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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarching Men - BOOK VII - Chapter II
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Marching Men - BOOK VII - Chapter II Post by :cdarrington Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :1927

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Marching Men - BOOK VII - Chapter II

On the day of the great demonstration, when McGregor's power over the
minds and the bodies of the men of labour sent hundreds of thousands
marching and singing in the streets, there was one man who was
untouched by the song of labour expressed in the threshing of feet.
David Ormsby had in his quiet way thought things out. He expected that
the new impetus given to solidity in the ranks of labour would make
trouble for him and his kind, that it would express itself finally in
strikes and in wide-spread industrial disturbance. He was not worried.
In the end he thought that the silent patient power of money would
bring his people the victory. On that day he did not go to his office
but in the morning stayed in his own room thinking of McGregor and of
his daughter. Laura Ormsby was out of the city but Margaret was at
home. David believed he had measured accurately the power of McGregor
over her mind but occasional doubts came to him. "Well the time has
come to have it out with her," he decided. "I must reassert my
ascendency over her mind. The thing that is going on here is really a
struggle of minds. McGregor differs from other leaders of labour as I
differ from most leaders of the forces of money. He has brains. Very
well. I shall meet him on that level. Then, when I have made Margaret
think as I think, she will return to me."

* * * * *

When he was still a small manufacturer in the Wisconsin town David had
been in the habit of driving out in the evening with his daughter.
During the drives he had been almost a lover in his attentions to the
child and now when he thought of the forces at work within her he was
convinced that she was still a child. Early in the afternoon he had a
carriage brought to the door and drove off with her to the city. "She
will want to see the man in the height of his power. If I am right in
thinking that she is still under the influence of his personality
there will be a romantic desire for that.

"I will give her the chance," he thought proudly. "In this struggle I
ask no quarter from him and shall not make the common mistake of
parents in such cases. She is fascinated by the figure he has made of
himself. Showy men who stand out from the crowd have that power. She
is still under his influence. Why else her constant distraction and
her want of interest in other things? Now I will be with her when the
man is most powerful, when he shows to the greatest advantage, and
then I will make my fight for her. I will point out to her another
road, the road along which the real victors in life must learn to
travel."

Together David the quiet efficient representative of wealth and his
woman child sat in the carriage on the day of McGregor's triumph. For
the moment an impassable gulf seemed to separate them and with intense
eyes each watched the hordes of men who massed themselves about the
labour leader. At the moment McGregor seemed to have caught all men in
the sweep of his movement. Business men had closed their desks, labour
was exultant, writers and men given to speculation in thought walked
about dreaming of the realisation of the brotherhood of man. In the
long narrow treeless park the music made by the steady never-ending
thresh of feet arose to something vast and rhythmical. It was like a
mighty chorus come up out of the hearts of men. David was unmoved.
Occasionally he spoke to the horses and looked from the faces of the
men massed about him to his daughter's face. In the coarse faces of
the men he thought he saw only a crude sort of intoxication, the
result of a new kind of emotionalism. "It will not outlast thirty days
of ordinary living in their squalid surroundings," he thought grimly.
"It is not the kind of exaltation for Margaret. I can sing her a more
wonderful song. I must get myself ready for that."

When McGregor arose to speak Margaret was overcome with emotions.
Dropping to her knees in the carriage she put her head down upon her
father's arm. For days she had been telling herself that in the future
of the man she loved there was no place for failure. Now again she
whispered to herself that this great sturdy figure must not be denied
the fulfilment of its purpose. When in the hush that followed the
massing of the labourers about him the harsh booming voice floated
over the heads of the people her body shook as with a chill.
Extravagant fancies invaded her mind and she wished it were possible
for her to do something heroic, something that would make her live
again in the mind of McGregor. She wanted to serve him, to give him
something out of herself, and thought wildly that there might yet come
a time and a way by which the beauty of her body could be laid like a
gift before him. The half mythical figure of Mary the lover of Jesus
came into her mind and she aspired to be such another. With her body
shaken with emotions she pulled at the sleeve of her father's coat.
"Listen! It is going to come now," she murmured. "The brain of labour
is going to express the dream of labour. An impulse sweet and lasting
is going to come into the world."

* * * * *

David Ormsby said nothing. When McGregor had begun to speak he touched
the horses with the whip and drove slowly along Van Buren Street past
the silent attentive ranks of men. When he had got into one of the
streets near the river a vast cheer arose. It seemed to shake the city
and the horses reared and leaped forward over the rough cobblestones.
With one hand David quieted them while with the other he gripped the
hand of his daughter. They drove over a bridge and into the West Side
and as they went the marching song of the workers rising up out of
thousands of throats rang in their ears. For a time the air seemed to
pulsate with it but as they went westward it grew continually less and
less distinct. At last when they had turned into a street lined by
tall factories it died out altogether. "That is the end of him for me
and mine," thought David and again set himself for the task he had to
perform.

Through street after street David let the horses wander while he clung
to his daughter's hand and thought of what he wanted to say. Not all
of the streets were lined with factories. Some, and these in the
evening light were the most hideous, were bordered by the homes of
workers. The houses of the workers, jammed closely together and black
with grime, were filled with noisy life. Women sat in the doorways and
children ran screaming and shouting in the road. Dogs barked and
howled. Everywhere was dirt and disorder, the terrible evidence of
men's failure in the difficult and delicate art of living. In one of
the streets a little girl child who sat on the post of a fence made a
ludicrous figure. As David and Margaret drove past she beat with her
heels against the sides of the post and screamed. Tears ran down her
cheeks and her dishevelled hair was black with dirt. "I want a banana!
I want a banana!" she howled, staring at the blank walls of one of the
houses. In spite of herself Margaret was touched and her mind left the
figure of McGregor. By an odd chance the child on the post was the
daughter of that socialist orator who one night on the North Side had
climbed upon a platform to confront McGregor with the propaganda of
the Socialist Party.

David turned the horses into a wide boulevard that ran south through
the factory district of the west. As they came out into the boulevard
they saw sitting on the sidewalk before a saloon a drunkard with a
drum in his hand. The drunkard beat upon the drum and tried to sing
the marching song of the workers but succeeded only in making a queer
grunting noise like a distressed animal. The sight brought a smile to
David's lips. "Already it has begun to disintegrate," he muttered. "I
brought you into this part of town on purpose," he said to Margaret.
"I wanted you to see with your own eyes how much the world needs the
thing he is trying to do. The man is terribly right about the need for
discipline and order. He is a big man doing a big thing and I admire
his courage. He would be a really big man had he the greater courage."

On the boulevard into which they had turned all was quiet. The summer
sun was setting and over the roofs of buildings the west was ablaze
with light. They passed a factory surrounded by little patches of
garden. Some employer of labour had tried thus feebly to bring beauty
into the neighbourhood of the place where his men worked. David
pointed with the whip. "Life is a husk," he said, "and we men of
affairs who take ourselves so seriously because the fates have been
good to us have odd silly little fancies. See what this fellow has
been at, patching away, striving to create beauty on the shell of
things. He is like McGregor you see. I wonder if the man has made
himself beautiful, if either he or McGregor has seen to it that there
is something lovely inside the husk he wears around and that he calls
his body, if he has seen through life to the spirit of life. I do not
believe in patching nor do I believe in disturbing the shell of things
as McGregor has dared to do. I have my own beliefs and they are the
beliefs of my kind. This man here, this maker of little gardens, is
like McGregor. He might better let men find their own beauty. That is
my way. I have, I want to think, kept myself for the sweeter and more
daring effort."

David turned and looked hard at Margaret who had begun to be
influenced by his mood. She waited, looking with averted face at the
sky over the roofs of buildings. David began to talk of himself in
relation to her and her mother. A note of impatience came into his
voice.

"How far you have been carried away, haven't you?" he said sharply.
"Listen. I am not talking to you now as your father nor as Laura's
daughter. Let us be clear about that I love you and am in a contest to
win your love. I am McGregor's rival. I accept the handicap of
fatherhood. I love you. You see I have let something within myself
alight upon you. McGregor has not done that. He refused what you had
to offer but I do not. I have centred my life upon you and have done
it quite knowingly and after much thought. The feeling I have is
something quite special. I am an individualist but believe in the
oneness of man and woman. I would dare venture into but one other life
beyond my own and that the life of a woman. I have chosen to ask you
to let me venture so into your life. We will talk of it."

Margaret turned and looked at her father. Later she thought that some
strange phenomena must have happened at the moment Something like a
film was torn from her eyes and she saw the man David, not as a shrewd
and calculating man of affairs, but as something magnificently young.
Not only was he strong and solid but in his face there was at the
moment the deep lines of thought and suffering she had seen on the
countenance of McGregor. "It is strange," she thought. "They are so
unlike and yet the two men are both beautiful."

"I married your mother when I was a child as you are a child now,"
David went on. "To be sure I had a passion for her and she had one for
me. It passed but it was beautiful enough while it lasted. It did not
have depth or meaning. I want to tell you why. Then I am going to make
you understand McGregor so that you may take your measure of the man.
I am coming to that. I have to begin at the beginning.

"My factory began to grow and as an employer of labour I became
concerned in the lives of a good many men."

His voice again became sharp. "I have been impatient with you," he
said. "Do you think this McGregor is the only man who has seen and
thought of other men in the mass? I have done that and have been
tempted. I also might have become sentimental and destroyed myself. I
did not. Loving a woman saved me. Laura did that for me although when
it came to the real test of our love, understanding, she failed. I am
nevertheless grateful to her that she was once the object of my love.
I believe in the beauty of that."

Again David paused and began to tell his story in a new way. The
figure of McGregor came back into Margaret's mind and her father began
to feel that to take it entirely away would be an accomplishment full
of significance. "If I can take her from him, I and my kind can take
the world from him also," he thought. "It will be another victory for
the aristocracy in the never-ending battle with the mob."

"I came to a turning point," he said aloud. "All men come to that
point. To be sure the great mass of people drift quite stupidly but we
are not now talking of people in general. There is you and me and
there is the thing McGregor might be. We are each in our way something
special. We come, people like us, to a place where there are two roads
to take. I took one and McGregor has taken another. I know why and
perhaps he knows why. I concede to him knowledge of what he has done.
But now it is time for you to decide which road you will take. You
have seen the crowds moving along the broad way he has chosen and now
you will set out on your own way. I want you to look down my road with
me."

They came to a bridge over a canal and David stopped the horses. A
body of McGregor's marchers passed and Margaret's pulse began to beat
high again. When she looked at her father however he was unmoved and
she was a little ashamed of her emotions. For a moment David waited,
as though for inspiration, and when the horses started on again he
began to talk. "A labour leader came to my factory, a miniature
McGregor with a crooked twist to him. He was a rascal but the things
he said to my men were all true enough. I was making money for my
investors, a lot of it. They might have won in a fight with me. One
evening I went out into the country to walk alone under the trees and
think it over."

David's voice became harsh and Margaret thought it had become
strangely like the voice of McGregor talking to workingmen. "I bought
the man off," David said. "I used the cruel weapon men like me have to
use. I gave him money and told him to get out, to let me alone. I did
it because I had to win. My kind of men always have to win. During the
walk I took alone I got hold of my dream, my belief. I have the same
dream now. It means more to me than the welfare of a million men. For
it I would crush whatever opposed me. I am going to tell you of the
dream.

"It is too bad one has to talk. Talk kills dreams and talk will also
kill all such men as McGregor. Now that he has begun to talk we will
get the best of him. I do not worry about McGregor. Time and talk will
bring about his destruction."

David's mind ran off in a new direction. "I do not think a man's life
is of much importance," he said. "No man is big enough to grasp all of
life. That is the foolish fancy of children. The grown man knows he
cannot see life at one great sweep. It cannot be comprehended so. One
has to realise that he lives in a patchwork of many lives and many
impulses.

"The man must strike at beauty. That is the realisation maturity
brings and that is where the woman conies in. That is what McGregor
was not wise enough to understand. He is a child you see in a land of
excitable children."

The quality of David's voice changed. Putting his arm about his
daughter he drew her face down beside his own. Night descended upon
them. The woman who was tired from much thinking began to feel
grateful for the touch of the strong hand on her shoulder. David had
accomplished his purpose. He had for the moment made his daughter
forget that she was his daughter. There was something hypnotic in the
quiet strength of his mood.

"I come now to women, to your part," he said. "We will talk of the
thing I want to make you understand. Laura failed as the woman. She
never saw the point. As I grew she did not grow with me. Because I did
not talk of love she did not understand me as a lover, did not know
what I wanted, what I demanded of her.

"I wanted to fit my love down upon her figure as one puts a glove on
his hand. You see I was the adventurer, the man mussed and moiled by
life and its problems. The struggle to exist, to get money, could not
be avoided. I had to make that struggle. She did not. Why could she
not understand that I did not want to come into her presence to rest
or to say empty words. I wanted her to help me create beauty. We
should have been partners in that. Together we should have undertaken
the most delicate and difficult of all struggles, the struggle for
living beauty in our everyday affairs."

Bitterness swept over the old ploughmaker and he used strong words.
"The whole point is in what I am now saying. That was my cry to the
woman. It came out of my soul. It was the only cry to another I have
ever made. Laura was a little fool. Her mind flitted away to little
things. I do not know what she wanted me to be and now I do not care.
Perhaps she wanted me to be a poet, a stringer together of words, one
to write shrill little songs about her eyes and lips. It does not
matter now what she wanted.

"But you matter."

David's voice cut through the fog of new thoughts that were confusing
his daughter's mind and she could feel his body stiffen. A thrill ran
through her own body and she forgot McGregor. With all the strength of
her spirit she was absorbed in what David was saying. In the challenge
that was coming from the lips of her father she began to feel there
would be born in her own life a definite purpose.

"Women want to push out into life, to share with men the disorder and
mussiness of little things. What a desire! Let them try it if they
wish. They will sicken of the attempt. They lose sight of something
bigger they might undertake. They have forgotten the old things, Ruth
in the corn and Mary with the jar of precious ointment, they have
forgotten the beauty they were meant to help men create.

"Let them share only in man's attempt to create beauty. That is the
big, the delicate task to which they should consecrate themselves. Why
attempt instead the cheaper, the secondary task? They are like this
McGregor."

The ploughmaker became silent. Taking up the whip he drove the horses
rapidly along. He thought that his point was made and was satisfied to
let the imagination of his daughter do the rest. They turned off the
boulevard and passed through a street of small stores. Before a saloon
a troop of street urchins led by a drunken man without a hat gave a
grotesque imitation of McGregor's Marchers before a crowd of laughing
idlers. With a sinking heart Margaret realised that even at the height
of his power the forces that would eventually destroy the impulses
back of McGregor's Marchers were at work. She crept closer to David.
"I love you," she said. "Some day I may have a lover but always I
shall love you. I shall try to be what you want of me."

It was past two o'clock that night when David arose from the chair
where he had been for several hours quietly reading. With a smile on
his face he went to a window facing north toward the city. All through
the evening groups of men had been passing the house. Some had gone
scuffling along, a mere disorderly mob, some had gone shoulder to
shoulder chanting the marching song of the workers and a few, under
the influence of drink, had stopped before the house to roar out
threats. Now all was quiet. David lighted a cigar and stood for a long
time looking out over the city. He was thinking of McGregor and
wondering what excited dream of power the day had brought into the
man's head. Then he thought of his daughter and of her escape. A soft
light came into his eyes. He was happy but when he had partially
undressed a new mood came and he turned out the lights in the room and
went again to the window. In the room above Margaret had been unable
to sleep and had also crept to the window. She was thinking again of
McGregor and was ashamed of her thoughts. By chance both father and
daughter began at the same moment to doubt the truth of what David had
said during the drive along the boulevard. Margaret could not express
her doubts in words but tears came into her eyes.

As for David, he put his hand on the sill of the window and for just a
moment his body trembled as with age and weariness. "I wonder," he
muttered--"if I had youth--perhaps McGregor knew he would fail and yet
had the courage of failure, I wonder if both Margaret and myself lack
the greater courage, if that evening long ago when I walked under the
trees I made a mistake? What if after all this McGregor and his woman
knew both roads. What if they, after looking deliberately along the
road toward success in life, went without regret along the road to
failure? What if McGregor and not myself knew the road to beauty?"

 

THE END.
Marching Men, by Sherwood Anderson.

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