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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWindy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter I
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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter I Post by :bizman Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :2643

Click below to download : Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter I (Format : PDF)

Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter I

At the beginning of the long twilight of a summer evening, Sam McPherson,
a tall big-boned boy of thirteen, with brown hair, black eyes, and an
amusing little habit of tilting his chin in the air as he walked, came
upon the station platform of the little corn-shipping town of Caxton in
Iowa. It was a board platform, and the boy walked cautiously, lifting his
bare feet and putting them down with extreme deliberateness on the hot,
dry, cracked planks. Under one arm he carried a bundle of newspapers. A
long black cigar was in his hand.

In front of the station he stopped; and Jerry Donlin, the baggage-man,
seeing the cigar in his hand, laughed, and slowly drew the side of his
face up into a laboured wink.

"What is the game to-night, Sam?" he asked.

Sam stepped to the baggage-room door, handed him the cigar, and began
giving directions, pointing into the baggage-room, intent and business-
like in the face of the Irishman's laughter. Then, turning, he walked
across the station platform to the main street of the town, his eyes bent
on the ends of his fingers on which he was making computations with his
thumb. Jerry looked after him, grinning so that his red gums made a splash
of colour on his bearded face. A gleam of paternal pride lit his eyes and
he shook his head and muttered admiringly. Then, lighting the cigar, he
went down the platform to where a wrapped bundle of newspapers lay against
the building, under the window of the telegraph office, and taking it in
his arm disappeared, still grinning, into the baggage-room.

Sam McPherson walked down Main Street, past the shoe store, the bakery,
and the candy store kept by Penny Hughes, toward a group lounging at the
front of Geiger's drug store. Before the door of the shoe store he paused
a moment, and taking a small note-book from his pocket ran his finger down
the pages, then shaking his head continued on his way, again absorbed in
doing sums on his fingers.

Suddenly, from among the men by the drug store, a roaring song broke the
evening quiet of the street, and a voice, huge and guttural, brought a
smile to the boy's lips:

"He washed the windows and he swept the floor,
And he polished up the handle of the big front door.
He polished that handle so carefullee,
That now he's the ruler of the queen's navee."

The singer, a short man with grotesquely wide shoulders, wore a long
flowing moustache, and a black coat, covered with dust, that reached to
his knees. He held a smoking briar pipe in his hand, and with it beat time
for a row of men sitting on a long stone under the store window and
pounding on the sidewalk with their heels to make a chorus for the song.
Sam's smile broadened into a grin as he looked at the singer, Freedom
Smith, a buyer of butter and eggs, and past him at John Telfer, the
orator, the dandy, the only man in town, except Mike McCarthy, who kept
his trousers creased. Among all the men of Caxton, Sam most admired John
Telfer and in his admiration had struck upon the town's high light. Telfer
loved good clothes and wore them with an air, and never allowed Caxton to
see him shabbily or indifferently dressed, laughingly declaring that it
was his mission in life to give tone to the town.

John Telfer had a small income left him by his father, once a banker in
the town, and in his youth he had gone to New York to study art, and later
to Paris; but lacking ability or industry to get on had come back to
Caxton where he had married Eleanor Millis, a prosperous milliner. They
were the most successful married pair in Caxton, and after years of life
together they were still in love; were never indifferent to each other,
and never quarrelled; Telfer treated his wife with as much consideration
and respect as though she were a sweetheart, or a guest in his house, and
she, unlike most of the wives in Caxton, never ventured to question his
goings and comings, but left him free to live his own life in his own way
while she attended to the millinery business.

At the age of forty-five John Telfer was a tall, slender, fine looking
man, with black hair and a little black pointed beard, and with something
lazy and care-free in his every movement and impulse. Dressed in white
flannels, with white shoes, a jaunty cap upon his head, eyeglasses hanging
from a gold chain, and a cane lightly swinging from his hand, he made a
figure that might have passed unnoticed on the promenade before some
fashionable summer hotel, but that seemed a breach of the laws of nature
when seen on the streets of a corn-shipping town in Iowa. And Telfer was
aware of the extraordinary figure he cut; it was a part of his programme
of life. Now as Sam approached he laid a hand on Freedom Smith's shoulder
to check the song, and, with his eyes twinkling with good-humour, began
thrusting with his cane at the boy's feet.

"He will never be ruler of the queen's navee," he declared, laughing and
following the dancing boy about in a wide circle. "He is a little mole
that works underground intent upon worms. The trick he has of tilting up
his nose is only his way of smelling out stray pennies. I have it from
Banker Walker that he brings a basket of them into the bank every day. One
of these days he will buy the town and put it into his vest pocket."

Circling about on the stone sidewalk and dancing to escape the flying
cane, Sam dodged under the arm of Valmore, a huge old blacksmith with
shaggy clumps of hair on the back of his hands, and sought refuge between
him and Freedom Smith. The blacksmith's hand stole out and lay upon the
boy's shoulder. Telfer, his legs spread apart and the cane hooked upon his
arm, began rolling a cigarette; Geiger, a yellow skinned man with fat
cheeks and with hands clasped over his round paunch, smoked a black cigar,
and as he sent each puff into the air, grunted forth his satisfaction with
life. He was wishing that Telfer, Freedom Smith, and Valmore, instead of
moving on to their nightly nest at the back of Wildman's grocery, would
come into his place for the evening. He thought he would like to have the
three of them there night after night discussing the doings of the world.

Quiet once more settled down upon the sleepy street. Over Sam's shoulder,
Valmore and Freedom Smith talked of the coming corn crop and the growth
and prosperity of the country.

"Times are getting better about here, but the wild things are almost
gone," said Freedom, who in the winter bought hides and pelts.

The men sitting on the stone beneath the window watched with idle interest
Telfer's labours with paper and tobacco. "Young Henry Kerns has got
married," observed one of them, striving to make talk. "He has married a
girl from over Parkertown way. She gives lessons in painting--china
painting--kind of an artist, you know."

An ejaculation of disgust broke from Telfer: his fingers trembled and the
tobacco that was to have been the foundation of his evening smoke rained
on the sidewalk.

"An artist!" he exclaimed, his voice tense with excitement. "Who said
artist? Who called her that?" He glared fiercely about. "Let us have an
end to this blatant misuse of fine old words. To say of one that he is an
artist is to touch the peak of praise."

Throwing his cigarette paper after the scattered tobacco he thrust one
hand into his trouser pocket. With the other he held the cane, emphasising
his points by ringing taps upon the pavement. Geiger, taking the cigar
between his fingers, listened with open mouth to the outburst that
followed. Valmore and Freedom Smith dropped their conversation and with
broad smiles upon their faces gave attention, and Sam McPherson, his eyes
round with wonder and admiration, felt again the thrill that always ran
through him under the drum beats of Telfer's eloquence.

"An artist is one who hungers and thirsts after perfection, not one who
dabs flowers upon plates to choke the gullets of diners," declared Telfer,
setting himself for one of the long speeches with which he loved to
astonish the men of Caxton, and glaring down at those seated upon the
stone. "It is the artist who, among all men, has the divine audacity. Does
he not hurl himself into a battle in which is engaged against him all of
the accumulative genius of the world?"

Pausing, he looked about for an opponent upon whom he might pour the flood
of his eloquence, but on all sides smiles greeted him. Undaunted, he
rushed again to the charge.

"A business man--what is he?" he demanded. "He succeeds by outwitting the
little minds with which he comes in contact. A scientist is of more
account--he pits his brains against the dull unresponsiveness of inanimate
matter and a hundredweight of black iron he makes do the work of a hundred
housewives. But an artist tests his brains against the greatest brains of
all times; he stands upon the peak of life and hurls himself against the
world. A girl from Parkertown who paints flowers upon dishes to be called
an artist--ugh! Let me spew forth the thought! Let me cleanse my mouth! A
man should have a prayer upon his lips who utters the word artist!"

"Well, we can't all be artists and the woman can paint flowers upon dishes
for all I care," spoke up Valmore, laughing good naturedly. "We can't all
paint pictures and write books."

"We do not want to be artists--we do not dare to be," shouted Telfer,
whirling and shaking his cane at Valmore. "You have a misunderstanding of
the word."

He straightened his shoulders and threw out his chest and the boy standing
beside the blacksmith threw up his chin, unconsciously imitating the
swagger of the man.

"I do not paint pictures; I do not write books; yet am I an artist,"
declared Telfer, proudly. "I am an artist practising the most difficult of
all arts--the art of living. Here in this western village I stand and
fling my challenge to the world. 'On the lip of not the greatest of you,'
I cry, 'has life been more sweet.'"

He turned from Valmore to the men upon the stone.

"Make a study of my life," he commanded. "It will be a revelation to you.
With a smile I greet the morning; I swagger in the noontime; and in the
evening, like Socrates of old, I gather a little group of you benighted
villagers about me and toss wisdom into your teeth, striving to teach you
judgment in the use of great words."

"You talk an almighty lot about yourself, John," grumbled Freedom Smith,
taking his pipe from his mouth.

"The subject is complex, it is varied, it is full of charm," Telfer
answered, laughing.

Taking a fresh supply of tobacco and paper from his pocket, he rolled and
lighted a cigarette. His fingers no longer trembled. Flourishing his cane
he threw back his head and blew smoke into the air. He thought that in
spite of the roar of laughter that had greeted Freedom Smith's comment, he
had vindicated the honour of art and the thought made him happy.

To the newsboy, who had been leaning against the storefront lost in
admiration, it seemed that he had caught in Telfer's talk an echo of the
kind of talk that must go on among men in the big outside world. Had not
this Telfer travelled far? Had he not lived in New York and Paris? Without
understanding the sense of what had been said, Sam felt that it must be
something big and conclusive. When from the distance there came the shriek
of a locomotive, he stood unmoved, trying to comprehend the meaning of
Telfer's outburst over the lounger's simple statement.

"There's the seven forty-five," cried Telfer, sharply. "Is the war between
you and Fatty at an end? Are we going to lose our evening's diversion? Has
Fatty bluffed you out or are you growing rich and lazy like Papa Geiger
here?"

Springing from his place beside the blacksmith and grasping the bundle of
newspapers, Sam ran down the street, Telfer, Valmore, Freedom Smith and
the loungers following more slowly.

When the evening train from Des Moines stopped at Caxton, a blue-coated
train news merchant leaped hurriedly to the platform and began looking
anxiously about.

"Hurry, Fatty," rang out Freedom Smith's huge voice, "Sam's already half
through one car."

The young man called "Fatty" ran up and down the station platform. "Where
is that bundle of Omaha papers, you Irish loafer?" he shouted, shaking his
fist at Jerry Donlin who stood upon a truck at the front of the train, up-
ending trunks into the baggage car.

Jerry paused with a trunk dangling in mid-air. "In the baggage-room, of
course. Hurry, man. Do you want the kid to work the whole train?"

An air of something impending hung over the idlers upon the platform, the
train crew, and even the travelling men who began climbing off the train.
The engineer thrust his head out of the cab; the conductor, a dignified
looking man with a grey moustache, threw back his head and shook with
mirth; a young man with a suit-case in his hand and a long pipe in his
mouth ran to the door of the baggage-room, calling, "Hurry! Hurry, Fatty!
The kid is working the entire train. You won't be able to sell a paper."

The fat young man ran from the baggage-room to the platform and shouted
again to Jerry Donlin, who was now slowly pushing the empty truck along
the platform. From the train came a clear voice calling, "Latest Omaha
papers! Have your change ready! Fatty, the train newsboy, has fallen down
a well! Have your change ready, gentlemen!"

Jerry Donlin, followed by Fatty, again disappeared from sight. The
conductor, waving his hand, jumped upon the steps of the train. The
engineer pulled in his head and the train began to move.

The fat young man emerged from the baggage-room, swearing revenge upon the
head of Jerry Donlin. "There was no need to put it under a mail sack!" he
shouted, shaking his fist. "I'll be even with you for this."

Followed by the shouts of the travelling men and the laughter of the
idlers upon the platform he climbed upon the moving train and began
running from car to car. Off the last car dropped Sam McPherson, a smile
upon his lips, the bundle of newspapers gone, his pocket jingling with
coins. The evening's entertainment for the town of Caxton was at an end.

John Telfer, standing by the side of Valmore, waved his cane in the air
and began talking.

"Beat him again, by Gad!" he exclaimed. "Bully for Sam! Who says the
spirit of the old buccaneers is dead? That boy didn't understand what I
said about art, but he is an artist just the same!"

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