at his daughter. He imagined her dragged into the upper galleries of the
boarding houses and handed about among the city men—something like that
had come near happening to her mother. He stared hard at his daughter
and she was frightened by the look in his eyes. “You,” he began again,
“now you—well you keep yourself out of sight. Those men are looking for
just such girls as you.” The fisherman went out of the room and his
daughter stood by a window. Sometimes, on Sundays, during the
ice-cutting time, the men who had not gone to spend the day in the city
walked in the afternoon along the beach past the houses of the fishermen
and, more than once, she had peeked out at them from behind a curtain.
Sometimes they stopped before one of the houses and shouted and a wit
among them exercised his powers. “Hey, the house,” he shouted, “is there
any woman in there wants a louse for a lover.” The wit leaped upon the
shoulders of one of his companions and with his teeth snatched the cap
off his head. Turning towards the house he made an elaborate bow. “I’m
only a little louse but I’m cold. Let me crawl into your nest,” he
shouted.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There were six young men from Bidwell who went to the dance given at the
Dewdrop on the June evening when May went there with Maud and the two
widowed grocers, homeward bound from the K. of P. convention at
Cleveland. The dance was held in one of the large rooms, on the first
floor of one of the boarding houses, one of the rooms used as a dining
and drinking place by the ice cutters in the months of January and
February. A group of farmers’ sons gave the dance and Rat Gould, a
one-eyed fiddler from Clyde, came with two other fiddlers, to furnish
the music. The dance was open to all who paid fifty cents at the door,
and women paid nothing. Rat Gould had announced it at other dances given
at Clyde, Bellevue, Castalia and on the floors of newly build barns.
There was an idea. At all dances, where Rat had officiated, for several
weeks previously, the announcement had been made. “There will be a dance
at the Dewdrop two weeks from next Friday night,” he had cried out in a
shrill voice. “A prize will be given. The best dressed lady gets a new
calico dress.”

Three of the young men from Bidwell who came to the dance, were railroad
employees, brakemen on freight trains. They, like John Welliver, worked
for the Nickel Plate and their names were Sid Gould, Herman Sanford and
Will Smith. With them, to the dance, went Harry Kingsley, Michael
Tompkins and Cal Mosher, all known in Bidwell as young sports. Cal
Mosher tended bar at the Crescent Saloon near the Nickel Plate station
in Bidwell and Michael Tompkins and Harry Kingsley were house painters.

The going of the six young men to the dance was unpremeditated. They had
met at the Crescent Saloon early on that June evening and there was a
good deal of drinking. There had been a ball game between the baseball
teams of Clyde and Bidwell during the week before, and that was talked
over, and, thinking and speaking of the defeat of the Bidwell team, all
six of the young men grew angry. “Let’s go over to Clyde,” Cal Mosher
said. The young men went to a livery stable and hired a team and surrey
and set out, taking with them a plentiful supply of whiskey in bottles.
It was decided they would make a night of it. As they drove along
Turner’s Pike, between Bidwell and Clyde they stopped before farmhouses.
“Hey, go to bed you rubes. Get the cows milked and go on to bed,” they
shouted. Michael Tompkins, called Mike, was the wit of the party and he
decided upon a stroke to win applause. At one of the farmhouses he went
to the door and told the woman who came to answer his knock that a
friend of hers wanted to speak to her in the road and the woman, a plump
red-cheeked farmer’s wife, came boldly out and stood in the road beside
the surrey. Mike crept up behind her and throwing his arms about her
neck pulled her quickly backward. The woman screamed with fright as Mike
kissed her on the cheek and, jumping into the surrey, Mike joined in the
laughter of his companions. “Tell your husband your lover has been
here,” he shouted at the woman, now fleeing toward the house. Cal Mosher
slapped him on the back. “You got a nerve, Mike,” he said filled with
admiration. He slapped his knees with his hands. “She’ll have something
to talk about for ten years, eh? She won’t get over talking about that
kiss Mike gave her for ten years.”

At Clyde, the Bidwell young men went into Charley Shuter’s saloon and
there got into trouble. Sid Gould was pitcher for the Bidwell team and
during the game at Clyde, during the week before, had been hurt by a
swiftly pitched ball that struck him on the side of the head as he stood
at bat. He had been unable to continue pitching, and the man who took
his place was unskillful and the game was lost, and now, standing at the
bar in Charley Shuter’s saloon, Sid remembered his injury and began to
talk in a loud voice, challenging another group of young men at another
end of the bar. Charley Shuter’s bartender became alarmed. “Here, now,
don’t you go starting nothing. Don’t you go trying to start nothing in
this place,” he growled.

Sid turned to his friends. “Well, the cowardly pup, he beaned me,” he
said. “Well, I had the team, this town thinks so much of, eating out of
my hand. For five innings they never got a smell of a hit. Then what did
they do, eh? They fixed it up with their cowardly pitcher to bean
me—that’s what they did.”

One of the young men of Clyde, loafing the evening away in the saloon,
was an outfielder on the Clyde ball team and as Sid talked he went out
at the front door. From store to store and from saloon to saloon he ran
hurriedly, whispering, sending messengers out in all directions. He was
a tall blue-eyed soft-voiced man but he had now become intensely
excited. A dozen other young men gathered about him and the crowd
started for Shuter’s saloon but when they had got there the young men
from Bidwell had come out to the sidewalk, had unhitched their horses
from the railing before the saloon door and were preparing to depart.
“Yah, you,” bawled the blue-eyed outfielder. “Don’t tell lies and then
sneak out of town. Stand up and take your medicine.”

The fight at Clyde was short and sharp and when it had lasted three
minutes, and when Sid Gould had lost two teeth and two of his companions
had acquired bleeding heads, they managed to struggle into the surrey
and start the horses. The blue-eyed outfielder, white with wrath and
disappointment, sprang on the steps. “Come back, you cheap skates,” he
cried. The surrey rattled off over the cobblestones and several Clyde
young men ran in the road behind. Sid Gould drew back his arm and caught
the outfielder a swinging blow on the nose and the blow knocked him out
of the surrey to the road so that a wheel ran over his legs. Leaning
out, and mad now with joy, Sid issued a challenge. “Come over to
Bidwell, one at a time, and I’ll clean up your whole town alone. All I
want is to get at you fellows one or two at a time,” he challenged.

In the road north of Clyde, Cal Mosher, who was driving, stopped the
horses and there was a discussion as to whether the journey should be
continued on to the town of Fremont, in search of new and perhaps more
enticing adventures, or whether it would be better to go back to Bidwell
and mend broken teeth, cut lips and blackened eyes. Sid Gould, the most
badly injured member of the party, settled the matter. “There’s a dance
down at the Dewdrop tonight. Let’s go down there and stir up the
farmers. This night is just started for me,” he said, and the heads of
the horses were turned northward. On the back seat Will Smith and Harry
Kingsley fell into a troubled sleep, Herman Sanford and Michael Tompkins
attempted a song and Cal Mosher talked to Sid. “We’ll get up another
game with that bunch from Clyde,” he said. “Now you listen and I’ll tell
you how to work it. You pitch the game, see. Well, you fan every man
that faces you for eight innings. That will show them up, show what
mutts they are. Then, when it comes to the ninth inning, you start to
bean ’em. You can lay out three or four of that gang before the game
ends in a scrap, and when that time comes we’ll have our own gang on
hand.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

At the Dewdrop, when the six young men from Bidwell arrived at about
eleven o’clock, the dance was in full swing. The doors and windows to
the dining room of one of the big frame boarding houses had been thrown
open and the floor carefully swept, and over the windows and doorways
green branches of trees had been hung. The night was fine—with a
moon—and, on a white beach, twenty feet away, the waters of the bay made
a faint murmuring sound. At one end of the dance hall and on a little
raised platform sat Rat Gould with his brother Will, a small grey-haired
man who played a base viol larger than himself. Two other men, fiddlers
like Rat himself filled out the orchestra. Nearly every dance announced
was a square dance and Rat did the “calling off,” his shrill voice
rising above the shuffle of feet and the low continuous hum of
conversations. “Swing your pardners round and round. Bow your heads down
to the ground. Kick your heels and let her fly. The night is fine and
the moon’s on high,” he sang.

In a corner of the big room with her escort, the grocer, from the town
of Muncie in Indiana, sat May Edgley. He was a rather heavy and fleshy
man of forty-five, whose wife had died during the year before, and for
the first time since that event he was with a woman and the thought had
excited him. There was a round bald spot on the top of his head and
blushes kept running up his cheeks, into his hair and out upon the bald
spot, like waves upon a beach. May had put on a white dress, bought for
the ceremony of graduation from the Bidwell high school and, the owner
being out of town, had borrowed from Lillian,—unknown to her—a huge
white hat, decorated with a long ostrich feather, of the variety known
as a willow plume.

She had never before been to a dance and her escort had not danced since
boyhood but at Maud Welliver’s suggestion they had tried to take part in
a square dance. “It’s easy,” Maud had said. “All you got to do is to
watch and do what everyone else is doing.”

The attempt turned out a failure, and all the other dancers giggled and
laughed at the fat man from Muncie as he rolled and capered about. He
ran in the wrong direction, grabbed other men’s partners, whirled them
about and even got into the wrong set. A madness of embarrassment seized
him and he rushed for May, as one hurries into the house at the coming
of a sudden storm, and taking her by the arm started to get off the
floor, out of sight of the laughing people—but Rat Gould shouted at him.
“Come back, fat man,” he shrieked and the grocer, not knowing what else
to do, started to whirl May about. She also laughed and protested but
before she could make him understand that she did not want to dance any
more his feet flew out from under him and he sat down, pulling May down
to sit upon his round paunch.

For May that evening was terrible and the time spent at the dance hung
fire like a long unused and rusty old gun. It seemed to her that every
passing minute was heavily freighted with possibilities of evil for
herself. In the surrey, coming out from Bidwell, she had remained
silent, filled with vague fears and Maud Welliver was also silent. In a
way she wished May had not come. Alone with Grover Hunt on such a night,
she felt she might have had something to say, but all the time, in her
mind floated vague visions of May—alone in the wood with Jerome Hadley,
May struggling for life there, in the darkness of the field on that
other night—and grasping the hand of a prince. Grover Hunt’s hand took
hold of hers and he also became silent with embarrassment. When they had
got to the Dewdrop, and when they had danced in two square dances, Maud
went to May. “Mr. Hunt and I are going to take a little walk together,”
she said. “We won’t be gone long.” Through a window May saw the two
figures go off along the beach in the moonlight.

The man who had brought May to the dance was named Wilder, and he also
wanted May to go walk with him, into the moonlight outside, but could
not bring himself to the point of asking so bold a favor. He lit a cigar
and held it outside the window, taking occasional puffs and blowing the
smoke into the outer air and told May of the K. of P. convention at
Cleveland, of a ride the delegates had taken in automobiles and of a
dinner given in their honor by the business men of Cleveland. “It was
one of the largest affairs ever held in the city,” he said. The Mayor
had come and there was present a United States Senator. Well, there was
one man there. He was a fat fellow who could say such funny things that
everyone in the room rocked with laughter. He was the master of
ceremonies and all evening kept telling the funniest stories. As for the
Muncie grocer, he had been unable to eat. Well, he laughed until his
sides ached. Grocer Wilder tried to reproduce one of the tales told by
the Cleveland funny man. “There were two farmers,” he began, “they went
to the city of Philadelphia, to a church convention, and at the same
time and in the same city a convention of brewers was being held. The
two farmers got into the wrong place.”

May’s escort stopped talking and growing suddenly red, leaned out at the
window and puffed hard at his cigar. “Well, I can’t remember,” he
declared. It had come into his mind that the story he had started to
tell was one a man could not tell to a woman. “Gee, I nearly put me foot
into it! I came near making a break,” he thought.

May looked from her escort to the men and women dancing on the floor. In
her eyes fear lurked. “I wonder if anyone here knows me, I wonder if
anyone knows about me and Jerome Hadley,” she thought. Fear, like a
little hungry mouse, gnawed at May’s soul. Two red-cheeked country girls
sitting on a nearby bench put their heads together and whispered “Oh, I
don’t believe it,” one of them shouted and they both gave way to a spasm
of giggles. May turned to look at them and something gripped at her
heart. A young farm hand, with a shiny red face and with a white
handkerchief tied about his neck, beckoned to another young man and the
two went outside into the moonlight. They also whispered and laughed.
One of them turned to look back at May’s white face and then they lit
cigars and walked away. May could no longer hear the voice of grocer
Wilder telling of his adventures at the convention at Cleveland. “They
know me, I’m sure they know me. They have heard that story. Something
dreadful will happen to me before the night is over,” she thought.

May had always wanted to be in some such place as the one to which she
had now come, some place where many strange people had congregated and
where she could move freely about among strange people. Before the
Jerome Hadley incident, and the giving up of the idea of becoming a
schoolteacher she had thought a great deal of what she would do when she
became a teacher. Everything had been carefully planned. She would get a
place as teacher in some town or in the country, far from Bidwell and
from the Edgleys and there she would live her own life and make her own
way. There would be no handicap of birth and she could stand upon her
own feet. Well, that would be a chance. Her natural smartness would at
last count for something real and in the new place she would go about to
dances and to other social gatherings. Being the schoolteacher, and in a
way responsible for the future of their children, people would be glad
to invite her into their houses, and all she wanted was a chance, the
opportunity to step unknown into the presence of people who had never
been to Bidwell and had never heard of the Edgleys.

Then she would show what she could do! She would go—well, to a dance or
to a house where many people had congregated to have a good time. She
would move about, saying things, laughing, keeping everyone on tiptoes.
What things her quick mind would make up to say! Words would become
little sharp swords with which she played. How many pictures her mind
had made of herself in the midst of such an assemblage. It was not her
fault if she found herself the centre toward which all eyes looked and,
in spite of the fact that she was the outstanding figure in any
assemblage of people among whom she went, she would always remain
modest. After all, she would not say things that would hurt people.
Indeed she would not do that! Such a thing would not be necessary. It
would all be very lovely. Several people would be talking and up she
would come and for a moment she would listen, to catch the drift of what
was being said, and then her own word would be said. Well it would
startle people. She would have a new, a novel, a startling but
attractive point of view on any subject that was brought up. Her mind
was extraordinarily quick. It would attend to things.

With her fancy thus filled with the thoughts of the possibilities of
herself as a glowing social figure May turned toward her escort who,
puzzled by her apparent indifference, was striving manfully to remember
the funny things the Cleveland man had said at the dinner given for the
K. of Ps. Many of the man’s stories could not be repeated to a lady—it
had been what is called a stag dinner—but others could be. Of the ones
that could be told anywhere—they were called parlor stories—he
remembered one and launched into it. May pitied him. He forgot the
point, could not remember where the story began and ended. “Well,” he
began, “there was a man and woman on a train. It was on a train on the
B. and O. No, I think the man said it was on the Lake Shore and Michigan
Southern. Perhaps they were riding on a train on the Pennsylvania
Railroad. I have forgotten what the woman said to the man. It was about
a dog another woman was trying to conceal in a basket. They do not allow
dogs in passenger cars on railroads, you know. Something very funny
happened. I thought I would die laughing when the man told about it.”

“If I had that story to tell I could make something out of it,” May
thought. She imagined herself telling the story of the man and the woman
and the dog. How she would decorate it, add little touches. That fat man
in Cleveland might have been funny but had she been entrusted with the
telling of the story, she was sure he would have been outdone. Her mind
began to recast the story and then the fear, that had all evening been
lurking within, came back and she forgot the man, the woman and the dog
on the train. Again her eyes searched the faces in the room and when a
new man or woman came in she trembled. “Suppose Jerome Hadley were to
come here tonight,” she thought and the thought made her ill. It was a
thing that might happen. Jerome was a young man and a bachelor and he no
doubt went about to places, to dances and to shows at the Bidwell Opera
House, and he might now, at any moment, come into the very room in which
she was sitting and walk directly to her. In the berry field he had been
bold and had not cared what he said and, if he came to the dance, he
would walk directly to her and might even take her by the arm. “I want
you,” he would say. “Come outside with me.”

May tried to think what she would do if such a thing happened. Would she
struggle and refuse to go, thus attracting the attention of everyone in
the room, or would she go quietly and make her struggle with the man
outside alone in the darkness? Her mind ran into a tangle of thoughts.
It was true that Jerome Hadley had done something quite terrible to her,
had tried to kill something within her, but after all she had
surrendered to him. She had lain with the man—filled with fear,
trembling to be sure—but the thing had been done. In a strange sort of
way she belonged to Jerome Hadley and suppose he were to come and demand
again that she submit. Could she refuse? Had she become, and in spite of
herself, the property of the man?

With her head a whirlpool of thought May stared, half wildly, about. If
in her own room in the Edgley house, and when she had hidden herself
away by the willows by the creek, she had built herself a tower of
romance in which she could live and from the windows of which she could
look down upon life, striving to understand it, to understand people,
the tower was now being destroyed. Hands were tearing at it, strong,
determined hands. She had felt them as she sat in the surrey with Maud
and the two grocers, outbound from Bidwell. Then as now she wondered why
she had consented to come to the dance. Well, she had come because not
to come would bring a disappointment to Maud Welliver, the only woman
who had come in any way close to herself, and now she was at the dance
and Maud had gone away, outdoors into darkness. She had gone away with a
man and it had been understood that would not happen. There was the
matter of the prince, her lover. It had been understood that, because of
the prince, Maud would not leave her alone with another man, and she had
left, had gone outdoors with a grocer and had left another grocer
sitting beside May.

Hands were tearing at her tower of romance, the tower she had built so
slowly and painfully, the tower in which she had found the prince, the
tower in which she had found a way to live and to be happy in spite of
the ugliness of actuality. Dust arose from the walls. An army of men and
women, male and female Jerome Hadleys, were charging down upon it. There
would be rape and murder and how could she, left alone, withstand them.
The prince had gone away. He was now far, far away, and the invaders
would clamor over the walls. They would throw her down from the walls.
The beautiful hangings in the tower, the rich silken gowns, the stones
from strange lands, all the treasures of the tower would be destroyed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

May had worked herself into a state of mind that made her want to
scream. In the room the dance went on, the shrill voice of Rat Gould
called off and the fiddles made dance music to which heavy feet scraped
over rough boards. By her side sat Grocer Wilder, still talking of the
K. of P. convention at Cleveland and May felt that, in coming to the
dance, she had raised a knife that in a moment would be plunged into her
own breast. She arose to go out of the room, out into the night, out of
the sight of people—but for a moment stood uncertain, looking vaguely
about. Then she sat heavily down. Grocer Wilder also arose and his face
grew red. “I’ve made a break,” he thought. He wondered what he had said
that had offended May. “Maybe she didn’t want me to smoke,” he told
himself and threw the end of his cigar out through a window. The moment
reminded him of many moments of his married life. It was like having his
wife back, this feeling of having offended a woman, without knowing in
just what the offense lay.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And then, through a door at the front, the six Bidwell young men came
into the room. They had stopped outside for a final drink out of the
bottles carried in their hip pockets and, the appetite for drink being
satisfied, another appetite had come into the ascendency. They wanted
women.

Sid Gould, accompanied by Cal Mosher, led the way into the dance hall.
His face had become badly swollen during the drive north from Clyde and
he walked uncertainly.

He walked directly toward May, who turned her face to the wall and tried
to hide herself. She looked like a rabbit, cornered by dogs, and when
she turned on her seat and half knelt, trying to hide her face, the rim
of Lillian Edgley’s white dress hat struck against the wall and the hat
fell to the floor. Trembling with excitement she turned and picked it
up. Her face was chalky white.

Sid Gould was well known in the Edgley household. One summer evening, in
the year before May’s mother’s death, he had got into a row with the
Edgleys. Being a little under the influence of drink and wanting a woman
he shouted at Kate Edgley, walking through the streets of Bidwell with a
traveling man, and a fight had been started in which the traveling man
blackened Sid’s eyes. Later he was taken into the mayor’s office and
fined and the whole affair had given the Edgley men and women a good
deal of satisfaction and had been discussed endlessly at the table. Old
John Edgley and the sons had sworn they also would beat the ball player.
“Just let me catch him alone somewhere, so I don’t get stuck for no
fine, and I’ll pound the head off’n him,” they declared.

In the dance hall, and when his eyes alighted upon the figure of May
Edgley, Sid Gould remembered his beating at the hands of the traveling
man and the ten dollar fine he had been compelled to pay for fighting on
the street. “Well, look here,” he cried turning to his companions, now
straggling into the room, “here’s one of the Edgley chickens, a long
ways from the home coop.”

“There she is—that little chicken over there by the wall.” Sid laughed
and leaning over slapped his knees with his hands. The twisted swollen
face made the laugh a grotesque, something horrible. Sid’s companions
gathered about him. “There she is,” he said, again pointing a wavering
forefinger. “It’s the youngest of that Edgley gang, the one that’s just
gone on the turf, the one that was so blamed smart in school. Jerome
Hadley says she’s all right, and I say she’s mine. I saw her first.”

In the hall all became quiet and many eyes were turned toward the
laughing man and the shrinking trembling woman by the wall. May tried to
stand erect, to be defiant, but her knees shook so that she sat quickly
down on the bench. Grover Wilder, now utterly confused, touched her on
the arm, intending to ask for an explanation of her strange behavior,
but at the touch of his finger she again sprang to her feet. She was
like some little automatic toy that goes stiffly through certain
movements when you touch some hidden spring. “What’s the matter, what’s
the matter?” Grocer Wilder asked wildly.

Sid Gould walked to where May stood and took hold of her arm and she
went meekly when he led her toward the door, walking demurely beside
him. He was amazed, having expected a struggle. “Well,” he thought, “I
got into trouble over that Kate Edgley but this one is different. She
knows how to behave. I’ll have a good time with this kid.” He remembered
the trial and the ten dollars he had been compelled to pay for his first
attempt to get into the good graces of one of the Edgley women. “I’ll
get the worth of my money now and I won’t pay this one a cent,” he
thought. He turned to his companions still straggling at his heels. “Get
out,” he cried. “Get your own women. I saw this one first. You go get
one of your own.”

Sid and May had got outside and nearly to the beach before strength came
back into May’s body and mind. She walked beside Sid on the white sand
and toward the beach. “Don’t be afraid little kid. I won’t hurt you,” he
said. May laughed nervously and he loosened the grip of his hand on her
arm.

And then, with a cry of joy she sprang away from him and leaning quickly
down grasped one of the pieces of driftwood with which the sand was
strewn. The stick whistled through the air and descended upon Sid’s
head, knocking him to his knees. “You, you!” he stuttered and then cried
out. “Hey, rubes!” he called and two of his companions, who had been
standing at the door of the dance hall, ran toward him. Swinging the
stick about her head May ran past them and in her nervous fright struck
Sid again. In her mind the thing that was happening was in some odd way
connected with the affair in the wood with Jerome. It was the same
affair. Sid Gould and Jerome were one man, they stood for the same
thing, were the same thing. They were something strange and terrible she
had to meet, with which she had to struggle. The thing they represented
had defeated her once, had got the best of her. She had surrendered to
it, had opened the gates that led into the tower of romance, that was
herself, that walled in her own secret and precious life. Something
terribly crude, without understanding had happened then—it must not,
could not happen again! She had been a child and had understood nothing
but now she did understand. There was a thing within herself that must
not be touched by unclean hands. A terrible fear of people swept over
her. There was Maud Welliver, whom she had tried to take as a friend,
and Lillian who had tried to be a sister to her, had wanted to help her
achieve life. As for Maud—she knew nothing, she was a child—and Lillian
was crude, she understood nothing.

May’s mind put all men in a class with Jerome Hadley. There was
something men wanted from women, that Jerome had wanted and now this
other man, Sid Gould. They were all, like the Edgleys—Lillian and Kate
and the two boys—people who went after the thing they wanted brutally,
directly. That was not May’s way and she decided she wanted nothing more
to do with such people. “I’ll never go back to Bidwell,” she kept saying
over and over as she ran in the uncertain light along the beach.

Sid Gould’s companions, having run out of the dance hall, could not
understand that he had been knocked over by the slight girl he had led
into the darkness, and when they heard his curses and groans and saw him
reeling about, quite overcome by the second blow May had aimed at his
head—combined with the liquor within—they imagined some man had come to
May’s rescue. When they ran forward and saw May with the stick in her
hand and swinging it wildly about they paid little attention to her but
began at once looking for her companion. Two of them followed May as she
ran along the beach and the others returned to the dance hall. A group
of young farmers came crowding to the door and Cal Mosher hit one of
them a swinging blow with his fist. “Get out of the way,” he cried,
“we’re going to clean up this place.”

May ran like a frightened rabbit along the beach, stopping occasionally
to listen. From the dance hall came an uproar and oaths and cries broke
the silence of the night. At her heels two men ran, lumbering along
slowly. The drink within had taken effect and one of them fell. As she
ran May came presently into the place of huge stumps and logs, thrown up
by the storms of winter, and saw Maud Welliver standing at the edge of
the water with the grocer Hunt—who had his arm about Maud’s waist. The
frightened woman ran so close to them that she might have touched Maud’s
dress but they were unconscious of her presence and, as for May, she was
in an odd way afraid of them also. She was afraid of everything human.
“It all comes to something ugly and terrible,” she thought frantically.

May ran for nearly two miles, along the beach, among the tree stumps,
the roots of which stuck up into the air like arms raised in
supplication to the moon. Perhaps the dry withered old tree arms,
sticking up thus, kept her physical fear alive, as it is not likely Sid
Gould’s drunken companions followed her far. She ran clinging to Lillian
Edgley’s hat—she had borrowed without permission—and that, I presume,
seemed a thing of beauty to her. Something conscientious and fine in her
made her cling desperately to the hat and she had held it in her left
hand and safely out of harm’s way, even in the moment when she was
belaboring Sid Gould with the stick of driftwood.

And now she ran, still clinging to the hat, and was afraid with a fear
that was no longer physical. The new fear that swept in upon her
comprehended something more than the grotesque masses of tree roots,
that now appeared to dance madly in the moonlight, something more than
Sid Gould, Cal Mosher and Jerome Hadley—that had become a fear of life
itself, of all she had ever known of life, all she had ever been
permitted to see of life—that fear was now heavy upon her.

Little May Edgley did not want to live any more. “Death is a kind and
comforting thing to those who are through with life,” an old farm horse
had seemed to say to a boy, who, a few days later, ran in terror from
the sight of May Edgley’s dead body to lean trembling on the old horse’s
manger.

What actually happened on that terrible night when May ran so madly was
that she came in her flight to where a creek runs down into the bay.
There are good fishing places off the mouth of the creek. At the creek’s
mouth the water spreads itself out, so that the small stream looks, from
a distance, like a strong river, but one coming along the beach—running
along the beach, in the moonlight, let us say—from the west would run
almost to the eastern bank in the shallow water, that came only to the
shoe tops.

One would run thus, in the shallow water, and the clear white beach—east
of the creek’s mouth—would seem but a few steps away, and then one would
be plunged suddenly down into the narrow deep current, sweeping under
the eastern bank, the current that carried the main body of the water of
the stream.

And May Edgley plunged in there, still clinging to Lillian’s white
hat—the white willow plume bobbing up and down in the swift current—and
was swept into the bay. Her body, caught by an eddy was carried in and
lodged among the submerged tree roots, where it stayed, lodged, until
the farmer and his hired man accidentally found it and laid it tenderly
on the boards beside the farmer’s barn.

The little hard fist clung to the hat, the white grotesque hat that Lil
Edgley was in the habit of putting on when she wanted to look her
best—when she wanted, I presume, to be beautiful.

May may have thought the hat was beautiful. She may have thought of it
as the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in the actuality of her
life.

Of that one cannot speak too definitely, and I only know that, if the
hat ever had been beautiful, it had lost its beauty when, a few days
later, it fell under the eyes of a boy who saw the bedraggled remains of
it, clutched in the drowned woman’s hand.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            A CHICAGO HAMLET



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            A CHICAGO HAMLET


THERE was one time in Tom’s life when he came near dying, came so close
to it that for several days he held his own life in his hand, as a boy
would hold a ball. He had only to open his fingers to let it drop.

How vividly I remember the night when he told me the story. We had gone
to dine together at a little combined saloon and restaurant in what is
now Wells Street in Chicago. It was a wet cold night in early October.
In Chicago October and November are usually the most charming months of
the year but that year the first weeks of October were cold and rainy.
Everyone who lives in our industrial lake cities has a disease of the
nasal passages and a week of such weather starts everyone coughing and
sneezing. The warm little den into which Tom and I had got seemed cosy
and comfortable. We had drinks of whiskey to drive the chill out of our
bodies and then, after eating, Tom began to talk.

Something had come into the air of the place where we sat, a kind of
weariness. At times all Chicagoans grow weary of the almost universal
ugliness of Chicago and everyone sags. One feels it in the streets, in
the stores, in the homes. The bodies of the people sag and a cry seems
to go up out of a million throats,—“we are set down here in this
continual noise, dirt and ugliness. Why did you put us down here? There
is no rest. We are always being hurried about from place to place, to no
end. Millions of us live on the vast Chicago West Side, where all
streets are equally ugly and where the streets go on and on forever, out
of nowhere into nothing. We are tired, tired! What is it all about? Why
did you put us down here, mother of men?” All the moving bodies of the
people in the streets seem to be saying something like the words set
down above and some day, perhaps, that Chicago poet, Carl Sandburg, will
sing a song about it. Oh, he will make you feel then the tired voices
coming out of tired people. Then, it may be, we will all begin singing
it and realizing something long forgotten among us.

But I grow too eloquent. I will return to Tom and the restaurant in
Wells Street. Carl Sandburg works on a newspaper and sits at a desk
writing about the movies in Wells Street, Chicago.

In the restaurant two men stood at the bar talking to the bartender.
They were trying to hold a friendly conversation, but there was
something in the air that made friendly conversations impossible. The
bartender looked like pictures one sees of famous generals—he was the
type—a red-faced, well-fed looking man, with a grey moustache.

The two men facing him and with their feet resting on the bar rail had
got into a meaningless wrangle concerning the relationship of President
McKinley and his friend Mark Hanna. Did Mark Hanna control McKinley or
was McKinley only using Mark Hanna to his own ends. The discussion was
of no special interest to the men engaged in it—they did not care. At
that time the newspapers and political magazines of the country were
always wrangling over the same subject. It filled space that had to be
filled, I should say.

At any rate the two men had taken it up and were using it as a vehicle
for their weariness and disgust with life. They spoke of McKinley and
Hanna as Bill and Mark.

“Bill is a smooth one, I tell you what. He has Mark eating out of his
hand.”

“Eating out of his hand, hell! Mark whistles and Bill comes running,
like that, like a little dog.”

Meaningless vicious sentences, opinions thrown out by tired brains. One
of the men grew sullenly angry. “Don’t look at me like that, I tell you.
I’ll stand a good deal from a friend but not any such looks. I’m a
fellow who loses his temper. Sometimes I bust someone on the jaw.”

The bartender was taking the situation in hand. He tried to change the
subject. “Who’s going to lick that Fitzsimmons? How long they going to
let that Australian strut around in this country? Ain’t they no guy can
take him?” he asked, with pumped up enthusiasm.

I sat with my head in my hands. “Men jangling with men! Men and women in
houses and apartments jangling! Tired people going home to Chicago’s
West Side, going home from the factories! Children crying fretfully!”

Tom tapped me on the shoulder, and then tapped with his empty glass on
the table. He laughed.

                   “Ladybug, ladybug, why do you roam?
                    Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home,”

he recited. When the whiskey had come he leaned forward and made one of
the odd and truthful observations on life that were always coming out of
him at unexpected moments. “I want you to notice something,” he began;
“You have seen a lot of bartenders—well, if you’ll notice, there is a
striking similarity in appearance between bartenders, great generals,
diplomats, presidents and all such people. I just happened to think why
it is. It’s because they are all up to the same game. They have to spend
their lives handling weary dissatisfied people and they learn the trick
of giving things just a little twist, out of one dull meaningless
channel into another. That is their game and practising it makes them
all look alike.”

I smiled sympathetically. Now that I come to write of my friend I find
it somewhat difficult not to misrepresent him on the sentimental side. I
forget times when I was with him and he was unspeakably dull, when he
also talked often for hours of meaningless things. It was all
foolishness, this trying to be anything but a dull business man, he
sometimes said, and declared that both he and I were fools. Better for
us both that we become more alert, more foxy, as he put it. But for the
fact that we were both fools we would both join the Chicago Athletic
Club, play golf, ride about in automobiles, pick up flashy young girls
and take them out to road-houses to dinner, go home later and make up
cock and bull stories to quiet our wives, go to church on Sunday, talk
continuously of money making, woman and golf, and in general enjoy our
lives. At times he half convinced me he thought the fellows he described
led gay and cheerful lives.

And there were times, too, when he, as a physical being, seemed to
fairly disintegrate before my eyes. His great bulk grew a little loose
and flabby, he talked and talked, saying nothing.

And then, when I had quite made up my mind he had gone the same road I
and all the men about me were no doubt going, the road of surrender to
ugliness and to dreary meaningless living, something would happen. He
would have talked thus, as I have just described, aimlessly, through a
long evening, and then, when we parted for the night, he would scribble
a few words on a bit of paper and push it awkwardly into my pocket. I
watched his lumbering figure go away along a street and going to a
street lamp read what he had written.

“I am very weary. I am not the silly ass I seem but I am as tired as a
dog, trying to find out what I am,” were the words he had scrawled.

But to return to the evening in the place in Wells Street. When the
whiskey came we drank it and sat looking at each other. Then he put his
hand on the table and closing the fingers, so that they made a little
cup, opened the hand slowly and listlessly. “Once I had life, like that,
in my hand, my own life. I could have let go of it as easily as that.
Just why I didn’t I’ve never quite figured out. I can’t think why I kept
my fingers cupped, instead of opening my hand and letting go,” he said.
If, a few minutes before, there had been no integrity in the man there
was enough of it now.

He began telling the story of an evening and a night of his youth.

It was when he was still on his father’s farm, a little rented farm down
in Southeastern Ohio, and when he was but eighteen years old. That would
have been in the fall before he left home and started on his adventures
in the world. I knew something of his history.

It was late October and he and his father had been digging potatoes in a
field. I suppose they both wore torn shoes as, in telling the story, Tom
made a point of the fact that their feet were cold, and that the black
dirt had worked into their shoes and discolored their feet.

The day was cold and Tom wasn’t very well and was in a bitter mood. He
and his father worked rather desperately and in silence. The father was
tall, had a sallow complexion and wore a beard, and in the mental
picture I have of him, he is always stopping—as he walks about the
farmyard or works in the fields he stops and runs his fingers nervously
through his beard.

As for Tom, one gets the notion of him as having been at that time
rather nice, one having an inclination toward the nicer things of life
without just knowing he had the feeling, and certainly without an
opportunity to gratify it.

Tom had something the matter with him, a cold with a bit of fever
perhaps and sometimes as he worked his body shook as with a chill and
then, after a few minutes, he felt hot all over. The two men had been
digging the potatoes all afternoon and as night began to fall over the
field, they started to pick up. One picks up the potatoes in baskets and
carries them to the ends of the rows where they are put into two-bushel
grain bags.

Tom’s step-mother came to the kitchen door and called. “Supper,” she
cried in her peculiarly colorless voice. Her husband was a little angry
and fretful. Perhaps for a long time he had been feeling very deeply the
enmity of his son. “All right,” he called back, “we’ll come pretty soon.
We got to get done picking up.” There was something very like a whine in
his voice. “You can keep the things hot for a time,” he shouted.

Tom and his father both worked with feverish haste, as though trying to
outdo each other and every time Tom bent over to pick up a handful of
the potatoes his head whirled and he thought he might fall. A kind of
terrible pride had taken possession of him and with the whole strength
of his being he was determined not to let his father—who, if
ineffectual, was nevertheless sometimes very quick and accurate at
tasks—get the better of him. They were picking up potatoes—that was the
task before them at the moment—and the thing was to get all the potatoes
picked up and in the bags before darkness came. Tom did not believe in
his father and was he to let such an ineffectual man outdo him at any
task, no matter how ill he might be?

That was somewhat the nature of Tom’s thoughts and feelings at the
moment.

And then the darkness had come and the task was done. The filled sacks
were set along a fence at the end of the field. It was to be a cold
frosty night and now the moon was coming up and the filled sacks looked
like grotesque human beings, standing there along the fence—standing
with grey sagging bodies, such as Tom’s step-mother had—sagged bodies
and dull eyes—standing and looking at the two men, so amazingly not in
accord with each other.

As the two walked across the field Tom let his father go ahead. He was
afraid he might stagger and did not want his father to see there was
anything the matter with him. In a way boyish pride was involved too.
“He might think he could wear me out working,” Tom thought. The moon
coming up was a huge yellow ball in the distance. It was larger than the
house towards which they were walking and the figure of Tom’s father
seemed to walk directly across the yellow face of the moon.

When they got to the house the children Tom’s father had got—thrown in
with the woman, as it were, when he made his second marriage—were
standing about. After he left home Tom could never remember anything
about the children except that they always had dirty faces and were clad
in torn dirty dresses and that the youngest, a baby, wasn’t very well
and was always crying fretfully.

When the two men came into the house the children, from having been
fussing at their mother because the meal was delayed, grew silent. With
the quick intuition of children they sensed something wrong between
father and son. Tom walked directly across the small dining room and
opening a door entered a stairway that led up to his bedroom. “Ain’t you
going to eat any supper?” his father asked. It was the first word that
had passed between father and son for hours.

“No,” Tom answered and went up the stairs. At the moment his mind was
concentrated on the problem of not letting anyone in the house know he
was ill and the father let him go without protest. No doubt the whole
family were glad enough to have him out of the way.

He went upstairs and into his own room and got into bed without taking
off his clothes, just pulled off the torn shoes and crawling in pulled
the covers up over himself. There was an old quilt, not very clean.

His brain cleared a little and as the house was small he could hear
everything going on down stairs. Now the family were all seated at the
table and his father was doing a thing called “saying grace.” He always
did that and sometimes, while the others waited, he prayed
intermittently.

Tom was thinking, trying to think. What was it all about, his father’s
praying that way? When he got at it the man seemed to forget everyone
else in the world. There he was, alone with God, facing God alone and
the people about him seemed to have no existence. He prayed a little
about food, and then went on to speak with God, in a strange
confidential way, about other things, his own frustrated desires mostly.

All his life he had wanted to be a Methodist minister but could not be
ordained because he was uneducated, had never been to the schools or
colleges. There was no chance at all for his becoming just the thing he
wanted to be and still he went on and on praying about it, and in a way
seemed to think there might be a possibility that God, feeling strongly
the need of more Methodist ministers, would suddenly come down out of
the sky, off the judgment seat as it were, and would go to the
administrating board, or whatever one might call it, of the Methodist
Church and say, “Here you, what are you up to? Make this man a Methodist
minister and be quick about it. I don’t want any fooling around.”

Tom lay on the bed upstairs listening to his father praying down below.
When he was a lad and his own mother was alive he had always been
compelled to go with his father to the church on Sundays and to the
prayer meetings on Wednesday evenings. His father always prayed,
delivered sermons to the other sad-faced men and women sitting about,
under the guise of prayers, and the son sat listening and no doubt it
was then, in childhood, his hatred of his father was born. The man who
was then the minister of the little country church, a tall, raw-boned
young man, who was as yet unmarried, sometimes spoke of Tom’s father as
one powerful in prayer.

And all the time there was something in Tom’s mind. Well he had seen a
thing. One day when he was walking alone through a strip of wood, coming
back barefooted from town to the farm he had seen—he never told anyone
what he had seen. The minister was in the wood, sitting alone on a log.
There was something. Some rather nice sense of life in Tom was deeply
offended. He had crept away unseen.

And now he was lying on the bed in the half darkness upstairs in his
father’s house, shaken with a chill, and downstairs his father was
praying and there was one sentence always creeping into his prayers.
“Give me the gift, O God, give me the great gift.” Tom thought he knew
what that meant—“the gift of the gab and the opportunity to exercise it,
eh?”

There was a door at the foot of Tom’s bed and beyond the door another
room, at the front of the house upstairs. His father slept in there with
the new woman he had married and the three children slept in a small
room beside it. The baby slept with the man and woman. It was odd what
terrible thoughts sometimes came into one’s head. The baby wasn’t very
well and was always whining and crying. Chances were it would grow up to
be a yellow-skinned thing, with dull eyes, like the mother. Suppose ...
well suppose ... some night ... one did not voluntarily have such
thoughts—suppose either the man or woman might, quite accidentally, roll
over on the baby and crush it, smother it, rather.

Tom’s mind slipped a little out of his grasp. He was trying to hold on
to something—what was it? Was it his own life? That was an odd thought.
Now his father had stopped praying and downstairs the family were eating
the evening meal. There was silence in the house. People, even dirty
half-ill children, grew silent when they ate. That was a good thing. It
was good to be silent sometimes.

And now Tom was in the wood, going barefooted through the wood and there
was that man, the minister, sitting alone there on the log. Tom’s father
wanted to be a minister, wanted God to arbitrarily make him a minister,
wanted God to break the rules, bust up the regular order of things just
to make him a minister. And he a man who could barely make a living on
the farm, who did everything in a half slipshod way, who, when he felt
he had to have a second wife, had gone off and got one with four sickly
kids, one who couldn’t cook, who did the work of his house in a slovenly
way.

Tom slipped off into unconsciousness and lay still for a long time.
Perhaps he slept.

When he awoke—or came back into consciousness—there was his father’s
voice still praying and Tom had thought the grace-saying was over. He
lay still, listening. The voice was loud and insistent and now seemed
near at hand. All of the rest of the house was silent. None of the
children were crying.

Now there was a sound, the rattling of dishes downstairs in the kitchen
and Tom sat up in bed and leaning far over looked through the open door
into the room occupied by his father and his father’s new wife. His mind
cleared.

After all, the evening meal was over and the children had been put to
bed and now the woman downstairs had put the three older children into
their bed and was washing the dishes at the kitchen stove. Tom’s father
had come upstairs and had prepared for bed by taking off his clothes and
putting on a long soiled white nightgown. Then he had gone to the open
window at the front of the house and kneeling down had begun praying
again.

A kind of cold fury took possession of Tom and without a moment’s
hesitation he got silently out of bed. He did not feel ill now but very
strong. At the foot of his bed, leaning against the wall, was a
whippletree, a round piece of hard wood, shaped something like a
baseball bat, but tapering at both ends. At each end there was an iron
ring. The whippletree had been left there by his father who was always
leaving things about, in odd unexpected places. He leaned a whippletree
against the wall in his son’s bedroom and then, on the next day, when he
was hitching a horse to a plow and wanted it, he spent hours going
nervously about rubbing his fingers through his beard and looking.

Tom took the whippletree in his hand and crept barefooted through the
open door into his father’s room. “He wants to be like that fellow in
the woods—that’s what he’s always praying about.” There was in Tom’s
mind some notion—from the beginning there must have been a great deal of
the autocrat in him—well, you see, he wanted to crush out impotence and
sloth.

He had quite made up his mind to kill his father with the whippletree
and crept silently across the floor, gripping the hardwood stick firmly
in his right hand. The sickly looking baby had already been put into the
one bed in the room and was asleep. Its little face looked out from
above another dirty quilt and the clear cold moonlight streamed into the
room and fell upon the bed and upon the kneeling figure on the floor by
the window.

Tom had got almost across the room when he noticed something—his
father’s bare feet sticking out from beneath the white nightgown. The
heels and the little balls of flesh below the toes were black with the
dirt of the fields but in the centre of each foot there was a place. It
was not black but yellowish white in the moonlight.

Tom crept silently back into his own room and closed softly the door
between himself and his father. After all he did not want to kill
anyone. His father had not thought it necessary to wash his feet before
kneeling to pray to his God, and he had himself come upstairs and had
got into bed without washing his own feet.

His hands were trembling now and his body shaking with the chill but he
sat on the edge of the bed trying to think. When he was a child and went
to church with his father and mother there was a story he had heard
told. A man came into a feast, after walking a long time on dusty roads,
and sat down at the feast. A woman came and washed his feet. Then she
put precious ointments on them and later dried the feet with her hair.

The story had, when he heard it, no special meaning to the boy but
now.... He sat on the bed smiling half foolishly. Could one make of
one’s own hands a symbol of what the woman’s hands must have meant on
that occasion, long ago, could not one make one’s own hands the humble
servants to one’s soiled feet, to one’s soiled body?

It was a strange notion, this business of making oneself the keeper of
the clean integrity of oneself. When one was ill one got things a little
distorted. In Tom’s room there was a tin wash-basin, and a pail of
water, he himself brought each morning from the cistern at the back of
the house. He had always been one who fancied waiting on himself and
perhaps, at that time, he had in him something he afterward lost, or
only got hold of again at long intervals, the sense of the worth of his
own young body, the feeling that his own body was a temple, as one might
put it.

At any rate he must have had some such feeling on that night of his
childhood and I shall never forget a kind of illusion I had concerning
him that time in the Wells Street place when he told me the tale. At the
moment something seemed to spring out of his great hulking body,
something young hard clean and white.

But I must walk carefully. Perhaps I had better stick to my tale, try
only to tell it simply, as he did.

Anyway he got off the bed, there in the upper room of that strangely
disorganized and impotent household, and standing in the centre of the
room took off his clothes. There was a towel hanging on a hook on the
wall but it wasn’t very clean.

By chance he did have, however, a white nightgown that had not been worn
and he now got it out of the drawer of a small rickety dresser that
stood by the wall and recklessly tore off a part of it to serve as a
washcloth. Then he stood up and with the tin washbasin on the floor at
his feet washed himself carefully in the icy cold water.

No matter what illusions I may have had regarding him when he told me
the tale, that night in Wells Street, surely on that night of his youth
he must have been, as I have already described him, something young hard
clean and white. Surely and at that moment his body was a temple.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As for the matter of his holding his own life in his hands—that came
later, when he had got back into the bed, and that part of his tale I do
not exactly understand. Perhaps he fumbled it in the telling and perhaps
my own understanding fumbled.

I remember that he kept his hand lying on the table in the Wells Street
place and that he kept opening and closing the fingers as though that
would explain everything. It didn’t for me, not then at any rate.
Perhaps it will for you who read.

“I got back into bed,” he said, “and taking my own life into my hand
tried to decide whether I wanted to hold on to it or not. All that night
I held it like that, my own life I mean,” he said.

There was some notion, he was evidently trying to explain, concerning
other lives being things outside his own, things not to be touched, not
to be fooled with. How much of that could have been in his mind that
night of his youth, long ago, and how much came later I do not know and
one takes it for granted he did not know either.

He seemed however to have had the notion that for some hours that night,
after his father’s wife came upstairs and the two elder people got into
bed and the house was silent, that there came certain hours when his own
life belonged to him to hold or to drop as easily as one spreads out the
fingers of a hand lying on a table in a saloon in Wells Street, Chicago.

“I had a fancy not to do it,” he said, “not to spread out my fingers,
not to open my hand. You see, I couldn’t feel any very definite purpose
in life, but there was something. There was a feeling I had as I stood
naked in the cold washing my body. Perhaps I just wanted to have that
feeling of washing myself again sometime. You know what I mean—I was
really cleansing myself, there in the moonlight, that night.

“And so I got back into bed and kept my fingers closed, like this, like
a cup. I held my own life in my hand and when I felt like opening my
fingers and letting my life slip away I remembered myself washing myself
in the moonlight.

“And so I didn’t open out my fingers. I kept my fingers closed like
this, like a cup,” he said, again slowly drawing his fingers together.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                PART TWO


FOR a good many years Tom wrote advertisements in an office in Chicago
where I was also employed. He had grown middle-aged and was unmarried
and in the evenings and on Sundays sat in his apartment reading or
playing rather badly on a piano. Outside business hours he had few
associates and although his youth and young manhood had been a time of
hardship, he continually, in fancy, lived in the past.

He and I had been intimate, in a loose detached sort of way, for a good
many years. Although I was a much younger man we often got half-drunk
together.

Little fluttering tag-like ends of his personal history were always
leaking out of him and, of all the men and women I have known, he gave
me the most material for stories. His own talks, things remembered or
imagined, were never quite completely told. They were fragments caught
up, tossed in the air as by a wind and then abruptly dropped.

All during the late afternoon we had been standing together at a bar and
drinking. We had talked of our work and as Tom grew more drunken he
played with the notion of the importance of advertising writing. At that
time his more mature point of view puzzled me a little. “I’ll tell you
what, that lot of advertisements on which you are now at work is very
important. Do put all your best self into your work. It is very
important that the American house-wife buy Star laundry soap, rather
than Arrow laundry soap. And there is something else—the daughter of the
man who owns the soap factory, that is at present indirectly employing
you, is a very pretty girl. I saw her once. She is nineteen now but soon
she will be out of college and, if her father makes a great deal of
money it will profoundly affect her life. The very man she is to marry
may be decided by the success or failure of the advertisements you are
now writing. In an obscure way you are fighting her battles. Like a
knight of old you have tipped your lance, or shall I say typewriter, in
her service. Today as I walked past your desk and saw you sitting there,
scratching your head, and trying to think whether to say, “buy Star
Laundry Soap—it’s best,” or whether to be a bit slangy and say, “Buy
Star—You win!”—well, I say, my heart went out to you and to this fair
young girl you have never seen, may never see. I tell you what, I was
touched.” He hiccoughed and leaning forward tapped me affectionately on
the shoulder. “I tell you what, young fellow,” he added smiling, “I
thought of the middle ages and of the men, women and children who once
set out toward the Holy Land in the service of the Virgin. They didn’t
get as well paid as you do. I tell you what, we advertising men are too
well paid. There would be more dignity in our profession if we went
barefooted and walked about dressed in old ragged cloaks and carrying
staffs. We might, with a good deal more dignity, carry beggar’s bowls,
in our hands, eh!”

He was laughing heartily now, but suddenly stopped laughing. There was
always an element of sadness in Tom’s mirth.

We walked out of the saloon, he going forward a little unsteadily for,
even when he was quite sober, he was not too steady on his legs. Life
did not express itself very definitely in his body and he rolled
awkwardly about, his heavy body at times threatening to knock some
passerby off the sidewalk.

For a time we stood at a corner, at La Salle and Lake Streets in
Chicago, and about us surged the home-going crowds while over our heads
rattled the elevated trains. Bits of newspaper and clouds of dust were
picked up by a wind and blown in our faces and the dust got into our
eyes. We laughed together, a little nervously.

At any rate for us the evening had just begun. We would walk and later
dine together. He plunged again into the saloon out of which we had just
come, and in a moment returned with a bottle of whiskey in his pocket.

“It is horrible stuff, this whiskey, eh, but after all this is a
horrible town. One couldn’t drink wine here. Wine belongs to a sunny,
laughing people and clime,” he said. He had a notion that drunkenness
was necessary to men in such a modern industrial city as the one in
which we lived. “You wait,” he said, “you’ll see what will happen. One
of these days the reformers will manage to take whiskey away from us,
and what then? We’ll sag down, you see. We’ll become like old women, who
have had too many children. We’ll all sag spiritually and then you’ll
see what’ll happen. Without whiskey no people can stand up against all
this ugliness. It can’t be done, I say. We’ll become empty and
bag-like—we will—all of us. We’ll be like old women who were never loved
but who have had too many children.”

We had walked through many streets and had come to a bridge over a
river. It was growing dark now and we stood for a time in the dusk and
in the uncertain light the structures, built to the very edge of the
stream, great warehouses and factories, began to take on strange shapes.
The river ran through a canyon formed by the buildings, a few boats
passed up and down, and over other bridges, in the distance, street-cars
passed. They were like moving clusters of stars against the dark purple
of the sky.

From time to time he sucked at the whiskey bottle and occasionally
offered me a drink but often he forgot me and drank alone. When he had
taken the bottle from his lips he held it before him and spoke to it
softly, “Little mother,” he said, “I am always at your breast, eh? You
cannot wean me, can you?”

He grew a little angry. “Well, then why did you drop me down here?
Mothers should drop their children in places where men have learned a
little to live. Here there is only a desert of buildings.”

He took another drink from the bottle and then held it for a moment
against his cheek before passing it to me. “There is something feminine
about a whiskey bottle,” he declared. “As long as it contains liquor one
hates to part with it and passing it to a friend is a little like
inviting a friend to go in to your wife. They do that, I’m told, in some
of the Oriental countries—a rather delicate custom. Perhaps they are
more civilized than ourselves, and then, you know, perhaps, it’s just
possible, they have found out that the women sometimes like it too, eh?”

I tried to laugh but did not succeed very well. Now that I am writing of
my friend, I find I am not making a very good likeness of him after all.
It may be that I overdo the note of sadness I get into my account of
him. There was always that element present but it was tempered in him,
as I seem to be unable to temper it in my account of him.

For one thing he was not very clever and I seem to be making him out a
rather clever fellow. On many evenings I have spent with him he was
silent and positively dull and for hours walked awkwardly along, talking
of some affair at the office. There was a long rambling story. He had
been at Detroit with the president of the company and the two men had
visited an advertiser. There was a long dull account of what had been
said—of “he saids,” and, “I saids.”

Or again he told a story of some experience of his own, as a newspaper
man, before he got into advertising. He had been on the copy desk in
some Chicago newspaper, the _Tribune_, perhaps. One grew accustomed to a
little peculiarity of his mind. It traveled sometimes in circles and
there were certain oft-told tales always bobbing up. A man had come into
the newspaper office, a cub reporter with an important piece of news, a
great scoop in fact. No one would believe the reporter’s story. He was
just a kid. There was a murderer, for whom the whole town was on the
watchout, and the cub reporter had picked him up and had brought him
into the office.

There he sat, the dangerous murderer. The cub reporter had found him in
a saloon and going up to him had said, “You might as well give yourself
up. They will get you anyway and it will go better with you if you come
in voluntarily.”

And so the dangerous murderer had decided to come and the cub reporter
had escorted him, not to the police station but to the newspaper office.
It was a great scoop. In a moment now the forms would close, the
newspaper would go to press. The dead line was growing close and the cub
reporter ran about the room from one man to another. He kept pointing at
the murderer, a mild-looking little man with blue eyes, sitting on a
bench, waiting. The cub reporter was almost insane. He danced up and
down and shouting “I tell you that’s Murdock, sitting there. Don’t be a
lot of damn fools. I tell you that’s Murdock, sitting there.”

Now one of the editors has walked listlessly across the room and is
speaking to the little man with blue eyes, and suddenly the whole tone
of the newspaper office has changed. “My God! It’s the truth! Stop
everything! Clear the front page! My God! It is Murdock! What a near
thing! We almost let it go! My God! It’s Murdock!”

The incident in the newspaper office had stayed in my friend’s mind. It
swam about in his mind as in a pool. At recurring times, perhaps once
every six months, he told the story, using always the same words and the
tenseness of that moment in the newspaper office was reproduced in him
over and over. He grew excited. Now the men in the office were all
gathering about the little blue-eyed Murdock. He had killed his wife,
her lover and three children. Then he had run into the street and quite
wantonly shot two men, innocently passing the house. He sat talking
quietly and all the police of the city, and all the reporters for the
other newspapers, were looking for him. There he sat talking, nervously
telling his story. There wasn’t much to the story. “I did it. I just did
it. I guess I was off my nut,” he kept saying.

“Well, the story will have to be stretched out.” The cub reporter who
has brought him in walks about the office proudly. “I’ve done it! I’ve
done it! I’ve proven myself the greatest newspaper man in the city.” The
older men are laughing. “The fool! It’s fool’s luck. If he hadn’t been a
fool he would never have done it. Why he walked right up. ‘Are you
Murdock?’ He had gone about all over town, into saloons, asking men,
‘Are you Murdock?’ God is good to fools and drunkards!”

My friend told the story to me ten, twelve, fifteen times, and did not
know it had grown to be an old story. When he had reproduced the scene
in the newspaper office he made always the same comment. “It’s a good
yarn, eh. Well it’s the truth. I was there. Someone ought to write it up
for one of the magazines.”

I looked at him, watched him closely as he told the story and as I grew
older and kept hearing the murderer’s story and certain others, he also
told regularly without knowing he had told them before, an idea came to
me. “He is a tale-teller who has had no audience,” I thought. “He is a
stream dammed up. He is full of stories that whirl and circle about
within him. Well, he is not a stream dammed up, he is a stream
overfull.” As I walked beside him and heard again the story of the cub
reporter and the murderer I remembered a creek back of my father’s house
in an Ohio town. In the spring the water overflowed a field near our
house and the brown muddy water ran round and round in crazy circles.
One threw a stick into the water and it was carried far away but, after
a time, it came whirling back to where one stood on a piece of high
ground, watching.

What interested me was that the untold stories, or rather the
uncompleted stories of my friend’s mind, did not seem to run in circles.
When a story had attained form it had to be told about every so often,
but the unformed fragments were satisfied to peep out at one and then
retire, never to reappear.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a spring evening and he and I had gone for a walk in Jackson
Park. We went on a street-car and when we were alighting the car started
suddenly and my awkward friend was thrown to the ground and rolled over
and over in the dusty street. The motorman, the conductor and several of
the men passengers alighted and gathered about. No, he was not hurt and
would not give his name and address to the anxious conductor. “I’m not
hurt. I’m not going to sue the company. Damn it, man, I defy you to make
me give my name and address if I do not care to do so.”

He assumed a look of outraged dignity. “Just suppose now that I happen
to be some great man, traveling about the country—in foreign parts,
incognito, as it were. Let us suppose I am a great prince or a dignitary
of some sort. Look how big I am.” He pointed to his huge round paunch.
“If I told who I was cheers might break forth. I do not care for that.
With me, you see, it is different than with yourselves. I have had too
much of that sort of thing already. I’m sick of it. If it happens that,
in the process of my study of the customs of your charming country, I
chose to fall off a street-car that is my own affair. I did not fall on
anyone.”

We walked away leaving the conductor, the motorman and passengers
somewhat mystified. “Ah, he’s a nut,” I heard one of the passengers say
to another.

As for the fall, it had shaken something out of my friend. When later we
were seated on a bench in the park one of the fragments, the little
illuminating bits of his personal history, that sometimes came from him
and that were his chief charm for me, seemed to have been shaken loose
and fell from him as a ripe apple falls from a tree in a wind.

He began talking, a little hesitatingly, as though feeling his way in
the darkness along the hallway of a strange house at night. It had
happened I had never seen him with a woman and he seldom spoke of women,
except with a witty and half scornful gesture, but now he began speaking
of an experience with a woman.

The tale concerned an adventure of his young manhood and occurred after
his mother had died and after his father married again, in fact after he
had left home, not to return.

The enmity, that seemed always to have existed between himself and his
father became while he continued living at home, more and more
pronounced, but on the part of the son, my friend, it was never
expressed in words and his dislike of his father took the form of
contempt that he had made so bad a second marriage. The new woman in the
house seemed such a poor stick. The house was always dirty and the
children, some other man’s children, were always about under foot. When
the two men who had been working in the fields came into the house to
eat, the food was badly cooked.

The father’s desire to have God make him, in some mysterious way a
Methodist minister continued and, as he grew older, the son had
difficulty keeping back certain sharp comments upon life in the house,
that wanted to be expressed. “What was a Methodist minister after all?”
The son was filled with the intolerance of youth. His father was a
laborer, a man who had never been to school. Did he think that God could
suddenly make him something else and that without effort on his own
part, by this interminable praying? If he had really wanted to be a
minister why had he not prepared himself? He had chased off and got
married and when his first wife died he could hardly wait until she was
buried before making another marriage. And what a poor stick of a woman
he had got.

The son looked across the table at his step-mother who was afraid of
him. Their eyes met and the woman’s hands began to tremble. “Do you want
anything?” she asked anxiously. “No,” he replied and began eating in
silence.

One day in the spring, when he was working in the field with his father,
he decided to start out into the world. He and his father were planting
corn. They had no corn-planter and the father had marked out the rows
with a home-made marker and now he was going along in his bare feet,
dropping the grains of corn and the son, with a hoe in his hand, was
following. The son drew earth over the corn and then patted the spot
with the back of the hoe. That was to make the ground solid above so
that the crows would not come down and find the corn before it had time
to take root.

All morning the two worked in silence, and then at noon and when they
came to the end of a row, they stopped to rest. The father went into a
fence corner.

The son was nervous. He sat down and then got up and walked about. He
did not want to look into the fence corner, where his father was no
doubt kneeling and praying—he was always doing that at odd moments—but
presently he did. Dread crept over him. His father was kneeling and
praying in silence and the son could see again the bottoms of his two
bare feet, sticking out from among low-growing bushes. Tom shuddered.
Again he saw the heels and the cushions of the feet, the two ball-like
cushions below the toes. They were black but the instep of each foot was
white with an odd whiteness—not unlike the whiteness of the belly of a
fish.

The reader will understand what was in Tom’s mind—a memory.

Without a word to his father or to his father’s wife, he walked across
the fields to the house, packed a few belongings and left, saying
good-bye to no one. The woman of the house saw him go but said nothing
and after he had disappeared, about a bend in the road, she ran across
the fields to her husband, who was still at his prayers, oblivious to
what had happened. His wife also saw the bare feet sticking out of the
bushes and ran toward them screaming. When her husband arose she began
to cry hysterically. “I thought something dreadful had happened, Oh, I
thought something dreadful had happened,” she sobbed.

“Why, what’s the matter,—what’s the matter?” asked her husband but she
did not answer but ran and threw herself into his arms, and as the two
stood thus, like two grotesque bags of grain, embracing in a black
newly-plowed field under a grey sky, the son, who had stopped in a small
clump of trees, saw them. He walked to the edge of a wood and stood for
a moment and then went off along the road. Afterward he never saw or
heard from them again.

                  *       *       *       *       *

About Tom’s woman adventure—he told it as I have told you the story of
his departure from home, that is to say in a fragmentary way. The story,
like the one I have just tried to tell, or rather perhaps give you a
sense of, was told in broken sentences, dropped between long silences.
As my friend talked I sat looking at him and I will admit I sometimes
found myself thinking he must be the greatest man I would ever know. “He
has felt more things, has by his capacity for silently feeling things,
penetrated further into human life than any other man I am likely ever
to know, perhaps than any other man who lives in my day,” I
thought—deeply stirred.

And so he was on the road now and working his way slowly along afoot
through Southern Ohio. He intended to make his way to some city and
begin educating himself. In the winter, during boyhood, he had attended
a country school, but there were certain things he wanted he could not
find in the country, books, for one thing. “I knew then, as I know now,
something of the importance of books, that is to say real books. There
are only a few such books in the world and it takes a long time to find
them out. Hardly anyone knows what they are and one of the reasons I
have never married is because I did not want some woman coming between
me and the search for the books that really have something to say,” he
explained. He was forever breaking the thread of his stories with little
comments of this kind.

All during that summer he worked on the farms, staying sometimes for two
or three weeks and then moving on and in June he had got to a place,
some twenty miles west of Cincinnati, where he went to work on the farm
of a German, and where the adventure happened that he told me about that
night on the park bench.

The farm on which he was at work belonged to a tall, solidly-built
German of fifty, who had come to America twenty years before, and who,
by hard work, had prospered and had acquired much land. Three years
before he had made up his mind he had better marry and had written to a
friend in Germany about getting him a wife. “I do not want one of these
American girls, and I would like a young woman, not an old one,” he
wrote. He explained that the American girls all had the idea in their
heads that they could run their husbands and that most of them
succeeded. “It’s getting so all they want is to ride around all dressed
up or trot off to town,” he said. Even the older American women he
employed as housekeepers were the same way; none of them would take
hold, help about the farm, feed the stock and do things the wife of a
European farmer expected to do. When he employed a housekeeper she did
the housework and that was all.

Then she went to sit on the front porch, to sew or read a book. “What
nonsense! You get me a good German girl, strong and pretty good-looking.
I’ll send the money and she can come over here and be my wife,” he
wrote.

The letter had been sent to a friend of his young manhood, now a small
merchant in a German town and after talking the matter over with his
wife the merchant decided to send his daughter, a woman of twenty-four.
She had been engaged to marry a man who was taken sick and had died
while he was serving his term in the army and her father decided she had
been mooning about long enough. The merchant called the daughter into a
room where he and his wife sat and told her of his decision and, for a
long time she sat looking at the floor. Was she about to make a fuss? A
prosperous American husband who owned a big farm was not to be sneezed
at. The daughter put up her hand and fumbled with her black hair—there
was a great mass of it. After all she was a big strong woman. Her
husband wouldn’t be cheated. “Yes, I’ll go,” she said quietly, and
getting up walked out of the room.

In America the woman had turned out all right but her husband thought
her a little too silent. Even though the main purpose in life be to do
the work of a house and farm, feed the stock and keep a man’s clothes in
order, so that he is not always having to buy new ones, still there are
times when something else is in order. As he worked in his fields the
farmer sometimes muttered to himself. “Everything in its place. For
everything there is a time and a place,” he told himself. One worked and
then the time came when one played a little too. Now and then it was
nice to have a few friends about, drink beer, eat a good deal of heavy
food and then have some fun, in a kind of way. One did not go too far
but if there were women in the party someone tickled one of them and she
giggled. One made a remark about legs—nothing out of the way. “Legs is
legs. On horses or women legs count a good deal.” Everyone laughed. One
had a jolly evening, one had some fun.

Often, after his woman came, the farmer, working in his fields, tried to
think what was the matter with her. She worked all the time and the
house was in order. Well, she fed the stock so that he did not have to
bother about that. What a good cook she was. She even made beer, in the
old-fashioned German way, at home—and that was fine too.

The whole trouble lay in the fact that she was silent, too silent. When
one spoke to her she answered nicely but she herself made no
conversation and at night she lay in the bed silently. The German
wondered if she would be showing signs of having a child pretty soon.
“That might make a difference,” he thought. He stopped working and
looked across the fields to where there was a meadow. His cattle were
there feeding quietly. “Even cows, and surely cows were quiet and silent
enough things, even cows had times. Sometimes the very devil got into a
cow. You were leading her along a road or a lane and suddenly she went
half insane. If one weren’t careful she would jam her head through
fences, knock a man over, do almost anything. She wanted something
insanely, with a riotous hunger. Even a cow wasn’t always just passive
and quiet.” The German felt cheated. He thought of the friend in Germany
who had sent his daughter. “Ugh, the deuce, he might have sent a
livelier one,” he thought.

It was June when Tom came to the farm and the harvest was on. The German
had planted several large fields to wheat and the yield was good.
Another man had been employed to work on the farm all summer but Tom
could be used too. He would have to sleep on the hay in the barn but
that he did not mind. He went to work at once.

And anyone knowing Tom, and seeing his huge and rather ungainly body,
must realize that, in his youth, he might have been unusually strong.
For one thing he had not done so much thinking as he must have done
later, nor had he been for years seated at a desk. He worked in the
fields with the other two men and at the meal time came into the house
with them to eat. He and the German’s wife must have been a good deal
alike. Tom had in his mind certain things—thoughts concerning his
boyhood—and he was thinking a good deal of the future. Well, there he
was working his way westward and making a little money all the time as
he went, and every cent he made he kept. He had not yet been into an
American city, had purposely avoided such places as Springfield, Dayton
and Cincinnati and had kept to the smaller places and the farms.

After a time he would have an accumulation of money and would go into
cities, study, read books, live. He had then a kind of illusion about
American cities. “A city was a great gathering of people who had grown
tired of loneliness and isolation. They had come to realize that only by
working together could they have the better things of life. Many hands
working together might build wonderfully, many minds working together
might think clearly, many impulses working together might channel all
lives into an expression of something rather fine.”

I am making a mistake if I give you the impression that Tom, the boy
from the Ohio farm, had any such definite notions. He had a feeling—of a
sort. There was a dumb kind of hope in him. He had even then, I am quite
sure, something else, that he later always retained, a kind of almost
holy inner modesty. It was his chief attraction as a man but perhaps it
stood in the way of his ever achieving the kind of outstanding and
assertive manhood we Americans all seem to think we value so highly.

At any rate there he was, and there was that woman, the silent one, now
twenty-seven years old. The three men sat at table eating and she waited
on them. They ate in the farm kitchen, a large old-fashioned one, and
she stood by the stove or went silently about putting more food on the
table as it was consumed.

At night the men did not eat until late and sometimes darkness came as
they sat at table and then she brought lighted lamps for them. Great
winged insects flew violently against the screen door and a few moths,
that had managed to get into the house, flew about the lamps. When the
men had finished eating they sat at the table drinking beer and the
woman washed the dishes.

The farm hand, employed for the summer, was a man of thirty-five, a
large bony man with a drooping mustache. He and the German talked. Well,
it was good, the German thought, to have the silence of his house
broken. The two men spoke of the coming threshing time and of the hay
harvest just completed. One of the cows would be calving next week. Her
time was almost here. The man with the mustache took a drink of beer and
wiped his mustache with the back of his hand, that was covered with long
black hair.

Tom had drawn his chair back against the wall and sat in silence and,
when the German was deeply engaged in conversation, he looked at the
woman, who sometimes turned from her dish-washing to look at him.

There was something, a certain feeling he had sometimes—she, it might
be, also had—but of the two men in the room that could not be said. It
was too bad she spoke no English. Perhaps, however even though she spoke
his language, he could not speak to her of the things he meant. But,
pshaw, there wasn’t anything in his mind, nothing that could be said in
words. Now and then her husband spoke to her in German and she replied
quietly, and then the conversation between the two men was resumed in
English. More beer was brought. The German felt expansive. How good to
have talk in the house. He urged beer upon Tom who took it and drank.
“You’re another close-mouthed one, eh?” he said laughing.

Tom’s adventure happened during the second week of his stay. All the
people about the place had gone to sleep for the night but, as he could
not sleep, he arose silently and came down out of the hay loft carrying
his blanket. It was a silent hot soft night without a moon and he went
to where there was a small grass plot that came down to the barn and
spreading his blanket sat with his back to the wall of the barn.

That he could not sleep did not matter. He was young and strong. “If I
do not sleep tonight I will sleep tomorrow night,” he thought. There was
something in the air that he thought concerned only himself, and that
made him want to be thus awake, sitting out of doors and looking at the
dim distant trees in the apple orchard near the barn, at the stars in
the sky, at the farm house, faintly seen some few hundred feet away. Now
that he was out of doors he no longer felt restless. Perhaps it was only
that he was nearer something that was like himself at the moment, just
the night perhaps.

He became aware of something, of something moving, restlessly in the
darkness. There was a fence between the farm yard and the orchard, with
berry bushes growing beside it, and something was moving in the darkness
along the berry bushes. Was it a cow that had got out of the stable or
were the bushes moved by a wind? He did a trick known to country boys.
Thrusting a finger into his mouth he stood up and put the wet finger out
before him. A wind would dry one side of the warm wet finger quickly and
that side would turn cold. Thus one told oneself something, not only of
the strength of a wind but its direction. Well, there was no wind strong
enough to move berry bushes—there was no wind at all. He had come down
out of the barn loft in his bare feet and in moving about had made no
sound and now he went and stood silently on the blanket with his back
against the wall of the barn.

The movement among the bushes was growing more distinct but it wasn’t in
the bushes. Something was moving along the fence, between him and the
orchard. There was a place along the fence, an old rail one, where no
bushes grew and now the silent moving thing was passing the open space.

It was the woman of the house, the German’s wife. What was up? Was she
also trying dumbly to draw nearer something that was like herself, that
she could understand, a little? Thoughts flitted through Tom’s head and
a dumb kind of desire arose within him. He began hoping vaguely that the
woman was in search of himself.

Later, when he told me of the happenings of that night, he was quite
sure that the feeling that then possessed him was not physical desire
for a woman. His own mother had died several years before and the woman
his father had later married had seemed to him just a thing about the
house, a not very competent thing, bones, a hank of hair, a body that
did not do very well what one’s body was supposed to do. “I was
intolerant as the devil, about all women. Maybe I always have been but
then—I’m sure I was a queer kind of country bumpkin aristocrat. I
thought myself something, a special thing in the world, and that woman,
any women I had ever seen or known, the wives of a few neighbors as poor
as my father, a few country girls—I had thought them all beneath my
contempt, dirt under my feet.

“About that German’s wife I had not felt that way. I don’t know why.
Perhaps because she had a habit of keeping her mouth shut as I did just
at that time, a habit I have since lost.”

And so Tom stood there—waiting. The woman came slowly along the fence,
keeping in the shadow of the bushes and then crossed an open space
toward the barn.

Now she was walking slowly along the barn wall, directly toward the
young man who stood in the heavy shadows holding his breath and waiting
for her coming.

Afterwards, when he thought of what had happened, he could never quite
make up his mind whether she was walking in sleep or was awake as she
came slowly toward him. They did not speak the same language and they
never saw each other after that night. Perhaps she had only been
restless and had got out of the bed beside her husband and made her way
out of the house, without any conscious knowledge of what she was doing.

She became conscious when she came to where he was standing however,
conscious and frightened. He stepped out toward her and she stopped.
Their faces were very close together and her eyes were large with alarm.
“The pupils dilated,” he said in speaking of that moment. He insisted
upon the eyes. “There was a fluttering something in them. I am sure I do
not exaggerate when I say that at the moment I saw everything as clearly
as though we had been standing together in the broad daylight. Perhaps
something had happened to my own eyes, eh? That might be possible. I
could not speak to her, reassure her—I could not say, ‘Do not be
frightened, woman.’ I couldn’t say anything. My eyes I suppose had to do
all the saying.”

Evidently there was something to be said. At any rate there my friend
stood, on that remarkable night of his youth, and his face and the
woman’s face drew nearer each other. Then their lips met and he took her
into his arms and held her for a moment.

That was all. They stood together, the woman of twenty-seven and the
young man of nineteen and he was a country boy and was afraid. That may
be the explanation of the fact that nothing else happened.

I do not know as to that but in telling this tale I have an advantage
you who read cannot have. I heard the tale told, brokenly, by the
man—who had the experience I am trying to describe. Story-tellers of old
times, who went from place to place telling their wonder tales, had an
advantage we, who have come in the age of the printed word, do not have.
They were both story tellers and actors. As they talked they modulated
their voices, made gestures with their hands. Often they carried
conviction simply by the power of their own conviction. All of our
modern fussing with style in writing is an attempt to do the same thing.

And what I am trying to express now is a sense I had that night, as my
friend talked to me in the park, of a union of two people that took
place in the heavy shadows by a barn in Ohio, a union of two people that
was not personal, that concerned their two bodies and at the same time
did not concern their bodies. The thing has to be felt, not understood
with the thinking mind.

Anyway they stood for a few minutes, five minutes perhaps, with their
bodies pressed against the wall of the barn and their hands together,
clasped together tightly. Now and then one of them stepped away from the
barn and stood for a moment directly facing the other. One might say it
was Europe facing America in the darkness by a barn. One might grow
fancy and learned and say almost anything but all I am saying is that
they stood as I am describing them, and oddly enough with their faces to
the barn wall—instinctively turning from the house I presume—and that
now and then one of them stepped out and stood for a moment facing the
other. Their lips did not meet after the first moment.

The next step was taken. The German awoke in the house and began
calling, and then he appeared at the kitchen door with a lantern in his
hand. It was the lantern, his carrying of the lantern, that saved the
situation for the wife and my friend. It made a little circle of light
outside of which he could see nothing, but he kept calling his wife,
whose name was Katherine, in a distracted frightened way. “Oh,
Katherine. Where are you? Oh, Katherine,” he called.

My friend acted at once. Taking hold of the woman’s hand he ran—making
no sound—along the shadows of the barn and across the open space between
the barn and the fence. The two people were two dim shadows flitting
along the dark wall of the barn, nothing more and at the place in the
fence where there were no bushes he lifted her over and climbed over
after her. Then he ran through the orchard and into the road before the
house and putting his two hands on her shoulders shook her. As though
understanding his wish, she answered her husband’s call and as the
lantern came swinging down toward them my friend dodged back into the
orchard.

The man and wife went toward the house, the German talking vigorously
and the woman answering quietly, as she had always answered him. Tom was
puzzled. Everything that happened to him that night puzzled him then and
long afterward when he told me of it. Later he worked out a kind of
explanation of it—as all men will do in such cases—but that is another
story and the time to tell it is not now.

The point is that my friend had, at the moment, the feeling of having
completely possessed the woman, and with that knowledge came also the
knowledge that her husband would never possess her, could never by any
chance possess her. A great tenderness swept over him and he had but one
desire, to protect the woman, not to by any chance make the life she had
yet to live any harder.

And so he ran quickly to the barn, secured the blanket and climbed
silently up into the loft.

The farm hand with the drooping mustache was sleeping quietly on the hay
and Tom lay down beside him and closed his eyes. As he expected the
German came, almost at once, to the loft and flashed the lantern, not
into the face of the older man but into Tom’s face. Then he went away
and Tom lay awake smiling happily. He was young then and there was
something proud and revengeful in him—in his attitude toward the German,
at the moment. “Her husband knew, but at the same time did not know,
that I had taken his woman from him,” he said to me when he told of the
incident long afterward. “I don’t know why that made me so happy then,
but it did. At the moment I thought I was happy only because we had both
managed to escape, but now I know that wasn’t it.”

And it is quite sure my friend did have a sense of something. On the
next morning when he went into the house the breakfast was on the table
but the woman was not on hand to serve it. The food was on the table and
the coffee on the stove and the three men ate in silence. And then Tom
and the German stepped out of the house together, stepped, as by a
prearranged plan into the barnyard. The German knew nothing—his wife had
grown restless in the night and had got out of bed and walked out into
the road and both the other men were asleep in the barn. He had never
had any reason for suspecting her of anything at all and she was just
the kind of woman he had wanted, never went trapsing off to town, didn’t
spend a lot of money on clothes, was willing to do any kind of work,
made no trouble. He wondered why he had taken such a sudden and violent
dislike for his young employee.

Tom spoke first. “I think I’ll quit. I think I’d better be on my way,”
he said. It was obvious his going, at just that time, would upset the
plans the German had made for getting the work done at the rush time but
he made no objection to Tom’s going and at once. Tom had arranged to
work by the week and the German counted back to the Saturday before and
tried to cheat a little. “I owe you for only one week, eh?” he said. One
might as well get two days extra work out of the man without pay—if it
were possible.

But Tom did not intend being defeated. “A week and four days,” he
replied, purposely adding an extra day. “If you do not want to pay for
the four days I’ll stay out the week.”

The German went into the house and got the money and Tom set off along
the road.

When he had walked for two or three miles he stopped and went into a
wood where he stayed all that day thinking of what had happened.

Perhaps he did not do much thinking. What he said, when he told the
story that night in the Chicago park, was that all day there were
certain figures marching through his mind and that he just sat down on a
log and let them march. Did he have some notion that an impulse toward
life in himself had come, and that it would not come again?

As he sat on the log there were the figures of his father and his dead
mother and of several other people who had lived about the Ohio
countryside where he had spent his boyhood. They kept doing things,
saying things. It will be quite clear to my readers that I think my
friend a story teller who for some reason has never been able to get his
stories outside himself, as one might say, and that might of course
explain the day in the wood. He himself thought he was in a sort of
comatose state. He had not slept during the night before and, although
he did not say as much, there was something a bit mysterious in the
thing that had happened to him.

There was one thing he told me concerning that day of dreams that is
curious. There appeared in his fancy, over and over again, the figure of
a woman he had never seen in the flesh and has never seen since. At any
rate it wasn’t the German’s wife, he declared.

“The figure was that of a woman but I could not tell her age,” he said.
“She was walking away from me and was clad in a blue dress covered with
black dots. Her figure was slender and looked strong but broken. That’s
it. She was walking in a path in a country such as I had then never
seen, have never seen, a country of very low hills and without trees.
There was no grass either but only low bushes that came up to her knees.
One might have thought it an Arctic country, where there is summer but
for a few weeks each year. She had her sleeves rolled to her shoulders
so that her slender arms showed, and had buried her face in the crook of
her right arm. Her left arm hung like a broken thing, her legs were like
broken things, her body was a broken thing.

“And yet, you see, she kept walking and walking, in the path, among the
low bushes, over the barren little hills. She walked vigorously too. It
seems impossible and a foolish thing to tell about but all day I sat in
the woods on the stump and every time I closed my eyes I saw that woman
walking thus, fairly rushing along, and yet, you see, she was all broken
to pieces.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       THE MAN WHO BECAME A WOMAN



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       THE MAN WHO BECAME A WOMAN


MY father was a retail druggist in our town, out in Nebraska, which was
so much like a thousand other towns I’ve been in since that there’s no
use fooling around and taking up your time and mine trying to describe
it.

Anyway I became a drug clerk and after father’s death the store was sold
and mother took the money and went west, to her sister in California,
giving me four hundred dollars with which to make my start in the world.
I was only nineteen years old then.

I came to Chicago, where I worked as a drug clerk for a time, and then,
as my health suddenly went back on me, perhaps because I was so sick of
my lonely life in the city and of the sight and smell of the drug store,
I decided to set out on what seemed to me then the great adventure and
became for a time a tramp, working now and then, when I had no money,
but spending all the time I could loafing around out of doors or riding
up and down the land on freight trains and trying to see the world. I
even did some stealing in lonely towns at night—once a pretty good suit
of clothes that someone had left hanging out on a clothesline, and once
some shoes out of a box in a freight car—but I was in constant terror of
being caught and put into jail so realized that success as a thief was
not for me.

The most delightful experience of that period of my life was when I once
worked as a groom, or swipe, with race horses and it was during that
time I met a young fellow of about my own age who has since become a
writer of some prominence.

The young man of whom I now speak had gone into race track work as a
groom, to bring a kind of flourish, a high spot, he used to say, into
his life.

He was then unmarried and had not been successful as a writer. What I
mean is he was free and I guess, with him as with me, there was
something he liked about the people who hang about a race track, the
touts, swipes, drivers, niggers and gamblers. You know what a gaudy
undependable lot they are—if you’ve ever been around the tracks
much—about the best liars I’ve ever seen, and not saving money or
thinking about morals, like most druggists, drygoods merchants and the
others who used to be my father’s friends in our Nebraska town—and not
bending the knee much either, or kowtowing to people, they thought must
be grander or richer or more powerful than themselves.

What I mean is, they were an independent, go-to-the-devil,
come-have-a-drink-of-whisky, kind of a crew and when one of them won a
bet, “knocked ’em off,” we called it, his money was just dirt to him
while it lasted. No king or president or soap manufacturer—gone on a
trip with his family to Europe—could throw on more dog than one of them,
with his big diamond rings and the diamond horse-shoe stuck in his
necktie and all.

I liked the whole blamed lot pretty well and he did too.

He was groom temporarily for a pacing gelding named Lumpy Joe owned by a
tall black-mustached man named Alfred Kreymborg and trying the best he
could to make the bluff to himself he was a real one. It happened that
we were on the same circuit, doing the West Pennsylvania county fairs
all that fall, and on fine evenings we spent a good deal of time walking
and talking together.

Let us suppose it to be a Monday or Tuesday evening and our horses had
been put away for the night. The racing didn’t start until later in the
week, maybe Wednesday, usually. There was always a little place called a
dining-hall, run mostly by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Associations
of the towns, and we would go there to eat where we could get a pretty
good meal for twenty-five cents. At least then we thought it pretty
good.

I would manage it so that I sat beside this fellow, whose name was Tom
Means and when we had got through eating we would go look at our two
horses again and when we got there Lumpy Joe would be eating his hay in
his box-stall and Alfred Kreymborg would be standing there, pulling his
mustache and looking as sad as a sick crane.

But he wasn’t really sad. “You two boys want to go down-town to see the
girls. I’m an old duffer and way past that myself. You go on along. I’ll
be setting here anyway, and I’ll keep an eye on both the horses for
you,” he would say.

So we would set off, going, not into the town to try to get in with some
of the town girls, who might have taken up with us because we were
strangers and race track fellows, but out into the country. Sometimes we
got into a hilly country and there was a moon. The leaves were falling
off the trees and lay in the road so that we kicked them up with the
dust as we went along.

To tell the truth I suppose I got to love Tom Means, who was five years
older than me, although I wouldn’t have dared say so, then. Americans
are shy and timid about saying things like that and a man here don’t
dare own up he loves another man, I’ve found out, and they are afraid to
admit such feelings to themselves even. I guess they’re afraid it may be
taken to mean something it don’t need to at all.

Anyway we walked along and some of the trees were already bare and
looked like people standing solemnly beside the road and listening to
what we had to say. Only I didn’t say much. Tom Means did most of the
talking.

Sometimes we came back to the race track and it was late and the moon
had gone down and it was dark. Then we often walked round and round the
track, sometimes a dozen times, before we crawled into the hay to go to
bed.

Tom talked always on two subjects, writing and race horses, but mostly
about race horses. The quiet sounds about the race tracks and the smells
of horses, and the things that go with horses, seemed to get him all
excited. “Oh, hell, Herman Dudley,” he would burst out suddenly, “don’t
go talking to me. I know what I think. I’ve been around more than you
have and I’ve seen a world of people. There isn’t any man or woman, not
even a fellow’s own mother, as fine as a horse, that is to say a
thoroughbred horse.”

Sometimes he would go on like that a long time, speaking of people he
had seen and their characteristics. He wanted to be a writer later and
what he said was that when he came to be one he wanted to write the way
a well bred horse runs or trots or paces. Whether he ever did it or not
I can’t say. He has written a lot, but I’m not too good a judge of such
things. Anyway I don’t think he has.

But when he got on the subject of horses he certainly was a darby. I
would never have felt the way I finally got to feel about horses or
enjoyed my stay among them half so much if it hadn’t been for him. Often
he would go on talking for an hour maybe, speaking of horses’ bodies and
of their minds and wills as though they were human beings. “Lord help
us, Herman,” he would say, grabbing hold of my arm, “don’t it get you up
in the throat? I say now, when a good one, like that Lumpy Joe I’m
swiping, flattens himself at the head of the stretch and he’s coming,
and you know he’s coming, and you know his heart’s sound, and he’s game,
and you know he isn’t going to let himself get licked—don’t it get you
Herman, don’t it get you like the old Harry?”

That’s the way he would talk, and then later, sometimes, he’d talk about
writing and get himself all het up about that too. He had some notions
about writing I’ve never got myself around to thinking much about but
just the same maybe his talk, working in me, has led me to want to begin
to write this story myself.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There was one experience of that time on the tracks that I am forced, by
some feeling inside myself, to tell.

Well, I don’t know why but I’ve just got to. It will be kind of like
confession is, I suppose, to a good Catholic, or maybe, better yet, like
cleaning up the room you live in, if you are a bachelor, like I was for
so long. The room gets pretty mussy and the bed not made some days and
clothes and things thrown on the closet floor and maybe under the bed.
And then you clean all up and put on new sheets, and then you take off
all your clothes and get down on your hands and knees, and scrub the
floor so clean you could eat bread off it, and then take a walk and come
home after a while and your room smells sweet and you feel sweetened-up
and better inside yourself too.

What I mean is, this story has been on my chest, and I’ve often dreamed
about the happenings in it, even after I married Jessie and was happy.
Sometimes I even screamed out at night and so I said to myself, “I’ll
write the dang story,” and here goes.

Fall had come on and in the mornings now when we crept out of our
blankets, spread out on the hay in the tiny lofts above the horse
stalls, and put our heads out to look around, there was a white rime of
frost on the ground. When we woke the horses woke too. You know how it
is at the tracks—the little barn-like stalls with the tiny lofts above
are all set along in a row and there are two doors to each stall, one
coming up to a horse’s breast and then a top one, that is only closed at
night and in bad weather.

In the mornings the upper door is swung open and fastened back and the
horses put their heads out. There is the white rime on the grass over
inside the grey oval the track makes. Usually there is some outfit that
has six, ten or even twelve horses, and perhaps they have a negro cook
who does his cooking at an open fire in the clear space before the row
of stalls and he is at work now and the horses with their big fine eyes
are looking about and whinnying, and a stallion looks out at the door of
one of the stalls and sees a sweet-eyed mare looking at him and sends up
his trumpet-call, and a man’s voice laughs, and there are no women
anywhere in sight or no sign of one anywhere, and everyone feels like
laughing and usually does.

It’s pretty fine but I didn’t know how fine it was until I got to know
Tom Means and heard him talk about it all.

At the time the thing happened of which I am trying to tell now Tom was
no longer with me. A week before his owner, Alfred Kreymborg, had taken
his horse Lumpy Joe over into the Ohio Fair Circuit and I saw no more of
Tom at the tracks.

There was a story going about the stalls that Lumpy Joe, a big rangy
brown gelding, wasn’t really named Lumpy Joe at all, that he was a
ringer who had made a fast record out in Iowa and up through the
northwest country the year before, and that Kreymborg had picked him up
and had kept him under wraps all winter and had brought him over into
the Pennsylvania country under this new name and made a clean-up in the
books.

I know nothing about that and never talked to Tom about it but anyway
he, Lumpy Joe and Kreymborg were all gone now.

I suppose I’ll always remember those days, and Tom’s talk at night, and
before that in the early September evenings how we sat around in front
of the stalls, and Kreymborg sitting on an upturned feed box and pulling
at his long black mustache and some times humming a little ditty one
couldn’t catch the words of. It was something about a deep well and a
little grey squirrel crawling up the sides of it, and he never laughed
or smiled much but there was something in his solemn grey eyes, not
quite a twinkle, something more delicate than that.

The others talked in low tones and Tom and I sat in silence. He never
did his best talking except when he and I were alone.

For his sake—if he ever sees my story—I should mention that at the only
big track we ever visited, at Readville, Pennsylvania, we saw old Pop
Geers, the great racing driver, himself. His horses were at a place far
away across the tracks from where we were stabled. I suppose a man like
him was likely to get the choice of all the good places for his horses.

We went over there one evening and stood about and there was Geers
himself, sitting before one of the stalls on a box tapping the ground
with a riding whip. They called him, around the tracks, “The silent man
from Tennessee” and he was silent—that night anyway. All we did was to
stand and look at him for maybe a half hour and then we went away and
that night Tom talked better than I had ever heard him. He said that the
ambition of his life was to wait until Pop Geers died and then write a
book about him, and to show in the book that there was at least one
American who never went nutty about getting rich or owning a big factory
of being any other kind of a hell of a fellow. “He’s satisfied I think
to sit around like that and wait until the big moments of his life come,
when he heads a fast one into the stretch and then, darn his soul, he
can give all of himself to the thing right in front of him,” Tom said,
and then he was so worked up he began to blubber. We were walking along
the fence on the inside of the tracks and it was dusk and, in some trees
nearby, some birds, just sparrows maybe, were making a chirping sound,
and you could hear insects singing and, where there was a little light,
off to the west between some trees, motes were dancing in the air. Tom
said that about Pop Gears, although I think he was thinking most about
something he wanted to be himself and wasn’t, and then he went and stood
by the fence and sort of blubbered and I began to blubber too, although
I didn’t know what about.

But perhaps I did know, after all. I suppose Tom wanted to feel, when he
became a writer, like he thought old Pop must feel when his horse swung
around the upper turn, and there lay the stretch before him, and if he
was going to get his horse home in front he had to do it right then.
What Tom said was that any man had something in him that understands
about a thing like that but that no woman ever did except up in her
brain. He often got off things like that about women but I notice he
later married one of them just the same.

But to get back to my knitting. After Tom had left, the stable I was
with kept drifting along through nice little Pennsylvania county seat
towns. My owner, a strange excitable kind of a man from over in Ohio,
who had lost a lot of money on horses but was always thinking he would
maybe get it all back in some big killing, had been playing in pretty
good luck that year. The horse I had, a tough little gelding, a five
year old, had been getting home in front pretty regular and so he took
some of his winnings and bought a three years old black pacing stallion
named “O, My Man.” My gelding was called “Pick-it-boy” because when he
was in a race and had got into the stretch my owner always got half wild
with excitement and shouted so you could hear him a mile and a half.
“Go, Pick-it-boy, Pick-it-boy, Pick-it-boy,” he kept shouting and so
when he had got hold of this good little gelding he had named him that.

The gelding was a fast one, all right. As the boys at the tracks used to
say, he “picked ’em up sharp and set ’em down clean,” and he was what we
called a natural race horse, right up to all the speed he had, and
didn’t require much training. “All you got to do is to drop him down on
the track and he’ll go,” was what my owner was always saying to other
men, when he was bragging about his horse.

And so you see, after Tom left, I hadn’t much to do evenings and then
the new stallion, the three year old, came on with a negro swipe named
Burt.

I liked him fine and he liked me but not the same as Tom and me. We got
to be friends all right and I suppose Burt would have done things for
me, and maybe me for him, that Tom and me wouldn’t have done for each
other.

But with a negro you couldn’t be close friends like you can with another
white man. There’s some reason you can’t understand but it’s true.
There’s been too much talk about the difference between whites and
blacks and you’re both shy, and anyway no use trying and I suppose Burt
and I both knew it and so I was pretty lonesome.

Something happened to me that happened several times, when I was a young
fellow, that I have never exactly understood. Sometimes now I think it
was all because I had got to be almost a man and had never been with a
woman. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I can’t ask a woman. I’ve
tried it a good many times in my life but every time I’ve tried the same
thing happened.

Of course, with Jessie now, it’s different, but at the time of which I’m
speaking Jessie was a long ways off and a good many things were to
happen to me before I got to her.

Around a race track, as you may suppose, the fellows who are swipes and
drivers and strangers in the towns do not go without women. They don’t
have to. In any town there are always some fly girls will come around a
place like that. I suppose they think they are fooling with men who lead
romantic lives. Such girls will come along by the front of the stalls
where the race horses are and, if you look all right to them, they will
stop and make a fuss over your horse. They rub their little hands over
the horse’s nose and then is the time for you—if you aren’t a fellow
like me who can’t get up the nerve—then is the time for you to smile and
say, “Hello, kid,” and make a date with one of them for that evening up
town after supper. I couldn’t do that, although the Lord knows I tried
hard enough, often enough. A girl would come along alone, and she would
be a little thing and give me the eye, and I would try and try but
couldn’t say anything. Both Tom, and Burt afterwards, used to laugh at
me about it sometimes but what I think is that, had I been able to speak
up to one of them and had managed to make a date with her, nothing would
have come of it. We would probably have walked around the town and got
off together in the dark somewhere, where the town came to an end, and
then she would have had to knock me over with a club before it got any
further.

And so there I was, having got used to Tom and our talks together, and
Burt of course had his own friends among the black men. I got lazy and
mopey and had a hard time doing my work.

It was like this. Sometimes I would be sitting, perhaps under a tree in
the late afternoon when the races were over for the day and the crowds
had gone away. There were always a lot of other men and boys who hadn’t
any horses in the races that day and they would be standing or sitting
about in front of the stalls and talking.

I would listen for a time to their talk and then their voices would seem
to go far away. The things I was looking at would go far away too.
Perhaps there would be a tree, not more than a hundred yards away, and
it would just come out of the ground and float away like a thistle. It
would get smaller and smaller, away off there in the sky, and then
suddenly—bang, it would be back where it belonged, in the ground, and I
would begin hearing the voices of the men talking again.

When Tom was with me that summer the nights were splendid. We usually
walked about and talked until pretty late and then I crawled up into my
hole and went to sleep. Always out of Tom’s talk I got something that
stayed in my mind, after I was off by myself, curled up in my blanket. I
suppose he had a way of making pictures as he talked and the pictures
stayed by me as Burt was always saying pork chops did by him. “Give me
the old pork chops, they stick to the ribs,” Burt was always saying and
with the imagination it was always that way about Tom’s talks. He
started something inside you that went on and on, and your mind played
with it like walking about in a strange town and seeing the sights, and
you slipped off to sleep and had splendid dreams and woke up in the
morning feeling fine.

And then he was gone and it wasn’t that way any more and I got into the
fix I have described. At night I kept seeing women’s bodies and women’s
lips and things in my dreams, and woke up in the morning feeling like
the old Harry.

Burt was pretty good to me. He always helped me cool Pick-it-boy out
after a race and he did the things himself that take the most skill and
quickness, like getting the bandages on a horse’s leg smooth, and seeing
that every strap is setting just right, and every buckle drawn up to
just the right hole, before your horse goes out on the track for a heat.

Burt knew there was something wrong with me and put himself out not to
let the boss know. When the boss was around he was always bragging about
me. “The brightest kid I’ve ever worked with around the tracks,” he
would say and grin, and that at a time when I wasn’t worth my salt.

When you go out with the horses there is one job that always takes a lot
of time. In the late afternoon, after your horse has been in a race and
after you have washed him and rubbed him out, he has to be walked
slowly, sometimes for hours and hours, so he’ll cool out slowly and
won’t get muscle-bound. I got so I did that job for both our horses and
Burt did the more important things. It left him free to go talk or shoot
dice with the other niggers and I didn’t mind. I rather liked it and
after a hard race even the stallion, O My Man, was tame enough, even
when there were mares about.

You walk and walk and walk, around a little circle, and your horse’s
head is right by your shoulder, and all around you the life of the place
you are in is going on, and in a queer way you get so you aren’t really
a part of it at all. Perhaps no one ever gets as I was then, except boys
that aren’t quite men yet and who like me have never been with girls or
women—to really be with them, up to the hilt, I mean. I used to wonder
if young girls got that way too before they married or did what we used
to call “go on the town.”

If I remember it right though, I didn’t do much thinking then. Often I
would have forgotten supper if Burt hadn’t shouted at me and reminded
me, and sometimes he forgot and went off to town with one of the other
niggers and I did forget.

There I was with the horse, going slow slow slow, around a circle that
way. The people were leaving the fair grounds now, some afoot, some
driving away to the farms in wagons and fords. Clouds of dust floated in
the air and over to the west, where the town was, maybe the sun was
going down, a red ball of fire through the dust. Only a few hours before
the crowd had been all filled with excitement and everyone shouting. Let
us suppose my horse had been in a race that afternoon and I had stood in
front of the grandstand with my horse blanket over my shoulder,
alongside of Burt perhaps, and when they came into the stretch my owner
began to call, in that queer high voice of his that seemed to float over
the top of all the shouting up in the grandstand. And his voice was
saying over and over, “Go, Pick-it-boy, Pick-it-boy, Pick-it-boy,” the
way he always did, and my heart was thumping so I could hardly breathe,
and Burt was leaning over and snapping his fingers and muttering, “Come,
little sweet. Come on home. Your Mama wants you. Come get your ’lasses
and bread, little Pick-it-boy.”

Well, all that was over now and the voices of the people left around
were all low. And Pick-it-boy—I was leading him slowly around the little
ring, to cool him out slowly, as I’ve said,—he was different too. Maybe
he had pretty nearly broken his heart trying to get down to the wire in
front, or getting down there in front, and now everything inside him was
quiet and tired, as it was nearly all the time those days in me, except
in me tired but not quiet.

You remember I’ve told you we always walked in a circle, round and round
and round. I guess something inside me got to going round and round and
round too. The sun did sometimes and the trees and the clouds of dust. I
had to think sometimes about putting down my feet so they went down in
the right place and I didn’t get to staggering like a drunken man.

And a funny feeling came that it is going to be hard to describe. It had
something to do with the life in the horse and in me. Sometimes, these
late years, I’ve thought maybe negroes would understand what I’m trying
to talk about now better than any white man ever will. I mean something
about men and animals, something between them, something that can
perhaps only happen to a white man when he has slipped off his base a
little, as I suppose I had then. I think maybe a lot of horsey people
feel it sometimes though. It’s something like this, maybe—do you suppose
it could be that something we whites have got, and think such a lot of,
and are so proud about, isn’t much of any good after all?

It’s something in us that wants to be big and grand and important maybe
and won’t let us just be, like a horse or a dog or a bird can. Let’s say
Pick-it-boy had won his race that day. He did that pretty often that
summer. Well, he was neither proud, like I would have been in his place,
or mean in one part of the inside of him either. He was just himself,
doing something with a kind of simplicity. That’s what Pick-it-boy was
like and I got to feeling it in him as I walked with him slowly in the
gathering darkness. I got inside him in some way I can’t explain and he
got inside me. Often we would stop walking for no cause and he would put
his nose up against my face.

I wished he was a girl sometimes or that I was a girl and he was a man.
It’s an odd thing to say but it’s a fact. Being with him that way, so
long, and in such a quiet way, cured something in me a little. Often
after an evening like that I slept all right and did not have the kind
of dreams I’ve spoken about.

But I wasn’t cured for very long and couldn’t get cured. My body seemed
all right and just as good as ever but there wasn’t no pep in me.

Then the fall got later and later and we came to the last town we were
going to make before my owner laid his horses up for the winter, in his
home town over across the State line in Ohio, and the track was up on a
hill, or rather in a kind of high plain above the town.

It wasn’t much of a place and the sheds were rather rickety and the
track bad, especially at the turns. As soon as we got to the place and
got stabled it began to rain and kept it up all week so the fair had to
be put off.

As the purses weren’t very large a lot of the owners shipped right out
but our owner stayed. The fair owners guaranteed expenses, whether the
races were held the next week or not.

And all week there wasn’t much of anything for Burt and me to do but
clean manure out of the stalls in the morning, watch for a chance when
the rain let up a little to jog the horses around the track in the mud
and then clean them off, blanket them and stick them back in their
stalls.

It was the hardest time of all for me. Burt wasn’t so bad off as there
were a dozen or two blacks around and in the evening they went off to
town, got liquored-up a little and came home late, singing and talking,
even in the cold rain.

And then one night I got mixed up in the thing I’m trying to tell you
about.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a Saturday evening and when I look back at it now it seems to me
everyone had left the tracks but just me. In the early evening swipe
after swipe came over to my stall and asked me if I was going to stick
around. When I said I was he would ask me to keep an eye out for him,
that nothing happened to his horse. “Just take a stroll down that way
now and then, eh, kid,” one of them would say, “I just want to run up to
town for an hour or two.”

I would say “yes” to be sure, and so pretty soon it was dark as pitch up
there in that little ruined fairground and nothing living anywhere
around but the horses and me.

I stood it as long as I could, walking here and there in the mud and
rain, and thinking all the time I wished I was someone else and not
myself. “If I were someone else,” I thought, “I wouldn’t be here but
down there in town with the others.” I saw myself going into saloons and
having drinks and later going off to a house maybe and getting myself a
woman.

I got to thinking so much that, as I went stumbling around up there in
the darkness, it was as though what was in my mind was actually
happening.

Only I wasn’t with some cheap woman, such as I would have found had I
had the nerve to do what I wanted but with such a woman as I thought
then I should never find in this world. She was slender and like a
flower and with something in her like a race horse too, something in her
like Pick-it-boy in the stretch, I guess.

And I thought about her and thought about her until I couldn’t stand
thinking any more. “I’ll do something anyway,” I said to myself.

So, although I had told all the swipes I would stay and watch their
horses, I went out of the fair grounds and down the hill a ways. I went
down until I came to a little low saloon, not in the main part of the
town itself but half way up the hillside. The saloon had once been a
residence, a farmhouse perhaps, but if it was ever a farmhouse I’m sure
the farmer who lived there and worked the land on that hillside hadn’t
made out very well. The country didn’t look like a farming country, such
as one sees all about the other county-seat towns we had been visiting
all through the late summer and fall. Everywhere you looked there were
stones sticking out of the ground and the trees mostly of the stubby,
stunted kind. It looked wild and untidy and ragged, that’s what I mean.
On the flat plain, up above, where the fairground was, there were a few
fields and pastures, and there were some sheep raised and in the field
right next to the tracks, on the furtherest side from town, on the back
stretch side, there had once been a slaughter-house, the ruins of which
were still standing. It hadn’t been used for quite some time but there
were bones of animals lying all about in the field, and there was a
smell coming out of the old building that would curl your hair.

The horses hated the place, just as we swipes did, and in the morning
when we were jogging them around the track in the mud, to keep them in
racing condition, Pick-it-boy and O My Man both raised old Ned every
time we headed them up the back stretch and got near to where the old
slaughter-house stood. They would rear and fight at the bit, and go off
their stride and run until they got clear of the rotten smells, and
neither Burt nor I could make them stop it. “It’s a hell of a town down
there and this is a hell of a track for racing,” Burt kept saying. “If
they ever have their danged old fair someone’s going to get spilled and
maybe killed back here.” Whether they did or not I don’t know as I
didn’t stay for the fair, for reasons I’ll tell you pretty soon, but
Burt was speaking sense all right. A race horse isn’t like a human
being. He won’t stand for it to have to do his work in any rotten ugly
kind of a dump the way a man will, and he won’t stand for the smells a
man will either.

But to get back to my story again. There I was, going down the hillside
in the darkness and the cold soaking rain and breaking my word to all
the others about staying up above and watching the horses. When I got to
the little saloon I decided to stop and have a drink or two. I’d found
out long before that about two drinks upset me so I was two-thirds piped
and couldn’t walk straight, but on that night I didn’t care a tinker’s
dam.

So I went up a kind of path, out of the road, toward the front door of
the saloon. It was in what must have been the parlor of the place when
it was a farmhouse and there was a little front porch.

I stopped before I opened the door and looked about a little. From where
I stood I could look right down into the main street of the town, like
being in a big city, like New York or Chicago, and looking down out of
the fifteenth floor of an office building into the street.

The hillside was mighty steep and the road up had to wind and wind or no
one could ever have come up out of the town to their plagued old fair at
all.

It wasn’t much of a town I saw—a main street with a lot of saloons and a
few stores, one or two dinky moving-picture places, a few fords, hardly
any women or girls in sight and a raft of men. I tried to think of the
girl I had been dreaming about, as I walked around in the mud and
darkness up at the fair ground, living in the place but I couldn’t make
it. It was like trying to think of Pick-it-boy getting himself worked up
to the state I was in then, and going into the ugly dump I was going
into. It couldn’t be done.

All the same I knew the town wasn’t all right there in sight. There must
have been a good many of the kinds of houses Pennsylvania miners live in
back in the hills, or around a turn in the valley in which the main
street stood.

What I suppose is that, it being Saturday night and raining, the women
and kids had all stayed at home and only the men were out, intending to
get themselves liquored-up. I’ve been in some other mining towns since
and if I was a miner and had to live in one of them, or in one of the
houses they live in with their women and kids, I’d get out and liquor
myself up too.

So there I stood looking, and as sick as a dog inside myself, and as wet
and cold as a rat in a sewer pipe. I could see the mass of dark figures
moving about down below, and beyond the main street there was a river
that made a sound you could hear distinctly, even up where I was, and
over beyond the river were some railroad tracks with switch engines
going up and down. I suppose they had something to do with the mines in
which the men of the town worked. Anyway, as I stood watching and
listening there was, now and then, a sound like thunder rolling down the
sky, and I suppose that was a lot of coal, maybe a whole carload, being
let down plunk into a coal car.

And then besides there was, on the side of a hill far away, a long row
of coke ovens. They had little doors, through which the light from the
fire within leaked out and as they were set closely, side by side, they
looked like the teeth of some big man-eating giant lying and waiting
over there in the hills.

The sight of it all, even the sight of the kind of hellholes men are
satisfied to go on living in, gave me the fantods and the shivers right
down in my liver, and on that night I guess I had in me a kind of
contempt for all men, including myself, that I’ve never had so
thoroughly since. Come right down to it, I suppose women aren’t so much
to blame as men. They aren’t running the show.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Then I pushed open the door and went into the saloon. There were about a
dozen men, miners I suppose, playing cards at tables in a little long
dirty room, with a bar at one side of it, and with a big red-faced man
with a mustache standing back of the bar.

The place smelled, as such places do where men hang around who have
worked and sweated in their clothes and perhaps slept in them too, and
have never had them washed but have just kept on wearing them. I guess
you know what I mean if you’ve ever been in a city. You smell that smell
in a city, in street-cars on rainy nights when a lot of factory hands
get on. I got pretty used to that smell when I was a tramp and pretty
sick of it too.

And so I was in the place now, with a glass of whisky in my hand, and I
thought all the miners were staring at me, which they weren’t at all,
but I thought they were and so I felt just the same as though they had
been. And then I looked up and saw my own face in the old cracked
looking-glass back of the bar. If the miners had been staring, or
laughing at me, I wouldn’t have wondered when I saw what I looked like.

It—I mean my own face—was white and pasty-looking, and for some reason,
I can’t tell exactly why, it wasn’t my own face at all. It’s a funny
business I’m trying to tell you about and I know what you may be
thinking of me as well as you do, so you needn’t suppose I’m innocent or
ashamed. I’m only wondering. I’ve thought about it a lot since and I
can’t make it out. I know I was never that way before that night and I
know I’ve never been that way since. Maybe it was lonesomeness, just
lonesomeness, gone on in me too long. I’ve often wondered if women
generally are lonesomer than men.

The point is that the face I saw in the looking-glass back of that bar,
when I looked up from my glass of whisky that evening, wasn’t my own
face at all but the face of a woman. It was a girl’s face, that’s what I
mean. That’s what it was. It was a girl’s face, and a lonesome and
scared girl too. She was just a kid at that.

When I saw that the glass of whisky came pretty near falling out of my
hand but I gulped it down, put a dollar on the bar, and called for
another. “I’ve got to be careful here—I’m up against something new,” I
said to myself. “If any of these men in here get on to me there’s going
to be trouble.” When I had got the second drink in me I called for a
third and I thought, “When I get this third drink down I’ll get out of
here and back up the hill to the fair ground before I make a fool of
myself and begin to get drunk.”

And then, while I was thinking and drinking my third glass of whisky,
the men in the room began to laugh and of course I thought they were
laughing at me. But they weren’t. No one in the place had really paid
any attention to me.

What they were laughing at was a man who had just come in at the door.
I’d never seen such a fellow. He was a huge big man, with red hair, that
stuck straight up like bristles out of his head, and he had a red-haired
kid in his arms. The kid was just like himself, big, I mean, for his
age, and with the same kind of stiff red hair.

He came and set the kid up on the bar, close beside me, and called for a
glass of whisky for himself and all the men in the room began to shout
and laugh at him and his kid. Only they didn’t shout and laugh when he
was looking, so he could tell which ones did it, but did all their
shouting and laughing when his head was turned the other way. They kept
calling him “cracked.” “The crack is getting wider in the old tin pan,”
someone sang and then they all laughed.

I’m puzzled you see, just how to make you feel as I felt that night. I
suppose, having undertaken to write this story, that’s what I’m up
against, trying to do that. I’m not claiming to be able to inform you or
to do you any good. I’m just trying to make you understand some things
about me, as I would like to understand some things about you, or
anyone, if I had the chance. Anyway the whole blamed thing, the thing
that went on I mean in that little saloon on that rainy Saturday night,
wasn’t like anything quite real. I’ve already told you how I had looked
into the glass back of the bar and had seen there, not my own face but
the face of a scared young girl. Well, the men, the miners, sitting at
the tables in the half dark room, the red-faced bartender, the unholy
looking big man who had come in and his queer-looking kid, now sitting
on the bar—all of them were like characters in some play, not like real
people at all.

There was myself, that wasn’t myself—and I’m not any fairy. Anyone who
has ever known me knows better than that.

And then there was the man who had come in. There was a feeling came out
of him that wasn’t like the feeling you get from a man at all. It was
more like the feeling you get maybe from a horse, only his eyes weren’t
like a horse’s eyes. Horses’ eyes have a kind of calm something in them
and his hadn’t. If you’ve ever carried a lantern through a wood at
night, going along a path, and then suddenly you felt something funny in
the air and stopped, and there ahead of you somewhere were the eyes of
some little animal, gleaming out at you from a dead wall of darkness—The
eyes shine big and quiet but there is a point right in the centre of
each, where there is something dancing and wavering. You aren’t afraid
the little animal will jump at you, you are afraid the little eyes will
jump at you—that’s what’s the matter with you.

Only of course a horse, when you go into his stall at night, or a little
animal you had disturbed in a wood that way, wouldn’t be talking and the
big man who had come in there with his kid was talking. He kept talking
all the time, saying something under his breath, as they say, and I
could only understand now and then a few words. It was his talking made
him kind of terrible. His eyes said one thing and his lips another. They
didn’t seem to get together, as though they belonged to the same person.

For one thing the man was too big. There was about him an unnatural
bigness. It was in his hands, his arms, his shoulders, his body, his
head, a bigness like you might see in trees and bushes in a tropical
country perhaps. I’ve never been in a tropical country but I’ve seen
pictures. Only his eyes were small. In his big head they looked like the
eyes of a bird. And I remember that his lips were thick, like negroes’
lips.

He paid no attention to me or to the others in the room but kept on
muttering to himself, or to the kid sitting on the bar—I couldn’t tell
to which.

First he had one drink and then, quick, another. I stood staring at him
and thinking—a jumble of thoughts, I suppose.

What I must have been thinking was something like this. “Well he’s one
of the kind you are always seeing about towns,” I thought. I meant he
was one of the cracked kind. In almost any small town you go to you will
find one, and sometimes two or three cracked people, walking around.
They go through the street, muttering to themselves and people generally
are cruel to them. Their own folks make a bluff at being kind, but they
aren’t really, and the others in the town, men and boys, like to tease
them. They send such a fellow, the mild silly kind, on some fool errand
after a round square or a dozen post-holes or tie cards on his back
saying “Kick me,” or something like that, and then carry on and laugh as
though they had done something funny.

And so there was this cracked one in that saloon and I could see the men
in there wanted to have some fun putting up some kind of horseplay on
him, but they didn’t quite dare. He wasn’t one of the mild kind, that
was a cinch. I kept looking at the man and at his kid, and then up at
that strange unreal reflection of myself in the cracked looking-glass
back of the bar. “Rats, rats, digging in the ground—miners are rats,
little jack-rabbit,” I heard him say to his solemn-faced kid. I guess,
after all, maybe he wasn’t so cracked.

The kid sitting on the bar kept blinking at his father, like an owl
caught out in the daylight, and now the father was having another glass
of whisky. He drank six glasses, one right after the other, and it was
cheap ten-cent stuff. He must have had cast-iron insides all right.

Of the men in the room there were two or three (maybe they were really
more scared than the others so had to put up a bluff of bravery by
showing off) who kept laughing and making funny cracks about the big man
and his kid and there was one fellow was the worst of the bunch. I’ll
never forget that fellow because of his looks and what happened to him
afterwards.

He was one of the showing-off kind all right, and he was the one that
had started the song about the crack getting bigger in the old tin pan.
He sang it two or three times, and then he grew bolder and got up and
began walking up and down the room singing it over and over. He was a
showy kind of man with a fancy vest, on which there were brown tobacco
spots, and he wore glasses. Every time he made some crack he thought was
funny, he winked at the others as though to say, “You see me. I’m not
afraid of this big fellow,” and then the others laughed.

The proprietor of the place must have known what was going on, and the
danger in it, because he kept leaning over the bar and saying, “Shush,
now quit it,” to the showy-off man, but it didn’t do any good. The
fellow kept prancing like a turkey-cock and he put his hat on one side
of his head and stopped right back of the big man and sang that song
about the crack in the old tin pan. He was one of the kind you can’t
shush until they get their blocks knocked off, and it didn’t take him
long to come to it that time anyhow.

Because the big fellow just kept on muttering to his kid and drinking
his whisky, as though he hadn’t heard anything, and then suddenly he
turned and his big hand flashed out and he grabbed, not the fellow who
had been showing off, but me. With just a sweep of his arm he brought me
up against his big body. Then he shoved me over with my breast jammed
against the bar and looking right into his kid’s face and he said, “Now
you watch him, and if you let him fall I’ll kill you,” in just quiet
ordinary tones as though he was saying “good morning” to some neighbor.

Then the kid leaned over and threw his arms around my head, and in spite
of that I did manage to screw my head around enough to see what
happened.

It was a sight I’ll never forget. The big fellow had whirled around, and
he had the showy-off man by the shoulder now, and the fellow’s face was
a sight. The big man must have had some reputation as a bad man in the
town, even though he was cracked for the man with the fancy vest had his
mouth open now, and his hat had fallen off his head, and he was silent
and scared. Once, when I was a tramp, I saw a kid killed by a train. The
kid was walking on the rail and showing off before some other kids, by
letting them see how close he could let an engine come to him before he
got out of the way. And the engine was whistling and a woman, over on
the porch of a house nearby, was jumping up and down and screaming, and
the kid let the engine get nearer and nearer, wanting more and more to
show off, and then he stumbled and fell. God, I’ll never forget the look
on his face, in just the second before he got hit and killed, and now,
there in that saloon, was the same terrible look on another face.

I closed my eyes for a moment and was sick all through me and then, when
I opened my eyes, the big man’s fist was just coming down in the other
man’s face. The one blow knocked him cold and he fell down like a beast
hit with an axe.

And then the most terrible thing of all happened. The big man had on
heavy boots, and he raised one of them and brought it down on the other
man’s shoulder, as he lay white and groaning on the floor. I could hear
the bones crunch and it made me so sick I could hardly stand up, but I
had to stand up and hold on to that kid or I knew it would be my turn
next.

Because the big fellow didn’t seem excited or anything, but kept on
muttering to himself as he had been doing when he was standing
peacefully by the bar drinking his whisky, and now he had raised his
foot again, and maybe this time he would bring it down in the other
man’s face and, “just eliminate his map for keeps,” as sports and
prize-fighters sometimes say. I trembled, like I was having a chill, but
thank God at that moment the kid, who had his arms around me and one
hand clinging to my nose, so that there were the marks of his
finger-nails on it the next morning, at that moment the kid, thank God,
began to howl, and his father didn’t bother any more with the man on the
floor but turned around, knocked me aside, and taking the kid in his
arms tramped out of that place, muttering to himself as he had been
doing ever since he came in.

I went out too but I didn’t prance out with any dignity, I’ll tell you
that. I slunk out like a thief or a coward, which perhaps I am, partly
anyhow.

And so there I was, outside there in the darkness, and it was as cold
and wet and black and Godforsaken a night as any man ever saw. I was so
sick at the thought of human beings that night I could have vomited to
think of them at all. For a while I just stumbled along in the mud of
the road, going up the hill, back to the fair ground, and then, almost
before I knew where I was, I found myself in the stall with Pick-it-boy.

That was one of the best and sweetest feelings I’ve ever had in my whole
life, being in that warm stall alone with that horse that night. I had
told the other swipes that I would go up and down the row of stalls now
and then and have an eye on the other horses, but I had altogether
forgotten my promise now. I went and stood with my back against the side
of the stall, thinking how mean and low and all balled-up and twisted-up
human beings can become, and how the best of them are likely to get that
way any time, just because they are human beings and not simple and
clear in their minds, and inside themselves, as animals are, maybe.

Perhaps you know how a person feels at such a moment. There are things
you think of, odd little things you had thought you had forgotten. Once,
when you were a kid, you were with your father, and he was all dressed
up, as for a funeral or Fourth of July, and was walking along a street
holding your hand. And you were going past a railroad station, and there
was a woman standing. She was a stranger in your town and was dressed as
you had never seen a woman dressed before, and never thought you would
see one, looking so nice. Long afterwards you knew that was because she
had lovely taste in clothes, such as so few women have really, but then
you thought she must be a queen. You had read about queens in fairy
stories and the thoughts of them thrilled you. What lovely eyes the
strange lady had and what beautiful rings she wore on her fingers.

Then your father came out, from being in the railroad station, maybe to
set his watch by the station clock, and took you by the hand and he and
the woman smiled at each other, in an embarrassed kind of way, and you
kept looking longingly back at her, and when you were out of her hearing
you asked your father if she really were a queen. And it may be that
your father was one who wasn’t so very hot on democracy and a free
country and talked-up bunk about a free citizenry, and he said he hoped
she was a queen, and maybe, for all he knew, she was.

Or maybe, when you get jammed up as I was that night, and can’t get
things clear about yourself or other people and why you are alive, or
for that matter why anyone you can think about is alive, you think, not
of people at all but of other things you have seen and felt—like walking
along a road in the snow in the winter, perhaps out in Iowa, and hearing
soft warm sounds in a barn close to the road, or of another time when
you were on a hill and the sun was going down and the sky suddenly
became a great soft-colored bowl, all glowing like a jewel-handled bowl,
a great queen in some far away mighty kingdom might have put on a vast
table out under the tree, once a year, when she invited all her loyal
and loving subjects to come and dine with her.

I can’t, of course, figure out what you try to think about when you are
as desolate as I was that night. Maybe you are like me and inclined to
think of women, and maybe you are like a man I met once, on the road,
who told me that when he was up against it he never thought of anything
but grub and a big nice clean warm bed to sleep in. “I don’t care about
anything else and I don’t ever let myself think of anything else,” he
said. “If I was like you and went to thinking about women sometime I’d
find myself hooked up to some skirt, and she’d have the old double cross
on me, and the rest of my life maybe I’d be working in some factory for
her and her kids.”

As I say, there I was anyway, up there alone with that horse in that
warm stall in that dark lonesome fair ground and I had that feeling
about being sick at the thought of human beings and what they could be
like.

Well, suddenly I got again the queer feeling I’d had about him once or
twice before, I mean the feeling about our understanding each other in
some way I can’t explain.

So having it again I went over to where he stood and began running my
hands all over his body, just because I loved the feel of him and as
sometimes, to tell the plain truth, I’ve felt about touching with my
hands the body of a woman I’ve seen and who I thought was lovely too. I
ran my hands over his head and neck and then down over his hard firm
round body and then over his flanks and down his legs. His flanks
quivered a little I remember and once he turned his head and stuck his
cold nose down along my neck and nipped my shoulder a little, in a soft
playful way. It hurt a little but I didn’t care.

So then I crawled up through a hole into the loft above thinking that
night was over anyway and glad of it, but it wasn’t, not by a long
sight.

As my clothes were all soaking wet and as we race track swipes didn’t
own any such things as night-gowns or pajamas I had to go to bed naked,
of course.

But we had plenty of horse blankets and so I tucked myself in between a
pile of them and tried not to think any more that night. The being with
Pick-it-boy and having him close right under me that way made me feel a
little better.

Then I was sound asleep and dreaming and—bang like being hit with a club
by someone who has sneaked up behind you—I got another wallop.

What I suppose is that, being upset the way I was, I had forgotten to
bolt the door to Pick-it-boy’s stall down below and two negro men had
come in there, thinking they were in their own place, and had climbed up
through the hole where I was. They were half lit up but not what you
might call dead drunk, and I suppose they were up against something a
couple of white swipes, who had some money in their pockets, wouldn’t
have been up against.

What I mean is that a couple of white swipes, having liquored themselves
up and being down there in the town on a bat, if they wanted a woman or
a couple of women would have been able to find them. There is always a
few women of that kind can be found around any town I’ve ever seen or
heard of, and of course a bar tender would have given them the tip where
to go.

But a negro, up there in that country, where there aren’t any, or anyway
mighty few negro women, wouldn’t know what to do when he felt that way
and would be up against it.

It’s so always. Burt and several other negroes I’ve known pretty well
have talked to me about it, lots of times. You take now a young negro
man—not a race track swipe or a tramp or any other low-down kind of a
fellow—but, let us say, one who has been to college, and has behaved
himself and tried to be a good man, the best he could, and be clean, as
they say. He isn’t any better off, is he? If he has made himself some
money and wants to go sit in a swell restaurant, or go to hear some good
music, or see a good play at the theatre, he gets what we used to call
on the tracks, “the messy end of the dung fork,” doesn’t he?

And even in such a low-down place as what people call a “bad house” it’s
the same way. The white swipes and others can go into a place where they
have negro women fast enough, and they do it too, but you let a negro
swipe try it the other way around and see how he comes out.

You see, I can think this whole thing out fairly now, sitting here in my
own house and writing, and with my wife Jessie in the kitchen making a
pie or something, and I can show just how the two negro men who came
into that loft, where I was asleep, were justified in what they did, and
I can preach about how the negroes are up against it in this country,
like a daisy, but I tell you what, I didn’t think things out that way
that night.

For, you understand, what they thought, they being half liquored-up, and
when one of them had jerked the blankets off me, was that I was a woman.
One of them carried a lantern but it was smoky and dirty and didn’t give
out much light. So they must have figured it out—my body being pretty
white and slender then, like a young girl’s body I suppose—that some
white swipe had brought me up there. The kind of girls around a town
that will come with a swipe to a race track on a rainy night aren’t very
fancy females but you’ll find that kind in the towns all right. I’ve
seen many a one in my day.

And so, I figure, these two big buck niggers, being piped that way, just
made up their minds they would snatch me away from the white swipe who
had brought me out there, and who had left me lying carelessly around.

“Jes’ you lie still honey. We ain’t gwine hurt you none,” one of them
said, with a little chuckling laugh that had something in it besides a
laugh, too. It was the kind of laugh that gives you the shivers.

The devil of it was I couldn’t say anything, not even a word. Why I
couldn’t yell out and say “What the hell,” and just kid them a little
and shoo them out of there I don’t know, but I couldn’t. I tried and
tried so that my throat hurt but I didn’t say a word. I just lay there
staring at them.

It was a mixed-up night. I’ve never gone through another night like it.

Was I scared? Lord Almighty, I’ll tell you what, I was scared.

Because the two big black faces were leaning right over me now, and I
could feel their liquored-up breaths on my cheeks, and their eyes were
shining in the dim light from that smoky lantern, and right in the
centre of their eyes was that dancing flickering light I’ve told you
about your seeing in the eyes of wild animals, when you were carrying a
lantern through the woods at night.

It was a puzzler! All my life, you see—me never having had any sisters,
and at that time never having had a sweetheart either—I had been
dreaming and thinking about women, and I suppose I’d always been
dreaming about a pure innocent one, for myself, made for me by God,
maybe. Men are that way. No matter how big they talk about “let the
women go hang,” they’ve always got that notion tucked away inside
themselves, somewhere. It’s a kind of chesty man’s notion, I suppose,
but they’ve got it and the kind of up-and-coming women we have nowdays
who are always saying, “I’m as good as a man and will do what the men
do,” are on the wrong trail if they really ever want to, what you might
say “hog-tie” a fellow of their own.

So I had invented a kind of princess, with black hair and a slender
willowy body to dream about. And I thought of her as being shy and
afraid to ever tell anything she really felt to anyone but just me. I
suppose I fancied that if I ever found such a woman in the flesh I would
be the strong sure one and she the timid shrinking one.

And now I was that woman, or something like her, myself.

I gave a kind of wriggle, like a fish, you have just taken off the hook.
What I did next wasn’t a thought-out thing. I was caught and I squirmed,
that’s all.

The two niggers both jumped at me but somehow—the lantern having been
kicked over and having gone out the first move they made—well in some
way, when they both lunged at me they missed.

As good luck would have it my feet found the hole, where you put hay
down to the horse in the stall below, and through which we crawled up
when it was time to go to bed in our blankets up in the hay, and down I
slid, not bothering to try to find the ladder with my feet but just
letting myself go.

In less than a second I was out of doors in the dark and the rain and
the two blacks were down the hole and out the door of the stall after
me.

How long or how far they really followed me I suppose I’ll never know.
It was black dark and raining hard now and a roaring wind had begun to
blow. Of course, my body being white, it must have made some kind of a
faint streak in the darkness as I ran, and anyway I thought they could
see me and I knew I couldn’t see them and that made my terror ten times
worse. Every minute I thought they would grab me.

You know how it is when a person is all upset and full of terror as I
was. I suppose maybe the two niggers followed me for a while, running
across the muddy race track and into the grove of trees that grew in the
oval inside the track, but likely enough, after just a few minutes, they
gave up the chase and went back, found their own place and went to
sleep. They were liquored-up, as I’ve said, and maybe partly funning
too.

But I didn’t know that, if they were. As I ran I kept hearing sounds,
sounds made by the rain coming down through the dead old leaves left on
the trees and by the wind blowing, and it may be that the sound that
scared me most of all was my own bare feet stepping on a dead branch and
breaking it or something like that.

There was something strange and scary, a steady sound, like a heavy man
running and breathing hard, right at my shoulder. It may have been my
own breath, coming quick and fast. And I thought I heard that chuckling
laugh I’d heard up in the loft, the laugh that sent the shivers right
down through me. Of course every tree I came close to looked like a man
standing there, ready to grab me, and I kept dodging and going—bang—into
other trees. My shoulders kept knocking against trees in that way and
the skin was all knocked off, and every time it happened I thought a big
black hand had come down and clutched at me and was tearing my flesh.

How long it went on I don’t know, maybe an hour, maybe five minutes. But
anyway the darkness didn’t let up, and the terror didn’t let up, and I
couldn’t, to save my life, scream or make any sound.

Just why I couldn’t I don’t know. Could it be because at the time I was
a woman, while at the same time I wasn’t a woman? It may be that I was
too ashamed of having turned into a girl and being afraid of a man to
make any sound. I don’t know about that. It’s over my head.

But anyway I couldn’t make a sound. I tried and tried and my throat hurt
from trying and no sound came.

And then, after a long time, or what seemed like a long time, I got out
from among the trees inside the track and was on the track itself again.
I thought the two black men were still after me, you understand, and I
ran like a madman.

Of course, running along the track that way, it must have been up the
back stretch, I came after a time to where the old slaughter-house
stood, in that field, beside the track. I knew it by its ungodly smell,
scared as I was. Then, in some way, I managed to get over the high old
fairground fence and was in the field, where the slaughter-house was.

All the time I was trying to yell or scream, or be sensible and tell
those two black men that I was a man and not a woman, but I couldn’t
make it. And then I heard a sound like a board cracking or breaking in
the fence and thought they were still after me.

So I kept on running like a crazy man, in the field, and just then I
stumbled and fell over something. I’ve told you how the old
slaughter-house field was filled with bones, that had been lying there a
long time and had all been washed white. There were heads of sheep and
cows and all kinds of things.

And when I fell and pitched forward I fell right into the midst of
something, still and cold and white.

It was probably the skeleton of a horse lying there. In small towns like
that, they take an old worn-out horse, that has died, and haul him off
to some field outside of town and skin him for the hide, that they can
sell for a dollar or two. It doesn’t make any difference what the horse
has been, that’s the way he usually ends up. Maybe even Pick-it-boy, or
O My Man, or a lot of other good fast ones I’ve seen and known have
ended that way by this time.

And so I think it was the bones of a horse lying there and he must have
been lying on his back. The birds and wild animals had picked all his
flesh away and the rain had washed his bones clean.

Anyway I fell and pitched forward and my side got cut pretty deep and my
hands clutched at something. I had fallen right in between the ribs of
the horse and they seemed to wrap themselves around me close. And my
hands, clutching upwards, had got hold of the cheeks of that dead horse
and the bones of his cheeks were cold as ice with the rain washing over
them. White bones wrapped around me and white bones in my hands.

There was a new terror now that seemed to go down to the very bottom of
me, to the bottom of the inside of me, I mean. It shook me like I have
seen a rat in a barn shaken by a dog. It was a terror like a big wave
that hits you when you are walking on a seashore, maybe. You see it
coming and you try to run and get away but when you start to run inshore
there is a stone cliff you can’t climb. So the wave comes high as a
mountain, and there it is, right in front of you and nothing in all this
world can stop it. And now it had knocked you down and rolled and
tumbled you over and over and washed you clean, clean, but dead maybe.

And that’s the way I felt—I seemed to myself dead with blind terror, it
was a feeling like the finger of God running down your back and burning
you clean, I mean.

It burned all that silly nonsense about being a girl right out of me.

I screamed at last and the spell that was on me was broken. I’ll bet the
scream I let out of me could have been heard a mile and a half.

Right away I felt better and crawled out from among the pile of bones,
and then I stood on my own feet again and I wasn’t a woman, or a young
girl any more but a man and my own self, and as far as I know I’ve been
that way ever since. Even the black night seemed warm and alive now,
like a mother might be to a kid in the dark.

Only I couldn’t go back to the race track because I was blubbering and
crying and was ashamed of myself and of what a fool I had made of
myself. Someone might see me and I couldn’t stand that, not at that
moment.

So I went across the field, walking now, not running like a crazy man,
and pretty soon I came to a fence and crawled over and got into another
field, in which there was a straw stack, I just happened to find in the
pitch darkness.

The straw stack had been there a long time and some sheep had nibbled
away at it until they had made a pretty deep hole, like a cave, in the
side of it. I found the hole and crawled in and there were some sheep in
there, about a dozen of them.

When I came in, creeping on my hands and knees, they didn’t make much
fuss, just stirred around a little and then settled down.

So I settled down amongst them too. They were warm and gentle and kind,
like Pick-it-boy, and being in there with them made me feel better than
I would have felt being with any human person I knew at that time.

So I settled down and slept after a while, and when I woke up it was
daylight and not very cold and the rain was over. The clouds were
breaking away from the sky now and maybe there would be a fair the next
week but if there was I knew I wouldn’t be there to see it.

Because what I expected to happen did happen. I had to go back across
the fields and the fairground to the place where my clothes were, right
in the broad daylight, and me stark naked, and of course I knew someone
would be up and would raise a shout, and every swipe and every driver
would stick his head out and would whoop with laughter.

And there would be a thousand questions asked, and I would be too mad
and too ashamed to answer, and would perhaps begin to blubber, and that
would make me more ashamed than ever.

It all turned out just as I expected, except that when the noise and the
shouts of laughter were going it the loudest, Burt came out of the stall
where O My Man was kept, and when he saw me he didn’t know what was the
matter but he knew something was up that wasn’t on the square and for
which I wasn’t to blame.

So he got so all-fired mad he couldn’t speak for a minute, and then he
grabbed a pitchfork and began prancing up and down before the other
stalls, giving that gang of swipes and drivers such a royal old
dressing-down as you never heard. You should have heard him sling
language. It was grand to hear.

And while he was doing it I sneaked up into the loft, blubbering because
I was so pleased and happy to hear him swear that way, and I got my wet
clothes on quick and got down, and gave Pick-it-boy a good-bye kiss on
the cheek and lit out.

The last I saw of all that part of my life was Burt, still going it, and
yelling out for the man who had put up a trick on me to come out and get
what was coming to him. He had the pitchfork in his hand and was
swinging it around, and every now and then he would make a kind of lunge
at a tree or something, he was so mad through, and there was no one else
in sight at all. And Burt didn’t even see me cutting out along the fence
through a gate and down the hill and out of the race horse and the tramp
life for the rest of my days.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              MILK BOTTLES



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              MILK BOTTLES


I LIVED, during that summer, in a large room on the top floor of an old
house on the North Side in Chicago. It was August and the night was hot.
Until after midnight I sat—the sweat trickling down my back—under a
lamp, laboring to feel my way into the lives of the fanciful people who
were trying also to live in the tale on which I was at work.

It was a hopeless affair.

I became involved in the efforts of the shadowy people and they in turn
became involved in the fact of the hot uncomfortable room, in the fact
that, although it was what the farmers of the Middle West call “good
corn-growing weather” it was plain hell to be alive in Chicago. Hand in
hand the shadowy people of my fanciful world and myself groped our way
through a forest in which the leaves had all been burned off the trees.
The hot ground burned the shoes off our feet. We were striving to make
our way through the forest and into some cool beautiful city. The fact
is, as you will clearly understand, I was a little off my head.

When I gave up the struggle and got to my feet the chairs in the room
danced about. They also were running aimlessly through a burning land
and striving to reach some mythical city. “I’d better get out of here
and go for a walk or go jump into the lake and cool myself off,” I
thought.

I went down out of my room and into the street. On a lower floor of the
house lived two burlesque actresses who had just come in from their
evening’s work and who now sat in their room talking. As I reached the
street something heavy whirled past my head and broke on the stone
pavement. A white liquid spurted over my clothes and the voice of one of
the actresses could be heard coming from the one lighted room of the
house. “Oh, hell! We live such damned lives, we do, and we work in such
a town! A dog is better off! And now they are going to take booze away
from us too! I come home from working in that hot theatre on a hot night
like this and what do I see—a half-filled bottle of spoiled milk
standing on a window sill!

“I won’t stand it! I got to smash everything!” she cried.

I walked eastward from my house. From the northwestern end of the city
great hordes of men women and children had come to spend the night out
of doors, by the shore of the lake. It was stifling hot there too and
the air was heavy with a sense of struggle. On a few hundred acres of
flat land, that had formerly been a swamp, some two million people were
fighting for the peace and quiet of sleep and not getting it. Out of the
half darkness, beyond the little strip of park land at the water’s edge,
the huge empty houses of Chicago’s fashionable folk made a greyish-blue
blot against the sky. “Thank the gods,” I thought, “there are some
people who can get out of here, who can go to the mountains or the
seashore or to Europe.” I stumbled in the half darkness over the legs of
a woman who was lying and trying to sleep on the grass. A baby lay
beside her and when she sat up it began to cry. I muttered an apology
and stepped aside and as I did so my foot struck a half-filled milk
bottle and I knocked it over, the milk running out on the grass. “Oh,
I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” I cried. “Never mind,” the woman
answered, “the milk is sour.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

He is a tall stoop-shouldered man with prematurely greyed hair and works
as a copy writer in an advertising agency in Chicago—an agency where I
also have sometimes been employed—and on that night in August I met him,
walking with quick eager strides along the shore of the lake and past
the tired petulant people. He did not see me at first and I wondered at
the evidence of life in him when everyone else seemed half dead; but a
street lamp hanging over a nearby roadway threw its light down upon my
face and he pounced. “Here you, come up to my place,” he cried sharply.
“I’ve got something to show you. I was on my way down to see you. That’s
where I was going,” he lied as he hurried me along.

We went to his apartment on a street leading back from the lake and the
park. German, Polish, Italian and Jewish families, equipped with soiled
blankets and the ever-present half-filled bottles of milk, had come
prepared to spend the night out of doors; but the American families in
the crowd were giving up the struggle to find a cool spot and a little
stream of them trickled along the sidewalks, going back to hot beds in
the hot houses.

It was past one o’clock and my friend’s apartment was disorderly as well
as hot. He explained that his wife, with their two children, had gone
home to visit her mother on a farm near Springfield, Illinois.

We took off our coats and sat down. My friend’s thin cheeks were flushed
and his eyes shone. “You know—well—you see,” he began and then hesitated
and laughed like an embarrassed schoolboy. “Well now,” he began again,
“I’ve long been wanting to write something real, something besides
advertisements. I suppose I’m silly but that’s the way I am. It’s been
my dream to write something stirring and big. I suppose it’s the dream
of a lot of advertising writers, eh? Now look here—don’t you go
laughing. I think I’ve done it.”

He explained that he had written something concerning Chicago, the
capital and heart, as he said, of the whole Central West. He grew angry.
“People come here from the East or from farms, or from little holes of
towns like I came from and they think it smart to run Chicago into the
ground,” he declared. “I thought I’d show ’em up,” he added, jumping up
and walking nervously about the room.

He handed me many sheets of paper covered with hastily scrawled words,
but I protested and asked him to read it aloud. He did, standing with
his face turned away from me. There was a quiver in his voice. The thing
he had written concerned some mythical town I had never seen. He called
it Chicago, but in the same breath spoke of great streets flaming with
color, ghostlike buildings flung up into night skies and a river,
running down a path of gold into the boundless West. It was the city, I
told myself, I and the people of my story had been trying to find
earlier on that same evening, when because of the heat I went a little
off my head and could not work any more. The people of the city, he had
written about, were a cool-headed, brave people, marching forward to
some spiritual triumph, the promise of which was inherent in the
physical aspects of the town.

Now I am one who, by the careful cultivation of certain traits in my
character, have succeeded in building up the more brutal side of my
nature, but I cannot knock women and children down in order to get
aboard Chicago street-cars, nor can I tell an author to his face that I
think his work is rotten.

“You’re all right, Ed. You’re great. You’ve knocked out a regular
soc-dolager of a masterpiece here. Why you sound as good as Henry
Mencken writing about Chicago as the literary centre of America, and
you’ve lived in Chicago and he never did. The only thing I can see
you’ve missed is a little something about the stockyards, and you can
put that in later,” I added and prepared to depart.

“What’s this?” I asked, picking up a half-dozen sheets of paper that lay
on the floor by my chair. I read it eagerly. And when I had finished
reading it he stammered and apologized and then, stepping across the
room, jerked the sheets out of my hand and threw them out at an open
window. “I wish you hadn’t seen that. It’s something else I wrote about
Chicago,” he explained. He was flustered.

“You see the night was so hot, and, down at the office, I had to write a
condensed-milk advertisement, just as I was sneaking away to come home
and work on this other thing, and the street-car was so crowded and the
people stank so, and when I finally got home here—the wife being
gone—the place was a mess. Well, I couldn’t write and I was sore. It’s
been my chance, you see, the wife and kids being gone and the house
being quiet. I went for a walk. I think I went a little off my head.
Then I came home and wrote that stuff I’ve just thrown out of the
window.”

He grew cheerful again. “Oh, well—it’s all right. Writing that fool
thing stirred me up and enabled me to write this other stuff, this real
stuff I showed you first, about Chicago.”

And so I went home and to bed, having in this odd way stumbled upon
another bit of the kind of writing that is—for better or worse—really
presenting the lives of the people of these towns and cities—sometimes
in prose, sometimes in stirring colorful song. It was the kind of thing
Mr. Sandburg or Mr. Masters might have done after an evening’s walk on a
hot night in, say West Congress Street in Chicago.

The thing I had read of Ed’s, centred about a half-filled bottle of
spoiled milk standing dim in the moonlight on a window sill. There had
been a moon earlier on that August evening, a new moon, a thin crescent
golden streak in the sky. What had happened to my friend, the
advertising writer, was something like this—I figured it all out as I
lay sleepless in bed after our talk.

I am sure I do not know whether or not it is true that all advertising
writers and newspaper men, want to do other kinds of writing, but Ed did
all right. The August day that had preceded the hot night had been a
hard one for him to get through. All day he had been wanting to be at
home in his quiet apartment producing literature, rather than sitting in
an office and writing advertisements. In the late afternoon, when he had
thought his desk cleared for the day, the boss of the copy writers came
and ordered him to write a page advertisement for the magazines on the
subject of condensed milk. “We got a chance to get a new account if we
can knock out some crackerjack stuff in a hurry,” he said. “I’m sorry to
have to put it up to you on such a rotten hot day, Ed, but we’re up
against it. Let’s see if you’ve got some of the old pep in you. Get down
to hardpan now and knock out something snappy and unusual before you go
home.”

Ed had tried. He put away the thoughts he had been having about the city
beautiful—the glowing city of the plains—and got right down to business.
He thought about milk, milk for little children, the Chicagoans of the
future, milk that would produce a little cream to put in the coffee of
advertising writers in the morning, sweet fresh milk to keep all his
brother and sister Chicagoans robust and strong. What Ed really wanted
was a long cool drink of something with a kick in it, but he tried to
make himself think he wanted a drink of milk. He gave himself over to
thoughts of milk, milk condensed and yellow, milk warm from the cows his
father owned when he was a boy—his mind launched a little boat and he
set out on a sea of milk.

Out of it all he got what is called an original advertisement. The sea
of milk on which he sailed became a mountain of cans of condensed milk,
and out of that fancy he got his idea. He made a crude sketch for a
picture showing wide rolling green fields with white farm houses. Cows
grazed on the green hills and at one side of the picture a barefooted
boy was driving a herd of Jersey cows out of the sweet fair land and
down a lane into a kind of funnel at the small end of which was a tin of
the condensed milk. Over the picture he put a heading: “The health and
freshness of a whole countryside is condensed into one can of
Whitney-Wells Condensed Milk.” The head copy writer said it was a
humdinger.

And then Ed went home. He wanted to begin writing about the city
beautiful at once and so didn’t go out to dinner, but fished about in
the ice chest and found some cold meat out of which he made himself a
sandwich. Also, he poured himself a glass of milk, but it was sour. “Oh,
damn!” he said and poured it into the kitchen sink.

As Ed explained to me later, he sat down and tried to begin writing his
real stuff at once, but he couldn’t seem to get into it. The last hour
in the office, the trip home in the hot smelly car, and the taste of the
sour milk in his mouth had jangled his nerves. The truth is that Ed has
a rather sensitive, finely balanced nature, and it had got mussed up.

He took a walk and tried to think, but his mind wouldn’t stay where he
wanted it to. Ed is now a man of nearly forty and on that night his mind
ran back to his young manhood in the city,—and stayed there. Like other
boys who had become grown men in Chicago, he had come to the city from a
farm at the edge of a prairie town, and like all such town and farm
boys, he had come filled with vague dreams.

What things he had hungered to do and be in Chicago! What he had done
you can fancy. For one thing he had got himself married and now lived in
the apartment on the North Side. To give a real picture of his life
during the twelve or fifteen years that had slipped away since he was a
young man would involve writing a novel, and that is not my purpose.

Anyway, there he was in his room—come home from his walk—and it was hot
and quiet and he could not manage to get into his masterpiece. How still
it was in the apartment with the wife and children away! His mind stayed
on the subject of his youth in the city.

He remembered a night of his young manhood when he had gone out to walk,
just as he did on that August evening. Then his life wasn’t complicated
by the fact of the wife and children and he lived alone in his room; but
something had got on his nerves then, too. On that evening long ago he
grew restless in his room and went out to walk. It was summer and first
he went down by the river where ships were being loaded and then to a
crowded park where girls and young fellows walked about.

He grew bold and spoke to a woman who sat alone on a park bench. She let
him sit beside her and, because it was dark and she was silent, he began
to talk. The night had made him sentimental. “Human beings are such hard
things to get at. I wish I could get close to someone,” he said. “Oh,
you go on! What you doing? You ain’t trying to kid someone?” asked the
woman.

Ed jumped up and walked away. He went into a long street lined with dark
silent buildings and then stopped and looked about. What he wanted was
to believe that in the apartment buildings were people who lived intense
eager lives, who had great dreams, who were capable of great adventures.
“They are really only separated from me by the brick walls,” was what he
told himself on that night.

It was then that the milk bottle theme first got hold of him. He went
into an alleyway to look at the backs of the apartment buildings and, on
that evening also, there was a moon. Its light fell upon a long row of
half-filled bottles standing on window sills.

Something within him went a little sick and he hurried out of the
alleyway and into the street. A man and woman walked past him and
stopped before the entrance to one of the buildings. Hoping they might
be lovers, he concealed himself in the entrance to another building to
listen to their conversation.

The couple turned out to be a man and wife and they were quarreling. Ed
heard the woman’s voice saying: “You come in here. You can’t put that
over on me. You say you just want to take a walk, but I know you. You
want to go out and blow in some money. What I’d like to know is why you
don’t loosen up a little for me.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

That is the story of what happened to Ed, when, as a young man, he went
to walk in the city in the evening, and when he had become a man of
forty and went out of his house wanting to dream and to think of a city
beautiful, much the same sort of thing happened again. Perhaps the
writing of the condensed milk advertisement and the taste of the sour
milk he had got out of the ice box had something to do with his mood;
but, anyway, milk bottles, like a refrain in a song, got into his brain.
They seemed to sit and mock at him from the windows of all the buildings
in all the streets, and when he turned to look at people, he met the
crowds from the West and the Northwest Sides going to the park and the
lake. At the head of each little group of people marched a woman who
carried a milk bottle in her hand.

And so, on that August night, Ed went home angry and disturbed, and in
anger wrote of his city. Like the burlesque actress in my own house he
wanted to smash something, and, as milk bottles were in his mind, he
wanted to smash milk bottles. “I could grasp the neck of a milk bottle.
It fits the hand so neatly. I could kill a man or woman with such a
thing,” he thought desperately.

He wrote, you see, the five or six sheets I had read in that mood and
then felt better. And after that he wrote about the ghostlike buildings
flung into the sky by the hands of a brave adventurous people and about
the river that runs down a path of gold, and into the boundless West.

As you have already concluded, the city he described in his masterpiece
was lifeless, but the city he, in a queer way, expressed in what he
wrote about the milk bottle could not be forgotten. It frightened you a
little but there it was and in spite of his anger or perhaps because of
it, a lovely singing quality had got into the thing. In those few
scrawled pages the miracle had been worked. I was a fool not to have put
the sheets into my pocket. When I went down out of his apartment that
evening I did look for them in a dark alleyway, but they had become lost
in a sea of rubbish that had leaked over the tops of a long row of tin
ash cans that stood at the foot of a stairway leading from the back
doors of the apartments above.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          THE SAD HORN BLOWERS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          THE SAD HORN BLOWERS


IT had been a disastrous year in Will’s family. The Appletons lived on
one of the outlying streets of Bidwell and Will’s father was a house
painter. In early February, when there was deep snow on the ground, and
a cold bitter wind blew about the houses, Will’s mother suddenly died.
He was seventeen years old then, and rather a big fellow for his age.

The mother’s death happened abruptly, without warning, as a sleepy man
kills a fly with the hand in a warm room on a summer day. On one
February day there she was coming in at the kitchen door of the
Appleton’s house, from hanging the wash out on the line in the back
yard, and warming her long hands, covered with blue veins, by holding
them over the kitchen stove—and then looking about at the children with
that half-hidden, shy smile of hers—there she was like that, as the
three children had always known her, and then, but a week later, she was
cold in death and lying in her coffin in the place vaguely spoken of in
the family as “the other room.”

After that, and when summer came and the family was trying hard to
adjust itself to the new conditions, there came another disaster. Up to
the very moment when it happened it looked as though Tom Appleton, the
house painter, was in for a prosperous season. The two boys, Fred and
Will, were to be his assistants that year.

To be sure Fred was only fifteen, but he was one to lend a quick alert
hand at almost any undertaking. For example, when there was a job of
paper hanging to be done, he was the fellow to spread on the paste,
helped by an occasional sharp word from his father.

Down off his step ladder Tom Appleton hopped and ran to the long board
where the paper was spread out. He liked this business of having two
assistants about. Well, you see, one had the feeling of being at the
head of something, of managing affairs. He grabbed the paste brush out
of Fred’s hand. “Don’t spare the paste,” he shouted. “Slap her on like
this. Spread her out—so. Do be sure to catch all the edges.”

It was all very warm, and comfortable, and nice, working at
paper-hanging jobs in the houses on the March and April days. When it
was cold or rainy outside, stoves were set up in the new houses being
built, and in houses already inhabited the folks moved out of the rooms
to be papered, spread newspapers on the floors over the carpets and put
sheets over the furniture left in the rooms. Outside it rained or
snowed, but inside it was warm and cosy.

To the Appletons it seemed, at the time, as though the death of the
mother had drawn them closer together. Both Will and Fred felt it,
perhaps Will the more consciously. The family was rather in the hole
financially—the mother’s funeral had cost a good deal of money, and Fred
was being allowed to stay out of school. That pleased him. When they
worked in a house where there were other children, they came home from
school in the late afternoon and looked in through the door to where
Fred was spreading paste over the sheets of wall paper. He made a
slapping sound with the brush, but did not look at them. “Ah, go on, you
kids,” he thought. This was a man’s business he was up to. Will and his
father were on the step ladders, putting the sheets carefully into place
on the ceilings and walls. “Does she match down there?” the father asked
sharply. “Oh-kay, go ahead,” Will replied. When the sheet was in place
Fred ran and rolled out the laps with a little wooden roller. How
jealous the kids of the house were. It would be a long time before any
of them could stay out of school and do a man’s work, as Fred was doing.

And then in the evening, walking homeward, it was nice, too. Will and
Fred had been provided with suits of white overalls that were now
covered with dried paste and spots of paint and looked really
professional. They kept them on and drew their overcoats on over them.
Their hands were stiff with paste, too. On Main Street the lights were
lighted, and other men passing called to Tom Appleton. He was called
Tony in the town. “Hello, Tony!” some storekeeper shouted. It was rather
too bad, Will thought that his father hadn’t more dignity. He was too
boyish. Young boys growing up and merging into manhood do not fancy
fathers being too boyish. Tom Appleton played a cornet in the Bidwell
Silver Cornet Band and didn’t do the job very well—rather made a mess of
it, when there was a bit of solo work to be done—but was so well liked
by the other members of the band that no one said anything. And then he
talked so grandly about music, and about the lip of a cornet player,
that everyone thought he must be all right. “He has an education. I tell
you what, Tony Appleton knows a lot. He’s a smart one,” the other
members of the band were always saying to each other.

“Well, the devil! A man should grow up after a time, perhaps. When a
man’s wife had died but such a short time before, it was just as well to
walk through Main Street with more dignity—for the time being, anyway.”

Tom Appleton had a way of winking at men he passed in the street, as
though to say, “Well, now I’ve got my kids with me, and we won’t say
anything, but didn’t you and I have the very hell of a time last
Wednesday night, eh? Mum’s the word, old pal. Keep everything quiet.
There are gay times ahead for you and me. We’ll cut loose, you bet, when
you and me are out together next time.”

Will grew a little angry about something he couldn’t exactly understand.
His father stopped in front of Jake Mann’s meat market. “You kids go
along home. Tell Kate I am bringing a steak. I’ll be right on your
heels,” he said.

He would get the steak and then he would go into Alf Geiger’s saloon and
get a good, stiff drink of whisky. There would be no one now to bother
about smelling it on his breath when he got home later. Not that his
wife had ever said anything when he wanted a drink—but you know how a
man feels when there’s a woman in the house. “Why, hello, Bildad
Smith—how’s the old game leg? Come on, have a little nip with me. Were
you on Main Street last band meeting night and did you hear us do that
new gallop? It’s a humdinger. Turkey White did that trombone solo simply
grand.”

Will and Fred had got beyond Main Street now, and Will took a small pipe
with a curved stem out of his overcoat pocket and lighted it. “I’ll bet
I could hang a ceiling without father there at all, if only some one
would give me a chance,” he said. Now that his father was no longer
present to embarrass him with his lack of dignity, he felt comfortable
and happy. Also, it was something to be able to smoke a pipe without
discomfiture. When mother was alive she was always kissing a fellow when
he came home at night, and then one had to be mighty careful about
smoking. Now it was different. One had become a man and one accepted
manhood with its responsibilities. “Don’t it make you sick at all?” Fred
asked. “Huh, naw!” Will answered contemptuously.

The new disaster to the family came late in August, just when the fall
work was all ahead, and the prospects good too. A. P. Wrigley, the
jeweler, had just built a big, new house and barn on a farm he had
bought the year before. It was a mile out of town on the Turner pike.

That would be a job to set the Appletons up for the winter. The house
was to have three coats outside, with all the work inside, and the barn
was to have two coats—and the two boys were to work with their father
and were to have regular wages.

And just to think of the work to be done inside that house made Tom
Appleton’s mouth water. He talked of it all the time, and in the
evenings liked to sit in a chair in the Appleton’s front yard, get some
neighbor over, and then go on about it. How he slung house-painter’s
lingo about! The doors and cupboards were to be grained in imitation of
weathered oak, the front door was to be curly maple, and there was to be
black walnut, too. Well, there wasn’t another painter in the town could
imitate all the various kinds of wood as Tom could. Just show him the
wood, or tell him—you didn’t have to show him anything. Name what you
wanted—that was enough. To be sure a man had to have the right tools,
but give him the tools and then just go off and leave everything to him.
What the devil! When A. P. Wrigley gave him this new house to do, he
showed he was a man who knew what he was doing.

As for the practical side of the matter, everyone in the family knew
that the Wrigley job meant a safe winter. There wasn’t any speculation,
as when taking work on the contract plan. All work was to be paid for by
the day, and the boys were to have their wages, too. It meant new suits
for the boys, a new dress and maybe a hat for Kate, the house rent paid
all winter, potatoes in the cellar. It meant safety—that was the truth.

In the evenings, sometimes, Tom got out his tools and looked at them.
Brushes and graining tools were spread out on the kitchen table, and
Kate and the boys gathered about. It was Fred’s job to see that all
brushes were kept clean and, one by one, Tom ran his fingers over them,
and then worked them back and forth over the palm of his hand. “This is
a camel’s hair,” he said, picking a soft fine-haired brush up and
handing it to Will. “I paid four dollars and eighty cents for that.”
Will also worked it back and forth over the palm of his hand, just as
his father had done and then Kate picked it up and did the same thing.
“It’s as soft as the cat’s back,” she said. Will thought that rather
silly. He looked forward to the day when he would have brushes ladders
and pots of his own, and could show them off before people and through
his mind went words he had picked up from his father’s talk. One spoke
of the “heel” and “toe” of a brush. The way to put on varnish was to
“flow” it on. Will knew all the words of his trade now and didn’t have
to talk like one of the kind of muts who just does, now and then, a jack
job of house painting.

On the fatal evening a surprise party was held for Mr. and Mrs.
Bardshare, who lived just across the road from the Appletons on Piety
Hill. That was a chance for Tom Appleton. In any such affair he liked to
have a hand in the arrangements. “Come on now, we’ll make her go with a
bang. They’ll be setting in the house after supper, and Bill Bardshare
will be in his stocking feet, and Ma Bardshare washing the dishes. They
won’t be expecting nothing, and we’ll slip up, all dressed in our Sundey
clothes, and let out a whoop. I’ll bring my cornet and let out a blast
on that too. ‘What in Sam Hill is that?’ Say, I can just see Bill
Bardshare jumping up and beginning to swear, thinking we’re a gang of
kids come to bother him, like Hallowe’en, or something like that. You
just get the grub, and I’ll make the coffee over to my house and bring
it over hot. I’ll get ahold of two big pots and make a whooping lot of
it.”

In the Appleton house all was in a flurry. Tom, Will and Fred were
painting a barn, three miles out of town, but they knocked off work at
four and Tom got the farmer’s son to drive them to town. He himself had
to wash up, take a bath in a tub in the woodshed, shave and
everything—just like Sunday. He looked more like a boy than a man when
he got all dogged up.

And then the family had to have supper, over and done with, a little
after six, and Tom didn’t dare go outside the house until dark. It
wouldn’t do to have the Bardshares see him so fixed up. It was their
wedding anniversary, and they might suspect something. He kept trotting
about the house, and occasionally looked out of the front window toward
the Bardshare house. “You kid, you,” Kate said, laughing. Sometimes she
talked up to him like that, and after she said it he went upstairs, and
getting out his cornet blew on it, so softly, you could hardly hear him
downstairs. When he did that you couldn’t tell how badly he played, as
when the band was going it on Main Street and he had to carry a passage
right through alone. He sat in the room upstairs thinking. When Kate
laughed at him it was like having his wife back, alive. There was the
same shy sarcastic gleam in her eyes.

Well, it was the first time he had been out anywhere since his wife had
died, and there might be some people think it would be better if he
stayed at home now—look better, that is. When he had shaved he had cut
his chin, and the blood had come. After a time he went downstairs and
stood before the looking-glass, hung above the kitchen sink, and dabbed
at the spot with the wet end of a towel.

Will and Fred stood about.

Will’s mind was working—perhaps Kate’s, too. “Was there—could it
be?—well, at such a party—only older people invited—there were always
two or three widow women thrown in for good measure, as it were.”

Kate didn’t want any woman fooling around her kitchen. She was twenty
years old.

“And it was just as well not to have any monkey-shine talk about
motherless children,” such as Tom might indulge in. Even Fred thought
that. There was a little wave of resent against Tom in the house. It was
a wave that didn’t make much noise, just crept, as it were softly, up a
low sandy beach.

“Widow women went to such places, and then of course, people were always
going home in couples.” Both Kate and Will had the same picture in mind.
It was late at night and in fancy they were both peeking out at front
upper windows of the Appleton house. There were all the people coming
out at the front door of the Bardshare house, and Bill Bardshare was
standing there and holding the door open. He had managed to sneak away
during the evening, and got his Sunday clothes on all right.

And the couples were coming out. “There was that woman now, that widow,
Mrs. Childers.” She had been married twice, both husbands dead now, and
she lived away over Maumee Pike way. “What makes a woman of her age want
to act silly like that? It is the very devil how a woman can keep
looking young and handsome after she has buried two men. There are some
who say that, even when her last husband was alive—”

“But whether that’s true or not, what makes her want to act and talk
silly that way?” Now her face is turned to the light and she is saying
to old Bill Bardshare, “Sleep light, sleep tight, sweet dreams to you
tonight.”

“It’s only what one may expect when one’s father lacks a sense of
dignity. There is that old fool Tom now, hopping out of the Bardshare
house like a kid, and running right up to Mrs. Childers. ‘May I see you
home?’ he is saying, while all the others are laughing and smiling
knowingly. It makes one’s blood run cold to see such a thing.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Well, fill up the pots. Let’s get the old coffee pots started, Kate.
The gang’ll be creeping along up the street pretty soon now,” Tom
shouted self-consciously, skipping busily about and breaking the little
circle of thoughts in the house.

What happened was that—just as darkness came and when all the people
were in the front yard before the Appleton house—Tom went and got it
into his head to try to carry his cornet and two big coffee pots at the
same time. Why didn’t he leave the coffee until later? There the people
were in the dusk outside the house, and there was that kind of low
whispering and tittering that always goes on at such a time—and then Tom
stuck his head out at the door and shouted, “Let her go!”

And then he must have gone quite crazy, for he ran back into the kitchen
and grabbed both of the big coffee pots, hanging on to his cornet at the
same time. Of course he stumbled in the darkness in the road outside and
fell, and of course all of that boiling hot coffee had to spill right
over him.

It was terrible. The flood of boiling hot coffee made steam under his
thick clothes, and there he lay screaming with the pain of it. What a
confusion! He just writhed and screamed, and the people ran ’round and
’round in the half darkness like crazy things. Was it some kind of joke
the crazy fellow was up to at the last minute! Tom always was such a
devil to think up things. “You should see him down at Alf Geigers,
sometimes on Saturday nights, imitating the way Joe Douglas got out on a
limb, and then sawed it off between himself and the tree, and the look
on Joe’s face when the limb began to crack. It would make you laugh
until you screamed to see him imitate that.”

“But what now? My God!” There was Kate Appleton trying to tear her
father’s clothes off, and crying and whimpering, and young Will Appleton
knocking people aside. “Say, the man’s hurt! What’s happened? My God!
Run for the doctor, someone. He’s burnt, something awful!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Early in October Will Appleton sat in the smoking car of a day train
that runs between Cleveland and Buffalo. His destination was Erie,
Pennsylvania, and he had got on the passenger train at Ashtabula, Ohio.
Just why his destination was Erie he couldn’t very easily have
explained. He was going there anyway, going to get a job in a factory or
on the docks there. Perhaps it was just a quirk of the mind that had
made him decide upon Erie. It wasn’t as big as Cleveland or Buffalo or
Toledo or Chicago, or any one of a lot of other cities to which he might
have gone, looking for work.

At Ashtabula he came into the car and slid into a seat beside a little
old man. His own clothes were wet and wrinkled, and his hair, eyebrows
and ears were black with coal dust.

At the moment, there was in him a kind of bitter dislike of his native
town, Bidwell. “Sakes alive, a man couldn’t get any work there—not in
the winter.” After the accident to his father, and the spoiling of all
the family plans, he had managed to find employment during September on
the farms. He worked for a time with a threshing crew, and then got work
cutting corn. It was all right. “A man made a dollar a day and board,
and as he wore overalls all the time, he didn’t wear out no clothes.
Still and all, the time when a fellow could make any money in Bidwell
was past now, and the burns on his father’s body had gone pretty deep,
and he might be laid up for months.”

Will had just made up his mind one day, after he had tramped about all
morning from farm to farm without finding work, and then he had gone
home and told Kate. “Dang it all,” he hadn’t intended lighting out right
away—had thought he would stay about for a week or two, maybe. Well, he
would go up town in the evening, dressed up in his best clothes, and
stand around. “Hello, Harry, what you going to do this winter? I thought
I would run over to Erie, Pennsylvania. I got an offer in a factory over
there. Well, so long—if I don’t see you again.”

Kate hadn’t seemed to understand, had seemed in an almighty hurry about
getting him off. It was a shame she couldn’t have a little more heart.
Still, Kate was all right—worried a good deal no doubt. After their talk
she had just said, “Yes, I think that’s best, you had better go,” and
had gone to change the bandages on Tom’s legs and back. The father was
sitting among pillows in a rocking chair in the front room.

Will went up stairs and put his things, overalls and a few shirts, into
a bundle. Then he went down stairs and took a walk—went out along a road
that led into the country, and stopped on a bridge. It was near a place
where he and other kids used to come swimming on summer afternoons. A
thought had come into his head. There was a young fellow worked in
Pawsey’s jewelry store came to see Kate sometimes on Sunday evenings and
they went off to walk together. “Did Kate want to get married?” If she
did his going away now might be for good. He hadn’t thought about that
before. On that afternoon, and quite suddenly, all the world outside of
Bidwell seemed huge and terrible to him and a few secret tears came into
his eyes, but he managed to choke them back. For just a moment his mouth
opened and closed queerly, like the mouth of a fish, when you take it
out of the water and hold it in your hand.

When he returned to the house at supper time things were better. He had
left his bundle on a chair in the kitchen and Kate had wrapped it more
carefully, and had put in a number of things he had forgotten. His
father called him into the front room. “It’s all right, Will. Every
young fellow ought to take a whirl out in the world. I did it myself, at
about your age,” Tom had said, a little pompously.

Then supper was served, and there was apple pie. That was a luxury the
Appletons had perhaps better not have indulged in at that time, but Will
knew Kate had baked it during the afternoon,—it might be as a way of
showing him how she felt. Eating two large slices had rather set him up.

And then, before he realized how the time was slipping away, ten o’clock
had come, and it was time for him to go. He was going to beat his way
out of town on a freight train, and there was a local going toward
Cleveland at ten o’clock. Fred had gone off to bed, and his father was
asleep in the rocking chair in the front room. He had picked up his
bundle, and Kate had put on her hat. “I’m going to see you off,” she had
said.

Will and Kate had walked in silence along the streets to where he was to
wait, in the shadow of Whaley’s Warehouse, until the freight came along.
Later when he thought back over that evening he was glad, that although
she was three years older, he was taller than Kate.

How vividly everything that happened later stayed in his mind. After the
train came, and he had crawled into an empty coal car, he sat hunched up
in a corner. Overhead he could see the sky, and when the train stopped
at towns there was always the chance the car in which he was concealed
would be shoved into a siding, and left. The brakemen walked along the
tracks beside the car shouting to each other and their lanterns made
little splashes of light in the darkness.

“How black the sky!” After a time it began to rain. “His suit would be
in a pretty mess. After all a fellow couldn’t come right out and ask his
sister if she intended to marry. If Kate married, then his father would
also marry again. It was all right for a young woman like Kate, but for
a man of forty to think of marriage—the devil! Why didn’t Tom Appleton
have more dignity? After all, Fred was only a kid and a new woman coming
in, to be his mother—that might be all right for a kid.”

All during that night on the freight train Will had thought a good deal
about marriage—rather vague thoughts—coming and going like birds flying
in and out of a bush. It was all a matter—this business of man and
woman—that did not touch him very closely—not yet. The matter of having
a home—that was something else. A home was something at a fellow’s back.
When one went off to work all week at some farm, and at night maybe went
into a strange room to sleep, there was always the Appleton
house—floating as it were, like a picture at the back of the mind—the
Appleton house, and Kate moving about. She had been up town, and now had
come home and was going up the stairs. Tom Appleton was fussing about in
the kitchen. He liked a bite before he went off to bed for the night but
presently he would go up stairs and into his own room. He liked to smoke
his pipe before he slept and sometimes he got out his cornet and blew
two or three soft sad notes.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At Cleveland Will had crawled off of the freight train and had gone
across the city in a street-car. Workingmen were just going to the
factories and he passed among them unnoticed. If his clothes were
crumpled and soiled, their clothes weren’t so fine. The workingmen were
all silent, looking at the car floor, or out at the car windows. Long
rows of factories stood along the streets through which the car moved.

He had been lucky, and had caught another freight out of a place called
Collinswood at eight, but at Ashtabula had made up his mind it would be
better to drop off the freight and take a passenger train. If he was to
live in Erie it would be just as well to arrive, looking more like a
gentleman and having paid his fare.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As he sat in the smoking car of the train he did not feel much like a
gentleman. The coal dust had got into his hair and the rain had washed
it in long dirty streaks down over his face. His clothes were badly
soiled and wanted cleaning and brushing and the paper package, in which
his overalls and shirts were tied, had become torn and dirty.

Outside the train window the sky was grey, and no doubt the night was
going to turn cold. Perhaps there would be a cold rain.

It was an odd thing about the towns through which the train kept
passing—all of the houses in all the towns looked cold and forbidding.
“Dang it all.” In Bidwell, before the night when his father got so badly
burned being such a fool about old Bill Bardshare’s party—all the houses
had always seemed warm cozy places. When one was alone, one walked along
the streets whistling. At night warm lights shone through the windows of
the houses. “John Wyatt, the drayman, lives in that house. His wife has
a wen on her neck. In that barn over there old Doctor Musgrave keeps his
bony old white horse. The horse looks like the devil, but you bet he can
go.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Will squirmed about on the car seat. The old man who sat beside him was
small, almost as small as Fred, and he wore a queer-looking suit. The
pants were brown, and the coat checked, grey and black. There was a
small leather case on the floor at his feet.

Long before the man spoke Will knew what would happen. It was bound to
turn out that such a fellow played a cornet. He was a man, old in years,
but there was no dignity in him. Will remembered his father’s marchings
through the main street of Bidwell with the band. It was some great day,
Fourth of July, perhaps, and all the people were assembled and there was
Tony Appleton, making a show of blowing his cornet at a great rate. Did
all the people along the street know how badly he played and was there a
kind of conspiracy, that kept grown men from laughing at each other? In
spite of the seriousness of his own situation a smile crept over Will’s
face.

The little man at his side smiled in return.

“Well,” he began, not stopping for anything but plunging headlong into a
tale concerning some dissatisfaction he felt with life, “well, you see
before you a man who is up against it, young fellow.” The old man tried
to laugh at his own words, but did not make much of a success of it. His
lip trembled. “I got to go home like a dog, with my tail ’twixt my
legs,” he declared abruptly.

The old man balanced back and forth between two impulses. He had met a
young man on a train, and hungered for companionship and one got oneself
in with others by being jolly, a little gay perhaps. When one met a
stranger on a train one told a story—“By the way, Mister, I heard a new
one the other day—perhaps you haven’t heard it? It’s about the miner up
in Alaska who hadn’t seen a woman for years.” One began in that way, and
then later perhaps, spoke of oneself, and one’s affairs.

But the old man wanted to plunge at once into his own story. He talked,
saying sad discouraged words, while his eyes kept smiling with a
peculiar appealing little smile. “If the words uttered by my lips annoy
or bore you, do not pay any attention to them. I am really a jolly
fellow although I am an old man, and not of much use any more,” the eyes
were saying. The eyes were pale blue and watery. How strange to see them
set in the head of an old man. They belonged in the head of a lost dog.
The smile was not really a smile. “Don’t kick me, young fellow. If you
can’t give me anything to eat, scratch my head. At least show you are a
fellow of good intentions. I’ve been kicked about quite enough.” It was
so very evident the eyes were speaking a language of their own.

Will found himself smiling sympathetically. It was true there was
something dog-like in the little old man and Will was pleased with
himself for having so quickly caught the sense of him. “One who can see
things with his eyes will perhaps get along all right in the world,
after all,” he thought. His thoughts wandered away from the old man. In
Bidwell there was an old woman lived alone and owned a shepherd dog.
Every summer she decided to cut away the dog’s coat, and then—at the
last moment and after she had in fact started the job—she changed her
mind. Well, she grasped a long pair of scissors firmly in her hand and
started on the dog’s flanks. Her hand trembled a little. “Shall I go
ahead, or shall I stop?” After two minutes she gave up the job. “It
makes him look too ugly,” she thought, justifying her timidity.

Later the hot days came, the dog went about with his tongue hanging out
and again the old woman took the scissors in her hand. The dog stood
patiently waiting but, when she had cut a long wide furrow through the
thick hair of his back, she stopped again. In a sense, and to her way of
looking at the matter, cutting away his splendid coat was like cutting
away a part of himself. She couldn’t go on. “Now there—that made him
look worse than ever,” she declared to herself. With a determined air
she put the scissors away, and all summer the dog went about looking a
little puzzled and ashamed.

Will kept smiling and thinking of the old woman’s dog and then looked
again at his companion of the train. The variegated suit the old man
wore gave him something of the air of the half-sheared shepherd dog.
Both had the same puzzled, ashamed air.

Now Will had begun using the old man for his own ends. There was
something inside himself that wanted facing, he didn’t want to face—not
yet. Ever since he had left home, in fact ever since that day when he
had come home from the country and had told Kate of his intention to set
out into the world, he had been dodging something. If one thought of the
little old man, and of the half-sheared dog, one did not have to think
of oneself.

One thought of Bidwell on a summer afternoon. There was the old woman,
who owned the dog, standing on the porch of her house, and the dog had
run down to the gate. In the winter, when his coat had again fully
grown, the dog would bark and make a great fuss about a boy passing in
the street but now he started to bark and growl, and then stopped. “I
look like the devil, and I’m attracting unnecessary attention to
myself,” the dog seemed to have decided suddenly. He ran furiously down
to the gate, opened his mouth to bark, and then, quite abruptly, changed
his mind and trotted back to the house with his tail between his legs.

Will kept smiling at his own thoughts. For the first time since he had
left Bidwell he felt quite cheerful.

And now the old man was telling a story of himself and his life, but
Will wasn’t listening. Within the young man a cross-current of impulses
had been set up and he was like one standing silently in the hallway of
a house, and listening to two voices, talking at a distance. The voices
came from two widely separated rooms of the house and one couldn’t make
up one’s mind to which voice to listen.

To be sure the old man was another cornet player like his father—he was
a horn blower. That was his horn in the little worn leather case on the
car floor.

And after he had reached middle age, and after his first wife had died,
he had married again. He had a little property then and, in a foolish
moment, went and made it all over to his second wife, who was fifteen
years younger than himself. She took the money and bought a large house
in the factory district of Erie, and then began taking in boarders.

There was the old man, feeling lost, of no account in his own house. It
just came about. One had to think of the boarders—their wants had to be
satisfied. His wife had two sons, almost fully grown now, both of whom
worked in a factory.

Well, it was all right—everything on the square—the sons paid board all
right. Their wants had to be thought of, too. He liked blowing his
cornet a while in the evenings, before he went to bed, but it might
disturb the others in the house. One got rather desperate going about
saying nothing, keeping out of the way and he had tried getting work in
a factory himself, but they wouldn’t have him. His grey hairs stood in
his way, and so one night he had just got out, had gone to Cleveland,
where he had hoped to get a job in a band, in a movie theatre perhaps.
Anyway it hadn’t turned out and now he was going back to Erie and to his
wife. He had written and she had told him to come on home.

“They didn’t turn me down back there in Cleveland because I’m old. It’s
because my lip is no good any more,” he explained. His shrunken old lip
trembled a little.

Will kept thinking of the old woman’s dog. In spite of himself, and when
the old man’s lip trembled, his lip also trembled.

What was the matter with him?

He stood in the hallway of a house hearing two voices. Was he trying to
close his ears to one of them? Did the second voice, the one he had been
trying all day, and all the night before, not to hear, did that have
something to do with the end of his life in the Appleton house at
Bidwell? Was the voice trying to taunt him, trying to tell him that now
he was a thing swinging in air, that there was no place to put down his
feet? Was he afraid? Of what was he afraid? He had wanted so much to be
a man, to stand on his own feet and now what was the matter with him?
Was he afraid of manhood?

He was fighting desperately now. There were tears in the old man’s eyes,
and Will also began crying silently and that was the one thing he felt
he must not do.

The old man talked on and on, telling the tale of his troubles, but Will
could not hear his words. The struggle within was becoming more and more
definite. His mind clung to the life of his boyhood, to the life in the
Appleton house in Bidwell.

There was Fred, standing in the field of his fancy now, with just the
triumphant look in his eyes that came when other boys saw him doing a
man’s work. A whole series of pictures floated up before Will’s mind. He
and his father and Fred were painting a barn and two farmer boys had
come along a road and stood looking at Fred, who was on a ladder,
putting on paint. They shouted, but Fred wouldn’t answer. There was a
certain air Fred had—he slapped on the paint, and then turning his head,
spat on the ground. Tom Appleton’s eyes looked into Will’s and there was
a smile playing about the corners of the father’s eyes and the son’s
eyes too. The father and his oldest son were like two men, two workmen,
having a delicious little secret between them. They were both looking
lovingly at Fred. “Bless him! He thinks he’s a man already.”

And now Tom Appleton was standing in the kitchen of his house, and his
brushes were laid out on the kitchen table. Kate was rubbing a brush
back and forth over the palm of her hand. “It’s as soft as the cat’s
back,” she was saying.

Something gripped at Will’s throat. As in a dream, he saw his sister
Kate walking off along the street on Sunday evening with that young
fellow who clerked in the jewelry store. They were going to church. Her
being with him meant—well, it perhaps meant the beginning of a new
home—it meant the end of the Appleton home.

Will started to climb out of the seat beside the old man in the smoking
car of the train. It had grown almost dark in the car. The old man was
still talking, telling his tale over and over. “I might as well not have
any home at all,” he was saying. Was Will about to begin crying aloud on
a train, in a strange place, before many strange men. He tried to speak,
to make some commonplace remark, but his mouth only opened and closed
like the mouth of a fish taken out of the water.

And now the train had run into a train shed, and it was quite dark.
Will’s hand clutched convulsively into the darkness and alighted upon
the old man’s shoulder.

Then suddenly, the train had stopped, and the two stood half embracing
each other. The tears were quite evident in Will’s eyes, when a brakeman
lighted the overhead lamps in the car, but the luckiest thing in the
world had happened. The old man, who had seen Will’s tears, thought they
were tears of sympathy for his own unfortunate position in life and a
look of gratitude came into his blue watery eyes. Well, this was
something new in life for him, too. In one of the pauses, when he had
first begun telling his tale, Will had said he was going to Erie to try
to get work in some factory and now, as they got off the train, the old
man clung to Will’s arm. “You might as well come live at our house,” he
said. A look of hope flared up in the old man’s eyes. If he could bring
home with him, to his young wife, a new boarder, the gloom of his own
home-coming would be somewhat lightened. “You come on. That’s the best
thing to do. You just come on with me to our house,” he plead, clinging
to Will.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Two weeks had passed and Will had, outwardly, and to the eyes of the
people about him, settled into his new life as a factory hand at Erie,
Pennsylvania.

Then suddenly, on a Saturday evening, the thing happened that he had
unconsciously been expecting and dreading ever since the moment when he
climbed aboard the freight train in the shadow of Whaley’s Warehouse at
Bidwell. A letter, containing great news, had come from Kate.

At the moment of their parting, and before he settled himself down out
of sight in a corner of the empty coal car, on that night of his
leaving, he had leaned out for a last look at his sister. She had been
standing silently in the shadows of the warehouse, but just as the train
was about to start, stepped toward him and a light from a distant street
lamp fell on her face.

Well, the face did not jump toward Will, but remained dimly outlined in
the uncertain light.

Did her lips open and close, as though in an effort to say something to
him, or was that an effect produced by the distant, uncertain and
wavering light? In the families of working people the dramatic and vital
moments of life are passed over in silence. Even in the moments of death
and birth, little is said. A child is born to a laborer’s wife and he
goes into the room. She is in bed with the little red bundle of new life
beside her and her husband stands a moment, fumblingly, beside the bed.
Neither he or his wife can look directly into each other’s eyes. “Take
care of yourself, Ma. Have a good rest,” he says, and hurries out of the
room.

In the darkness by the warehouse at Bidwell Kate had taken two or three
steps toward Will, and then had stopped. There was a little strip of
grass between the warehouse and the tracks, and she stood upon it. Was
there a more final farewell trembling on her lips at the moment? A kind
of dread had swept over Will, and no doubt Kate had felt the same thing.
At the moment she had become altogether the mother, in the presence of
her child, and the thing within that wanted utterance became submerged.
There was a word to be said that she could not say. Her form seemed to
sway a little in the darkness and, to Will’s eyes, she became a slender
indistinct thing. “Goodbye,” he had whispered into the darkness, and
perhaps her lips had formed the same words. Outwardly there had been
only the silence, and in the silence she had stood as the train rumbled
away.

And now, on the Saturday evening, Will had come home from the factory
and had found Kate saying in the letter what she had been unable to say
on the night of his departure. The factory closed at five on Saturday
and he came home in his overalls and went to his room. He had found the
letter on a little broken table under a spluttering oil lamp, by the
front door, and had climbed the stairs carrying it in his hand. He read
the letter anxiously, waiting as for a hand to come out of the blank
wall of the room and strike.

His father was getting better. The deep burns that had taken such a long
time to heal, were really healing now and the doctor had said the danger
of infection had passed. Kate had found a new and soothing remedy. One
took slippery elm and let it lie in milk until it became soft. This
applied to the burns enabled Tom to sleep better at night.

As for Fred, Kate and her father had decided he might as well go back to
school. It was really too bad for a young boy to miss the chance to get
an education, and anyway there was no work to be had. Perhaps he could
get a job, helping in some store on Saturday afternoons.

A woman from the Woman’s Relief Corps had had the nerve to come to the
Appleton house and ask Kate if the family needed help. Well, Kate had
managed to hold herself back, and had been polite but, had the woman
known what was in her mind, her ears would have been itching for a
month. The idea!

It had been fine of Will to send a postcard, as soon as he had got to
Erie and got a job. As for his sending money home—of course the family
would be glad to have anything he could spare—but he wasn’t to go
depriving himself. “We’ve got good credit at the stores. We’ll get along
all right,” Kate had said stoutly.

And then it was she had added the line, had said the thing she could not
say that night when he was leaving. It concerned herself and her future
plans. “That night when you were going away I wanted to tell you
something, but I thought it was silly, talking too soon.” After all
though, Will might as well know she was planning to be married in the
spring. What she wanted was for Fred to come and live with her and her
husband. He could keep on going to school, and perhaps they could manage
so that he could go to college. Some one in the family ought to have a
decent education. Now that Will had made his start in life, there was no
point in waiting longer before making her own.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Will sat, in his tiny room at the top of the huge frame house, owned now
by the wife of the old cornet player of the train, and held the letter
in his hand. The room was on the third floor, under the roof, in a wing
of the house, and beside it was another small room, occupied by the old
man himself. Will had taken the room because it was to be had at a low
price and he could manage the room and his meals, get his washing done,
send three dollars a week to Kate, and still have left a dollar a week
to spend. One could get a little tobacco, and now and then see a movie.

“Ugh!” Will’s lips made a little grunting noise as he read Kate’s words.
He was sitting in a chair, in his oily overalls, and where his fingers
gripped the white sheets of the letter there was a little oily smudge.
Also his hand trembled a little. He got up, poured water out of a
pitcher into a white bowl, and began washing his face and hands.

When he had partly dressed a visitor came. There was the shuffling sound
of weary feet along a hallway, and the cornet player put his head
timidly in at the door. The dog-like appealing look Will had noted on
the train was still in his eyes. Now he was planning something, a kind
of gentle revolt against his wife’s power in the house, and he wanted
Will’s moral support.

For a week he had been coming for talk to Will’s room almost every
evening. There were two things he wanted. In the evening sometimes, as
he sat in his room, he wanted to blow upon his cornet, and he wanted a
little money to jingle in his pockets.

And there was a sense in which Will, the newcomer in the house, was his
property, did not belong to his wife. Often in the evenings he had
talked to the weary and sleepy young workman, until Will’s eyes had
closed and he snored gently. The old man sat on the one chair in the
room, and Will sat on the edge of the bed, while old lips told the tale
of a lost youth, boasted a little. When Will’s body had slumped down
upon the bed the old man got to his feet and moved with cat-like steps
about the room. One mustn’t raise the voice too loudly after all. Had
Will gone to sleep? The cornet player threw his shoulders back and bold
words came, in a halfwhisper, from his lips. To tell the truth, he had
been a fool about the money he had made over to his wife and, if his
wife had taken advantage of him, it wasn’t her fault. For his present
position in life he had no one to blame but himself. What from the very
beginning he had most lacked was boldness. It was a man’s duty to be a
man and, for a long time, he had been thinking—well, the boarding house
no doubt made a profit and he should have his share. His wife was a good
girl all right, but when one came right down to it, all women seemed to
lack a sense of a man’s position in life.

“I’ll have to speak to her—yes siree, I’m going to speak right up to
her. I may have to be a little harsh but it’s my money runs this house,
and I want my share of the profits. No foolishness now. Shell out, I
tell you,” the old man whispered, peering out of the corners of his
blue, watery eyes at the sleeping form of the young man on the bed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now again the old man stood at the door of the room, looking
anxiously in. A bell called insistently, announcing that the evening
meal was ready to be served, and they went below, Will leading the way.
At a long table in the dining room several men had already gathered, and
there was the sound of more footsteps on the stairs.

Two long rows of young workmen eating silently. Saturday night and two
long rows of young workmen eating in silence.

After the eating, and on this particular night, there would be a swift
flight of all these young men down into the town, down into the lighted
parts of the town.

Will sat at his place gripping the sides of his chair.

There were things men did on Saturday nights. Work was at an end for the
week and money jingled in pockets. Young workmen ate in silence and
hurried away, one by one, down into the town.

Will’s sister Kate was going to be married in the spring. Her walking
about with the young clerk from the jewelry store, in the streets of
Bidwell, had come to something.

Young workmen employed in factories in Erie, Pennsylvania, dressed
themselves in their best clothes and walked about in the lighted streets
of Erie on Saturday evenings. They went into parks. Some stood talking
to girls while others walked with girls through the streets. And there
were still others who went into saloons and had drinks. Men stood
talking together at a bar. “Dang that foreman of mine! I’ll bust him in
the jaw if he gives me any of his lip.”

There was a young man from Bidwell, sitting at a table in a boarding
house at Erie, Pennsylvania, and before him on a plate was a great pile
of meat and potatoes. The room was not very well lighted. It was dark
and gloomy, and there were black streaks on the grey wall paper. Shadows
played on the walls. On all sides of the young man sat other young
men—eating silently, hurriedly.

Will got abruptly up from the table and started for the door that led
into the street but the others paid no attention to him. If he did not
want to eat his meat and potatoes, it made no difference to them. The
mistress of the house, the wife of the old cornet player, waited on
table when the men ate, but now she had gone away to the kitchen. She
was a silent grim-looking woman, dressed always in a black dress.

To the others in the room—except only the old cornet player—Will’s going
or staying meant nothing at all. He was a young workman, and at such
places young workmen were always going and coming.

A man with broad shoulders and a black mustache, a little older than
most of the others, did glance up from his business of eating. He nudged
his neighbor, and then made a jerky movement with his thumb over his
shoulder. “The new guy has hooked up quickly, eh?” he said, smiling. “He
can’t even wait to eat. Lordy, he’s got an early date—some skirt waiting
for him.”

At his place, opposite where Will had been seated, the cornet player saw
Will go, and his eyes followed, filled with alarm. He had counted on an
evening of talk, of speaking to Will about his youth, boasting a little
in his gentle hesitating way. Now Will had reached the door that led to
the street, and in the old man’s eyes tears began to gather. Again his
lip trembled. Tears were always gathering in the man’s eyes, and his
lips trembled at the slightest provocation. It was no wonder he could no
longer blow a cornet in a band.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now Will was outside the house in the darkness and, for the cornet
player, the evening was spoiled, the house a deserted empty place. He
had intended being very plain in his evening’s talk with Will, and
wanted particularly to speak of a new attitude, he hoped to assume
toward his wife, in the matter of money. Talking the whole matter out
with Will would give him new courage, make him bolder. Well, if his
money had bought the house, that was now a boarding house, he should
have some share in its profits. There must be profits. Why run a
boarding house without profits? The woman he had married was no fool.

Even though a man were old he needed a little money in his pockets.
Well, an old man, like himself, has a friend, a young fellow, and now
and then he wanted to be able to say to his friend, “Come on friend,
let’s have a glass of beer. I know a good place. Let’s have a glass of
beer and go to the movies. This is on me.”

The cornet player could not eat his meat and potatoes. For a time he
stared over the heads of the others, and then got up to go to his room.
His wife followed into the little hallway at the foot of the stairs.
“What’s the matter, dearie—are you sick?” she asked.

“No,” he answered, “I just didn’t want any supper.” He did not look at
her, but tramped slowly and heavily up the stairs.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Will was walking hurriedly through streets but did not go down into the
brightly lighted sections of town. The boarding house stood on a factory
street and, turning northward, he crossed several railroad tracks and
went toward the docks, along the shore of Lake Erie. There was something
to be settled with himself, something to be faced. Could he manage the
matter?

He walked along, hurriedly at first, and then more slowly. It was
getting into late October now and there was a sharpness like frost in
the air. The spaces between street lamps were long, and he plunged in
and out of areas of darkness. Why was it that everything about him
seemed suddenly strange and unreal? He had forgotten to bring his
overcoat from Bidwell and would have to write Kate to send it.

Now he had almost reached the docks. Not only the night but his own
body, the pavements under his feet, and the stars far away in the
sky—even the solid factory buildings he was now passing—seemed strange
and unreal. It was almost as though one could thrust out an arm and push
a hand through the walls, as one might push his hand into a fog or a
cloud of smoke. All the people Will passed seemed strange, and acted in
a strange way. Dark figures surged toward him out of the darkness. By a
factory wall there was a man standing—perfectly still, motionless. There
was something almost unbelievable about the actions of such men and the
strangeness of such hours as the one through which he was now passing.
He walked within a few inches of the motionless man. Was it a man or a
shadow on the wall? The life Will was now to lead alone, had become a
strange, a vast terrifying thing. Perhaps all life was like that, a
vastness and emptiness.

He came out into a place where ships were made fast to a dock and stood
for a time, facing the high wall-like side of a vessel. It looked dark
and deserted. When he turned his head he became aware of a man and a
woman passing along a roadway. Their feet made no sound in the thick
dust of the roadway, and he could not see or hear them, but knew they
were there. Some part of a woman’s dress—something white—flashed faintly
into view and the man’s figure was a dark mass against the dark mass of
the night. “Oh, come on, don’t be afraid,” the man whispered, hoarsely.
“There won’t anything happen to you.”

“Do shut up,” a woman’s voice answered, and there was a quick outburst
of laughter. The figures fluttered away. “You don’t know what you are
talking about,” the woman’s voice said again.

Now that he had got Kate’s letter, Will was no longer a boy. A boy is,
quite naturally, and without his having anything to do with the matter,
connected with something—and now that connection had been cut. He had
been pushed out of the nest and that fact, the pushing of himself off
the nest’s rim, was something accomplished. The difficulty was that,
while he was no longer a boy, he had not yet become a man. He was a
thing swinging in space. There was no place to put down his feet.

He stood in the darkness under the shadow of the ship making queer
little wriggling motions with his shoulders, that had become now almost
the shoulders of a man. No need now to think of evenings at the Appleton
house with Kate and Fred standing about, and his father, Tom Appleton,
spreading his paint brushes on the kitchen table, no need of thinking of
the sound of Kate’s feet going up a stairway of the Appleton house, late
at night when she had been out walking with her clerk. What was the good
of trying to amuse oneself by thinking of a shepherd dog in an Ohio
town, a dog made ridiculous by the trembling hand of a timid old woman?

One stood face to face with manhood now—one stood alone. If only one
could get one’s feet down upon something, could get over this feeling of
falling through space, through a vast emptiness.

“Manhood”—the word had a queer sound in the head. What did it mean?

Will tried to think of himself as a man, doing a man’s work in a
factory. There was nothing in the factory, where he was now employed,
upon which he could put down his feet. All day he stood at a machine and
bored holes in pieces of iron. A boy brought to him the little, short,
meaningless pieces of iron in a box-like truck and, one by one, he
picked them up and placed them under the point of a drill. He pulled a
lever and the drill came down and bit into the piece of iron. A little,
smoke-like vapor arose, and then he squirted oil on the spot where the
drill was working. Then the lever was thrown up again. The hole was
drilled and now the meaningless piece of iron was thrown into another
box-like truck. It had nothing to do with him. He had nothing to do with
it.

At the noon hour, at the factory, one moved about a bit, stepped outside
the factory door to stand for a moment in the sun. Inside, men were
sitting along benches eating lunches out of dinner pails and some had
washed their hands while others had not bothered about such a trivial
matter. They were eating in silence. A tall man spat on the floor and
then drew his foot across the spot. Nights came and one went home from
the factory to eat, sitting with other silent men, and later a boastful
old man came into one’s room to talk. One lay on a bed and tried to
listen, but presently fell asleep. Men were like the pieces of iron in
which holes had been bored—one pitched them aside into a box-like truck.
One had nothing really to do with them. They had nothing to do with
oneself. Life became a procession of days and perhaps all life was just
like that—just a procession of days.

“Manhood.”

Did one go out of one place and into another? Were youth and manhood two
houses, in which one lived during different periods in life? It was
evident something of importance must be about to happen to his sister
Kate. First, she had been a young woman, having two brothers and a
father, living with them in a house at Bidwell, Ohio.

And then a day was to come when she became something else. She married
and went to live in another house and had a husband. Perhaps children
would be born to her. It was evident Kate had got hold of something,
that her hands had reached out and had grasped something definite. Kate
had swung herself off the rim of the home nest and, right away, her feet
had landed on another limb of the tree of life—womanhood.

As he stood in the darkness something caught at Will’s throat. He was
fighting again but what was he fighting? A fellow like himself did not
move out of one house and into another. There was a house in which one
lived, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, it fell apart. One stood on
the rim of the nest and looked about, and a hand reached out from the
warmth of the nest and pushed one off into space. There was no place for
a fellow to put down his feet. He was one swinging in space.

What—a great fellow, nearly six feet tall now, and crying in the
darkness, in the shadow of a ship, like a child! He walked, filled with
determination, out of the darkness, along many streets of factories and
came into a street of houses. He passed a store where groceries were
sold and looking in saw, by a clock on the wall, that it was already ten
o’clock. Two drunken men came out at the door of a house and stood on a
little porch. One of them clung to a railing about the porch, and the
other pulled at his arm. “Let me alone. It’s settled. I want you to let
me alone,” grumbled the man clinging to the railing.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Will went to his boarding house and climbed the stairs wearily. The
devil—one might face anything if one but knew what was to be faced!

He turned on a light and sat down in his room on the edge of the bed,
and the old cornet player pounced upon him, pounced like a little
animal, lying under a bush along a path in a forest, and waiting for
food. He came into Will’s room carrying his cornet, and there was an
almost bold look in his eyes. Standing firmly on his old legs in the
centre of the room, he made a declaration. “I’m going to play it. I
don’t care what she says, I’m going to play it,” he said.

He put the cornet to his lips and blew two or three notes—so softly that
even Will, sitting so closely, could barely hear. Then his eyes wavered.
“My lip’s no good,” he said. He thrust the cornet at Will. “You blow
it,” he said.

Will sat on the edge of the bed and smiled. There was a notion floating
in his mind now. Was there something, a thought in which one could find
comfort. There was now, before him, standing before him in the room, a
man who was after all not a man. He was a child as Will was too really,
had always been such a child, would always be such a child. One need not
be too afraid. Children were all about, everywhere. If one were a child
and lost in a vast, empty space, one could at least talk to some other
child. One could have conversations, understand perhaps something of the
eternal childishness of oneself and others.

Will’s thoughts were not very definite. He only felt suddenly warm and
comfortable in the little room at the top of the boarding house.

And now the man was again explaining himself. He wanted to assert his
manhood. “I stay up here,” he explained, “and don’t go down there, to
sleep in the room with my wife because I don’t want to. That’s the only
reason. I could if I wanted to. She has the bronchitis—but don’t tell
anyone. Women hate to have anyone told. She isn’t so bad. I can do what
I please.”

He kept urging Will to put the cornet to his lips and blow. There was in
him an intense eagerness. “You can’t really make any music—you don’t
know how—but that don’t make any difference,” he said. “The thing to do
is to make a noise, make a deuce of a racket, blow like the devil.”

Again Will felt like crying but the sense of vastness and loneliness,
that had been in him since he got aboard the train that night at
Bidwell, had gone. “Well, I can’t go on forever being a baby. Kate has a
right to get married,” he thought, putting the cornet to his lips. He
blew two or three notes, softly.

“No, I tell you, no! That isn’t the way! Blow on it! Don’t be afraid! I
tell you I want you to do it. Make a deuce of a racket! I tell you what,
I own this house. We don’t need to be afraid. We can do what we please.
Go ahead! Make a deuce of a racket!” the old man kept pleading.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            THE MAN’S STORY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            THE MAN’S STORY


DURING his trial for murder and later, after he had been cleared through
the confession of that queer little bald chap with the nervous hands, I
watched him, fascinated by his continued effort to make something
understood.

He was persistently interested in something, having nothing to do with
the charge that he had murdered the woman. The matter of whether or not,
and by due process of law, he was to be convicted of murder and hanged
by the neck until he was dead didn’t seem to interest him. The law was
something outside his life and he declined to have anything to do with
the killing as one might decline a cigarette. “I thank you, I am not
smoking at present. I made a bet with a fellow that I could go along
without smoking cigarettes for a month.”

That is the sort of thing I mean. It was puzzling. Really, had he been
guilty and trying to save his neck he couldn’t have taken a better line.
You see, at first, everyone thought he had done the killing; we were all
convinced of it, and then, just because of that magnificent air of
indifference, everyone began wanting to save him. When news came of the
confession of the crazy little stage-hand everyone broke out into
cheers.

He was clear of the law after that but his manner in no way changed.
There was, somewhere, a man or a woman who would understand just what he
understood and it was important to find that person and talk things
over. There was a time, during the trial and immediately afterward, when
I saw a good deal of him, and I had this sharp sense of him, feeling
about in the darkness trying to find something like a needle or a pin
lost on the floor. Well, he was like an old man who cannot find his
glasses. He feels in all his pockets and looks helplessly about.

There was a question in my own mind too, in everyone’s mind—“Can a man
be wholly casual and brutal, in every outward way, at a moment when the
one nearest and dearest to him is dying, and at the same time, and with
quite another part of himself, be altogether tender and sensitive?”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Anyway it’s a story, and once in a while a man likes to tell a story
straight out, without putting in any newspaper jargon about beautiful
heiresses, coldblooded murderers and all that sort of tommyrot.

As I picked the story up the sense of it was something like this—

The man’s name was Wilson,—Edgar Wilson—and he had come to Chicago from
some place to the westward, perhaps from the mountains. He might once
have been a sheep herder or something of the sort in the far west, as he
had the peculiar abstract air, acquired only by being a good deal alone.
About himself and his past he told a good many conflicting stories and
so, after being with him for a time, one instinctively discarded the
past.

“The devil—it doesn’t matter—the man can’t tell the truth in that
direction.—Let it go,” one said to oneself. What was known was that he
had come to Chicago from a town in Kansas and that he had run away from
the Kansas town with another man’s wife.

As to her story, I knew little enough of it. She had been at one time, I
imagine, a rather handsome thing, in a big strong upstanding sort of
way, but her life, until she met Wilson, had been rather messy. In those
dead flat Kansas towns lives have a way of getting ugly and messy
without anything very definite having happened to make them so. One
can’t imagine the reasons—Let it go. It just is so and one can’t at all
believe the writers of Western tales about the life out there.

To be a little more definite about this particular woman—in her young
girlhood her father had got into trouble. He had been some sort of a
small official, a travelling agent or something of the sort for an
express company, and got arrested in connection with the disappearance
of some money. And then, when he was in jail and before his trial, he
shot and killed himself. The girl’s mother was already dead.

Within a year or two she married a man, an honest enough fellow but from
all accounts rather uninteresting. He was a drug clerk and a frugal man
and after a short time managed to buy a drug store of his own.

The woman, as I have said, had been strong and well-built but now grew
thin and nervous. Still she carried herself well with a sort of air, as
it were, and there was something about her that appealed strongly to
men. Several men of the seedy little town were smitten by her and wrote
her letters, trying to get her to creep out with them at night. You know
how such things are done. The letters were unsigned. “You go to such and
such a place on Friday evening. If you are willing to talk things over
with me carry a book in your hand.”

Then the woman made a mistake and told her husband about the receipt of
one of the letters and he grew angry and tramped off to the trysting
place at night with a shotgun in his hand. When no one appeared he came
home and fussed about. He said little mean tentative things. “You must
have looked—in a certain way—at the man when he passed you on the
street. A man don’t grow so bold with a married woman unless an opening
has been given him.”

The man talked and talked after that, and life in the house must have
been gay. She grew habitually silent, and when she was silent the house
was silent. They had no children.

Then the man Edgar Wilson came along, going eastward, and stopped over
in the town for two or three days. He had at that time a little money
and stayed at a small workingmen’s boarding house, near the railroad
station. One day he saw the woman walking in the street and followed her
to her home and the neighbors saw them standing and talking together for
an hour by the front gate and on the next day he came again.

That time they talked for two hours and then she went into the house;
got a few belongings and walked to the railroad station with him. They
took a train for Chicago and lived there together, apparently very
happy, until she died—in a way I am about to try to tell you about. They
of course could not be married and during the three years they lived in
Chicago he did nothing toward earning their common living. As he had a
very small amount of money when they came, barely enough to get them
here from the Kansas town, they were miserably poor.

They lived, when I knew about them, over on the North side, in that
section of old three- and four-story brick residences that were once the
homes of what we call our nice people, but that had afterward gone to
the bad. The section is having a kind of rebirth now but for a good many
years it rather went to seed. There were these old residences, made into
boarding houses, and with unbelievably dirty lace curtains at the
windows, and now and then an utterly disreputable old tumble-down frame
house—in one of which Wilson lived with his woman.

The place is a sight! Someone owns it, I suppose, who is shrewd enough
to know that in a big city like Chicago no section gets neglected
always. Such a fellow must have said to himself, “Well, I’ll let the
place go. The ground on which the house stands will some day be very
valuable but the house is worth nothing. I’ll let it go at a low rental
and do nothing to fix it up. Perhaps I will get enough out of it to pay
my taxes until prices come up.”

And so the house had stood there unpainted for years and the windows
were out of line and the shingles nearly all off the roof. The second
floor was reached by an outside stairway with a handrail that had become
just the peculiar grey greasy black that wood can become in a
soft-coal-burning city like Chicago or Pittsburgh. One’s hand became
black when the railing was touched; and the rooms above were altogether
cold and cheerless.

At the front there was a large room with a fireplace, from which many
bricks had fallen, and back of that were two small sleeping rooms.

Wilson and his woman lived in the place, at the time when the thing
happened I am to tell you about, and as they had taken it in May I
presume they did not too much mind the cold barrenness of the large
front room in which they lived. There was a sagging wooden bed with a
leg broken off—the woman had tried to repair it with sticks from a
packing box—a kitchen table, that was also used by Wilson as a writing
desk, and two or three cheap kitchen chairs.

The woman had managed to get a place as wardrobe woman in a theatre in
Randolph Street and they lived on her earnings. It was said she had got
the job because some man connected with the theatre, or a company
playing there, had a passion for her but one can always pick up stories
of that sort about any woman who works about the theatre—from the
scrubwoman to the star.

Anyway she worked there and had a reputation in the theatre of being
quiet and efficient.

As for Wilson, he wrote poetry of a sort I’ve never seen before,
although, like most newspaper men, I’ve taken a turn at verse making
myself now and then—both of the rhymed kind and the newfangled vers
libre sort. I rather go in for the classical stuff myself.

About Wilson’s verse—it was Greek to me. Well now, to get right down to
hardpan in this matter, it was and it wasn’t.

The stuff made me feel just a little bit woozy when I took a whole sheaf
of it and sat alone in my room reading it at night. It was all about
walls, and deep wells, and great bowls with young trees standing erect
in them—and trying to find their way to the light and air over the rim
of the bowl.

Queer crazy stuff, every line of it, but fascinating too—in a way. One
got into a new world with new values, which after all is I suppose what
poetry is all about. There was the world of fact—we all know or think we
know—the world of flat buildings and middle-western farms with wire
fences about the fields and fordson tractors running up and down, and
towns with high schools and advertising billboards, and everything that
makes up life—or that we think makes up life.

There was this world, we all walk about in, and then there was this
other world, that I have come to think of as Wilson’s world—a dim place
to me at least—of far-away near places—things taking new and strange
shapes, the insides of people coming out, the eyes seeing new things,
the fingers feeling new and strange things.

It was a place of walls mainly. I got hold of the whole lot of Wilson’s
verse by a piece of luck. It happened that I was the first newspaper man
who got into the place on the night when the woman’s body was found, and
there was all his stuff, carefully written out in a sort of child’s copy
book, and two or three stupid policemen standing about. I just shoved
the book under my coat, when they weren’t looking, and later, during
Wilson’s trial, we published some of the more intelligible ones in the
paper. It made pretty good newspaper stuff—the poet who killed his
mistress,

                    “He did not wear his purple coat,
                     For blood and wine are red”—

and all that. Chicago loved it.

To get back to the poetry itself for a moment. I just wanted to explain
that all through the book there ran this notion, that men had erected
walls about themselves and that all men were perhaps destined to stand
forever behind the walls—on which they constantly beat with their fists,
or with whatever tools they could get hold of. Wanted to break through
to something, you understand. One couldn’t quite make out whether there
was just one great wall or many little individual walls. Sometimes
Wilson put it one way, sometimes another. Men had themselves built the
walls and now stood behind them, knowing dimly that beyond the walls
there was warmth, light, air, beauty, life in fact—while at the same
time, and because of a kind of madness in themselves, the walls were
constantly being built higher and stronger.

The notion gives you the fantods a little, doesn’t it? Anyway it does
me.

And then there was that notion about deep wells, men everywhere
constantly digging and digging themselves down deeper and deeper into
deep wells. They not wanting to do it, you understand, and no one
wanting them to do it, but all the time the thing going on just the
same, that is to say the wells getting constantly deeper and deeper, and
the voices growing dimmer and dimmer in the distance—and again the light
and the warmth of life going away and going away, because of a kind of
blind refusal of people to try to understand each other, I suppose.

It was all very strange to me—Wilson’s poetry, I mean—when I came to it.
Here is one of his things. It is not directly concerned with the walls,
the bowl or the deep well theme, as you will see, but it is one we ran
in the paper during the trial and a lot of folks rather liked it—as I’ll
admit I do myself. Maybe putting it in here will give a kind of point to
my story, by giving you some sense of the strangeness of the man who is
the story’s hero. In the book it was called merely “Number
Ninety-seven,” and it went as follows:

    The firm grip of my fingers on the thin paper of this cigarette
    is a sign that I am very quiet now. Sometimes it is not so. When
    I am unquiet I am weak but when I am quiet, as I am now, I am
    very strong.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    Just now I went along one of the streets of my city and in at a
    door and came up here, where I am now, lying on a bed and
    looking out at a window. Very suddenly and completely the
    knowledge has come to me that I could grip the sides of tall
    buildings as freely and as easily as I now grip this cigarette.
    I could hold the building between my fingers, put it to my lips
    and blow smoke through it. I could blow confusion away. I could
    blow a thousand people out through the roof of one tall building
    into the sky, into the unknown. Building after building I could
    consume, as I consume the cigarettes in this box. I could throw
    the burning ends of cities over my shoulder and out through a
    window.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    It is not often I get in the state I am now in—so quiet and sure
    of myself. When the feeling comes over me there is a directness
    and simplicity in me that makes me love myself. To myself at
    such times I say strong sweet words.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    I am on a couch by this window and I could ask a woman to come
    here to lie with me, or a man either for that matter.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    I could take a row of houses standing on a street, tip them
    over, empty the people out of them, squeeze and compress all the
    people into one person and love that person.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    Do you see this hand? Suppose it held a knife that could cut
    down through all the falseness in you. Suppose it could cut down
    through the sides of buildings and houses where thousands of
    people now lie asleep.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    It would be something worth thinking about if the fingers of
    this hand gripped a knife that could cut and rip through all the
    ugly husks in which millions of lives are enclosed.

Well, there is the idea you see, a kind of power that could be tender
too. I will quote you just one more of his things, a more gentle one. It
is called in the book, “Number Eighty-three.”

    I am a tree that grows beside the wall. I have been thrusting up
    and up. My body is covered with scars. My body is old but still
    I thrust upward, creeping toward the top of the wall.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    It is my desire to drop blossoms and fruit over the wall.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    I would moisten dry lips.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    I would drop blossoms on the heads of children, over the top of
    the wall.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    I would caress with falling blossoms the bodies of those who
    live on the further side of the wall.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    My branches are creeping upward and new sap comes into me out of
    the dark ground under the wall.

                  *       *       *       *       *

    My fruit shall not be my fruit until it drops from my arms, into
    the arms of the others, over the top of the wall.

And now as to the life led by the man and woman in the large upper room
in that old frame house. By a stroke of luck I have recently got rather
a line on that by a discovery I have made.

After they had moved into the house—it was only last spring—the theatre
in which the woman was employed was dark for a long time and they were
more than usually hard up, so the woman tried to pick up a little extra
money—to help pay the rent I suppose—by sub-letting the two little back
rooms of that place of theirs.

Various people lived in the dark tiny holes, just how I can’t make out
as there was no furniture. Still there are places in Chicago called
“flops” where one may sleep on the floor for five or ten cents and they
are more patronized than respectable people know anything about.

What I did discover was a little woman—she wasn’t so young but she was
hunchbacked and small and it is hard not to think of her as a girl—who
once lived in one of the rooms for several weeks. She had a job as
ironer in a small hand-laundry in the neighborhood and someone had given
her a cheap folding cot. She was a curiously sentimental creature, with
the kind of hurt eyes deformed people often have, and I have a fancy she
had herself a romantic attachment of a sort for the man Wilson. Anyway I
managed to find out a lot from her.

After the other woman’s death and after Wilson had been cleared on the
murder charge, by the confession of the stage-hand, I used to go over to
the house where he had lived, sometimes in the late afternoon after our
paper had been put to bed for the day. Ours is an afternoon paper and
after two o’clock most of us are free.

I found the hunchback girl standing in front of the house one day and
began talking with her. She was a gold mine.

There was that look in her eyes I’ve told you of, the hurt sensitive
look. I just spoke to her and we began talking of Wilson. She had lived
in one of the rooms at the back. She told me of that at once.

On some days she found herself unable to work at the laundry because her
strength suddenly gave out and so, on such days, she stayed in the room,
lying on the cot. Blinding headaches came that lasted for hours during
which she was almost entirely unconscious of everything going on about
her. Then afterward she was quite conscious but for a long time very
weak. She wasn’t one who is destined to live very long I suppose and I
presume she didn’t much care.

Anyway, there she was in the room, in that weak state after the times of
illness, and she grew curious about the two people in the front room, so
she used to get off her couch and go softly in her stockinged feet to
the door between the rooms and peek through the keyhole. She had to
kneel on the dusty floor to do it.

The life in the room fascinated her from the beginning. Sometimes the
man was in there alone, sitting at the kitchen table and writing the
stuff he afterward put into the book I collared, and from which I have
quoted; sometimes the woman was with him, and again sometimes he was in
there alone but wasn’t writing. Then he was always walking and walking
up and down.

When both people were in the room, and when the man was writing, the
woman seldom moved but sat in a chair by one of the windows with her
hands crossed. He would write a few lines and then walk up and down
talking to himself or to her. When he spoke she did not answer except
with her eyes, the crippled girl said. What I gathered of all this from
her talk with me, and what is the product of my own imaginings, I
confess I do not quite know.

Anyway what I got and what I am trying, in my own way, to transmit to
you is a sense of a kind of strangeness in the relationship of the two.
It wasn’t just a domestic household, a little down on its luck, by any
means. He was trying to do something very difficult—with his poetry I
presume—and she in her own way was trying to help him.

And of course, as I have no doubt you have gathered from what I have
quoted of Wilson’s verse, the matter had something to do with the
relationships between people—not necessarily between the particular man
and woman who happened to be there in that room, but between all
peoples.

The fellow had some half-mystic conception of all such things, and
before he found his own woman had been going aimlessly about the world
looking for a mate. Then he had found the woman in the Kansas town
and—he at least thought—things had cleared, for him.

Well, he had the notion that no one in the world could think or feel
anything alone, and that people only got into trouble and walled
themselves in by trying it, or something of the sort. There was a
discord. Things were jangled. Someone, it seems, had to strike a pitch
that all voices could take up before the real song of life could begin.
Mind you I’m not putting forth any notions of my own. What I am trying
to do is to give you a sense of something I got from having read
Wilson’s stuff, from having known him a little, and from having seen
something of the effect of his personality upon others.

He felt, quite definitely, that no one in the world could feel or even
think alone. And then there was the notion, that if one tried to think
with the mind without taking the body into account, one got all
balled-up. True conscious life built itself up like a pyramid. First the
body and mind of a beloved one must come into one’s thinking and feeling
and then, in some mystic way, the bodies and minds of all the other
people in the world must come in, must come sweeping in like a great
wind—or something of the sort.

Is all this a little tangled up to you, who read my story of Wilson? It
may not be. It may be that your minds are more clear than my own and
that what I take to be so difficult will be very simple to you.

However, I have to bring up to you just what I can find, after diving
down into this sea of motives and impulses—I admit I don’t rightly
understand.

The hunchback girl felt (or is it my own fancy coloring what she
said?)—it doesn’t really matter. The thing to get at is what the man
Edgar Wilson felt.

He felt, I fancy, that in the field of poetry he had something to
express that could never be expressed until he had found a woman who
could, in a peculiar and absolute way, give herself in the world of the
flesh—and that then there was to be a marriage out of which beauty would
come for all people. He had to find the woman who had that power, and
the power had to be untainted by self-interest, I fancy. A profound
egotist, you see—and he thought he had found what he needed in the wife
of the Kansas druggist.

He had found her and had done something to her. What it was I can’t
quite make out, except that she was absolutely and wholly happy with
him, in a strangely inexpressive sort of way.

Trying to speak of him and his influence on others is rather like trying
to walk on a tightrope stretched between two tall buildings above a
crowded street. A cry from below, a laugh, the honk of an automobile
horn, and down one goes into nothingness. One simply becomes ridiculous.

He wanted, it seems, to condense the flesh and the spirit of himself and
his woman into his poems. You will remember that in one of the things of
his I have quoted he speaks of condensing, of squeezing all the people
of a city into one person and of loving that person.

One might think of him as a powerful person, almost hideously powerful.
You will see, as you read, how he has got me in his power and is making
me serve his purpose.

And he had caught and was holding the woman in his grip. He had wanted
her—quite absolutely, and had taken her—as all men, perhaps, want to do
with their women, and don’t quite dare. Perhaps too she was in her own
way greedy and he was making actual love to her always day and night,
when they were together and when they were apart.

I’ll admit I am confused about the whole matter myself. I am trying to
express something I have felt, not in myself, nor in the words that came
to me from the lips of the hunchback girl whom, you will remember, I
left kneeling on the floor in that back room and peeking through a
keyhole.

There she was, you see, the hunchback, and in the room before her were
the man and woman and the hunchback girl also had fallen under the power
of the man Wilson. She also was in love with him—there can be no doubt
of that. The room in which she knelt was dark and dusty. There must have
been a thick accumulation of dust on the floor.

What she said—or if she did not say the words what she made me feel was
that the man Wilson worked in the room, or walked up and down in there
before his woman, and that, while he did that, his woman sat in the
chair, and that there was in her face, in her eyes, a look—

He was all the time making love to her, and his making love to her in
just that abstract way, was a kind of love-making with all people? and
that was possible because the woman was as purely physical as he was
something else. If all this is meaningless to you, at least it wasn’t to
the hunchback girl—who certainly was uneducated and never would have set
herself up as having any special powers of understanding. She knelt in
the dust, listening, and looking in at the keyhole, and in the end she
came to feel that the man, in whose presence she had never been and
whose person had never in any way touched her person, had made love to
her also.

She had felt that and it had gratified her entire nature. One might say
it had satisfied her. She was what she was and it had made life worth
living for her.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Minor things happened in the room and one may speak of them.

For example, there was a day in June, a dark warm rainy day. The
hunchback girl was in her room, kneeling on the floor, and Wilson and
his woman were in their room.

Wilson’s woman had been doing a family washing, and as it could not be
dried outdoors she had stretched ropes across the room and had hung the
clothes inside.

When the clothes were all hung Wilson came from walking outside in the
rain and going to the desk sat down and began to write.

He wrote for a few minutes and then got up and went about the room, and
in walking a wet garment brushed against his face.

He kept right on walking and talking to the woman but as he walked and
talked he gathered all the clothes in his arms and going to the little
landing at the head of the stairs outside, threw them down into the
muddy yard below. He did that and the woman sat without moving or saying
anything until he had gone back to his desk, then she went down the
stairs, got the clothes and washed them again—and it was only after she
had done that and when she was again hanging them in the room above that
he appeared to know what he had done.

While the clothes were being rewashed he went for another walk and when
she heard his footsteps on the stairs the hunchback girl ran to the
keyhole. As she knelt there, and as he came into the room, she could
look directly into his face. “He was like a puzzled child for a moment
and then, although he said nothing, the tears began to run down his
cheeks,” she said. That happened and then the woman, who was at the
moment re-hanging the clothes, turned and saw him. She had her arm
filled with clothes but dropped them on the floor and ran to him. She
half knelt, the hunchback girl said, and putting her arms about his body
and looking up into his face pleaded with him. “Don’t. Don’t be hurt.
Believe me I know everything. Please don’t be hurt,” was what she said.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now as to the story of the woman’s death. It happened in the fall of
that year.

In the place where she was sometimes employed—that is to say in the
theatre—there was this other man, the little half-crazed stage-hand who
shot her.

He had fallen in love with her and, like the men in the Kansas town from
which she came, had written her several silly notes of which she said
nothing to Wilson. The letters weren’t very nice and some of them, the
most unpleasant ones, were by some twist of the fellow’s mind, signed
with Wilson’s name. Two of them were afterwards found on her person and
were brought in as evidence against Wilson during his trial.

And so the woman worked in the theatre and the summer had passed and on
an evening in the fall there was to be a dress rehearsal at the theatre
and the woman went there, taking Wilson with her. It was a fall day,
such as we sometimes have in Chicago, cold and wet and with a heavy fog
lying over the city.

The dress rehearsal did not come off. The star was ill, or something of
the sort happened, and Wilson and his woman sat about, in the cold empty
theatre, for an hour or two and then the woman was told she could go for
the night.

She and Wilson walked across the city, stopping to get something to eat
at a small restaurant. He was in one of the abstract silent moods common
to him. No doubt he was thinking of the things he wanted to express in
the poetry I have tried to tell you about. He went along, not seeing the
woman beside him, not seeing the people drifting up to them and passing
them in the streets. He went along in that way and she—

She was no doubt then as she always was in his presence—silent and
satisfied with the fact that she was with him. There was nothing he
could think or feel that did not take her into account. The very blood
flowing up through his body was her blood too. He had made her feel
that, and she was silent and satisfied as he went along, his body
walking beside her but his fancy groping its way through the land of
high walls and deep wells.

They had walked from the restaurant, in the Loop District, over a bridge
to the North Side, and still no words passed between them.

When they had almost reached their own place the stage-hand, the small
man with the nervous hands who had written the notes, appeared out of
the fog, as though out of nowhere, and shot the woman.

That was all there was to it. It was as simple as that.

They were walking, as I have described them, when a head flashed up
before the woman in the midst of the fog, a hand shot out, there was the
quick abrupt sound of a pistol shot and then the absurd little
stage-hand, he with the wrinkled impotent little old woman’s face—then
he turned and ran away.

All that happened, just as I have written it and it made no impression
at all on the mind of Wilson. He walked along as though nothing had
happened and the woman, after half falling, gathered herself together
and managed to continue walking beside him, still saying nothing.

They went thus, for perhaps two blocks, and had reached the foot of the
outer stairs that led up to their place when a policeman came running,
and the woman told him a lie. She told him some story about a struggle
between two drunken men, and after a moment of talk the policeman went
away, sent away by the woman in a direction opposite to the one taken by
the fleeing stage-hand.

They were in the darkness and the fog now and the woman took her man’s
arm while they climbed the stairs. He was as yet—as far as I will ever
be able to explain logically—unaware of the shot, and of the fact that
she was dying, although he had seen and heard everything. What the
doctors said, who were put on the case afterwards, was that a cord or
muscle, or something of the sort that controls the action of the heart,
had been practically severed by the shot.

She was dead and alive at the same time, I should say.

Anyway the two people marched up the stairs, and into the room above,
and then a really dramatic and lovely thing happened. One wishes that
the scene, with just all its connotations, could be played out on a
stage instead of having to be put down in words.

The two came into the room, the one dead but not ready to acknowledge
death without a flash of something individual and lovely, that is to
say, the one dead while still alive and the other alive but at the
moment dead to what was going on.

The room into which they went was dark but, with the sure instinct of an
animal, the woman walked across the room to the fireplace, while the man
stopped and stood some ten feet from the door—thinking and thinking in
his peculiarly abstract way. The fireplace was filled with an
accumulation of waste matter, cigarette ends—the man was a hard
smoker—bits of paper on which he had scribbled—the rubbishy accumulation
that gathers about all such fellows as Wilson. There was all of this
quickly combustible material, stuffed into the fireplace, on this—the
first cold evening of the fall.

And so the woman went to it, and found a match somewhere in the
darkness, and touched the pile off.

There is a picture that will remain with me always—just that—the barren
room and the blind unseeing man standing there, and the woman kneeling
and making a little flare of beauty at the last. Little flames leaped
up. Lights crept and danced over the walls. Below, on the floor of the
room, there was a deep well of darkness in which the man, blind with his
own purpose, was standing.

The pile of burning papers must have made, for a moment, quite a glare
of light in the room and the woman stood for a moment, beside the
fireplace, just outside the glare of light.

And then, pale and wavering, she walked across the light, as across a
lighted stage, going softly and silently toward him. Had she also
something to say? No one will ever know. What happened was that she said
nothing.

She walked across to him and, at the moment she reached him, fell down
on the floor and died at his feet, and at the same moment the little
fire of papers died. If she struggled before she died, there on the
floor, she struggled in silence. There was no sound. She had fallen and
lay between him and the door that led out to the stairway and to the
street.

It was then Wilson became altogether inhuman—too much so for my
understanding.

The fire had died and the woman he had loved had died.

And there he stood looking into nothingness, thinking—God knows—perhaps
of nothingness.

                  *       *       *       *       *

He stood a minute, five minutes, perhaps ten. He was a man who, before
he found the woman, had been sunk far down into a deep sea of doubt and
questionings. Before he found the woman no expression had ever come from
him. He had perhaps just wandered from place to place, looking at
people’s faces, wondering about people, wanting to come close to others
and not knowing how. The woman had been able to lift him up to the
surface of the sea of life for a time, and with her he had floated on
the surface of the sea, under the sky, in the sunlight. The woman’s warm
body—given to him in love—had been as a boat in which he had floated on
the surface of the sea, and now the boat had been wrecked and he was
sinking again, back into the sea.

All of this had happened and he did not know—that is to say he did not
know, and at the same time he did know.

He was a poet, I presume, and perhaps at the moment a new poem was
forming itself in his mind.

At any rate he stood for a time, as I have said, and then he must have
had a feeling that he should make some move, that he should if possible
save himself from some disaster about to overtake him.

He had an impulse to go to the door, and by way of the stairway, to go
down stairs and into the street—but the body of the woman was between
him and the door.

What he did and what, when he later told of it, sounded so terribly
cruel to others, was to treat the woman’s dead body as one might treat a
fallen tree in the darkness in a forest. First he tried to push the body
aside with his foot and then as that seemed impossible, he stepped
awkwardly over it.

He stepped directly on the woman’s arm. The discolored mark where his
heel landed was afterward found on the body.

He almost fell, and then his body righted itself and he went walking,
marched down the rickety stairs and went walking in the streets.

By chance the night had cleared. It had grown colder and a cold wind had
driven the fog away. He walked along, very nonchalantly, for several
blocks. He walked along as calmly as you, the reader, might walk, after
having had lunch with a friend.

As a matter of fact he even stopped to make a purchase at a store. I
remember that the place was called “The Whip.” He went in, bought
himself a package of cigarettes, lighted one and stood a moment,
apparently listening to a conversation going on among several idlers in
the place.

And then he strolled again, going along smoking the cigarette and
thinking of his poem no doubt. Then he came to a moving-picture theatre.

That perhaps touched him off. He also was an old fireplace, stuffed with
old thoughts, scraps of unwritten poems—God knows what rubbish! Often he
had gone at night to the theatre, where the woman was employed, to walk
home with her, and now the people were coming out of a small
moving-picture house. They had been in there seeing a play called “The
Light of the World.”

Wilson walked into the midst of the crowd, lost himself in the crowd,
smoking his cigarette, and then he took off his hat, looked anxiously
about for a moment, and suddenly began shouting in a loud voice.

He stood there, shouting and trying to tell the story of what had
happened in a loud voice, and with the uncertain air of one trying to
remember a dream. He did that for a moment and then, after running a
little way along the pavement, stopped and began his story again. It was
only after he had gone thus, in short rushes, back, along the street to
the house and up the rickety stairway to where the woman was lying—the
crowd following curiously at his heels—that a policeman came up and
arrested him.

He seemed excited at first but was quiet afterwards and he laughed at
the notion of insanity, when the lawyer who had been retained for him,
tried to set up the plea in court.

As I have said his action, during his trial, was confusing to us all, as
he seemed wholly uninterested in the murder and in his own fate. After
the confession of the man who had fired the shot he seemed to feel no
resentment toward him either. There was something he wanted, having
nothing to do with what had happened.

There he had been, you see, before he found the woman, wandering about
in the world, digging himself deeper and deeper into the deep wells he
talked about in his poetry, building the wall between himself and all us
others constantly higher and higher.

He knew what he was doing but he could not stop. That’s what he kept
talking about, pleading with people about. The man had come up out of
the sea of doubt, had grasped for a time the hand of the woman, and with
her hand in his had floated for a time upon the surface of life—but now
he felt himself again sinking down into the sea.

His talking and talking, stopping people in the street and talking,
going into people’s houses and talking, was I presume but an effort, he
was always afterward making, not to sink back forever into the sea, it
was the struggle of a drowning man I dare say.

At any rate I have told you the man’s story—have been compelled to try
to tell you his story. There was a kind of power in him, and the power
has been exerted over me as it was exerted over the woman from Kansas
and the unknown hunchback girl, kneeling on the floor in the dust and
peering through a keyhole.

Ever since the woman died we have all been trying and trying to drag the
man Wilson back out of the sea of doubt and dumbness into which we feel
him sinking deeper and deeper—and to no avail.

It may be I have been impelled to tell his story in the hope that by
writing of him I may myself understand. Is there not a possibility that
with understanding would come also the strength to thrust an arm down
into the sea and drag the man Wilson back to the surface again?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             AN OHIO PAGAN



------------------------------------------------------------------------


                             AN OHIO PAGAN



                               CHAPTER I


TOM EDWARDS was a Welshman, born in Northern Ohio, and a descendant of
that Thomas Edwards, the Welsh poet, who was called, in his own time and
country, Twn O’r Nant—which in our own tongue means “Tom of the dingle
or vale.”

The first Thomas Edwards was a gigantic figure in the history of the
spiritual life of the Welsh. Not only did he write many stirring
interludes concerning life, death, earth, fire and water but as a man he
was a true brother to the elements and to all the passions of his sturdy
and musical race. He sang beautifully but he also played stoutly and
beautifully the part of a man. There is a wonderful tale, told in Wales
and written into a book by the poet himself, of how he, with a team of
horses, once moved a great ship out of the land into the sea, after
three hundred Welshmen had failed at the task. Also he taught Welsh
woodsmen the secret of the crane and pulley for lifting great logs in
the forests, and once he fought to the point of death the bully of the
countryside, a man known over a great part of Wales as The Cruel
Fighter. Tom Edwards, the descendant of this man was born in Ohio near
my own native town of Bidwell. His name was not Edwards, but as his
father was dead when he was born, his mother gave him the old poet’s
name out of pride in having such blood in her veins. Then when the boy
was six his mother died also and the man for whom both his mother and
father had worked, a sporting farmer named Harry Whitehead, took the boy
into his own house to live.

They were gigantic people, the Whiteheads. Harry himself weighed two
hundred and seventy pounds and his wife twenty pounds more. About the
time he took young Tom to live with him the farmer became interested in
the racing of horses, moved off his farms, of which he had three, and
came to live in our town.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the town of Bidwell there was an old frame building, that had once
been a factory for the making of barrel staves but that had stood for
years vacant, staring with windowless eyes into the streets, and Harry
bought it at a low price and transformed it into a splendid stable with
a board floor and two long rows of box stalls. At a sale of blooded
horses held in the city of Cleveland he bought twenty young colts, all
of the trotting strain, and set up as a trainer of race horses.

Among the colts thus brought to our town was one great black fellow
named Bucephalus. Harry got the name from John Telfer, our town poetry
lover. “It was the name of the mighty horse of a mighty man,” Telfer
said, and that satisfied Harry.

Young Tom was told off to be the special guardian and caretaker of
Bucephalus, and the black stallion, who had in him the mighty blood of
the Tennessee Patchens, quickly became the pride of the stables. He was
in his nature a great ugly-tempered beast, as given to whims and notions
as an opera star, and from the very first began to make trouble. Within
a year no one but Harry Whitehead himself and the boy Tom dared go into
his stall. The methods of the two people with the great horse were
entirely different but equally effective. Once big Harry turned the
stallion loose on the floor of the stable, closed all the doors, and
with a cruel long whip in his hand, went in to conquer or to be
conquered. He came out victorious and ever after the horse behaved when
he was about.

The boy’s method was different. He loved Bucephalus and the wicked
animal loved him. Tom slept on a cot in the barn and day or night, even
when there were mares about, walked into Bucephalus’ box-stall without
fear. When the stallion was in a temper he sometimes turned at the boy’s
entrance and with a snort sent his iron-shod heels banging against the
sides of the stall, but Tom laughed and putting a simple rope halter
over the horse’s head led him forth to be cleaned or hitched to a cart
for his morning’s jog on our town’s half-mile race track. A sight it was
to see the boy with the blood of Twn O’r Nant in his veins leading by
the nose Bucephalus of the royal blood of the Patchens.

When he was six years old the horse Bucephalus went forth to race and
conquer at the great spring race meeting at Columbus, Ohio. He won two
heats of the trotting free-for-all—the great race of the meeting—with
heavy Harry in the sulky and then faltered. A gelding named “Light o’
the Orient” beat him in the next heat. Tom, then a lad of sixteen, was
put into the sulky and the two of them, horse and boy, fought out a
royal battle with the gelding and a little bay mare, that hadn’t been
heard from before but that suddenly developed a whirlwind burst of
speed.

The big stallion and the slender boy won. From amid a mob of cursing,
shouting, whip-slashing men a black horse shot out and a pale boy,
leaning far forward, called and murmured to him. “Go on, boy! Go boy! Go
boy!” the lad’s voice had called over and over all through the race.
Bucephalus got a record of 2.06¼ and Tom Edwards became a newspaper
hero. His picture was in the Cleveland _Leader_ and the Cincinnati
_Enquirer_, and when he came back to Bidwell we other boys fairly wept
in our envy of him.

Then it was however that Tom Edwards fell down from his high place.
There he was, a tall boy, almost of man’s stature and, except for a few
months during the winters when he lived on the Whitehead farms, and
between his sixth and thirteenth years, when he had attended a country
school and had learned to read and write and do sums, he was without
education. And now, during that very fall of the year of his triumph at
Columbus, the Bidwell truant officer, a thin man with white hair, who
was also superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School, came one afternoon
to the Whitehead stables and told him that if he did not begin going to
school both he and his employer would get into serious trouble.

Harry Whitehead was furious and so was Tom. There he was, a great tall
slender fellow who had been with race horses to the fairs all over
Northern Ohio and Indiana, during that very fall, and who had just come
home from the journey during which he had driven the winner in the
free-for-all trot at a Grand Circuit meeting and had given Bucephalus a
mark of 2.06¼.

Was such a fellow to go sit in a schoolroom, with a silly school book in
his hand, reading of the affairs of the men who dealt in butter, eggs,
potatoes and apples, and whose unnecessarily complicated business life
the children were asked to unravel,—was such a fellow to go sit in a
room, under the eyes of a woman teacher, and in the company of boys half
his age and with none of his wide experience of life?

It was a hard thought and Tom took it hard. The law was all right, Harry
Whitehead said, and was intended to keep noaccount kids off the streets
but what it had to do with himself Tom couldn’t make out. When the
truant officer had gone and Tom was left alone in the stable with his
employer the man and boy stood for a long time glumly staring at each
other. It was all right to be educated but Tom felt he had book
education enough. He could read, write and do sums, and what other
book-training did a horseman need? As for books, they were all right for
rainy evenings when there were no men sitting by the stable door and
talking of horses and races. And also when one went to the races in a
strange town and arrived, perhaps on Sunday, and the races did not begin
until the following Wednesday—it was all right then to have a book in
the chest with the horse blankets. When the weather was fine and the
work was all done on a fine fall afternoon, and the other swipes, both
niggers and whites, had gone off to town, one could take a book out
under a tree and read of life in far away places that was as strange and
almost as fascinating as one’s own life. Tom had read “Robinson Crusoe,”
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Tales from the Bible,” all of which he had
found in the Whitehead house and Jacob Friedman, the school
superintendent at Bidwell, who had a fancy for horses, had loaned him
other books that he intended reading during the coming winter. They were
in his chest—one called “Gulliver’s Travels” and the other “Moll
Flanders.”

And now the law said he must give up being a horseman and go every day
to a school and do little foolish sums, he who had already proven
himself a man. What other schoolboy knew what he did about life? Had he
not seen and spoken to several of the greatest men of this world, men
who had driven horses to beat world records, and did they not respect
him? When he became a driver of race horses such men as Pop Geers,
Walter Cox, John Splan, Murphy and the others would not ask him what
books he had read, or how many feet make a rod and how many rods in a
mile. In the race at Columbus, where he had won his spurs as a driver,
he had already proven that life had given him the kind of education he
needed. The driver of the gelding “Light o’ the Orient” had tried to
bluff him in that third heat and had not succeeded. He was a big man
with a black mustache and had lost one eye so that he looked fierce and
ugly, and when the two horses were fighting it out, neck and neck, up
the back stretch, and when Tom was tooling Bucephalus smoothly and
surely to the front, the older man turned in his sulky to glare at him.
“You damned little whipper-snapper,” he yelled, “I’ll knock you out of
your sulky if you don’t take back.”

He had yelled that at Tom and then had struck at the boy with the butt
of his whip—not intending actually to hit him perhaps but just missing
the boy’s head, and Tom had kept his eyes steadily on his own horse, had
held him smoothly in his stride and at the upper turn, at just the right
moment, had begun to pull out in front.

Later he hadn’t even told Harry Whitehead of the incident, and that fact
too, he felt vaguely, had something to do with his qualifications as a
man.

And now they were going to put him into a school with the kids. He was
at work on the stable floor, rubbing the legs of a trim-looking colt,
and Bucephalus was in his stall waiting to be taken to a late fall
meeting at Indianapolis on the following Monday, when the blow fell.
Harry Whitehead walked back and forth swearing at the two men who were
loafing in chairs at the stable door. “Do you call that law, eh, robbing
a kid of the chance Tom’s got?” he asked, shaking a riding whip under
their noses. “I never see such a law. What I say is Dod blast such a
law.”

Tom took the colt back to its place and went into Bucephalus’ box-stall.
The stallion was in one of his gentle moods and turned to have his nose
rubbed, but Tom went and buried his face against the great black neck
and for a long time stood thus, trembling. He had thought perhaps Harry
would let him drive Bucephalus in all his races another season and now
that was all to come to an end and he was to be pitched back into
childhood, to be made just a kid in school. “I won’t do it,” he decided
suddenly and a dogged light came into his eyes. His future as a driver
of race horses might have to be sacrificed but that didn’t matter so
much as the humiliation of this other, and he decided he would say
nothing to Harry Whitehead or his wife but would make his own move.

“I’ll get out of here. Before they get me into that school I’ll skip out
of town,” he told himself as his hand crept up and fondled the soft nose
of Bucephalus, the son royal of the Patchens.

Tom left Bidwell during the night, going east on a freight train, and no
one there ever saw him again. During that winter he lived in the city of
Cleveland, where he got work driving a milk wagon in a district where
factory workers lived.

Then spring came again and with it the memory of other springs—of
thunder-showers rolling over fields of wheat, just appearing, green and
vivid, out of the black ground—of the sweet smell of new plowed fields,
and most of all the smell and sound of animals about barns at the
Whitehead farms north of Bidwell. How sharply he remembered those days
on the farms and the days later when he lived in Bidwell, slept in the
stables and went each morning to jog race horses and young colts round
and round the half-mile race track at the fair grounds at Bidwell.

That was a life! Round and round the track they went, young colthood and
young manhood together, not thinking but carrying life very keenly
within themselves and feeling tremendously. The colt’s legs were to be
hardened and their wind made sound and for the boy long hours were to be
spent in a kind of dream world, and life lived in the company of
something fine, courageous, filled with a terrible, waiting surge of
life. At the fair ground, away at the town’s edge, tall grass grew in
the enclosure inside the track and there were trees from which came the
voices of squirrels, chattering and scolding, accompanied by the call of
nesting birds and, down below on the ground, by the song of bees
visiting early blossoms and of insects hidden away in the grass.

How different the life of the city streets in the springtime! To Tom it
was in a way fetid and foul. For months he had been living in a boarding
house with some six, and often eight or ten, other young fellows, in
narrow rooms above a foul street. The young fellows were unmarried and
made good wages, and on the winter evenings and on Sundays they dressed
in good clothes and went forth, to return later, half drunk, to sit for
long hours boasting and talking loudly in the rooms. Because he was shy,
often lonely and sometimes startled and frightened by what he saw and
heard in the city, the others would have nothing to do with Tom. They
felt a kind of contempt for him, looked upon him as a “rube” and in the
late afternoon when his work was done he often went for long walks alone
in grim streets of workingmen’s houses, breathing the smoke-laden air
and listening to the roar and clatter of machinery in great factories.
At other times and immediately after the evening meal he went off to his
room and to bed, half sick with fear and with some strange nameless
dread of the life about him.

And so in the early summer of his seventeenth year Tom left the city and
going back into his own Northern Ohio lake country found work with a man
named John Bottsford who owned a threshing outfit and worked among the
farmers of Erie County, Ohio. The slender boy, who had urged Bucephalus
to his greatest victory and had driven him the fastest mile of his
career, had become a tall strong fellow with heavy features, brown eyes,
and big nerveless hands—but in spite of his apparent heaviness there was
something tremendously alive in him. He now drove a team of plodding
grey farm horses and it was his job to keep the threshing engine
supplied with water and fuel and to haul the threshed grain out of the
fields and into farmers’ barns.

The thresherman Bottsford was a broad-shouldered, powerful old man of
sixty and had, besides Tom, three grown sons in his employ. He had been
a farmer, working on rented land, all his life and had saved some money,
with which he had bought the threshing outfit, and all day the five men
worked like driven slaves and at night slept in the hay in the farmers’
barns. It was rainy that season in the lake country and at the beginning
of the time of threshing things did not go very well for Bottsford.

The old thresherman was worried. The threshing venture had taken all of
his money and he had a dread of going into debt and, as he was a deeply
religious man, at night when he thought the others asleep, he crawled
out of the hayloft and went down onto the barn floor to pray.

Something happened to Tom and for the first time in his life he began to
think about life and its meaning. He was in the country, that he loved,
in the yellow sunwashed fields, far from the dreaded noises and dirt of
city life, and here was a man, of his own type, in some deep way a
brother to himself, who was continuously crying out to some power
outside himself, some power that was in the sun, in the clouds, in the
roaring thunder that accompanied the summer rains—that was in these
things and that at the same time controlled all these things.

The young threshing apprentice was impressed. Throughout the rainy days,
when no work could be done, he wandered about and waited for night, and
then, when they all had gone into the barn loft and the others prepared
to sleep, he stayed awake to think and listen. He thought of God and of
the possibilities of God’s part in the affairs of men. The thresherman’s
youngest son, a fat jolly fellow, lay beside him and, for a time after
they had crawled into the hay, the two boys whispered and laughed
together. The fat boy’s skin was sensitive and the dry broken ends of
grass stalks crept down under his clothes and tickled him. He giggled
and twisted about, wriggling and kicking and Tom looked at him and
laughed also. The thoughts of God went out of his mind.

In the barn all became quiet and when it rained a low drumming sound
went on overhead. Tom could hear the horses and cattle, down below,
moving about. The smells were all delicious smells. The smell of the
cows in particular awoke something heady in him. It was as though he had
been drinking strong wine. Every part of his body seemed alive. The two
older boys, who like their father had serious natures, lay with their
feet buried in the hay. They lay very still and a warm musty smell arose
from their clothes, that were full of the sweat of toil. Presently the
bearded old thresherman, who slept off by himself, arose cautiously and
walked across the hay in his stockinged feet. He went down a ladder to
the floor below, and Tom listened eagerly. The fat boy snored but he was
quite sure that the older boys were awake like himself. Every sound from
below was magnified. He heard a horse stamp on the barn floor and a cow
rub her horns against a feed box. The old thresherman prayed fervently,
calling on the name of Jesus to help him out of his difficulty. Tom
could not hear all his words but some of them came to him quite clearly
and one group of words ran like a refrain through the thresherman’s
prayer. “Gentle Jesus,” he cried, “send the good days. Let the good days
come quickly. Look out over the land. Send us the fair warm days.”

Came the warm fair days and Tom wondered. Late every morning, after the
sun had marched far up into the sky and after the machines were set by a
great pile of wheat bundles he drove his tank wagon off to be filled at
some distant creek or at a pond. Sometimes he was compelled to drive two
or three miles to the lake. Dust gathered in the roads and the horses
plodded along. He passed through a grove of trees and went down a lane
and into a small valley where there was a spring and he thought of the
old man’s words, uttered in the silence and the darkness of the barns.
He made himself a figure of Jesus as a young god walking about over the
land. The young god went through the lanes and through the shaded
covered places. The feet of the horses came down with a thump in the
dust of the road and there was an echoing thump far away in the wood.
Tom leaned forward and listened and his cheeks became a little pale. He
was no longer the growing man but had become again the fine and
sensitive boy who had driven Bucephalus through a mob of angry,
determined men to victory. For the first time the blood of the old poet
Twn O’r Nant awoke in him.

The water boy for the threshing crew rode the horse Pegasus down through
the lanes back of the farm houses in Erie County, Ohio, to the creeks
where the threshing tanks must be filled. Beside him on the soft earth
in the forest walked the young god Jesus. At the creek Pegasus, born of
the springs of Ocean, stamped on the ground. The plodding farm horses
stopped. With a dazed look in his eyes Tom Edwards arose from the wagon
seat and prepared his hose and pump for filling the tank. The god Jesus
walked away over the land, and with a wave of his hand summoned the
smiling days.

A light came into Tom Edwards’ eyes and grace seemed to come also into
his heavy maturing body. New impulses came to him. As the threshing crew
went about, over the roads and through the villages from farm to farm,
women and young girls looked at the young man and smiled. Sometimes as
he came from the fields to a farmer’s barn, with a load of wheat in bags
on his wagon, the daughter of the farmer stepped out of the farm house
and stood looking at him. Tom looked at the woman and hunger crept into
his heart and, in the evenings while the thresherman and his sons sat on
the ground by the barns and talked of their affairs, he walked nervously
about. Making a motion to the fat boy, who was not really interested in
the talk of his father and brothers, the two younger men went to walk in
the nearby fields and on the roads. Sometimes they stumbled along a
country road in the dusk of the evening and came into the lighted
streets of a town. Under the store-lights young girls walked about. The
two boys stood in the shadows by a building and watched and later, as
they went homeward in the darkness, the fat boy expressed what they both
felt. They passed through a dark place where the road wound through a
wood. In silence the frogs croaked, and birds roosting in the trees were
disturbed by their presence and fluttered about. The fat boy wore heavy
overalls and his fat legs rubbed against each other. The rough cloth
made a queer creaking sound. He spoke passionately. “I would like to
hold a woman, tight, tight, tight,” he said.

One Sunday the thresherman took his entire crew with him to a church.
They had been working near a village called Castalia, but did not go
into the town but to a small white frame church that stood amid trees
and by a stream at the side of a road, a mile north of the village. They
went on Tom’s water wagon, from which they had lifted the tank and
placed boards for seats. The boy drove the horses.

Many teams were tied in the shade under the trees in a little grove near
the church, and strange men—farmers and their sons—stood about in little
groups and talked of the season’s crops. Although it was hot, a breeze
played among the leaves of the trees under which they stood, and back of
the church and the grove the stream ran over stones and made a
persistent soft murmuring noise that arose above the hum of voices.

In the church Tom sat beside the fat boy who stared at the country girls
as they came in and who, after the sermon began, went to sleep while Tom
listened eagerly to the sermon. The minister, an old man with a beard
and a strong sturdy body, looked, he thought not unlike his employer
Bottsford the thresherman.

The minister in the country church talked of that time when Mary
Magdalene, the woman who had been taken in adultery, was being stoned by
the crowd of men who had forgotten their own sins and when, in the tale
the minister told, Jesus approached and rescued the woman Tom’s heart
thumped with excitement. Then later the minister talked of how Jesus was
tempted by the devil, as he stood on a high place in the mountain, but
the boy did not listen. He leaned forward and looked out through a
window across fields and the minister’s words came to him but in broken
sentences. Tom took what was said concerning the temptation on the
mountain to mean that Mary had followed Jesus and had offered her body
to him, and that afternoon, when he had returned with the others to the
farm where they were to begin threshing on the next morning, he called
the fat boy aside and asked his opinion.

The two boys walked across a field of wheat-stubble and sat down on a
log in a grove of trees. It had never occurred to Tom that a man could
be tempted by a woman. It had always seemed to him that it must be the
other way, that women must always be tempted by men. “I thought men
always asked,” he said, “and now it seems that women sometimes do the
asking. That would be a fine thing if it could happen to us. Don’t you
think so?”

The two boys arose and walked under the trees and dark shadows began to
form on the ground underfoot. Tom burst into words and continually asked
questions and the fat boy, who had been often to church and for whom the
figure of Jesus had lost most of its reality, felt a little embarrassed.
He did not think the subject should be thus freely discussed and when
Tom’s mind kept playing with the notion of Jesus, pursued and tempted by
a woman, he grunted his disapproval. “Do you think he really refused?”
Tom asked over and over. The fat boy tried to explain. “He had twelve
disciples,” he said. “It couldn’t have happened. They were always about.
Well, you see, she wouldn’t ever have had no chance. Wherever he went
they went with him. They were men he was teaching to preach. One of them
later betrayed him to soldiers who killed him.”

Tom wondered. “How did that come about? How could a man like that be
betrayed?” he asked. “By a kiss,” the fat boy replied.

On the evening of the day when Tom Edwards—for the first and last time
in his life—went into a church, there was a light shower, the only one
that fell upon John Bottsford’s threshing crew during the last three
months the Welsh boy was with them and the shower in no way interfered
with their work. The shower came up suddenly and a few minutes was gone.
As it was Sunday and as there was no work the men had all gathered in
the barn and were looking out through the open barn doors. Two or three
men from the farm house came and sat with them on boxes and barrels on
the barn floor and, as is customary with country people, very little was
said. The men took knives out of their pockets and finding little sticks
among the rubbish on the barn floor began to whittle, while the old
thresherman went restlessly about with his hands in his trouser pockets.
Tom who sat near the door, where an occasional drop of rain was blown
against his cheek, alternately looked from his employer to the open
country where the rain played over the fields. One of the farmers
remarked that a rainy time had come on and that there would be no good
threshing weather for several days and, while the thresherman did not
answer, Tom saw his lips move and his grey beard bob up and down. He
thought the thresherman was protesting but did not want to protest in
words.

As they had gone about the country many rains had passed to the north,
south and east of the threshing crew and on some days the clouds hung
over them all day, but no rain fell and when they had got to a new place
they were told it had rained there three days before. Sometimes when
they left a farm Tom stood up on the seat of his water wagon and looked
back. He looked across fields to where they had been at work and then
looked up into the sky. “The rain may come now. The threshing is done
and the wheat is all in the barn. The rain can now do no harm to our
labor,” he thought.

On the Sunday evening when he sat with the men on the floor of the barn
Tom was sure that the shower that had now come would be but a passing
affair. He thought his employer must be very close to Jesus, who
controlled the affairs of the heavens, and that a long rain would not
come because the thresherman did not want it. He fell into a deep
reverie and John Bottsford came and stood close beside him. The
thresherman put his hand against the door jamb and looked out and Tom
could still see the grey beard moving. The man was praying and was so
close to himself that his trouser leg touched Tom’s hand. Into the boy’s
mind came the remembrance of how John Bottsford had prayed at night on
the barn floor. On that very morning he had prayed. It was just as
daylight came and the boy was awakened because, as he crept across the
hay to descend the ladder, the old man’s foot had touched his hand.

As always Tom had been excited and wanted to hear every word said in the
older man’s prayers. He lay tense, listening to every sound that came up
from below. A faint glow of light came into the hayloft, through a crack
in the side of the barn, a rooster crowed and some pigs, housed in a pen
near the barn, grunted loudly. They had heard the thresherman moving
about and wanted to be fed and their grunting, and the occasional
restless movement of a horse or a cow in the stable below, prevented
Tom’s hearing very distinctly. He, however, made out that his employer
was thanking Jesus for the fine weather that had attended them and was
protesting that he did not want to be selfish in asking it to continue.
“Jesus,” he said, “send, if you wish, a little shower on this day when,
because of our love for you, we do not work in the fields. Let it be
fine tomorrow but today, after we have come back from the house of
worship, let a shower freshen the land.”

As Tom sat on a box near the door of the barn and saw how aptly the
words of his employer had been answered by Jesus he knew that the rain
would not last. The man for whom he worked seemed to him so close to the
throne of God that he raised the hand, that had been touched by John
Bottsford’s trouser leg to his lips and secretly kissed it—and when he
looked again out over the fields the clouds were being blown away by a
wind and the evening sun was coming out. It seemed to him that the young
and beautiful god Jesus must be right at hand, within hearing of his
voice. “He is,” Tom told himself, “standing behind a tree in the
orchard.” The rain stopped and he went silently out of the barn, towards
a small apple orchard that lay beside the farm house, but when he came
to a fence and was about to climb over he stopped. “If Jesus is there he
will not want me to find him,” he thought. As he turned again toward the
barn he could see, across a field, a low grass-covered hill. He decided
that Jesus was not after all in the orchard. The long slanting rays of
the evening sun fell on the crest of the hill and touched with light the
grass stalks, heavy with drops of rain and for a moment the hill was
crowned as with a crown of jewels. A million tiny drops of water,
reflecting the light, made the hilltop sparkle as though set with gems.
“Jesus is there,” muttered the boy. “He lies on his belly in the grass.
He is looking at me over the edge of the hill.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER II


JOHN BOTTSFORD went with his threshing crew to work for a large farmer
named Barton near the town of Sandusky. The threshing season was drawing
near an end and the days remained clear, cool and beautiful. The country
into which he now came made a deep impression on Tom’s mind and he never
forgot the thoughts and experiences that came to him during the last
weeks of that summer on the Barton farms.

The traction engine, puffing forth smoke and attracting the excited
attention of dogs and children as it rumbled along and pulled the heavy
red grain separator, had trailed slowly over miles of road and had come
down almost to Lake Erie. Tom, with the fat Bottsford boy sitting beside
him on the water wagon, followed the rumbling puffing engine, and when
they came to the new place, where they were to stay for several days, he
could see, from the wagon seat, the smoke of the factories in the town
of Sandusky rising into the clear morning air.

The man for whom John Bottsford was threshing owned three farms, one on
an island in the bay, where he lived, and two on the mainland, and the
larger of the mainland farms had great stacks of wheat standing in a
field near the barns. The farm was in a wide basin of land, very
fertile, through which a creek flowed northward into Sandusky Bay and,
besides the stacks of wheat in the basin, other stacks had been made in
the upland fields beyond the creek, where a country of low hills began.
From these latter fields the waters of the bay could be seen glistening
in the bright fall sunlight and steamers went from Sandusky to a
pleasure resort called Cedar Point. When the wind blew from the north or
west and when the threshing machinery had been stopped at the noon hour
the men, resting with their backs against a strawstack, could hear a
band playing on one of the steamers.

Fall came on early that year and the leaves on the trees in the forests
that grew along the roads that ran down through the low creek bottom
lands began to turn yellow and red. In the afternoons when Tom went to
the creek for water he walked beside his horses and the dry leaves
crackled and snapped underfoot.

As the season had been a prosperous one Bottsford decided that his
youngest son should attend school in town during the fall and winter. He
had bought himself a machine for cutting firewood and with his two older
sons intended to take up that work. “The logs will have to be hauled out
of the wood lots to where we set up the saws,” he said to Tom. “You can
come with us if you wish.”

The thresherman began to talk to Tom of the value of learning. “You’d
better go to some town yourself this winter. It would be better for you
to get into a school,” he said sharply. He grew excited and walked up
and down beside the water wagon, on the seat of which Tom sat listening
and said that God had given men both minds and bodies and it was wicked
to let either decay because of neglect. “I have watched you,” he said.
“You don’t talk very much but you do plenty of thinking, I guess. Go
into the schools. Find out what the books have to say. You don’t have to
believe when they say things that are lies.”

The Bottsford family lived in a rented house facing a stone road near
the town of Bellevue, and the fat boy was to go to that town—a distance
of some eighteen miles from where the men were at work—afoot, and on the
evening before he set out he and Tom went out of the barns intending to
have a last walk and talk together on the roads.

They went along in the dusk of the fall evening, each thinking his own
thoughts, and coming to a bridge that led over the creek in the valley
sat on the bridge rail. Tom had little to say but his companion wanted
to talk about women and, when darkness came on, the embarrassment he
felt regarding the subject went quite away and he talked boldly and
freely. He said that in the town of Bellevue, where he was to live and
attend school during the coming winter, he would be sure to get in with
a woman. “I’m not going to be cheated out of that chance,” he declared.
He explained that as his father would be away from home when he moved
into town he would be free to pick his own place to board.

The fat boy’s imagination became inflamed and he told Tom his plans. “I
won’t try to get in with any young girl,” he declared shrewdly. “That
only gets a fellow in a fix. He might have to marry her. I’ll go live in
a house with a widow, that’s what I’ll do. And in the evening the two of
us will be there alone. We’ll begin to talk and I’ll keep touching her
with my hands. That will get her excited.”

The fat boy jumped to his feet and walked back and forth on the bridge.
He was nervous and a little ashamed and wanted to justify what he had
said. The thing for which he hungered had he thought become a
possibility—an act half achieved. Coming to stand before Tom he put a
hand on his shoulder. “I’ll go into her room at night,” he declared.
“I’ll not tell her I’m coming, but will creep in when she is asleep.
Then I’ll get down on my knees by her bed and I’ll kiss her, hard, hard.
I’ll hold her tight, so she can’t get away and I’ll kiss her mouth till
she wants what I want. Then I’ll stay in her house all winter. No one
will know. Even if she won’t have me I’ll only have to move, I’m sure to
be safe. No one will believe what she says, if she tells on me. I’m not
going to be like a boy any more, I’ll tell you what—I’m as big as a man
and I’m going to do like men do, that’s what I am.”

The two young men went back to the barn where they were to sleep on the
hay. The rich farmer for whom they were now at work had a large house
and provided beds for the thresherman and his two older sons but the two
younger men slept in the barn loft and on the night before had lain
under one blanket. After the talk by the bridge however, Tom did not
feel very comfortable and that stout exponent of manhood, the younger
Bottsford, was also embarrassed. In the road the young man, whose name
was Paul, walked a little ahead of his companion and when they got to
the barn each sought a separate place in the loft. Each wanted to have
thoughts into which he did not want the presence of the other to
intrude.

For the first time Tom’s body burned with eager desire for a female. He
lay where he could see out through a crack, in the side of the barn, and
at first his thoughts were all about animals. He had brought a horse
blanket up from the stable below and crawling under it lay on his side
with his eyes close to the crack and thought about the love-making of
horses and cattle. Things he had seen in the stables when he worked for
Whitehead, the racing man, came back to his mind and a queer animal
hunger ran through him so that his legs stiffened. He rolled restlessly
about on the hay and for some reason, he did not understand, his lust
took the form of anger and he hated the fat boy. He thought he would
like to crawl over the hay and pound his companion’s face with his
fists. Although he had not seen Paul Bottsford’s face, when he talked of
the widow, he had sensed in him a flavor of triumph. “He thinks he has
got the better of me,” young Edwards thought.

He rolled again to the crack and stared out into the night. There was a
new moon and the fields were dimly outlined and clumps of trees, along
the road that led into the town of Sandusky, looked like black clouds
that had settled down over the land. For some reason the sight of the
land, lying dim and quiet under the moon, took all of his anger away and
he began to think, not of Paul Bottsford, with hot eager lust in his
eyes, creeping into the room of the widow at Bellevue, but of the god
Jesus, going up into a mountain with his woman, Mary.

His companion’s notion of going into a room where a woman lay sleeping
and taking her, as it were unawares, now seemed to him entirely mean and
the hot jealous feeling that had turned into anger and hatred went
entirely away. He tried to think what the god, who had brought the
beautiful days for the threshing, would do with a woman.

Tom’s body still burned with desire and his mind wanted to think
lascivious thoughts. The moon that had been hidden behind clouds emerged
and a wind began to blow. It was still early evening and in the town of
Sandusky pleasure seekers were taking the boat to the resort over the
bay and the wind brought to Tom’s ears the sound of music, blown over
the waters of the bay and down the creek basin. In a grove near the barn
the wind swayed gently the branches of young trees and black shadows ran
here and there on the ground.

The younger Bottsford had gone to sleep in a distant part of the barn
loft, and now began to snore loudly. The tenseness went out of Tom’s
legs and he prepared to sleep but before sleeping he muttered, half
timidly, certain words, that were half a prayer, half an appeal to some
spirit of the night. “Jesus, bring me a woman,” he whispered.

Outside the barn, in the fields, the wind, becoming a little stronger,
picked up bits of straw and blew them about among the hard up-standing
stubble and there was a low gentle whispering sound as though the gods
were answering his appeal.

Tom went to sleep with his arm under his head and with his eye close to
the crack that gave him a view of the moonlit fields, and in his dream
the cry from within repeated itself over and over. The mysterious god
Jesus had heard and answered the needs of his employer John Bottsford
and his own need would, he was quite sure, be understood and attended
to. “Bring me a woman. I need her. Jesus, bring me a woman,” he kept
whispering into the night, as consciousness left him and he slipped away
into dreams.

After the youngest of the Bottsfords had departed a change took place in
the nature of Tom’s work. The threshing crew had got now into a country
of large farms where the wheat had all been brought in from the fields
and stacked near the barns and where there was always plenty of water
near at hand. Everything was simplified. The separator was pulled in
close by the barn door and the threshed grain was carried directly to
the bins from the separator. As it was not a part of Tom’s work to feed
the bundles of grain into the whirling teeth of the separator—this work
being done by John Bottsford’s two elder sons—there was little for the
crew’s teamster to do. Sometimes John Bottsford, who was the engineer,
departed, going to make arrangements for the next stop, and was gone for
a half day, and at such times Tom, who had picked up some knowledge of
the art, ran the engine.

On other days however there was nothing at all for him to do and his
mind, unoccupied for long hours, began to play him tricks. In the
morning, after his team had been fed and cleaned until the grey coats of
the old farm horses shone like racers, he went out of the barn and into
an orchard. Filling his pockets with ripe apples he went to a fence and
leaned over. In a field young colts played about. As he held the apples
and called softly they came timidly forward, stopping in alarm and then
running a little forward, until one of them, bolder than the others, ate
one of the apples out of his hand.

All through those bright warm clear fall days a restless feeling, it
seemed to Tom ran through everything in nature. In the clumps of
woodland still standing on the farms flaming red spread itself out along
the limbs of trees and there was one grove of young maple trees, near a
barn, that was like a troop of girls, young girls who had walked
together down a sloping field, to stop in alarm at seeing the men at
work in the barnyard. Tom stood looking at the trees. A slight breeze
made them sway gently from side to side. Two horses standing among the
trees drew near each other. One nipped the other’s neck. They rubbed
their heads together.

The crew stopped at another large farm and it was to be their last stop
for the season. “When we have finished this job we’ll go home and get
our own fall work done,” Bottsford said. Saturday evening came and the
thresherman and his sons took the horses and drove away, going to their
own home for the Sunday, and leaving Tom alone. “We’ll be back early, on
Monday morning,” the thresherman said as they drove away. Sunday alone
among the strange farm people brought a sharp experience to Tom and when
it had passed he decided he would not wait for the end of the threshing
season but a few days off now—but would quit his job and go into the
city and surrender to the schools. He remembered his employer’s words,
“Find out what the books have to say. You don’t have to believe, when
they say things that are lies.”

As he walked in lanes, across meadows and upon the hillsides of the
farm, also on the shores of Sandusky Bay, that Sunday morning Tom
thought almost constantly of his friend the fat fellow, young Paul
Bottsford, who had gone to spend the fall and winter at Bellevue, and
wondered what his life there might be like. He had himself lived in such
a town, in Bidwell, but had rarely left Harry Whitehead’s stable. What
went on in such a town? What happened at night in the houses of the
towns? He remembered Paul’s plan for getting into a house alone with a
widow and how he was to creep into her room at night, holding her
tightly in his arms until she wanted what he wanted. “I wonder if he
will have the nerve. Gee, I wonder if he will have the nerve,” he
muttered.

For a long time, ever since Paul had gone away and he had no one with
whom he could talk, things had taken on a new aspect in Tom’s mind. The
rustle of dry leaves underfoot, as he walked in a forest—the playing of
shadows over the open face of a field—the murmuring song of insects in
the dry grass beside the fences in the lanes—and at night the hushed
contented sounds made by the animals in the barns, were no longer so
sweet to him. For him no more did the young god Jesus walk beside him,
just out of sight behind low hills, or down the dry beds of streams.
Something within himself, that had been sleeping was now awakening. When
he returned from walking in the fields on the fall evenings and,
thinking of Paul Bottsford alone in the house with the widow at
Bellevue, half wishing he were in the same position, he felt ashamed in
the presence of the gentle old thresherman, and afterward did not lie
awake listening to the older man’s prayers. The men who had come from
nearby farms to help with the threshing laughed and shouted to each
other as they pitched the straw into great stacks or carried the filled
bags of grain to the bins, and they had wives and daughters who had come
with them and who were now at work in the farmhouse kitchen, from which
also laughter came. Girls and women kept coming out at the kitchen door
into the barnyard, tall awkward girls, plump red-cheeked girls, women
with worn thin faces and sagging breasts. All men and women seemed made
for each other.

They all laughed and talked together, understood one another. Only he
was alone. He only had no one to whom he could feel warm and close, to
whom he could draw close.

On the Sunday when the Bottsfords had all gone away Tom came in from
walking all morning in the fields and ate his dinner with many other
people in a big farmhouse dining room. In preparation for the threshing
days ahead, and the feeding of many people, several women had come to
spend the day and to help in preparing food. The farmer’s daughter, who
was married and lived in Sandusky, came with her husband, and three
other women, neighbors, came from farms in the neighborhood. Tom did not
look at them but ate his dinner in silence and as soon as he could
manage got out of the house and went to the barns. Going into a long
shed he sat on the tongue of a wagon, that from long disuse was covered
with dust. Swallows flew back and forth among the rafters overhead and,
in an upper corner of the shed where they evidently had a nest, wasps
buzzed in the semi-darkness.

The daughter of the farmer, who had come from town, came from the house
with a babe in her arms. It was nursing time, and she wanted to escape
from the crowded house and, without having seen Tom, she sat on a box
near the shed door and opened her dress. Embarrassed and at the same
time fascinated by the sight of a woman’s breasts, seen through cracks
of the wagon box, Tom drew his legs up and his head down and remained
concealed until the woman had gone back to the house. Then he went again
to the fields and did not go back to the house for the evening meal.

As he walked on that Sunday afternoon the grandson of the Welsh poet
experienced many new sensations. In a way he came to understand that the
things Paul had talked of doing and that had, but a short time before,
filled him with disgust were now possible to himself also. In the past
when he had thought about women there had always been something healthy
and animal-like in his lusts but now they took a new form. The passion
that could not find expression through his body went up into his mind
and he began to see visions. Women became to him something different
than anything else in nature, more desirable than anything else in
nature, and at the same time everything in nature became woman. The
trees, in the apple orchard by the barn, were like the arms of women.
The apples on the trees were round like the breasts of women. They were
the breasts of women—and when he had got on to a low hill the contour of
the fences that marked the confines of the fields fell into the forms of
women’s bodies. Even the clouds in the sky did the same thing.

He walked down along a lane to a stream and crossed the stream by a
wooden bridge. Then he climbed another hill, the highest place in all
that part of the country, and there the fever that possessed him became
more active. An odd lassitude crept over him and he lay down in the
grass on the hilltop and closed his eyes. For a long time he remained in
a hushed, half-sleeping, dreamless state and then opened his eyes again.

Again the forms of women floated before him. To his left the bay was
ruffled by a gentle breeze and far over towards the city of Sandusky two
sailboats were apparently engaged in a race. The masts of the boats were
fully dressed but on the great stretch of water they seemed to stand
still. The bay itself, in Tom’s eyes, had taken on the form and shape of
a woman’s head and body and the two sailboats were the woman’s eyes
looking at him.

The bay was a woman with her head lying where lay the city of Sandusky.
Smoke arose from the stacks of steamers docked at the city’s wharves and
the smoke formed itself into masses of black hair. Through the farm,
where he had come to thresh, ran a stream. It swept down past the foot
of the hill on which he lay. The stream was the arm of the woman. Her
hand was thrust into the land and the lower part of her body was
lost—far down to the north, where the bay became a part of Lake Erie—but
her other arm could be seen. It was outlined in the further shore of the
bay. Her other arm was drawn up and her hand was pressing against her
face. Her form was distorted by pain but at the same time the giant
woman smiled at the boy on the hill. There was something in the smile
that was like the smile that had come unconsciously to the lips of the
woman who had nursed her child in the shed.

Turning his face away from the bay Tom looked at the sky. A great white
cloud that lay along the southern horizon formed itself into the giant
head of a man. Tom watched as the cloud crept slowly across the sky.
There was something noble and quieting about the giant’s face and his
hair, pure white and as thick as wheat in a rich field in June, added to
its nobility. Only the face appeared. Below the shoulders there was just
a white shapeless mass of clouds.

And then this formless mass began also to change. The face of a giant
woman appeared. It pressed upward toward the face of the man. Two arms
formed themselves on the man’s shoulders and pressed the woman closely.
The two faces merged. Something seemed to snap in Tom’s brain.

He sat upright and looked neither at the bay nor at the sky. Evening was
coming on and soft shadows began to play over the land. Below him lay
the farm with its barns and houses and in the field, below the hill on
which he was lying, there were two smaller hills that became at once in
his eyes the two full breasts of a woman. Two white sheep appeared and
stood nibbling the grass on the woman’s breasts. They were like babes
being suckled. The trees in the orchards near the barns were the woman’s
hair. An arm of the stream that ran down to the bay, the stream he had
crossed on the wooden bridge when he came to the hill, cut across a
meadow beyond the two low hills. It widened into a pond and the pond
made a mouth for the woman. Her eyes were two black hollows—low spots in
a field where hogs had rooted the grass away, looking for roots. Black
puddles of water lay in the hollows and they seemed eyes shining
invitingly up at him.

This woman also smiled and her smile was now an invitation. Tom got to
his feet and hurried away down the hill and going stealthily past the
barns and the house got into a road. All night he walked under the stars
thinking new thoughts. “I am obsessed with this idea of having a woman.
I’d better go to the city and go to school and see if I can make myself
fit to have a woman of my own,” he thought. “I won’t sleep tonight but
will wait until tomorrow when Bottsford comes back and then I’ll quit
and go into the city.” He walked, trying to make plans. Even a good man
like John Bottsford, had a woman for himself. Could he do that?

The thought was exciting. At the moment it seemed to him that he had
only to go into the city, and go to the schools for a time, to become
beautiful and to have beautiful women love him. In his half ecstatic
state he forgot the winter months he had spent in the city of Cleveland,
and forgot also the grim streets, the long rows of dark prison-like
factories and the loneliness of his life in the city. For the moment and
as he walked in the dusty roads under the moon, he thought of American
towns and cities as places for beautifully satisfying adventures, for
all such fellows as himself.


                                THE END


                           PRINTED IN U.S.A.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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