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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWindy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VIII
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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VIII Post by :wonder Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :3307

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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VIII

The funeral of Jane McPherson was a trying affair for her son. He thought
that his sister Kate, with the babe in her arms, had become coarsened--she
looked frumpish and, while they were in the house, had an air of having
quarrelled with her husband when they came out of their bedroom in the
morning. During the funeral service Sam sat in the parlour, astonished and
irritated by the endless number of women that crowded into the house. They
were everywhere, in the kitchen, the sleeping room back of the parlour;
and in the parlour, where the dead woman lay in her coffin, they were
massed. When the thin-lipped minister, holding a book in his hand, held
forth upon the virtues of the dead woman, they wept. Sam looked at the
floor and thought that thus they would have wept over the body of the dead
Windy, had his fingers but tightened a trifle. He wondered if the minister
would have talked in the same way--blatantly and without knowledge--of the
virtues of the dead. In a chair at the side of the coffin the bereaved
husband, in new black clothes, wept audibly. The baldheaded, officious
undertaker kept moving nervously about, intent upon the ritual of his

During the service, a man sitting behind him dropped a note on the floor
at Sam's feet. Sam picked it up and read it, glad of something to distract
his attention from the voice of the minister, and the faces of the weeping
women, none of whom had before been in the house and all of whom he
thought strikingly lacking in a sense of the sacredness of privacy. The
note was from John Telfer.

"I will not come to your mother's funeral," he wrote. "I respected your
mother while she lived and I will leave you alone with her now that she is
dead. In her memory I will hold a ceremony in my heart. If I am in
Wildman's, I may ask the man to quit selling soap and tobacco for the
moment and to close and lock the door. If I am at Valmore's shop, I will
go up into his loft and listen to him pounding on the anvil below. If he
or Freedom Smith go to your house, I warn them I will cut their
friendship. When I see the carriages going through the street and know
that the thing is right well done and over, I will buy flowers and take
them to Mary Underwood as an appreciation of the living in the name of the

The note cheered and comforted Sam. It gave him back a grip of something
that had slipped from him.

"It is good sense, after all," he thought, and realised that even in the
days when he was being made to suffer horrors, and in the face of the fact
that Jane McPherson's long, hard role was just being played out to the
end, the farmer in the field was sowing his corn, Valmore was beating upon
his anvil, and John Telfer was writing notes with a flourish. He arose,
interrupting the minister's discourse. Mary Underwood had come in just as
the minister began talking and had dropped into an obscure corner near the
door leading into the street. Sam crowded past the women who stared and
the minister who frowned and the baldheaded undertaker who wrung his hands
and, dropping the note into her lap, said, oblivious of the people looking
and listening with breathless curiosity, "It is from John Telfer. Read it.
Even he, hating women as he did, is now bringing flowers to your door."

In the room a wind of whispered comments sprang up. Women, putting their
heads together and their hands before their faces, nodded toward the
school teacher, and the boy, unconscious of the sensation he had created,
went back to his chair and looked again at the floor, waiting until the
talk and the singing of songs and the parading through the streets should
be ended. Again the minister began reading from the book.

"I have become older than all of these people here," thought the youth.
"They play at life and death, and I have felt it between the fingers of my

Mary Underwood, lacking Sam's unconsciousness of the people, looked about
with burning cheeks. Seeing the women whispering and putting their heads
together, a chill of fear ran through her. Into the room had been thrust
the face of an old enemy to her--the scandal of a small town. Picking up
the note she slipped out at the door and stole away along the street. The
old maternal love for Sam had returned strengthened and ennobled by the
terror through which she had passed with him that night in the rain. Going
to her house she whistled the collie dog and set out along a country road.
At the edge of a grove of trees she stopped, sat down on a log, and read
Telfer's note. From the soft ground into which her feet sank there came
the warm pungent smell of the new growth. Tears came into her eyes. She
thought that in a few days much had come to her. She had got a boy upon
whom she could pour out the mother love in her heart, and she had made a
friend of Telfer, whom she had long regarded with fear and doubt.

For a month Sam lingered in Caxton. It seemed to him there was something
that wanted doing there. He sat with the men at the back of Wildman's, and
walked aimlessly through the streets and out of the town along the country
roads, where men worked all day in the fields behind sweating horses,
ploughing the land. The thrill of spring was in the air, and in the
evening a song sparrow sang in the apple tree below his bedroom window.
Sam walked and loitered in silence, looking at the ground. In his mind was
the dread of people. The talk of the men in the store wearied him and when
he went alone into the country he found himself accompanied by the voices
of all of those he had come out of town to escape. On the street corner
the thin-lipped, brown-bearded minister stopped him and talked of the
future life as he had stopped and talked to a bare-legged newsboy.

"Your mother," he said, "has but gone before. It is for you to get into
the narrow path and follow her. God has sent this sorrow as a warning to
you. He wants you also to get into the way of life and in the end to join
her. Begin coming to our church. Join in the work of the Christ. Find

Sam, who had listened without hearing, shook his head and went on. The
minister's talk seemed no more than a meaningless jumble of words out of
which he got but one thought.

"Find truth," he repeated to himself after the minister, and let his mind
play with the idea. "The best men are all trying to do that. They spend
their lives at the task. They are all trying to find truth."

He went along the street, pleased with himself because of the
interpretation he had put upon the minister's words. The terrible moments
in the kitchen followed by his mother's death had put a new look of
seriousness into his face and he felt within him a new sense of
responsibility to the dead woman and to himself. Men stopped him on the
street and wished him well in the city. News of his leaving had become
public. Things in which Freedom Smith was concerned were always public

"He would take a drum with him to make love to a neighbour's wife," said
John Telfer.

Sam felt that in a way he was a child of Caxton. Early it had taken him to
its bosom; it had made of him a semi-public character; it had encouraged
him in his money-making, humiliated him through his father, and patronised
him lovingly because of his toiling mother. When he was a boy, scurrying
between the legs of the drunkards in Piety Hollow of a Saturday night,
there was always some one to speak a word to him of his morals and to
shout at him a cheering word of advice. Had he elected to remain there,
with the thirty-five hundred dollars already in the Savings Bank--built to
that during his years with Freedom Smith--he might soon become one of the
town's solid men.

He did not want to stay. He felt that his call was in another place and
that he would go there gladly. He wondered why he did not get on the train
and be off.

One night when he had been late on the road, loitering by fences, hearing
the lonely barking of dogs at distant farmhouses, getting the smell of the
new-ploughed ground into his nostrils, he came into town and sat down on a
low iron fence that ran along by the platform of the railroad station, to
wait for the midnight train north. Trains had taken on a new meaning to
him since any day might see him on such a train bound into his new life.

A man, with two bags in his hands, came on the station platform followed
by two women.

"Here, watch these," he said to the women, setting the bags upon the
platform; "I will go for the tickets," and disappeared into the darkness.

The two women resumed their interrupted talk.

"Ed's wife has been poorly these ten years," said one of them. "It will be
better for her and for Ed now that she is dead, but I dread the long ride.
I wish she had died when I was in Ohio two years ago. I am sure to be

Sam, sitting in the darkness, was thinking of a part of one of John
Telfer's old talks with him.

"They are good people but they are not your people. You will go away from
here. You will be a big man of dollars, it is plain."

He began listening idly to the two women. The man had a shop for mending
shoes on a side street back of Geiger's drug store and the two women, one
short and round, one long and thin, kept a small, dingy millinery shop and
were Eleanor Telfer's only competitors.

"Well, the town knows her now for what she is," said the tall woman.
"Milly Peters says she won't rest until she has put that stuck-up Mary
Underwood in her place. Her mother worked in the McPherson house and it
was her told Milly. I never heard such a story. To think of Jane McPherson
working all these years and then having such goings-on in her house when
she lay dying, Milly says that Sam went away early in the evening and came
home late with that Underwood thing, half dressed, hanging on his arm.
Milly's mother looked out of the window and saw them. Then she ran out by
the kitchen stove and pretended to be asleep. She wanted to see what was
up. And the bold hussy came right into the house with Sam. Then she went
away, and after a while back she came with that John Telfer. Milly is
going to see that Eleanor Telfer finds it out. I guess it will bring her
down, too. And there is no telling how many other men in this town Mary
Underwood is running with. Milly says----"

The two women turned as out of the darkness came a tall figure roaring and
swearing. Two hands flashed out and sank into their hair.

"Stop it!" growled Sam, beating the two heads together, "stop your dirty
lies!--you ugly she-beasts!"

Hearing the two women screaming the man who had gone for the railroad
tickets came running down the station platform followed by Jerry Donlin.
Springing forward Sam knocked the shoemaker over the iron fence into a
newly spaded flower bed and then turned to the baggage man.

"They were telling lies about Mary Underwood," he shouted. "She tried to
save me from killing my father and now they are telling lies about her."

The two women picked up the bags and ran whimpering away along the station
platform. Jerry Donlin climbed over the iron fence and confronted the
surprised and frightened shoemaker.

"What the Hell are you doing in my flower bed?" he growled.

* * * * *

Hurrying through the streets Sam's mind was in a ferment. Like the Roman
emperor he wished that all the world had but one head that he might cut it
off with a slash. The town that had seemed so paternal, so cheery, so
intent upon wishing him well, now seemed horrible. He thought of it as a
great, crawling, slimy thing lying in wait amid the cornfields.

"To be saying that of her, of that white soul!" he exclaimed aloud in the
empty street, all of his boyish loyalty and devotion to the woman who had
put out a hand to him in his hour of trouble aroused and burning in him.

He wished that he might meet another man and could hit him also a swinging
blow on the nose as he had hit the amazed shoemaker. He went to his own
house and, leaning on the gate, stood looking at it and swearing
meaninglessly. Then, turning, he went again through the deserted streets
past the railroad station where, the midnight train having come and gone
and Jerry Donlin having gone home for the night, all was dark and quiet.
He was filled with horror of what Mary Underwood had seen at Jane
McPherson's funeral.

"It is better to be utterly bad than to speak ill of another," he thought.

For the first time he realised another side of village life. In fancy he
saw going past him on the dark road a long file of women, women with
coarse unlighted faces and dead eyes. Many of the faces he knew. They were
the faces of Caxton wives at whose houses he had delivered papers. He
remembered how eagerly they had run out of their houses to get the papers
and how they hung day after day over the details of sensational murder
cases. Once, when a Chicago girl had been murdered in a dive and the
details were unusually revolting, two women, unable to restrain their
curiosity, had come to the station to wait for the train bringing the
newspapers and Sam had heard them rolling the horrid mess over and over on
their tongues.

In every city and in every village there is a class of women, the thought
of whom paralyses the mind. They live their lives in small, unaired,
unsanitary houses, and go on year after year washing dishes and clothes--
only their fingers occupied. They read no good books, think no clean
thoughts, are made love to as John Telfer had said, with kisses in a
darkened room by a shame-faced yokel and, after marrying some such a
yokel, live lives of unspeakable blankness. Into the houses of these women
come the husbands at evening, tired and uncommunicative, to eat hurriedly
and then go again into the streets or, the blessing of utter physical
exhaustion having come to them, to sit for an hour in stockinged feet
before crawling away to sleep and oblivion.

In these women is no light, no vision. They have instead certain fixed
ideas to which they cling with a persistency touching heroism. To the man
they have snatched from society they cling also with a tenacity to be
measured only by their love of a roof over their heads and the craving for
food to put into their stomachs. Being mothers, they are the despair of
reformers, the shadow on the vision of dreamers and they put the black
dread upon the heart of the poet who cries, "The female of the species is
more deadly than the male." At their worst they are to be seen drunk with
emotion amid the lurid horrors of a French Revolution or immersed in the
secret whispering, creeping terror of a religious persecution. At their
best they are mothers of half mankind. Wealth coming to them, they throw
themselves into garish display of it and flash upon the sight of Newport
or Palm Beach. In their native lair in the close little houses, they sleep
in the bed of the man who has put clothes upon their backs and food into
their mouths because that is the usage of their kind and give him of their
bodies grudgingly or willingly as the laws of their physical needs direct.
They do not love, they sell, instead, their bodies in the market place and
cry out that man shall witness their virtue because they had had the joy
of finding one buyer instead of the many of the red sisterhood. A fierce
animalism in them makes them cling to the babe at their breast and in the
days of its softness and loveliness they close their eyes and try to catch
again an old fleeting dream of their girlhood, a something vague, shadowy,
no longer a part of them, brought with the babe out of the infinite.
Having passed beyond the land of dreams, they dwell in the land of
emotions and weep over the bodies of unknown dead or sit under the
eloquence of evangelists, shouting of heaven and of hell--the call to the
one being brother to the call of the other--crying upon the troubled air
of hot little churches, where hope is fighting in the jaws of vulgarity,
"The weight of my sins is heavy on my soul." Along streets they go lifting
heavy eyes to peer into the lives of others and to get a morsel to roll
upon their heavy tongues. Having fallen upon a side light in the life of a
Mary Underwood they return to it again and again as a dog to its offal.
Something touching the lives of such as walk in the clean air, dream
dreams, and have the audacity to be beautiful beyond the beauty of animal
youth, maddens them, and they cry out, running from kitchen door to
kitchen door and tearing at the prize like a starved beast who has found a
carcass. Let but earnest women found a movement and crowd it forward to
the day when it smacks of success and gives promise of the fine emotion of
achievement, and they fall upon it with a cry, having hysteria rather than
reason as their guiding impulse. In them is all of femininity--and none of
it. For the most part they live and die unseen, unknown, eating rank food,
sleeping overmuch, and sitting through summer afternoons rocking in chairs
and looking at people passing in the street. In the end they die full of
faith, hoping for a life to come.

Sam stood upon the road fearing the attacks these women were now making on
Mary Underwood. The moon coming up, threw its light on the fields that lay
beside the road and brought out their early spring nakedness and he
thought them dreary and hideous, like the faces of the women that had been
marching through his mind. He drew his overcoat about him and shivered as
he went on, the mud splashing him and the raw night air aggravating the
dreariness of his thoughts. He tried to revert to the assurance of the
days before his mother's illness and to get again the strong belief in his
own destiny that had kept him at the money making and saving and had urged
him to the efforts to rise above the level of the man who bred him. He
didn't succeed. The feeling of age that had settled upon him in the midst
of the people mourning over the body of his mother came back, and,
turning, he went along the road toward the town, saying to himself: "I
will go and talk to Mary Underwood."

While he waited on the veranda for Mary to open the door, he decided that
after all a marriage with her might lead to happiness. The half spiritual,
half physical love of woman that is the glory and mystery of youth was
gone from him. He thought that if he could only drive from her presence
the fear of the faces that had been coming and going in his own mind he
would, for his own part, be content to live his life as a worker and money
maker, one without dreams.

Mary Underwood came to the door wearing the same heavy long coat she had
worn on that other night and taking her by the hand Sam led her to the
edge of the veranda. He looked with content at the pine trees before the
house, thinking that some benign influence must have guided the hand that
planted them there to stand clothed and decent amid the barrenness of the
land at the end of winter.

"What is it, boy?" asked the woman, and her voice was filled with anxiety.
The maternal passion again glowing in her had for days coloured all her
thoughts, and with all the ardour of an intense nature she had thrown
herself into her love of Sam. Thinking of him, she felt in fancy the pangs
of birth, and in her bed at night relived with him his boyhood in the town
and built again her plans for his future. In the day time she laughed at
herself and said tenderly, "You are an old fool."

Brutally and frankly Sam told her of the thing he had heard on the station
platform, looking past her at the pine trees and gripping the veranda
rail. From the dead land there came again the smell of the new growth as
it had come to him on the road before the revelation at the railroad

"Something kept telling me not to go away," he said. "It must have been in
the air--this thing. Already these evil crawling things were at work. Oh,
if only all the world, like you and Telfer and some of the others here,
had an appreciation of the sense of privacy."

Mary Underwood laughed quietly.

"I was more than half right when, in the old days, I dreamed of making you
a man at work upon the things of the mind," she said. "The sense of
privacy indeed! What a fellow you have become! John Telfer's method was
better than my own. He has given you the knack of saying things with a

Sam shook his head.

"Here is something that cannot be faced down with a laugh," he said
stoutly. "Here is something at you--it is tearing at you--it has got to be
met. Even now women are waking up in bed and turning the matter over in
their minds. To-morrow they will be at you again. There is but one way and
we must take it. You and I will have to marry."

Mary looked at the serious new lines of his face.

"What a proposal!" she cried.

On an impulse she began singing, her voice fine and strong running through
the quiet night.

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

she sang, and laughed again.

"You should come like that," she said, and then, "you poor muddled boy.
Don't you know that I am your new mother?" she added, taking hold of his
two arms and turning him about facing her. "Don't be absurd. I don't want
a husband or a lover. I want a son of my own and I have found him. I
adopted you here in this house that night when you came to me sick and
covered with mud. As for these women--away with them--I'll face them down
--I did it once before and I'll do it again. Go to your city and make your
fight. Here in Caxton it is a woman's fight."

"It is horrible. You don't understand," Sam protested.

A grey, tired look came into Mary Underwood's face.

"I understand," she said. "I have been on that battlefield. It is to be
won only by silence and tireless waiting. Your very effort to help would
make the matter worse."

The woman and the tall boy, suddenly become a man, stood in thought. She
was thinking of the end toward which her life was drifting. How
differently she had planned it. She thought of the college in
Massachusetts and of the men and women walking under the elm trees there.

"But I have got me a son and I am going to keep him," she said aloud,
putting her hand on Sam's arm.

Very serious and troubled, Sam went down the gravel path toward the road.
He felt there was something cowardly in the part she had given him to
play, but he could see no alternative.

"After all," he reflected, "it is sensible--it is a woman's battle."

Half way to the road he stopped and, running back, caught her in his arms
and gave her a great hug.

"Good-bye, little Mother," he cried and kissed her upon the lips.

And she, watching him as he went again down the gravel path, was overcome
with tenderness. She went to the back of the porch and leaning against the
house put her head upon her arm. Then turning and smiling through her
tears she called after him.

"Did you crack their heads hard, boy?" she asked.

* * * * *

From Mary's house Sam went to his own. On the gravel path an idea had come
to him. He went into the house and, sitting down at the kitchen table with
pen and ink, began writing. In the sleeping room back of the parlour he
could hear Windy snoring. He wrote carefully, erasing and writing again.
Then, drawing up a chair before the kitchen fire, he read over and over
what he had written, and putting on his coat went through the dawn to the
house of Tom Comstock, editor of the _Caxton Argus_, and roused him out of

"I'll run it on the front page, Sam, and it won't cost you anything,"
Comstock promised. "But why run it? Let the matter drop."

"I shall just have time to pack and get the morning train for Chicago,"
Sam thought.

Early the evening before, Telfer, Wildman, and Freedom Smith, at Valmore's
suggestion, had made a visit to Hunter's jewelry store. For an hour they
bargained, selected, rejected, and swore at the jeweller. When the choice
was made and the gift lay shining against white cotton in a box on the
counter Telfer made a speech.

"I will talk straight to that boy," he declared, laughing. "I am not going
to spend my time training his mind for money making and then have him fail
me. I shall tell him that if he doesn't make money in that Chicago I shall
come and take the watch from him."

Putting the gift into his pocket Telfer went out of the store and along
the street to Eleanor's shop. He strutted through the display room and
into the workshop where Eleanor sat with a hat on her knee.

"What am I going to do, Eleanor?" he demanded, standing with legs spread
apart and frowning down upon her, "what am I going to do without Sam?"

A freckle-faced boy opened the shop door and threw a newspaper on the
floor. The boy had a ringing voice and quick brown eyes. Telfer went again
through the display room, touching with his cane the posts upon which hung
the finished hats, and whistling. Standing before the shop, with the cane
hooked upon his arm, he rolled a cigarette and watched the boy running
from door to door along the street.

"I shall have to be adopting a new son," he said musingly.

After Sam left, Tom Comstock stood in his white nightgown and re-read the
statement just given him. He read it over and over, and then, laying it on
the kitchen table, filled and lighted a corncob pipe. A draft of wind blew
into the room under the kitchen door chilling his thin shanks so that he
drew his bare feet, one after the other, up behind the protective walls of
his nightgown.

"On the night of my mother's death," ran the statement, "I sat in the
kitchen of our house eating my supper when my father came in and began
shouting and talking loudly, disturbing my mother who was asleep. I put my
hand at his throat and squeezed until I thought he was dead, and carried
him around the house and threw him into the road. Then I ran to the house
of Mary Underwood, who was once my schoolteacher, and told her what I had
done. She took me home, awoke John Telfer, and then went to look for the
body of my father, who was not dead after all. John McPherson knows this
is true, if he can be made to tell the truth."

Tom Comstock shouted to his wife, a small nervous woman with red cheeks,
who set up type in the shop, did her own housework, and gathered most of
the news and advertising for _The Argus_.

"Ain't that a slasher?" he asked, handing her the statement Sam had

"Well, it ought to stop the mean things they are saying about Mary
Underwood," she snapped. Then, taking the glasses from her nose, and
looking at Tom, who, while he did not find time to give her much help with
_The Argus_, was the best checker player in Caxton and had once been to a
state tournament of experts in that sport, she added, "Poor Jane
McPherson, to have had a son like Sam and no better father for him than
that liar Windy. Choked him, eh? Well, if the men of this town had any
spunk they would finish the job."

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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK II - Chapter I Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK II - Chapter I

Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK II - Chapter I
For two years Sam lived the life of a travelling buyer, visiting towns inIndiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and making deals with men who, like FreedomSmith, bought the farmers' products. On Sundays he sat in chairs beforecountry hotels and walked in the streets of strange towns, or, gettingback to the city at the week end, went through the downtown streets andamong the crowds in the parks with young men he had met on the road. Fromtime to time he went to Caxton and sat for an hour with the men inWildman's, stealing away later for an evening with Mary Underwood.In the store

Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VII Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VII

Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK I - Chapter VII
Leaning against the wall under the veranda of Mary Underwood's house, Samtried to get in his mind a remembrance of what had brought him there. Hehad walked bareheaded through Main Street and out along a country road.Twice he had fallen, covering his clothes with mud. He had forgotten thepurpose of his walk and had tramped on and on. The unexpected and terriblehatred of his father that had come upon him in the tense silence of thekitchen had so paralysed his brain that he now felt light-headed andwonderfully happy and carefree."I have been doing something," he thought; "I wonder what it is."The