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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWindy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VII
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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VII Post by :nospecs Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :4917

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

Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VII

Leaning against the wall under the veranda of Mary Underwood's house, Sam
tried to get in his mind a remembrance of what had brought him there. He
had walked bareheaded through Main Street and out along a country road.
Twice he had fallen, covering his clothes with mud. He had forgotten the
purpose of his walk and had tramped on and on. The unexpected and terrible
hatred of his father that had come upon him in the tense silence of the
kitchen had so paralysed his brain that he now felt light-headed and
wonderfully happy and carefree.

"I have been doing something," he thought; "I wonder what it is."

The house faced a grove of pine trees and was reached by climbing a little
rise and following a winding road out beyond the graveyard and the last of
the village lights. The wild spring rain pounded and rattled on the tin
roof overhead, and Sam, his back closely pressed against the front of the
house, fought to regain control of his mind.

For an hour he stood there staring into the darkness and watched with
delight the progress of the storm. He had--an inheritance from his mother
--a love of thunderstorms. He remembered a night when he was a boy and his
mother had got out of bed and gone here and there through the house
singing. She had sung softly so that the sleeping father did not hear, and
in his bed upstairs Sam had lain awake listening to the noises--the rain
on the roof, the occasional crash of thunder, the snoring of Windy, and
the unusual and, he thought, beautiful sound of the mother singing in the
storm.

Now, lifting up his head, he looked about with delight. Trees in the grove
in front of him bent and tossed in the wind. The inky blackness of the
night was relieved by the flickering oil lamp in the road beyond the
graveyard and, in the distance, by the lights streaming out at the windows
of the houses. The light coming out of the house against which he stood
made a little cylinder of brightness among the pine trees through which
the raindrops fell gleaming and sparkling. An occasional flash of
lightning lit up the trees and the winding road, and the cannonry of the
skies rolled and echoed overhead. A kind of wild song sang in Sam's heart.

"I wish it would last all night," he thought, his mind fixed on the
singing of his mother in the dark house when he was a boy.

The door opened and a woman stepped out upon the veranda and stood before
him facing the storm, the wind tossing the soft kimono in which she was
clad and the rain wetting her face. Under the tin roof, the air was filled
with the rattling reverberation of the rain. The woman lifted her head
and, with the rain beating down upon her, began singing, her fine
contralto voice rising above the rattle of the rain on the roof and going
on uninterrupted by the crash of the thunder. She sang of a lover riding
through the storm to his mistress. One refrain persisted in the song--

"He rode and he thought of her red, red lips,"

sang the woman, putting her hand upon the railing of the little porch and
leaning forward into the storm.

Sam was amazed. The woman standing before him was Mary Underwood, who had
been his friend when he was a boy in school and toward whom his mind had
turned after the tragedy in the kitchen. The figure of the woman standing
singing before him became a part of his thoughts of his mother singing on
the stormy night in the house and his mind wandered on, seeing pictures as
he used to see them when a boy walking under the stars and listening to
the talk of John Telfer. He saw a broad-shouldered man shouting defiance
to the storm as he rode down a mountain path.

"And he laughed at the rain on his wet, wet cloak," went on the voice of
the singer.

Mary Underwood's singing there in the rain made her seem near and likeable
as she had seemed to him when he was a barefoot boy.

"John Telfer was wrong about her," he thought.

She turned and faced him. Tiny streams of water ran from her hair down
across her cheeks. A flash of lightning cut the darkness, illuminating the
spot where Sam, now a broad-shouldered man, stood with the mud upon his
clothes and the bewildered look upon his face. A sharp exclamation of
surprise broke from her lips:

"Hello, Sam! What are you doing here? You had better get in out of the
rain."

"I like it here," replied Sam, lifting his head and looking past her at
the storm.

Walking to the door and standing with her hand upon the knob, Mary looked
into the darkness.

"You have been a long time coming to see me," she said, "come in."

Within the house, with the door closed, the rattle of the rain on the
veranda roof sank to a subdued, quiet drumming. Piles of books lay upon a
table in the centre of the room and there were other books on the shelves
along the walls. On a table burned a student's lamp and in the corners of
the room lay heavy shadows.

Sam stood by the wall near the door looking about with half-seeing eyes.

Mary, who had gone to another part of the house and who now returned clad
in a long cloak, looked at him with quick curiosity, and began moving
about the room picking up odds and ends of woman's clothing scattered on
the chairs. Kneeling, she lighted a fire under some sticks piled in an
open grate at the side of the room.

"It was the storm made me want to sing," she said self-consciously, and
then briskly, "we shall have to be drying you out; you have fallen in the
road and got yourself covered with mud."

From being morose and silent Sam became talkative. An idea had come into
his mind.

"I have come here courting," he thought; "I have come to ask Mary
Underwood to be my wife and live in my house."

The woman, kneeling by the blazing sticks, made a picture that aroused
something that had been sleeping in him. The heavy cloak she wore, falling
away, showed the round little shoulders imperfectly covered by the kimono,
wet and clinging to them. The slender, youthful figure, the soft grey hair
and the serious little face, lit by the burning sticks caused a jumping of
his heart.

"We are needing a woman in our house," he said heavily, repeating the
words that had been on his lips as he stumbled through the storm-swept
streets and along the mud-covered roads. "We are needing a woman in our
house, and I have come to take you there.

"I intend to marry you," he added, lurching across the room and grasping
her roughly by the shoulders. "Why not? I am needing a woman."

Mary Underwood was dismayed and frightened by the face looking down at
her, and by the strong hands clenched upon her shoulders. In his youth she
had conceived a kind of maternal passion for the newsboy and had planned a
future for him. Her plans if followed would have made him a scholar, a man
living his life among books and ideas. Instead, he had chosen to live his
life among men, to be a money-maker, to drive about the country like
Freedom Smith, making deals with farmers. She had seen him driving at
evening through the street to Freedom's house, going in and out of
Wildman's, and walking through the streets with men. In a dim way she knew
that an influence had been at work upon him to win him from the things of
which she had dreamed and she had secretly blamed John Telfer, the
talking, laughing idler. Now, out of the storm, the boy had come back to
her, his hands and his clothes covered with the mud of the road, and
talked to her, a woman old enough to be his mother, of marriage and of
coming to live with him in his house. She stood, chilled, looking into the
eager, strong face and the eyes with the pained, dazed look in them.

Under her gaze, something of the old feeling of the boy came back to Sam,
and he began vaguely trying to tell her of it.

"It was not the talk of Telfer drove me from you," he began, "it was
because you talked so much of the schools and of books. I was tired of
them. I could not go on year after year sitting in a stuffy little
schoolroom when there was so much money to be made in the world. I grew
tired of the school teachers, drumming with their fingers on the desks and
looking out at the windows at men passing in the street. I wanted to get
out of there and into the streets myself."

Dropping his hands from her shoulders, he sat down in a chair and stared
into the fire, now blazing steadily. Steam began to rise from his trousers
legs. His mind, still working beyond his control, began to reconstruct an
old boyhood fancy, half his own, half John Telfer's, that had years before
come into his mind. It concerned a picture he and Telfer had made of the
ideal scholar. The picture had, as its central figure, a stoop-shouldered,
feeble old man stumbling along the street, muttering to himself and poking
in a gutter with a stick. The picture was a caricature of puttering old
Frank Huntley, superintendent of the Caxton schools.

Sitting before the fire in Mary Underwood's house, become, for the moment,
a boy, facing a boy's problems, Sam did not want to be such a man. He
wanted only that in scholarship which would help him to be the kind of man
he was bent on being, a man of the world doing the work of the world and
making money by his work. Things he had been unable to get expressed when
he was a boy and her friend, coming again into his mind, he felt that he
must here and now make it plain to Mary Underwood that the schools were
not giving him what he wanted. His brain worked on the problem of how to
tell her about it.

Turning, he looked at her and said earnestly: "I am going to quit the
schools. It is not your fault, but I am going to quit just the same."

Mary, who had been looking down at the great mud-covered figure in the
chair began to understand. A light came into her eyes. Going to the door
opening into a stairway leading to sleeping rooms above, she called
sharply, "Auntie, come down here at once. There is a sick man here."

A startled, trembling voice answered from above, "Who is it?"

Mary Underwood did not answer. She came back to Sam and, putting her hand
gently on his shoulder, said, "It is your mother and you are only a sick,
half-crazed boy after all. Is she dead? Tell me about it."

Sam shook his head. "She is still there in the bed, coughing." He roused
himself and stood up. "I have just killed my father," he announced. "I
choked him and threw him down the bank into the road in front of the
house. He made horrible noises in the kitchen and mother was tired and
wanted to sleep."

Mary Underwood began running about the room. From a little alcove under a
stairway she took clothes, throwing them upon the floor about the room.
She pulled on a stocking and, unconscious of Sam's presence, raised her
skirts and fastened it. Then, putting one shoe on the stockinged foot and
the other on the bare one, she turned to him. "We will go back to your
house. I think you are right. You need a woman there."

In the street she walked rapidly along, clinging to the arm of the tall
fellow who strode silently beside her. A cheerfulness had come over Sam.
He felt he had accomplished something--something he had set out to
accomplish. He again thought of his mother and drifting into the notion
that he was on his way home from work at Freedom Smith's, began planning
the evening he would spend with her.

"I will tell her of the letter from the Chicago company and of what I will
do when I go to the city," he thought.

At the gate before the McPherson house Mary looked into the road below the
grassy bank that ran down from the fence, but in the darkness she could
see nothing. The rain continued to fall and the wind screamed and shouted
as it rushed through the bare branches of the trees. Sam went through the
gate and around the house to the kitchen door intent upon getting to his
mother's bedside.

In the house the neighbour woman sat asleep in a chair before the kitchen
stove. The daughter had gone.

Sam went through the house to the parlour and sat down in a chair beside
his mother's bed, picking up her hand and holding it in his own. "She must
be asleep," he thought.

At the kitchen door Mary Underwood stopped, and, turning, ran away into
the darkness along the street. By the kitchen fire the neighbour woman
still slept. In the parlour Sam, sitting on the chair beside his mother's
bed, looked about him. A lamp burned dimly upon the little stand beside
the bed and the light of it fell upon the portrait of a tall,
aristocratic-looking woman with rings on her fingers, that hung upon the
wall. The picture belonged to Windy and was claimed by him as a portrait
of his mother, and it had once brought on a quarrel between Sam and his
sister.

Kate had taken the portrait of the lady seriously, and the boy had come
upon her sitting in a chair before it, her hair rearranged and her hands
lying in her lap in imitation of the pose maintained so haughtily by the
great lady who looked down at her.

"It is a fraud," he had declared, irritated by what he believed his
sister's devotion to one of the father's pretensions. "It is a fraud he
has picked up somewhere and now claims as his mother to make people
believe he is something big."

The girl, ashamed at having been caught in the pose, and furious because
of the attack upon the authenticity of the portrait, had gone into a spasm
of indignation, putting her hands to her ears and stamping on the floor
with her foot. Then she had run across the room and dropped upon her knees
before a little couch, buried her face in a pillow and shook with anger
and grief.

Sam had turned and walked out of the room. The emotions of the sister had
seemed to him to have the flavour of one of Windy's outbreaks.

"She likes it," he had thought, dismissing the incident. "She likes
believing in lies. She is like Windy and would rather believe in them than
not."

* * * * *

Mary Underwood ran through the rain to John Telfer's house and beat on the
door with her fist until Telfer, followed by Eleanor, holding a lamp above
her head, appeared at the door. With Telfer she went back through the
streets to the front of Sam's house thinking of the terrible choked and
disfigured man they should find there. She went along clinging to Telfer's
arm as she had clung to Sam's, unconscious of her bare head and scanty
attire. In his hand Telfer carried a lantern secured from the stable.

In the road before the house they found nothing. Telfer went up and down
swinging the lantern and peering into gutters. The woman walked beside
him, her skirts lifted and the mud splashing upon her bare leg.

Suddenly Telfer threw back his head and laughed. Taking her hand he led
Mary with a rush up the bank and through the gate.

"What a muddle-headed old fool I am!" he cried. "I am getting old and
addle-pated! Windy McPherson is not dead! Nothing could kill that old war
horse! He was in at Wildman's grocery after nine o'clock to-night covered
with mud and swearing he had been in a fight with Art Sherman. Poor Sam
and you--to have come to me and to have found me a stupid ass! Fool! Fool!
What a fool I have become!"

In at the kitchen door ran Mary and Telfer, frightening the woman by the
stove so that she sprang to her feet and began nervously making the false
teeth rattle with her tongue. In the parlour they found Sam, his head upon
the edge of the bed, asleep. In his hand he held the cold hand of Jane
McPherson. She had been dead for an hour. Mary Underwood stooped over and
kissed his wet hair as the neighbour woman came in at the doorway bearing
the kitchen lamp, and John Telfer, holding his finger to his lips,
commanded silence.

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