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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarching Men - BOOK IV - Chapter II
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Marching Men - BOOK IV - Chapter II Post by :tpearl5 Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :2394

Click below to download : Marching Men - BOOK IV - Chapter II (Format : PDF)

Marching Men - BOOK IV - Chapter II

McGregor began to attend some classes at Chicago University and walked
about among the massive buildings, erected for the most part through
the bounty of one of his country's leading business men, wondering why
the great centre of learning seemed so little a part of the city. To
him the University seemed something entirely apart, not in tune with
its surrounding. It was like an expensive ornament worn on the soiled
hand of a street urchin. He did not stay there long.

One day he got into disfavour with the professor in one of the
classes. He sat in a room among other students, his mind busy with
thoughts of the future and of how he might get his movement of the
marching men under way. In a chair beside him sat a large girl with
blue eyes and hair like yellow wheat. She like McGregor was
unconscious of what was going on about her and sat with half-closed
eyes watching him. In the corners of her eyes lurked a gleam of
amusement. She drew sketches of his huge mouth and nose on a pad of
Paper.

At McGregor's left with his legs sprawled into the aisle sat a youth
who was thinking of the yellow-haired girl and planning a campaign
against her. His father was a manufacturer of berry boxes in a brick
building on the West Side and he wished he were in school in another
city so that it would not be necessary to live at home. All day he
thought of the evening meal and of the coming of his father, nervous
and tired, to quarrel with his mother about the management of the
servants. Now he was trying to evolve a plan for getting money from
his mother with which to enjoy a dinner at a downtown restaurant. With
delight he contemplated such an evening with a box of cigarettes on
the table and the yellow-haired girl sitting opposite him under red
lights. He was a typical American youth of the upper middle class and
was in the University only because he was in no hurry to begin his
life in the commercial world.

In front of McGregor sat another typical student, a pale nervous young
man who drummed with his fingers on the back of a book. He was very
serious about acquiring learning and when the professor paused in his
talk he threw up his hands and asked a question. When the professor
smiled he laughed loudly. He was like an instrument on which the
professor struck chords.

The professor, a short man with a bushy black beard, heavy shoulders
and large powerful eye-glasses, spoke in a shrill voice surcharged
with excitement.

"The world is full of unrest," he said; "men are struggling like
chicks in the shell. In the hinterland of every man's mind uneasy
thoughts stir. I call your attention to what is going on in the
Universities of Germany."

The professor paused and glared about. McGregor was so irritated by
what he took to be the wordiness of the man that he could not restrain
himself. He felt as he had felt when the socialist orator talked on
the streets of Coal Creek. With an oath he arose and kicked out his
foot to push his chair away. The pad of paper fell out of the large
girl's lap and scattered its leaves about the floor. A light burned in
McGregor's blue eyes. As he stood in the classroom before the startled
class his head, big and red, had something of nobility about it like
the head of a fine beast. His voice rumbled out of his throat and the
girl looked at him, her mouth standing open.

"We go from room to room hearing talk," began McGregor. "On the street
corners downtown in the evenings and in towns and villages men talk
and talk. Books are written, jaws wag. The jaws of men are loose. They
wabble about--saying nothing."

McGregor's excitement grew. "If there is all this unrest why does it
not come to something?" he demanded. "Why do not you who have trained
brains strive to find the secret of order in the midst of this
disorder? Why is something not done?"

The professor ran up and down on the platform. "I do not know what you
mean," he cried nervously. McGregor turned slowly and stared at the
class. He tried to explain. "Why do not men lead their lives like
men?" he asked. "They must be taught to march, hundreds of thousands
of men. Do you not think so?"

McGregor's voice rose and his great fist was raised. "The world should
become a great camp," he cried. "The brains of the world should be at
the organisation of mankind. Everywhere there is disorder and men
chatter like monkeys in a cage. Why should some man not begin the
organisation of a new army? If there are men who do not understand
what is meant let them be knocked down."

The professor leaned forward and peered through his spectacles at
McGregor. "I understand your kind," he said, and his voice trembled.
"The class is dismissed. We deprecate violence here."

The professor hurried through a door and down a long hallway with the
class chattering at his heels. McGregor sat in his chair in the empty
class room and stared at the wall. As the professor hurried away he
muttered to himself: "What's getting in here? What's getting into our
schools?"

* * * * *

Late on the following afternoon McGregor sat in his room thinking of
what had happened in the class. He had decided that he would not spend
any more time at the University but would devote himself entirely to
the study of law. Several young men came in.

Among the students at the University McGregor had seemed very old.
Secretly he was much admired and had often been the subject of talk.
Those who had now come to see him wanted him to join a Greek Letter
Fraternity. They sat about his room, on the window sill and on a trunk
by the wall. They smoked pipes and were boyishly eager and
enthusiastic. A glow shone in the cheeks of the spokesman--a clean-
looking youth with black curly hair and round pink--and--white cheeks,
the son of a Presbyterian minister from Iowa.

"You have been picked by our fellows to be one of us," said the
spokesman. "We want you to become an Alpha Beta Pi. It is a grand
fraternity with chapters in the best schools in the country. Let me
tell you."

He began reeling off a list of names of statesmen, college professors,
business men and well known athletes who belonged to the order.

McGregor sat by the wall looking at his guests and wondering what he
would say. He was a little amused and half hurt and felt like a man
who has had a Sunday School scholar stop him on the street to ask him
about the welfare of his soul. He thought of Edith Carson waiting for
him in her store on Monroe Street, of the angry miners standing in the
saloon in Coal Creek plotting to break into the restaurant while he
sat with the hammer in his hands waiting for battle, of old Mother
Misery walking at the heels of the soldiers' horses through the
streets of the mining village, and last of all of the terrible
certainty that these bright-eyed boys would be destroyed, swallowed up
by the huge commercial city in which they were to live.

"It means a lot to be one of us when a chap gets out into the world,"
the curly-haired youth said. "It helps you get on, get in with the
right people. You can't go on without men you know. You ought to get
in with the best fellows." He hesitated and looked at the floor. "I
don't mind telling you," he said with an outburst of frankness, "that
one of our stronger men--Whiteside, the mathematician--wanted us to
have you. He said you were worth while. He thought you ought to see us
and get to know us and that we ought to see and get to know you."

McGregor got up and took his hat from a nail on the wall. He felt the
utter futility of trying to express what was in his mind and walked
down the stairs to the street with the file of boys following in
embarrassed silence and stumbling in the darkness of the hallway at
his heels. At the street door he stopped and faced them, struggling to
put his thoughts into words.

"I can't do what you ask," he said. "I like you and like your asking
me to come in with you, but I'm going to quit the University." His
voice softened. "I would like to have you for friends," he added. "You
say a man needs to know people after awhile. Well, I would like to
know you while you are what you are now. I don't want to know you
after you become what you will become."

McGregor turned and ran down the remaining steps to the stone sidewalk
and went rapidly up the street. A stern hard look was in his face and
he knew he would spend a silent night thinking of what had happened.
"I hate hitting boys," he thought as he hurried away to his evening's
work at the restaurant.

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