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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarching Men - BOOK VI - Chapter III
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Marching Men - BOOK VI - Chapter III Post by :hschager Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :1567

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Marching Men - BOOK VI - Chapter III

All through the early months of that year in Chicago, rumours of a new
and not understandable movement among labourers ran about among men of
affairs. In a way the labourers understood the undercurrent of terror
their marching together had inspired and like the advertising man
dancing on the sidewalk before the grocery were made happy by it. Grim
satisfaction dwelt in their hearts. Remembering their boyhoods and the
creeping terror that invaded their fathers' houses in times of
depression they were glad to spread terror among the homes of the rich
and the well-to-do. For years they had been going through life
blindly, striving to forget age and poverty. Now they felt that life
had a purpose, that they were marching toward some end. When in the
past they had been told that power dwelt in them they had not
believed. "He is not to be trusted," thought the man at the machine
looking at the man at work at the next machine. "I have heard him talk
and at bottom he is a fool."

Now the man at the machine did not think of his brother at the next
machine. In his dreams at night he was beginning to have a new vision.
Power had breathed its message into his brain. Of a sudden he saw
himself as a part of a giant walking in the world. "I am like a drop
of blood running through the veins of labour," he whispered to
himself. "In my own way I am adding strength to the heart and the
brain of labour. I have become a part of this thing that has begun to
move. I will not talk but will wait. If this marching is the thing
then I will march. Though I am weary at the end of the day that shall
not stop me. Many times I have been weary and was alone. Now I am a
part of something vast. This I know, that a consciousness of power has
crept into my brain and although I be persecuted I shall not surrender
what I have gained."

In the offices of the plough trust a meeting of men of affairs was
called. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the movement going
on among the workers. At the plough works it had broken out. No more
at evening did the men shuffle along, like a disorderly mob but
marched in companies along the brick-paved street that ran by the
factory door.

At the meeting David Ormsby had been as always quiet and self-
possessed. A halo of kindly intent hung over him and when a banker,
one of the directors of the company, had finished a speech he arose
and walked up and down, his hands thrust into his trousers pockets.
The banker was a fat man with thin brown hair and delicate hands. As
he talked he held a pair of yellow gloves and beat with them on a long
table at the centre of the room. The soft thump of the gloves upon the
table made a chorus to the things he had to say. David motioned for
him to be seated. "I will myself go to see this McGregor," he said,
walking across the room and putting an arm about the shoulder of the
banker. "Perhaps there is as you say a new and terrible danger here
but I do not think so. For thousands, no doubt for millions of years,
the world has gone on its way and I do not think it is to be stopped
now.

"It has been my fortune to see and to know this McGregor," added David
smiling at the others in the room. "He is a man and not a Joshua to
make the sun stand still."

In the office in Van Buren Street, David, the grey and confident,
stood before the desk at which sat McGregor. "We will get out of here
if you do not mind," he said. "I want to talk to you and I would not
like being interrupted. I have a fancy that we talk out of doors."

The two men went in a street car to Jackson Park and, forgetting to
dine, walked for an hour along the paths under the trees. The wind
from the lake had chilled the air and the park was deserted.

They went to stand on a pier that ran out into the lake. On the pier
David tried to begin the talk that was the object of their being
together but felt that the wind and the water that beat against the
piling of the pier made talk too difficult. Although he could not have
told why, he was relieved by the necessity of delay. Into the park
they went again and found a seat upon a bench facing a lagoon.

In the presence of the silent McGregor David felt suddenly embarrassed
and awkward. "By what right do I question him?" he asked himself and
in his mind could find no answer. A half dozen times he started to say
what he had come to say but stopped and his talk ran off into
trivialities. "There are men in the world you have not taken into
consideration," he said finally, forcing himself to begin. With a
laugh he went on, relieved that the silence had been broken. "You see
the very inner secret of strong men has been missed by you and
others."

David Ormsby looked sharply at McGregor. "I do not believe that you
believe we are after money, we men of affairs. I trust you see beyond
that. We have our purpose and we keep to our purpose quietly and
doggedly."

Again David looked at the silent figure sitting in the dim light and
again his mind ran out, striving to penetrate the silence. "I am not a
fool and perhaps I know that the movement you have started among the
workers is something new. There is power in it as in all great ideas.
Perhaps I think there is power in you. Why else should I be here?"

Again David laughed uncertainly. "In a way I am in sympathy with you,"
he said. "Although all through my life I have served money I have not
been owned by it. You are not to suppose that men like me have not
something beyond money in mind."

The old plough maker looked away over McGregor's shoulder to where the
leaves of the trees shook in the wind from the lake. "There have been
men and great leaders who have understood the silent competent
servants of wealth," he said half petulantly. "I want you to
understand these men. I should like to see you become such a one
yourself--not for the wealth it would bring but because in the end you
would thus serve all men. You would get at truth thus. The power that
is in you would be conserved and used more intelligently."

"To be sure, history has taken little or no account of the men of whom
I speak. They have passed through life unnoticed, doing great work
quietly."

The plough maker paused. Although McGregor had said nothing the older
man felt that the interview was not going as it should. "I should like
to know what you have in mind, what in the end you hope to gain for
yourself or for these men," he said somewhat sharply. "There is after
all no point to our beating about the bush."

McGregor said nothing. Arising from the bench he began again to walk
along the path with Ormsby at his side.

"The really strong men of the world have had no place in history,"
declared Ormsby bitterly. "They have not asked that. They were in Rome
and in Germany in the time of Martin Luther but nothing is said of
them. Although they do not mind the silence of history they would like
other strong men to understand. The march of the world is a greater
thing than the dust raised by the heels of some few workers walking
through the streets and these men are responsible for the march of the
world. You are making a mistake. I invite you to become one of us. If
you plan to upset things you may get yourself into history but you
will not really count. What you are trying to do will not work. You
will come to a bad end."

When the two men emerged from the park the older man had again the
feeling that the interview had not been a success. He was sorry. The
evening he felt had marked for him a failure and he was not accustomed
to failures. "There is a wall here that I cannot penetrate," he
thought.

Along the front of the park beneath a grove of trees they walked in
silence. McGregor seemed not to have heard the words addressed to him.
When they came to where a long row of vacant lots faced the park he
stopped and stood leaning against a tree to look away into the park,
lost in thought.

David Ormsby also became silent. He thought of his youth in the little
village plough factory, of his efforts to get on in the world, of the
long evenings spent reading books and trying to understand the
movements of men.

"Is there an element in nature and in youth that we do not understand
or that we lose sight of?" he asked. "Are the efforts of the patient
workers of the world always to be abortive? Can some new phase of life
arise suddenly upsetting all of our plans? Do you, can you, think of
men like me as but part of a vast whole? Do you deny to us
individuality, the right to stand forth, the right to work things out
and to control?"

The ploughmaker looked at the huge figure standing beside the tree.
Again he was irritated and kept lighting cigars which after two or
three puffs he threw away. In the bushes at the back of the bench
insects began to sing. The wind coming now in gentle gusts swayed
slowly the branches of the trees overhead.

"Is there an eternal youth in the world, a state out of which men pass
unknowingly, a youth that forever destroys, tearing down what has been
built?" he asked. "Are the mature lives of strong men of so little
account? Have you like the empty fields that bask in the sun in the
summer the right to remain silent in the presence of men who have had
thoughts and have tried to put their thoughts into deeds?"

Still saying nothing McGregor pointed with his finger along the road
that faced the park. From a side street a body of men swung about a
corner, coming with long strides toward the two. As they passed
beneath a street lamp that swung gently in the wind their faces
flashing in and out of the light seemed to be mocking David Ormsby.
For a moment anger burned in him and then something, perhaps the
rhythm of the moving mass of men, brought a gentler mood. The men
swinging past turned another corner and disappeared beneath the
structure of an elevated railroad.

The ploughmaker walked away from McGregor. Something in the interview,
terminating thus with, the presence of the marching figures had he
felt unmanned him. "After all there is youth and the hope of youth.
What he has in mind may work," he thought as he climbed aboard a
street car.

In the car David put his head out at the window and looked at the long
line of apartment buildings that lined the streets. He thought again
of his own youth and of the evenings in the Wisconsin village when,
himself a youth, he went with other young men singing and marching in
the moonlight.

In a vacant lot he again saw a body of the Marching Men moving back
and forth and responding quickly to the commands given by a slender
young man who stood on the sidewalk beneath a street lamp and held a
stick in his hand.

In the car the grey-haired man of affairs put his head down upon the
back of the seat in front. Half unconscious of his own thoughts his
mind began to dwell upon the figure of his daughter. "Had I been
Margaret I should not have let him go. No matter what the cost I
should have clung to the man," he muttered.

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