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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWindy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK III - Chapter II
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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK III - Chapter II Post by :mitchmoccia Category :Long Stories Author :Sherwood Anderson Date :February 2011 Read :3300

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Windy Mcpherson's Son - BOOK III - Chapter II

For weeks and months Sam led a wandering vagabond life, and surely a
stranger or more restless vagabond never went upon the road. In his pocket
he had at almost any time from one to five thousand dollars, his bag went
on from place to place ahead of him, and now and then he caught up with
it, unpacked it, and wore a suit of his former Chicago clothes upon the
streets of some town. For the most part, however, he wore the rough
clothes bought from Ed, and, when these were gone, others like them, with
a warm canvas outer jacket, and for rough weather a pair of heavy boots
lacing half way up the legs. Among the people, he passed for a rather
well-set-up workman with money in his pocket going his own way.

During all those months of wandering, and even when he had returned to
something nearer his former way of life, his mind was unsettled and his
outlook on life disturbed. Sometimes it seemed to him that he, among all
men, was a unique, an innovation. Day after day his mind ground away upon
his problem and he was determined to seek and to keep on seeking until he
found for himself a way of peace. In the towns and in the country through
which he passed he saw the clerks in the stores, the merchants with
worried faces hurrying into banks, the farmers, brutalised by toil,
dragging their weary bodies homeward at the coming of night, and told
himself that all life was abortive, that on all sides of him it wore
itself out in little futile efforts or ran away in side currents, that
nowhere did it move steadily, continuously forward giving point to the
tremendous sacrifice involved in just living and working in the world. He
thought of Christ going about seeing the world and talking to men, and
thought that he too would go and talk to them, not as a teacher, but as
one seeking eagerly to be taught. At times he was filled with longing and
inexpressible hopes and, like the boy of Caxton, would get out of bed, not
now to stand in Miller's pasture watching the rain on the surface of the
water, but to walk endless miles through the darkness getting the blessed
relief of fatigue into his body and often paying for and occupying two
beds in one night.

Sam wanted to go back to Sue; he wanted peace and something like
happiness, but most of all he wanted work, real work, work that would
demand of him day after day the best and finest in him so that he would be
held to the need of renewing constantly the better impulses of his mind.
He was at the top of his life, and the few weeks of hard physical exertion
as a driver of nails and a bearer of timbers had begun to restore his body
to shapeliness and strength, so that he was filled anew with all of his
native restlessness and energy; but he was determined that he would not
again pour himself out in work that would react upon him as had his money
making, his dream of beautiful children, and this last half-formed dream
of a kind of financial fatherhood to the Illinois town.

The incident with Ed and the red-haired man had been his first serious
effort at anything like social service achieved through controlling or
attempting to influence the public mind, for his was the type of mind that
runs to the concrete, the actual. As he sat in the ravine talking to Jake,
and, later, coming home in the boat under the multitude of stars, he had
looked up from among the drunken workmen and his mind had seen a city
built for a people, a city independent, beautiful, strong, and free, but a
glimpse of a red head through a barroom door and a socialist trembling
before a name had dispelled the vision. After his return from hearing the
socialist, who in his turn was hedged about by complicated influences, and
in those November days when he walked south through Illinois, seeing the
late glory of the trees and breathing the fine air, he laughed at himself
for having had the vision. It was not that the red-haired man had sold him
out, it was not the beating given him by Ed's sullen-faced son or the
blows across the face at the hands of his vigorous wife--it was just that
at bottom he did not believe the people wanted reform; they wanted a ten
per cent raise in wages. The public mind was a thing too big, too
complicated and inert for a vision or an ideal to get at and move deeply.

And then, walking on the road and struggling to find truth even within
himself, Sam had to come to something else. At bottom he was no leader, no
reformer. He had not wanted the free city for a free people, but as a work
to be done by his own hand. He was McPherson, the money maker, the man who
loved himself. The fact, not the sight of Jake hobnobbing with Bill or the
timidity of the socialist, had blocked his way to work as a political
reformer and builder.

Tramping south between the rows of shocked corn he laughed at himself.
"The experience with Ed and Jake has done something for me," he thought.
"They bullied me. I have been a kind of bully myself and what has happened
has been good medicine for me."

Sam walked the roads of Illinois, Ohio, New York, and other states,
through hill country and flat country, in the snow drifts of winter and
through the storms of spring, talking to people, asking their way of life
and the end toward which they worked. At night he dreamed of Sue, of his
boyhood struggles in Caxton, of Janet Eberly sitting in her chair and
talking of writers of books, or, visualising the stock exchange or some
garish drinking place, he saw again the faces of Crofts, Webster,
Morrison, and Prince intent and eager as he laid before them some scheme
of money making. Sometimes at night he awoke, seized with horror, seeing
Colonel Tom with the revolver pressed against his head; and sitting in his
bed, and all through the next day he talked aloud to himself.

"The damned old coward," he shouted into the darkness of his room or into
the wide peaceful prospect of the countryside.

The idea of Colonel Tom as a suicide seemed unreal, grotesque, horrible.
It was as though some round-cheeked, curly-headed boy had done the thing
to himself. The man had been so boyishly, so blusteringly incompetent, so
completely and absolutely without bigness and purpose.

"And yet," thought Sam, "he has found strength to whip me, the man of
ability. He has taken revenge, absolute and unanswerable, for the slight I
put upon the little play world in which he had been king."

In fancy Sam could see the great paunch and the little white pointed beard
sticking up from the floor in the room where the colonel lay dead, and
into his mind came a saying, a sentence, the distorted remembrance of a
thought he had got from a book of Janet's or from some talk he had heard,
perhaps at his own dinner table.

"It is horrible to see a fat man with purple veins in his face lying
dead."

At such times he hurried along the road like one pursued. People driving
past in buggies and seeing him and hearing the stream of talk that issued
from his lips, turned and watched him out of sight. And Sam, hurrying and
seeking relief from the thoughts in his mind, called to the old
commonsense instincts within himself as a captain marshals his forces to
withstand an attack.

"I will find work. I will find work. I will seek Truth," he said.

Sam avoided the larger towns or went hurriedly through them, sleeping
night after night at village hotels or at some hospitable farmhouse, and
daily he increased the length of his walks, getting real satisfaction from
the aching of his legs and from the bruising of his unaccustomed feet on
the hard road. Like St. Jerome, he had a wish to beat upon his body and
subdue the flesh. In turn he was blown upon by the wind, chilled by the
winter frost, wet by the rains, and warmed by the sun. In the spring he
swam in rivers, lay on sheltered hillsides watching the cattle grazing in
the fields and the white clouds floating across the sky, and constantly
his legs became harder and his body more flat and sinewy. Once he slept
for a night in a straw stack at the edge of a woods and in the morning was
awakened by a farmer's dog licking his face.

Several times he came up to vagabonds, umbrella menders and other
roadsters, and walked with them, but he found in their society no
incentive to join in their flights across country on freight trains or on
the fronts of passenger trains. Those whom he met and with whom he talked
and walked did not interest him greatly. They had no end in life, sought
no ideal of usefulness. Walking and talking with them, the romance went
out of their wandering life. They were utterly dull and stupid, they were,
almost without exception, strikingly unclean, they wanted passionately to
get drunk, and they seemed to be forever avoiding life with its problems
and responsibilities. They always talked of the big cities, of "Chi" and
"Cinci" and "Frisco," and were bent upon getting to one of these places.
They condemned the rich and begged and stole from the poor, talked
swaggeringly of their personal courage and ran whimpering and begging
before country constables. One of them, a tall, leering youth in a grey
cap, who came up to Sam one evening at the edge of a village in Indiana,
tried to rob him. Full of his new strength and with the thought of Ed's
wife and the sullen-faced son in his mind, Sam sprang upon him and had
revenge for the beating received in the office of Ed's hotel by beating
this fellow in his turn. When the tall youth had partially recovered from
the beating and had staggered to his feet, he ran off into the darkness,
stopping when well out of reach to hurl a stone that splashed in the mud
of the road at Sam's feet.

Everywhere Sam sought people who would talk to him of themselves. He had a
kind of faith that a message would come to him out of the mouth of some
simple, homely dweller of the villages or the farms. A woman, with whom he
talked in the railroad station at Fort Wayne, Indiana, interested him so
that he went into a train with her and travelled all night in the day
coach, listening to her talk of her three sons, one of whom had weak lungs
and had, with two younger brothers, taken up government land in the west.
The woman had been with them for some months, helping them to get a start.

"I was raised on a farm and knew things they could not know," she told
Sam, raising her voice above the rumble of the train and the snoring of
fellow passengers.

She had worked with her sons in the field, ploughing and planting, had
driven a team across country, carrying boards for the building of a house,
and had grown brown and strong at the work.

"And Walter is getting well. His arms are as brown as my own and he has
gained eleven pounds," she said, rolling up her sleeves and showing her
heavy, muscular forearms.

She planned to take her husband, a machinist working in a bicycle factory
in Buffalo, and her two grown daughters, clerks in a drygoods store, with
her and return to the new country, and having a sense of her hearer's
interest in her story, she talked of the bigness of the west and the
loneliness of the vast, silent plains, saying that they sometimes made her
heart ache. Sam thought she had in some way achieved success, although he
did not see how her experience could serve as a guide to him.

"You have got somewhere. You have got hold of a truth," he said, taking
her hand when he got off the train at Cleveland, at dawn.

At another time, in the late spring, when he was tramping through southern
Ohio, a man drove up beside him, and pulling in his horse, asked, "Where
are you going?" adding genially, "I may be able to give you a lift."

Sam looked at him and smiled. Something in the man's manner or in his
dress suggesting the man of God, he assumed a bantering air.

"I am on my way to the New Jerusalem," he said seriously. "I am one who
seeks God."

The young minister picked up his reins with a look of alarm, but when he
saw a smile playing about the corners of Sam's mouth, he turned the wheels
of his buggy.

"Get in and come along with me and we will talk of the New Jerusalem," he
said.

On the impulse Sam got into the buggy, and driving along the dusty road,
told the essential parts of his story and of his quest for an end toward
which he might work.

"It would be simple enough if I were without money and driven by hard
necessity, but I am not. I want work, not because it is work and will
bring me bread and butter, but because I need to be doing something that
will satisfy me when I am done. I do not want so much to serve men as to
serve myself. I want to get at happiness and usefulness as for years I got
at money making. There is a right way of life for such a man as me, and I
want to find that way."

The young minister, who was a graduate of a Lutheran seminary at
Springfield, Ohio, and had come out of college with a very serious outlook
on life, took Sam to his house and together they sat talking half the
night. He had a wife, a country girl with a babe lying at her breast, who
got supper for them, and who, after supper, sat in the shadows in a corner
of the living-room listening to their talk.

The two men sat together. Sam smoked his pipe and the minister poked at a
coal fire that burned in a stove. They talked of God and of what the
thought of God meant to men; but the young minister did not try to give
Sam an answer to his problem; on the contrary, Sam found him strikingly
dissatisfied and unhappy in his way of life.

"There is no spirit of God here," he said, poking viciously at the coals
in the stove. "The people here do not want me to talk to them of God. They
have no curiosity about what He wants of them nor of why He has put them
here. They want me to tell them of a city in the sky, a kind of glorified
Dayton, Ohio, to which they can go when they have finished this life of
work and of putting money in the savings bank."

For several days Sam stayed with the clergyman, driving about the country
with him and talking of God. In the evening they sat in the house,
continuing their talks, and on Sunday Sam went to hear the man preach in
his church.

The sermon was a disappointment to Sam. Although his host had talked
vigorously and well in private, his public address was stilted and
unnatural.

"The man," thought Sam, "has no feeling for public address and is not
treating his people well in not giving them, without reservation, the
ideas he has expounded to me in his house." He decided there was something
to be said for the people who sat patiently listening week after week and
who gave the man the means of a living for so lame an effort.

One evening when Sam had been with them for a week the young wife came to
him as he stood on the little porch before the house.

"I wish you would go away," she said, standing with her babe in her arms
and looking at the porch floor. "You stir him up and make him
dissatisfied."

Sam stepped off the porch and hurried off up the road into the darkness.
There had been tears in the wife's eyes.

In June he went with a threshing crew, working among labourers and eating
with them in the fields or about the crowded tables of farmhouses where
they stopped to thresh. Each day Sam and the men with him worked in a new
place and had as helpers the farmer for whom they threshed and several of
his neighbours. The farmers worked at a killing pace and the men of the
threshing crew were expected to keep abreast of each new lot of them day
after day. At night the threshermen, too weary for talk, crept into the
loft of a barn, slept until daylight and then began another day of
heartbreaking toil. On Sunday morning they went for a swim in some creek
and in the afternoon sat in a barn or under the trees of an orchard
sleeping or indulging in detached, fragmentary bits of talk, talk that
never rose above a low, wearisome level. For hours they would try to
settle a dispute as to whether a horse they had seen at some farm during
the week had three, or four, white feet, and one man in the crew never
talked at all, sitting on his heels through the long Sunday afternoons and
whittling at a stick with his pocket knife.

The threshing outfit with which Sam worked was owned by a man named Joe,
who was in debt for it to the maker and who, after working with the men
all day, drove about the country half the night making deals with farmers
for other days of threshing. Sam thought that he looked constantly on the
point of collapse through overwork and worry, and one of the men, who had
been with Joe through several seasons, told Sam that at the end of the
season their employer did not have enough money left from his season of
work to pay the interest on the debt for his machines and that he
continually took jobs for less than the cost of doing them.

"One has to keep going," said Joe, when one day Sam began talking to him
on the matter.

When told to keep Sam's wage until the end of the season he looked
relieved and at the end of the season came to Sam, looking more worried
and said that he had no money.

"I will give you a note bearing good interest if you can let me have a
little time," he said.

Sam took the note and looked at the pale, drawn face peering out of him
from the shadows at the back of the barn.

"Why do you not drop the whole thing and begin working for some one else?"
he asked.

Joe looked indignant.

"A man wants independence," he said.

When Sam got again upon the road he stopped at a little bridge over a
stream, and tearing up Joe's note watched the torn pieces of it float away
upon the brown water.

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Through the summer and early fall Sam continued his wanderings. The dayson which something happened or on which something outside himselfinterested or attracted him were special days, giving him food for hoursof thought, but for the most part he walked on and on for weeks, sunk in akind of healing lethargy of physical fatigue. Always he tried to get atpeople who came into his way and to discover something of their way oflife and the end toward which they worked, and many an open-mouthed,staring man and woman he left behind him on the road and on the sidewalksof the villages. He
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One day when the youth Sam McPherson was new in the city he went on aSunday afternoon to a down-town theatre to hear a sermon. The sermon wasdelivered by a small dark-skinned Boston man, and seemed to the youngMcPherson scholarly and well thought out."The greatest man is he whose deeds affect the greatest number of lives,"the speaker had said, and the thought had stuck in Sam's mind. Now walkingalong the street carrying his travelling bag, he remembered the sermon andthe thought and shook his head in doubt."What I have done here in this city must have affected thousands oflives," he mused,
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